Modern Malaysia

Modern Malaysia is “always under construction” – an apt sentiment from a local and here’s why…

For those of you that have read this post previously, I decided to add more information and photos whilst changing the format of this post. Hope you like the updated layout?

On to modern Malaysia…

With new buildings gone mad and a plethora of cranes jutting proudly from the city skylines throughout Malaysia, you can’t but help agree with the opinion from locals that Malaysia is always under construction.

There are more massive shopping malls than I’ve ever seen in any country so far. I’m sure that if you place end-to-end all Malaysia’s shopping malls, this would probably make a pathway from east to west of the country!

frog butcher, Malaysia, SE Asia
Street live-frog butcher – a rare sight these days (1989)

The last time I travelled through Malaysia was in 1989 for a couple of weeks. Although in 2014, I travelled south to north of the country for more than weeks. Enough time to notice many changes and reflect on past travels to this country.


In 1989, shopping malls were rare or non-existent. Smaller family-run shops were abundant with almost one on every corner. Not so these days.

banana stall, Malaysia, SE Asia
Market stalls (1989)

Back then, more bicycles and scooters were on the not so well-sealed roads. Not many cars graced the roads. Sadly now, apart from the countless power-draining shopping malls, bigger and more expensive fuel-guzzling cars and 4×4 pick-up trucks are seen everywhere.

The thirst for leaded petrol in Malaysia is second-to-none. Everyone loves leaded petrol as “it gives a car more power”. Never mind the environment – this never enters peoples heads. Malaysians are definitely more affluent these days, but maybe this is generalising?

An abundance of natural and lush thick jungle once threaded its way through this beautiful country. The stark truth is that these days, you travel and only seeing hours of palm oil plantations and nothing else.

Taman Negara, Malaysa, SE Asia
Lush jungle at Taman Negara National Park (2014)

With the jungle cleared long ago to make room for this “most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, accounting for 65 per cent of all vegetable oil traded internationally”WWF, saving the jungle is a hopeless cause. Scary figures as in no time, this oil has swept the world because it is cheap and a fast-growing crop. Tragically, this is to the detriment of the Malaysian natural jungle and rainforests.

The countless US mega fast-food chains that have invaded Malaysia is extraordinary. As is the number of Starbucks – there must be one on every corner in every city. And, almost every town seems to have at least several. Starbucks in Malaysia seems to be frequented more by locals than foreigners – prices are expensive.

butcher, Malaysia, SE Asia
Market butcher (1989)

But for all the changes, this is still a country with much to offer a traveller and adventurer.

Most importantly, Malaysians are still very friendly, helpful, and hospitable. Locals make fantastic hosts, which always helps when travelling through a country, especially independently.

Malaysia still offers areas of natural beauty such as one of the oldest tropical rain forests in the world – Taman Negara. See this stunning jungle before palm oil sweeps this amazing region away.

Taman Negara, Malaysia, SE Asia
Misty Morn – Taman Negara National Park (2014)

Turquoise-kissed deserted islands, Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu, which I didn’t visit on this trip (next time), and so much more is on offer in beautiful Malaysia.

Plenty of adventure activities including easy or arduous trekking, hiking, zip-lining, sailing, and much more keep the savvy traveller sufficiently entertained.

Also worth mentioning is the Malaysian cuisine, which is not only absolutely delicious and very diverse but can be very cheap. Especially, when savouring offerings at hawker markets, street stalls, night markets, or local haunts.

night markets, Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, SE Asia
Delicious Murtabak Ayam – Brinchang Night Markets, Cameron Highlands (2014)

For travellers with deep purses, fine dining is also available throughout Malaysia. Exotic dishes are a mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese flavours creating a myriad of wonderful sensual flavours, even for the most discerning taste buds. Rest assured, you won’t starve in Malaysia. Instead, you’re hard-pressed to sample everything on offer.

night markets, Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, SE Asia
Brinchang Night Markets, Cameron Highlands (2014)

Malaysia has certainly changed much since visiting in 1989. Above all, it seems that locals are more affluent, and with affluence comes the hunger for expensive toys and consumerism. This desire and commercialism drive environmental issues, which can quickly become disasters if not kept in check.

Have you seen Malaysia transition over decades? Are your experiences positive? Thoughts on Malaysia?

Leaving Malaysia

Regardless of the stark changes, travelling overland through Malaysia has been fantastic and memorable but for now, it’s time to move on and bound for alluring Thailand.

I hope that changes in Thailand are for the best as I hold very fond memories of this gorgeous country. Having travelled there first in 1985, again in 1989, and then in 2004, undeniably changes will be noticeable in 2014.

Can a country really change so much during the last ten years?

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Malaysia Gallery for more images. More blogs on Malaysia.

Sampoh Buddist Temple, Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, SE Asia
Sampoh Buddist Temple, Cameron Highlands (2014)

30 responses to “Modern Malaysia”

  1. equinoxio21 Avatar

    Precious Asia. Terima kasih.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Indeed it is and you’re welcome. 🙂

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        All well, I hope? Any chance of going “back” to Italy in the near future?

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        All well here but still grounded. No, I don’t think so. 🙁
        How’s life with you?

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Well eventually you will be ungrounded. My French friends have set their sailing departure date to August. We might hop to Saint-Malo, Brittany and sail with them for a few days… Fingers crossed.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        That sounds wonderful!
        Look forward to reading you post about the trip on your return. 😉

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar


  2. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    With progress comes change, although it’s sad to see some of the authentic and unique aspects of a place become more commercial, especially when that leads to destroying nature.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Sadly, progress seems to destroy nature more often than not. Some reap the benefits whilst others remain poor.

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    It’s interesting and a little sad how places change. I have only been to KL and the first time was in 2009. Back then, there was nothing but forests of palm trees on the way to the city from the airport. in 2014, there were housing estates to replace the trees! In 2021 ???? Hope you are well Nilla 🙂 xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, it is very sad but they tell us that’s progress. AS more and more people need to be closer to the major cities, then more forests and jungles are destroyed to make way…
      Were you in KL long?
      All well here in Oz and there? 🙂 x

  4. gouthamsscrawl Avatar

    just loved this blog🥳

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you! Very kind feedback. 🙂
      Have you visited Malaysia?

  5. Dave Ply Avatar

    All those malls give me two thoughts: 1. Air Conditioning for the masses and 2. A greater discrepancy between the haves and have nots. It kind of makes me wonder, did the US have more character when there were more Mom and Pop shops on the corner?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Exactly! Totally agree and the answer I believe is yes, as was Australia. We no longer have many independent shops, which I miss as the quality was better and the interaction more personal. What have we done… 🙁

  6. neelstoria Avatar

    Change is the only constant! Sigh!
    Great pictures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Very true, sometimes for best and other times for the worse. It’s a fine line the “progress” balance…

  7. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    We’ve never been to Malaysia, but I can tell you this: If there’s one place we don’t visit when on holiday (whether locally or overseas), it’s a mall! Heck, I don’t even like to visit the mall when I do shopping and would rather go the local supermarket … it’s such a shame about the family-run shops that disappear due to the rising of malls 😔.
    But I’m glad to hear the locals have not changed – sometimes it’s the interactions with them that make for fond memories!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      That’s so true and for me travel is about meeting locals, not just the food and sights. 😉
      I’m the same, I don’t like shopping malls at all and much prefer the village atmosphere of towns or the local grocer. 🙂
      Some changes in Malaysia are confronting.

  8. Cyndivison Avatar

    Great post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the kind comment!

  9. boundadv Avatar

    We love to hear more about modern Malaysia

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Cool and thanks for stopping by Dambar, you may wish to read more of my posts on Malaysia.

      1. boundadv Avatar

        Thank you Very much

  10. boundadv Avatar

    Sounds interesting to read more about it soon

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Take your time, thank you for commenting.

  11. liamjameshaddock Avatar

    Nice post. I bet it was a shame for you to see change in such a way.

    1. Nilla Palmer Avatar

      Thanks for your comment! Yes it was a shame. I’m currently writing about Laos as I first visited in 1989 and then again in 2014; progress is a good and bad thing in a country. I will post after I finish my Burma and Thailand blogs.

      1. liamjameshaddock Avatar

        I will look forward to reading them.

      2. Nilla Palmer Avatar

        Cool, look forward to reading your blogs also! 🙂

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