Official name: Malaysia

Area: 329,750 square kilometers (127,317 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Kinabalu (4,100 meters/13,451 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 7 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Peninsular Malaysia extends 748 kilometers (465 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest and 322 kilometers (200 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest. On Borneo, Sarawak extends 679 kilometers (422 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest and 254 kilometers (158 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest; Sabah is 412 kilometers (256 miles) from east to west and 328 kilometers (204 miles) from north to south.

Land boundaries: 2,669 kilometers (1,658 miles) total boundary length; Brunei 381 kilometers (237 miles); Indonesia 1,782 kilometers (1,107 miles); Thailand 506 kilometers (314 miles)

Coastline: 4,675 kilometers (2,905 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia consists of two seh2rate, discontiguous regions: the southern portion of the Malay Peninsula, sharing a border with Thailand to the north; and the northern third of the island of Borneo, sharing borders with Indonesia and Brunei. The South China Sea separates the two regions. With a total area of about 329,750 square kilometers (127,317 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. Malaysia is divided into thirteen states and two federal territories.


Officially, Malaysia has no outside territories or dependencies; however, Malaysia is one of several countries that lays claim to several of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines and Malaysia also disagree over the ownership of Sabah. Singapore, a small island nation south of the Malay Peninsula, and Malaysia dispute ownership of Palau Batu Putih (Pedra Branca Island). And finally, Malaysia and Indonesia both claim dominance over the Sidipan and Ligitan Islands.


Malaysia has a basically tropical climate, characterized by fairly high but uniform temperatures ranging from 23°C to 31°C (73°F to 88°F), with high humidity. Lying very close to the equator, Malaysia's seasons are based primarily on rainfall patterns.

Peninsular Malaysia experiences copious rainfall, averaging about 250 centimeters (100 inches) annually and occurring during two monsoon seasons. The heaviest rains fall during October through January; this time period is known as the northwest monsoon season. Squalls and thunderstorms characterize the southwest monsoon season, from April to October. The eastern coast receives the most abundant rainfall—at least 300 centimeters (120 inches) per year. Elsewhere, the annual average is 200 to 300 centimeters (80 to 120 inches), with the northwestern and southwestern regions experiencing the least rainfall. The nights are usually cool throughout the country because of the nearby seas.


Peninsular Malaysia (131,587 square kilometers/50,806 square miles), formerly called West Malaysia, occupies the southern third of the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland. East Malaysia occupies the northern quarter of the island of Borneo and is divided into two parts: Sabah (74,398 square kilometers/28,725 square miles) in the north, and Sarawak (124,449 square kilometers/48,050 square miles) in the southwest. Sabah and Sarawak are almost, but not quite, separated by Brunei and Indonesia, which are the other two countries on Borneo. About four-fifths of Malaysia's terrain is covered by rainforest and swamp. Peninsular Malaysia's terrain consists of a range of steep forest-covered mountains with coastal plains to the east and west. Sarawak encompasses an allu-vial swampy coastal plain, an area of rolling country interspersed with mountain ranges, and a mountainous interior, most of which is covered with rainforest. Sabah is split in two by the Crocker Mountains, which extend north and south some 48 kilometers (30 miles) inland from the western coast.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The South China Sea borders Peninsular Malaysia on the east and both Sarawak and Sabah on the north. The South China Sea, an offshoot of the Pacific Ocean, is the world's second-busiest international sea lane. More than half of the world's super-tanker traffic passes through the region's waters. The Celebes Sea, southeast of Sabah, is also an extension of the Pacific Ocean. The Sulu Sea, northeast of Sabah, separates the South China Sea from the Celebes Sea. The Andaman Sea on Peninsular Malaysia's northwestern coast is part of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Strait of Johore is a narrow channel that separates the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia from Singapore. To Malaysia's west, the Strait of Malacca lies between Malaysia and Indonesia. It is the shortest route for ships traveling between the northern Indian Ocean and the Pacific, making it a vital shipping route. Sabah is bounded to the north by the Balabac Strait, which connects the South China Sea to the Sulu Sea.

Datu Bay is an inlet on the western coast of Sarawak. Brunei, Marudu, Labuk, and Darvel Bays are all inlets on the coast of Sabah.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are islands in all the waters surrounding Malaysia. Langkwai (363 square kilometers/140 square miles) is off the northwest coast in the Andaman Sea. Langkwai is actually made up of ninety-nine individual islands, the largest of which is Palua Senga Besar. Penang (285 square kilometers/110 square miles) is also located in the Andaman Sea. A mountainous island with heights of up to 829 meters (2,719 feet), it was the site of one of the earliest British colonies in the region and remains densely populated. Off Malaysia's eastern coast in the South China Sea lies Tioman Island, the largest of a group of sixty-four volcanic islands. The Redang Archipelago comprises nine islands in the South China Sea.

Off Sarawak's coast is the large, swampy island of Betruit (417 square kilometers/161 square miles). Labuan is an island chain off the coast of Sabah at the mouth of the Brunei Bay. It encompasses one main island and six smaller ones. Banggi (440 square kilometers/170 square miles) is the largest of the islands off Sabah's northern coast.

Sarawak and Sabah are themselves located on northern Borneo, the third-largest island on Earth (751,929 square kilometers/290,320 square miles). Malaysia shares Borneo with Brunei and Indonesia. Borneo is part of the Malay Archipelago, most of which is part of Indonesia.

Malaysia, along with the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei, lays claim to several atolls within the Spratly Islands, situated in the South China Sea. Some geologists believe this region contains a huge oil reserve. Singapore, a small island nation south of the Malay Peninsula, disputes Malay-sia's claim to Palau Batu Putih (Pedra Branca Island). And finally, Malaysia and Indonesia both assert the right to govern Sidipan and Ligitan Islands.

Coastal Features

Muddy beaches and wide river plains dominate the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Mangrove swamps are common. On the eastern coast are many sandy beaches, some of which are quite narrow. The two coasts together form a diamond shape: narrow in the north, broadening near the middle of the peninsula, then narrowing again until they meet in the south. There are no major inlets or capes on the peninsula.

Sarawak also has a regular coastline, with the exception of Datu Bay.

Sabah has a more rugged coastline than the rest of Malaysia; its mountain ranges often extend to the shore. In eastern Sabah, the Darvel Peninsula separates Labuk and Darvel Baysin. A number of offshore islands around Sabah support extensive and diverse coral reefs.


The country's largest lake is artificial. Located in the northeast of Peninsular Malaysia, Kenyir Reservoir (369 square kilometers/143 square miles) is also the largest artificial lake in Southeast Asia. It surrounds about 340 islands—formerly hilltops and highlands—over 14 waterfalls, and numerous rapids. Temengor is another large reservoir, near the Thai border.

Tasik Bera, located in southwest Pahang, is the largest natural freshwater lake on the Malay Peninsula. It is situated in the saddle of the main and eastern mountain ranges of the peninsula, with an area of approximately 700 square kilometers (270 square miles).


Peninsular Malaysia's main watershed follows the Titiwangsa mountain range to about 80 kilometers (50 miles) inland, roughly parallel to the western coast. The rivers flowing to the east, south, and west of this range are swift and have cut some deep gorges, but on reaching the coastal plains they become sluggish. Almost all the states in Malaysia have adopted the names of the principal rivers flowing through their respective territories.

The longest river on Peninsular Malaysia is the Pahang (458 kilometers/285 miles). It has its source in the central Cameron Highlands, then flows south and east into the South China Sea. The second-longest river on the mainland, the Perak, flows south out of the Temengor Reservoir for 322 kilometers (200 miles), parallel with the western coast, before entering the Strait of Malacca. The Kelantin (242 kilometers/150 miles), which flows north out of the Cameron Highlands, has spectacular waterfalls at Mount Strong and Lata Beringin.

The Rajang River flows westward across Sarawak for 565 kilometers (350 miles), making it the longest river in the country. Sarawak's other major river is the Lupar River. These rivers and their tributaries are the primary means of inland travel in Sarawak; similarly, in Sabah, the Kinabatangan River, at 563 kilometers (349 miles), provides that region's major transport route. The Libang River Valley in Sarawak separates the two halves of Brunei.


There are no desert regions in Malaysia.


There are no permanent pasture or prairie lands in Malaysia.

Hills dominate the terrain between the two major mountain chains of the Cameron Highlands. The average elevation in this area is 1,829 meters (5,999 feet). It is regarded as the "Green Bowl" of the country, supplying produce such as cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, and green peppers throughout Malaysia and Singapore.


The northern regions in Peninsular Malaysia are divided by a series of mountain ranges known as the Cameron Highlands that rise abruptly from the wide, flat coastal plains. The main range, running along the backbone of the peninsula, is the Titiwangsa, stretching for 500 kilometers (310 miles) southward from the border of Thailand. Its highest peak is Korbu, at 2,183 meters (7,162 feet). A secondary mountain chain lies to the east. Although it is generally lower in altitude, it does contain the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia: Mount Tahan (2,190 meters/7,185 feet).

The interior of Sarawak is an irregular, mountainous mass of unconnected ranges with a mean elevation of about 1,525 meters (5,000 feet). Mount Murud is Sarawak's highest peak, at 2,424 meters (7,950 feet). Mulu (2,376 meters/7,793 feet) is its second-highest peak; this mountain is famous for its caves.


The dense forests of Malaysia are thought to be the oldest in the world. Covering more than two-thirds of the country, they stretch from the mangrove swamps of the western coast, through freshwater swamps, to lowland hardwood forests, heath forests, and mountain forest. There are believed to be around 8,500 species of flowering plants and ferns—and 2,500 species of trees—in Malaysia's forests. About 59 percent of Malaysia's total land area is tropical rainforest. The Titiwangsa Range has the largest remaining continuous forest tract in Peninsular Malaysia.

The interior ranges of Sabah bordering Indonesia are comprised of the same complex mountain masses as those of Sarawak. The only continuous mountain system in East Malaysia, the Crocker Range, stretches from 48 kilometers (30 miles) inland from the western coast and rises to Malaysia's highest peak: Mount Kinabalu (4,100 meters/13,451 feet). Mount Kinabalu is the highest point in the country and the highest summit between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The Brassey Range is parallel to, but lower than, the Crocker Range.


The Malaysian climate, with its combination of heavy rainfall and high temperatures, provides ideal conditions for the formation of limestone caves. Spectacular cave complexes can be found throughout the country. Gua Kelam (Dark Caves), located near the Thai border, traverse approximately 370 meters (1,214 feet) of limestone hills. Tempurung Cave, near the city of Ipoh, is a white marble-and-limestone formation made up of five huge domes, whose ceilings resemble coconut shells, running from east to west. A stream runs throughout its 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles).

Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains one of the most extensive and spectacular limestone cave systems on Earth. Mulu's Sarawak Chamber is the largest natural cavern in the world: 600 meters (1,968 feet) long, 415 meters (1,361 feet) wide, and 300 meters (984 feet) high. Nearby, Deer Cave has two huge entrances at either end of the mountain it penetrates. It is the largest known cave passage, at 2,160 meters (7,085 feet) long and 222 meters (728 feet) deep. Nearly one million bats live in this cave.

The Great Cave—2,160 meters (7,085 feet) long and 220 meters (722 feet) deep—located in Sarawak's Niah National Park is one of the largest in the world. The Niah Caves contain evidence of human existence in Borneo as early as forty thousand years ago. Archaeologists unearthed the fossilized skull of an ancient young homo sapiens ; some tools made out of stone, bone, and iron; and cave drawings.


There are no major plateau regions in Malaysia.


Malaysia relies on several different dams throughout the country to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, and adequate water supply. Batu Dam, Semberong Dam, Bekok Dam, and Macap Dam were built primarily for flood control. Timah Tasoh Dam and Bukit Merah Dam were constructed primarily for irrigation. Kenyir Dam, Bersia Dam, Kenering Dam, Temenggong Dam, and Sultan Abu Bakar Dam were built to generate hydroelectric power as well as to supply water.



Aiken, Robert S., et al. Development and Environment in Peninsular Malaysia . New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Major, John S. The Land and People of Malaysia and Brunei . New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Rain, Nick. Enchanting Islands and Coastal Havens: Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore . Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: S. Abdul Majeed, 1995.

Wright, D. Malaysia . Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Web Sites

Fascinating Malaysia: Nature and Adventure. (accessed April 24, 2003).

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: