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Malaysia in Ramadan

Visiting a predominantly Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan may seem daunting for a first-timer. Are all shops closed? Can you eat in public? Is it a good idea to visit?

This article will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Malaysia during Ramadan, including the best places to find food, the benefits of visiting during this time, and some insider’s tips on what to do and what to avoid, so that you’ll get the best out of your trip without unintentionally disrespecting the local culture.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims worldwide have to fast from dawn until sunset. Yes, that means no eating or drinking during the day, for an entire month! Not even a drop of water.

Like in many other religions, fasting is meant to instill self-control and inspire self-development. When fasting, Muslims not only abstain from food and drinks, but also from smoking, engaging in sexual relations, and committing sinful acts, such as lying and fighting.

Fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for all Muslims once they reach puberty, as long as they’re not currently ill, breastfeeding, or menstruating. There are also a number of other conditions that may exempt someone from fasting.

Although young children before the age of puberty are not obliged to fast, they are encouraged to try, as much as they can.

Muslim girls in Malaysia
Malaysian Muslims. Credit: Anuar Salleh / Wikimedia Commons

The annual observance of Ramadan is to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad and lasts twenty-nine to thirty days, from one sighting of the new moon to the next.

As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar system, the official date of Ramadan changes every year, and it may not be the same in every country because it depends on the sighting of the crescent moon.

In 2021, Ramadan in Malaysia is predicted to start on 13th April, ending with the celebration of Eid on 14th May.

What is Ramadan Like in Malaysia?

Muslims in Malaysia make up 60% of the population. Therefore, Ramadan is a big yearly event in the country.

However, this doesn’t mean that everything will come to a complete stop during the fasting month. On the contrary, business will continue as usual — tourist attractions are open, people still go to work, and students still go to school.

In fact, unless you’re the one fasting, you may not notice any changes at all, especially in bigger cities like Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown or in Borneo, where there are lower percentages of Muslims.

Bukit Bintang Kuala Lumpur
Business as usual in Kuala Lumpur. Credit: Sham Hardy / Wikimedia Commons

The only food outlets closed are the ones that are privately owned by Muslims. The rest — including international food chains, non-Muslim restaurants, and the ones in shopping malls — will stay open.

However, in Muslim-majority states such as Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah, the difference is more noticeable, with most eateries closed and the cities appearing almost deserted during the day.

But that’s not a reason to avoid these places altogether. It’s still possible to find food with a little more effort, and whatever they lack during the day, they more than make up for it at night, when the cities burst into life again.

Bazar Ramadan
A Ramadan bazaar in Malaysia. Credit: Happy Fresh.

As early as 4 p.m., restaurants will open and start selling food for iftar (breaking the fast). Most major restaurants and hotels will compete with each other to have the best “Ramadan Buffet”, which allows you too eat as much as your heart desires for a fixed price.

Have a peek at any restaurant just before sundown, and you’ll see a unique spectacle: the tables are fully occupied, the food is on the table, but nobody is eating. It’s only when the call for prayer starts that you will begin to hear the clinks of cutlery and the typical din of a restaurant.

Another unique feature during Ramadan in Malaysia is the Ramadan bazaar — a street market selling exclusively food and drinks. Unlike night markets, which are a weekly affair that starts from around 6 p.m. till late, Ramadan bazaars are open daily during the month of Ramadan, between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Can You Eat in Public in Malaysia during Ramadan?

Woman eating
Credit: Alberto Varela / Wikimedia Commons.

During Ramadan, Malaysian Muslims are not allowed to eat in public (even if they’re exempted from fasting due to health reasons), and restaurants are prohibited by law from allowing Muslim customers to dine in their premises.

This law does not apply to non-Muslims and you will have no problem eating in public. However, you may choose not to, out of respect for those who are fasting. This is of course entirely up to you.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid going to restaurants at sundown, unless you like being stuck in long queues and having to wait longer for your meal. Have your dinner slightly earlier or later to make way for the Muslims to break their fast. You’ll be doing them and yourself a favor.

Why You Should Visit Malaysia during Ramadan

Despite any doubt you may have about visiting Malaysia during Ramadan, there are actually a few benefits of doing so. Here’s why visiting Malaysia during Ramadan may be better than other months:

1. Most attractions — especially the ones outdoors — are typically quieter during the day, as people who fast will prefer to stay indoors. It’s not easy being under the hot sun when you can’t drink any water!

It’s also not much fun to go on outings with friends or family when you can’t bond over food, as Malaysians usually do. So, they tend to save those activities for after Eid.

Quiet Kuala Lumpur
Fewer people outdoors during Ramadan.

What this means for you is that you’ll get to visit these attractions at daytime without having to deal with as much crowd as usual. Even activities that are notorious for always being overbooked months in advance like Mount Kinabalu is possible to book at the last minute during Ramadan.

2. Less waiting time at restaurants. Not a fan of long queues and being kept waiting for your food? Dining out at peak hours like 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. is usually a stressful occasion, particularly in shopping malls or places near office buildings, as all office workers will go out for their lunch break.

This is not the case at all during Ramadan. You can breeze through any restaurant without a reservation and immediately get a table. The waiter will also be more attentive to you as you will be one of their few customers.

3. Ramadan bazaars. Probably everyone’s favorite part about Ramadan are the bazaars. Ramadan bazaars sell all sorts of takeaway food, including some that aren’t typically available in other months, such as bubur lambuk (rice congee with beef/chicken, potato, carrot, coconut milk, and fried shallots).

Bazar Ramadan Telawi
Ramadan Bazaar. Credit: PropertyGuru

Food sold at the bazaars is very cheap. For less than RM10 (USD 2.50), you should be able to get a decent meal with a drink and possibly dessert. They’re usually prepared fresh on the spot. The bazaars are open for everyone, regardless of religion.

If you’re staying in Kuala Lumpur city center, the nearest Ramadan bazaars are in Kampung Baru, Bangsar, Jalan Masjid India, and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

4. Communal meals. In the month of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to do good deeds as they believe the spiritual rewards are multiplied during this time. Mosques usually give out free food for the predawn meal and iftar.

Communal meals
Communal meal at the mosque. Credit: MBJB

If you’re Muslim, you can join these communal meals before/after the congregational prayers. It’s also quite common for people to invite each other for dinner at their homes. Who knows — you might get an invitation too!

5. If you stay on till the end of Ramadan, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the biggest cultural festival in Malaysia: Eid. Eid — or locally known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri — is a 2-day national holiday, but is typically celebrated for a whole month. (After fasting for an entire month, it’s only fair to celebrate for a month too, right?)

Hari Raya Open House
Hari Raya open house. Credit: Kaodim.

The spirit of giving continues on during Eid and people will organize ‘open houses‘, where everybody is invited to come and eat. In the beginning of Eid, you could be invited to multiple open houses in a single day. As per tradition, the country leader will also open his house to members of the public.

If you get the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to visit an open house. It’s a great way to experience the local culture and special Eid delicacies. 

Additional Tips for Visiting Malaysia during Ramadan

  • When traveling in rural areas that are predominantly Muslim, pack some snacks with you, in case you can’t find any restaurant open during the day. Otherwise, go to grocery / convenience stores, as those usually operate as usual.
  • Apart from not eating in public, it’s also polite to dress modestly during the holy month, as a sign of respect.
  • Some companies/government offices may change their operation hours during Ramadan to allow their employees to go home early for iftar.
  • Shops all over the country can be very busy on the week leading up to Eid, as families stock up on new clothes, household items, food, and baking supplies, in preparation for the big celebration.
  • Muslims in Malaysia will travel to their hometowns to visit families during Eid. Avoid traveling interstate during this time if you don’t wish to be stuck in massive traffic. Additionally, public transports also tend to be fully booked, so plan your trip accordingly.

Ramadan in Malaysia

Ramadan in Malaysia

Final Thoughts on Visiting Malaysia during Ramadan

Is it a good idea to visit Malaysia during Ramadan?

YES! While there are a few things to consider, traveling in Malaysia during Ramadan is not as hard as you may think. In fact, there are several advantages to it. To skip visiting Malaysia during Ramadan is to miss out on a unique cultural experience that you won’t see at any other time of the year.

Have you ever visited Malaysia or any other Muslim country during Ramadan? Share your experience in the comment section below.

Check out my other articles on Malaysia:

Malaysia Travel Guide - Ummi Goes Where?

Posted in Malaysia

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48 Comments

  1. Clarice

    This is good to know. To be honest, these are some of my concerns when traveling during Ramadan. Happy to know that business will continue as usual. I agree with you that out of respect, it would be best not to eat in public even if we are non-Muslims.

    • ummi

      Yes, business will still continue as usual, Clarice. In bigger cities and touristy areas, most eateries will stay open too. Nothing much changes, except that you won’t see as many people eating in public as usual. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Prince

    Oh wow! That would definitely be an interesting time to visit. I also didn’t realize that they couldn’t have water while fasting. Yikes! It would be a shame not to be able to find local, Muslim restaurants open, but it’s certainly understandable given the religious observations.

    • ummi

      Yes, Jennifer, but they’re open in the evening, usually from around 4 p.m. onward. Some may stay open till early morning to provide food for predawn meals. So, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to eat at local Muslim restaurants, just not for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. 😉

  3. Ami Bhat

    Oh, I thought they might be as strict as the Gulf countries about not having anything open in the first half of the day, especially restaurants. However, they sure are a lot of more open. I agree that given that, it might be a good idea to go to the popular places and avoid the crowd. And yes, food and treats are always extra special during this time 😀

    • ummi

      Yes, Ami. The Ramadan buffets and bazaars in Malaysia are quite an experience. They are something we always look forward to every year. The government is strict about not allowing Muslims to eat in public, but they’re not strict about restaurants being open. Muslims can even buy food to go (because some may not be able to fast due to health reasons), just so long as they consume it in private.

  4. Catherine Mendoza

    It’s a good point to let people know what to expect in Malaysia during Ramadan. Your article makes me miss Malaysia! It’s a destination I’ve been to plenty of times, and I super loved it! The warmth of people, the foods, yes the buffet style of eating! In the Philippines, we also celebrate Ramadan, and while I haven’t so much associated with Muslim activities, I respect them. I would, on the other hand, get invited to an open house! Sounds very fun and exciting!

    • ummi

      Yes, Catherine! It’s so cool to live in a multi-racial country. We pretty much celebrate everything here, from Eid to Chinese New Year, Deepavali, and Christmas, no matter what our religion is. And each one of these celebrations centers around food… which means open houses throughout the year! I’m glad you got to experience some of the food here. I remember visiting the Philippines during the fiesta, and had a lot fun there too. 😀

  5. Helen

    This is a great article; really informative and interesting. I have a good friend in Malaysia and can’t wait to go and visit her as soon as travel is allowed again…

    • ummi

      I hope you will, Helen. It’s very unlikely that Malaysia will open its borders soon, but if you do get to visit during Ramadan, I hope you’ll find these tips useful. 🙂

  6. Raksha

    Whenever I think of Ramadan, I think about beautiful food as a feast after sunset. My best friend is a Muslim and we have had delicious food after the whole day of fast. Its interesting to know that Malaysia is business as usual during Ramadan. I would have assumed it to be closed during the day. This is good to know as I go to Malaysia very often.

    • ummi

      Yes, Raksha. Visiting Malaysia during Ramadan means you get the best of both worlds. During the day, you still get to do whatever needs to be done (but faster as there are less crowds) and you get to enjoy the festivity in the evening!

  7. Yanitza

    Wow! Very interesting! I had no idea about these fascinating details of Ramadan. I guess it makes sense why non-muslim owned restaurants are the only ones open. It’s also good that you mention that the operating hours might change during Ramadan–very important for travelers!

    • ummi

      Hey, Yanitza. Yes, only non-Muslim restaurants are open during the day while the Muslim-owned ones are open in the evening, unless they’re part of a big chain or in a shopping mall. I hope this helps you plan your trip to Malaysia during Ramadan 🙂

  8. Subhashish Roy

    Thanks for this complete guide on what to expect in Malaysia during Ramadan. I would though prefer my second visit to be during the normal months when everything is open and there is a wider choice as far as restaurants are concerned. But the charm certainly would be lot different during the period of Ramadan.

    • ummi

      That’s absolutely understandable, Subhashish. There’s definitely more choice during the normal months as far as restaurants are concerned. But if you can’t avoid coming to Malaysia during Ramadan, at least you can rest assured that it’s still possible to find food during the day without much difficulty. 🙂

  9. Marielle

    We enjoy cultural experiences like this. In my country, the Philippines, there is also a percentage of the population who is Muslim and celebrates Ramadan. We even have designated holidays for it. I am familiar with all the practices you have mentioned, it’s truly a beautiful thing to respect and behold.

    • ummi

      That’s good to know, Marielle. To my knowledge, the Muslim population in the Philippines are concentrated in the south, but I suppose there must be some of them in other regions too. I agree with you — it’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of. I’m grateful to live in a multicultural nation where we get to observe so many different traditions. 🙂

  10. Yukti Agrawal

    I live in Dubai and I can relate very much to your tips. Good you have shared tips for international travelers to Malaysia during Ramadan. Here also big chains and shopping malls are open. During Ramadan, the buffet style lavish feasts in evening is really enjoyable and must try for everyone. Thanks for all tips.

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Yukti. And thanks for sharing what it’s like in Dubai during Ramadan. I know it’s a big international city but I’ve always wondered. It would be lovely to experience the buffets in Dubai.

  11. Renée

    It’s fascinating to read more about the culture and traditions of Ramadan. Especially to learn that you can’t dine in public if a practicing Muslim faith. I would image it might be a good time to go, as you said for less activity in restaurants and sites.

    • ummi

      It is, Renee. If you stick to the bigger cities, you won’t notice much difference except fewer local tourists and people in restaurants. I hope you enjoyed the article and that it may be beneficial to you if you do come to Malaysia during Ramadan.

  12. MagicandBliss

    That was such an insightful post! I would love to visit Malaysia in Ramadan now for two reasons – to witness the culture and also to cut out the touristy crowd 😀

  13. Ildiko

    Great post. I would think that a lot of people who are non-Muslim and unfamiliar with the fast tradition would shy away from traveling during Ramadan. But you make a lot of great points! I have been invited to several incredible meals for Eid by my Muslim friends. Those meals truly are very special.

    • ummi

      You’re very lucky to get those invitations, Ildiko! I have yet to go to any Eid feast in other countries as I usually stay home for the festival, but I’m sure they’re special no matter the location.
      I guess it makes sense that some travelers might shy away from visiting a Muslim country during Ramadan, since there are some countries that are quite strict in keeping everything closed during the day, but they can rest assured that this is not the case in Malaysia 🙂

    • ummi

      You’re absolutely right, Caitlin. Ramadan is definitely a good time to visit Malaysia, so that you get to avoid crowds and witness the unique traditions at the same time. 🙂

    • ummi

      Glad to have given you that insight, Poonam. Yes, eating in public is prohibited for the local Muslims in Malaysia during Ramadan. This of course doesn’t apply to non-Muslims or foreign visitors. 🙂

  14. Elena Pappalardo

    I really enjoyed reading your insight. That’s helpful to know about traveling interstate as well, which never occurred to me. I also love that events are quieter, which is definitely appealing as a tourist. I hope that I will have the chance to experience this for myself 🙂

    • ummi

      I hope you will too, Elena! Yes, interstate flight/bus/train tickets being sold out is probably the only downside to traveling in Malaysia during the last week of Ramadan. But if you come earlier in the month or if you’ve already got everything booked, that shouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

  15. Megan

    This post was so helpful and informative! There are definitely lots of things to consider when planning a trip to Malaysia during Ramadan, but your tips answered a lot of the questions I would have while planning a trip.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Megan! Glad to have answered your questions. I hope this article will be helpful when you do visit Malaysia during Ramadan. 🙂

  16. Jenny

    This actually sounds like a great time to visit Malaysia. Having less people out in the day appeals to me if I’m going to tourist attractions. I learnt a lot about Ramadan from this article, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Jenny. Glad to have given you a better understanding of the subject. Ramadan is indeed a great time to visit Malaysia, in my opinion. I hope you’ll come and visit us in the future 😀

  17. Jade

    This was a very enlightening post! I am pretty ignorant when it comes to the rules of Ramadan, I will definitely be saving this for visits to Muslim countries! Thanks for sharing!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Jade. It’s important to note that the fasting rules are pretty much the same for all Muslims worldwide, but other rules like eating in public, opening restaurants during the day, etc, may differ from one country to another. I assume the situation might be very different in the Middle East, for example. 🙂

  18. CHELSEA MESSINA

    This was so informative and helpful. I know very little about Muslims & their culture, but i’ve always wanted to learn more and educate myself. I saw an article stating that Muslims can get a COVID shot during Ramadan and I didn’t understand the context, this explains why. Thank you for teaching me so much!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Chelsea! We all learn something new every day. 🙂 Taking medications or vaccines when fasting is a bit of a grey area to some Muslims, but many scholars have said it should be allowed.

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