Dressing Etiquette for Visitors

Simple Dressing Rules

This page is to help you keep in mind some simple rules of dressing etiquette for visitors when you come to Malaysia or Pahang for the first time, so that you can get by without offending the sensitivities of the locals, especially those in the rural areas.

Chinese traditional costumes - samfu

Well, your first impression of Malaysia and Pahang is probably that it is somewhat uniquely a multi-racial and multi-cultural place. And really Malaysians live harmoniously and are friendly to everyone, especially tourists.

Its 30 million people comprises Malays, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazans, and various other indigenous communities and they live together in peace and harmony, thereby contributing towards the stability and prosperity of the country. 

Malaysia is also an Islamic state, with approximately 65% of the population being Malays practicing Islam. The Chinese are mostly Buddhists and Taoists, and the Indians mostly Hindus and Buddhists. And there are substantial numbers of Christians mainly in Sarawak, Sabah and major towns in Peninsular Malaysia.

You will find that Malaysians, being Asians with age-old cultures, customs and traditions, dress rather conservatively, and accordingly they feel quite offended by those who dress too liberally, in the sense of excessive body exposure.

Just remember that behavior-wise Asian norms and culture are in the main conservative, and the people are gracious, delicate, gentle and respectful.

But they may feel insulted and become ill-mannered and discourteous, and maybe even vicious, when they are offended. It’s usual human behavior, in any part of the world.

I just wish to point out below a few dressing etiquette for visitors that are, in my humble opinion, important for visitors to be aware of, although they may be unwritten.

They are just general and simple tips on the do’s and don’ts for visitors on dressing and visiting places of worship, so as to respect the local culture and norms, and to make the visits fun, delightful and educational.

Appropriate Dressing 

As mentioned above, Malaysians generally dress conservatively, and they cover their bodies appropriately. 

So excessive body exposure and nudity are considered quite inappropriate and rather offensive to Malaysian customs and norms, especially to the Malays who are all Muslims.

Swimmers and sunbathers especially, should note that nude swimming and sunbathing at beaches (which may even be secluded) and nude or naked swimming anywhere, even at inland and interior rivers, are offensive to the locals.

It is therefore advisable that swimmers and sunbathers should cover up at least their vital body parts, and wear sensible swimming or bathing attire, especially at beaches, river spots or other places frequented by the locals.

Visiting Places Of Worship 

mosque in temerlohmosque

Visitors will find that the population being multi-religious, there are many places of worship in every state of Malaysia, including Pahang.

There are many grand and majestic Muslim mosques, Chinese and Hindu temples and churches in every major town. Smaller versions of these places of worship are found in the small towns and villages.

These places of worship are respected premises, and therefore it is advisable for visitors to follow the proper rules when visiting them.

chinese templechinese temple

As an example, mosques are places where Muslims congregate and pray together five times a day. Mosques are also referred to as God’s house on earth, and therefore they must be kept clean and respected through certain rules of conduct and dressing.

At mosques with regular tourist visits, usually the dressing etiquette for visitors is spelled out and put on notice at the door entrance.

For example, shoes, slippers, sandals and other foot-wears are not worn inside mosques and surau (smaller version of mosques). You will know you have to take out your shoes or sandals when you see a collection of shoes near the door or entrance at the premises. 

indian temple in malaysiaindian temple

Dressing inside a mosque is also guided by propriety, both for males and females. Where the mosques are opened to tourists, normally the proper dresses are provided for visitors to put on before entering certain areas.

Since there are various acceptable codes of behavior and attire in visiting a mosque or surau (Moslem prayer room), it is perhaps best that before entering mosques, you should first consult a Muslim friend on the do’s and don’ts.

This advice is also applicable to visitors to Chinese and Indian temples and Christian churches. They may impose their own visiting rules and dressing etiquette for visitors, and therefore it is better for visitors to first check and ask the locals on the rules required before entering the premises.

Well, just respect the norms and culture of the locals and everything will be fine.

Enjoy Pahang.


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