Geography of Malaysia

Geography of Malaysia
Continent Asia
Region Southeast Asia
Coordinates 2°30'N 112°30'E
Area Ranked 67th
329,847 km2 (127,355 sq mi)
99.63% land
0.37% water
Borders Total land borders
3,147.3 km (1,956 mi)
646.5 km (402 mi)
2,019.5 km (1,255 mi)
481.3 km (299 mi)
Highest point Mount Kinabalu (4,095 m)
Lowest point Indian Ocean (0 m)
Longest river Rajang River

The geography of Malaysia deals with the physical and human geography of Malaysia, a country located in Southeast Asia. There are two distinct parts to this country being Peninsular Malaysia to the west and East Malaysia to the east. Peninsular Malaysia is located south of Thailand, north of Singapore and east of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. East Malaysia is located on the island of Borneo and shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia.



Located near the equator, Malaysia's climate is categorised as equatorial, being hot and humid throughout the year. The average rainfall is 250 centimetres (98 in) a year[1] and the average temperature is 27 °C (80.6 °F).[2] The climates of the Peninsula and the East differ, as the climate on the peninsula is directly affected by wind from the mainland, as opposed to the more maritime weather of the East. Malaysia is exposed to the El Nino effect, which reduces rainfall in the dry season. Climate change is likely to have a significant effect on Malaysia, increasing sea levels and rainfall, increasing flooding risks and leading to large droughts.[3]

Malaysia faces two monsoon winds seasons, the Southwest Monsoon from late May to September, and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March. The Northeast Monsoon brings in more rainfall compared to the Southwest Monsoon,[4] originating in China and the north Pacific. The southwest monsoon originates from the deserts of Australia. March and October form transitions between the two monsoons.[3]

Local climates are affected by the presence of mountain ranges throughout Malaysia, and climate can be divided into that of the highlands, the lowlands, and coastal regions. The coasts have a sunny climate, with temperatures ranging between 23 °C (73.4 °F) and 32 °C (89.6 °F), and rainfall ranging from 10 centimetres (4 in) to 30 centimetres (12 in) a month. The lowlands have a similar temperature, but follow a more distinctive rainfall pattern and show very high humidity levels. The highlands are cooler and wetter, and display a greater temperature variation. A large amount of cloud cover is present over the highlands, which have humidity levels that do not fall below 75%.[3]

The highest temperature was recorded at Chuping, Perlis on 9 April 1998 at 40.1 °C (104.2 °F). The lowest temperature was recorded at Cameron Highlands on 1 February 1978 at 7.8 °C (46.0 °F). The highest rainfall recorded in a day was 608 mm (23.9 in) in Kota Bharu, Kelantan on 6 January 1967. The highest rainfall recorded in a year was 5,687 mm (223.9 in) at Sandakan, Sabah in 2006. Meanwhile, the lowest rainfall recorded in a year was 1,151 mm (45.3 in) at Tawau, Sabah in 1997.[5] The wettest place in Malaysia is Kuching, Sarawak with an average rainfall of 4,128 mm (162.5 in) with 247 days of rain a year. The driest place in Malaysia is in Chuping, Perlis with average rainfall of only 1,746 mm (68.7 in) a year.[5]


Malaysia is located on the Sunda shelf, and is tectonically inactive. The oldest rocks in the country date from 540million years ago, and are mostly sedimentary. The most common form of rock is limestone, formed during the Paleozoic era. Limestone laid down in East Malaysia during the Tertiary period has since eroded, and such erosion forms basins of sedimentary rocks rich in oil and natural gas. The mountain ranges in Malaysia were formed through orogenesis beginning in the Mesozoic era.[3]


Mount Kinabalu, the highest point of Malaysia, is located in Sabah.

The total land area of Malaysia is 329,847 square kilometres (127,350 sq mi), the 67th largest country in the world in terms of area.[6] It is the only country to contain land on both mainland Asia and the Malay archipelago.[3] Peninsular Malaysia makes up 132,090 square kilometres (51,000 sq mi),[1] or 39.7%, while East Malaysia covers 198,847 square kilometres (76,780 sq mi), or 60.3% of the total land of the country. From the total land area, 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq mi) or 0.37% is made up of water such as lakes, rivers, or other internal waters. Malaysia has a total coastline of 4,675 kilometres (2,905 mi), whereby Peninsular Malaysia has 2,068 kilometres (1,285 mi), while East Malaysia has 2,607 kilometres (1,620 mi) of coastline.[6] Malaysia has the 29th longest coastline in the world. The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West (Peninsula) and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to hills and mountains.[6]

This video showing night lights over the Malay Peninsula was taken by the crew of Expedition 28 on board the International Space Station.

Peninsula Malaysia covers the southern half of the Malay Peninsula,[3] and extends 740 kilometres (460 mi) from north to south, and its maximum width is 322 kilometres (200 mi).[1] It is very mountainous, with more than half of it over 150 metres (492 ft) above sea level.[3] About half of Peninsular Malaysia is covered by granite and other igneous rocks, a third more is covered by stratified rocks older than the granite, and the remainder is covered by alluvium.[7] Harbours are only available on the peninsula's western side,[1] and the most fertile land occurs when river valleys flow out to the sea. The coastal plains bordering the straits of Malacca are the most densely populated areas of Malaysia, and contains Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.[3]

East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, has a coastline of 2,607 kilometres (1,620 mi).[6] It is divided between coastal regions, hills and valleys, and a mountainous interior. There are only two major cities, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Much of southern Sarawak is coastal lowlands, which shifts to a series of plateaus going north, ending in the mountainous regions of Sabah.[3]

Mountain ranges

The highest mountain range in Malaysia is the Crocker Range in Sabah, which divides the state in half. This range houses Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the country,[8] as well as Mount Tambuyukon, the third highest in the country. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095.2 metres (13,436 ft), is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[9] Mountain ranges in the East tend to follow north-south or northeast-southwest paths, and the highest ranges form the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. The mountains contain many jagged limestone peaks.[3] The Trus Madi Range, also in Sabah, houses Mount Trus Madi, the second highest peak in Malaysia. Bombalai Hill in Sabah is the only active volcano in Malaysia.

Peninsula Malaysia contains numerous mountain ranges running parallel from north to south along the peninsula.[3] The main mountain range is the Titiwangsa Mountains, which divides the peninsula between its east and west coasts.[10] It houses Mount Korbu, the second highest peak in the Peninsular. These mountains are heavily forested, and mainly composed of granite. The range is the origin of some of Peninsula Malaysia's river systems.[11] To the east of this range is the Bintang Range.[1] The highest peak in the Peninsular is Mount Tahan, located on the Tahan Range.


Malaysian forests can be categorised as tropical rainforest. Approximately 58.2% of Malaysian land is covered by forest.[12] A large amount of lowland forest present below an altitude of 760 metres (2,493 ft).[1] East Malaysia, like most of Borneo, was formerly covered with Borneo lowland rain forests[13] with over 2000 tree species.[3] However, much of it has been cleared,[13] due to the increase in logging since the 1960s and the increase of shifting cultivation. Over 80% of Sarawak's forests have been felled, and the logging throughout East Malaysia has polluted waterways, increased erosion, and damaged agriculture.[3] Some state governments have now taken measures to halt the degradation of the rainforst.[13]

Malaysia's rainforest's are made of a variety of types, mainly dipterocarp, swamps, and mangroves. The majority of the forest is dipterocarp forests.[13] Dipterocarps species are centred in Malaysia.[14] There are over 1,425 square kilometres (550 sq mi) of mangroves in Malaysia.[1] Some areas are designated as forest reserves, state parks, or national parks. The management of these reserves as under control of the Department of Wildlife and National Park, the Forest Department of Sarawak, the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Foundation, and Sabah Parks. As of 2000, there are two World Heritage Sites under the natural category – Kinabalu National Park and Gunung Mulu National Park.


Numerous caves run through the Peninsula and the East, due to the karst landscape caused by water eroding limestone. The Mulu Caves in East Malaysia are the largest caves in the world. They are located between the Penambo range and Brunei, and form a major tourist attraction. At 700 metres (2,297 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) high the Sarawak Chamber is the largest cave chamber in the world. Other famous caves are the 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) Deer Cave and Lang's Cave.[3]


A beach on Redang Island in the South China Sea.

Malaysia contains numerous islands, the largest of which is Labuan,[15] which has an area of 92 square kilometres (40 sq mi).[3] It is followed by Banggi Island in Sabah, followed by Betruit Island in Sarawak, Langkawi in Kedah, and Penang Island in Penang. The largest island shared with another country is Borneo, followed by Sebatik Island. In addition, Malaysia lies within the world's coral reef distribution.[16] The reefs can be usually found around islands such as Sipadan Island, Swallow Reef, and Redang Island.[citation needed] Sipadan Island, an underwater mountain, is Malaysia's only oceanic island.[17]

Extreme points

The southernmost point of Malaysia is located in the district of Serian in Sarawak. Tanjung Piai on the southern tip of Johor is the southermost point in Peninsular, and thus of the whole of continental Eurasia.[18][19] The easternmost point is found on the tip of Dent Peninsular in Lahad Datu district in Sabah. The northernmost point is found on the northern tip of Banggi Island. The westernmost point is found on the western tip of Pulau Langkawi in Kedah.

Bodies of water

The 1056m[1] Johor-Singapore Causeway connects the Malaysia and Singapore across the Straits of Johor. In the background is Johor Bahru.

Between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia is the South China Sea, the largest body of water around Malaysia. Facing the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia there is the Straits of Malacca towards the south, and the Andaman Sea towards the north. The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is arguably the most important shipping lane in the world.[20] These seas are marginal seas of the Indian Ocean.[citation needed] Off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is the South China Sea,[3] while a small part in the north lies within the Gulf of Thailand. These form part of the marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean. The Straits of Johor off the south of Peninsular acts as a maritime border of Malaysia and Singapore.[citation needed] In East Malaysia, the western coasts of Sabah and Sarawak faces the South China Sea. The northeast coast of Sabah faces the Sulu Sea, while the southeast coast of Sabah faces the Celebes Sea.[3]

Malaysia claims 12 nm (22 kilometres (14 mi)) as its territorial waters,[citation needed] which extend into the Coral Triangle.[21] It also claims 200 nm (370 kilometres (230 mi)) of exclusive economic zone. In addition, Malaysia claims 200 metres (656 ft) in the depth of the continental shelf or to the depth of exploration in within the area below the South China Sea known as Sundaland.[22] The territorial claim for the Straits of Malacca is shared between Malaysia and Indonesia in accordance to a treaty signed in 1970 known as the Treaty Between the Republic of Indonesia and Malaysia on Determination of boundary Lines of Territorial Waters of the two Nations at the Strait of Malacca.[23]


The Bera Lake in Pahang is one of the largest lakes in Malaysia, and one of the only two natural lakes in Malaysia with Tasik Chini. Pedu Lake is a 12 kilometres (7 mi) long lake located 5 kilometres (3 mi) from the Malaysian-Thai border and Kenyir Lake is the largest artificial lake in Southeast Asia.


There are many systems of rivers found around Malaysia. The longest is the Rajang River in Sarawak with a length of 760 kilometres (472 mi). The second longest is the Kinabatangan river in Sabah with a length of 560 kilometres (348 mi). The longest river in the Peninsular Malaysia is Pahang River with a length of 435 kilometres (270 mi).


Malaysia is a megadiverse country, with a high number of species and high levels of endemism.[24] These forests contain the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.[13] The clearing of the Borneo lowland rain forests has been cleared causing wildlife to retreat into the upland rain forests inland.[13]

Natural disasters


Peninsular Malaysia Precipitation Map on December 2004 showing heavy precipitation on the east coast, causing floods there

With 189 water basins in Malaysia and an average rainfall of over 2000mm per year, Malaysia is prone to flooding. There has been 15 major flooding in Malaysia since 1926. Flooding has been a larger concern today due to rapid development in the river catchment area which increase the river runoff and decreasing the river capacity. The recent 2006 and 2007 flooding in Johor has resulted in loss of RM1.5 billion and 18 lives in addition displacing 110,000 people temporarily.[25]

Seismic activity

Malaysia is situated between two major boundaries of tectonic plates, Australian Plate and Eurasian Plate in the west of Peninsular Malaysia and Philippine Sea Plate and Eurasian Plate in the East of Malaysia. Tremors, mostly non-lethal can be felt in Malaysia, caused by earthquakes in Sumatra islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.[26]

Impacts of seismic activity on building in Malaysia has heighten interest since the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Although Malaysia is seismically stable, areas of concern are the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia such as Penang and Kedah and also the eastern state of Sabah.[27]

Natural resources

Minerals and petroleum

Malaysia produces petroleum and is a net exporter.[28] Malaysia also produces liquefied natural gas as well as various other related products, most of which are found off the coasts of Terengganu, Sabah, and Sarawak. Natural resources:tin, petroleum, timber, copper, iron, ore, natural gas, bauxite

Malaysia was the largest exporter of tin until the industry wide collapse in 1980s. Tin deposit are found in Selangor, Kinta valley in Perak, Pahang and Johor.[29] There are significant deposit of gold in Pahang towns of Raub and Kuala Lipis and also Kelantan's district of Gua Musang.[30]

Coal is mostly concerated in Sarawak town of Kapit, Mukah and Silantek.


Timber can be found in the vast jungles in Malaysia, especially in East Malaysia. Malaysia total exports for timber and other timber products amounted to MYR 23.4 billion in 2007.[31]

Land use

Large areas of land are used as palm oil plantations, rubber plantations, and paddy fields. Malaysia is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world producing 15.8 million tonnes of crude palm oil in 2007.[28][31] Malaysia is also one of the largest producers and exporters of rubber and other rubber products.[32]

In 2001 the percentage arable land in Malaysia is 5.5%. Croplands consists of 17.6%, and pasture 0.9%. Forests covers 58% while other land uses consists of 17%.[33] In 1998, irrigated land covers 2,941 km².

Human geography

Peninsular Malaysia is more populated than East Malaysia where 79.2% of the population lives in the Peninsular. In 2002, 59% of Malaysian population lived in urban areas, while the rest live in rural areas.[34] The largest city is Kuala Lumpur with a population of 1.89 million people in the city, and about 7 million in the metropolitan area known as Klang Valley. Other major cities include Georgetown, Johor Bahru, Ipoh, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu.

Political geography

Map of the states of Malaysia

Malaysia is divided into thirteen states and three Federal Territories. Eleven states and two Federal Territories are found in Peninsular Malaysia. While two states and one Federal Territory are found in East Malaysia. The states are further divided into administrative districts. In Sabah and Sarawak, they are first divided into divisions, then further divided into districts. There are separate subdivisions for electoral districts for polling purposes.

International borders between Malaysia and Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei are defined mostly by geological features such as the Perlis River and Golok River between Malaysia and Thailand; Straits of Johor between Malaysia and Singapore; and Pagalayan Canal between Malaysia and Brunei. However, borders that extends to the seas are defined by agreements such as Straits Settlement and Johore Territorial Waters Agreement of 1927 which defines Malaysia and Singapore water borders.

Malaysia's land borders are well established. The border with Thailand was established in 1909 when Siam ceded Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu to the British. Maritime border disputes between Brunei and Malaysia and a Bruneian claim on Limbang, Sarawak were resolved in an exchange of letters between the two countries on 16 March 2009 after 20 years of negotiations.[35] Malaysia and Indonesia have some overlapping maritime claims, notably in the area around Sabah. An ongoing series of meetings to resolve these claims has produced 16 border agreements (to September 2010).[36][37] Malaysia and Singapore also have disputes concerning some maritime borders.[6] The Philippines has a dormant claim to the Malaysian state of Sabah.[6] Malaysia is also involved in a complex dispute, involving Vietnam, Brunei, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, and the Republic of China (Taiwan), concerning the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[6]

See also

  • Environment of Malaysia


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  16. ^ "Coral reef image". NASA. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
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  19. ^ "Travel Times". 2003-08-22. Archived from the original on 2003-08-22. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  20. ^ Andrew Marshall (2006-07-31). "Waterway To the World - Summer Journey". Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
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External links

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