The fasting month of Ramadan is a special month for Muslims. This year, Ramadan is from 6 June to 5 July 2016, where fasting will be observed from the start of the early morning prayers (around 5.40am) till sundown. The fasting month is regarded as the best month of the year for good deeds, doing charity and prayers.
Many foreigners and tourists may think twice about visiting a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia during Ramadan. Will museums and shops still be open? Will restaurants be open during the day? Will Malaysia still be worth visiting? Will I actually have fun??
Our answer to all those questions is a big yes. During the day, the atmosphere in the smaller cities and towns will be quieter and activities may be low-key, but all this will change after sunset when people can start eating.
Here are some pointers on visiting Malaysia during the month of Ramadan:
Restaurants will still be open
Chinese and Indian restaurants will open as usual but smaller, individual restaurants run by Muslims may be closed during the day and will open only at noon or later at 4pm. Eateries and fast food outlets in shopping malls, however, even those manned by Muslims, will operate as usual.
It’s all in the timing
Here in Malaysia, the sun goes down between 7.20-7.30, in other words, this is when restaurants are at their busiest in Ramadan. There are two options if you plan to go out for dinner during the fasting month: either avoid the crowd or join in the fun.
If you want to avoid the crowd, have an early or late dinner- before 7pm or after 8pm. If you want to eat dinner together with us Malaysians (because non-Muslim Malaysians often join their friends to break fast), be at the dinner venue by 7.15pm to make sure you get a table. Restaurant kitchens will need time to take all the orders and prepare the meals.
Look out for ‘buka puasa’ (breaking of fast) buffets
If you happen to be in Malaysia during Ramadan, lucky you. This is when hotels and large restaurants in major cities will have their buka puasa dinner buffets, where you’ll get to enjoy an incredible spread of Malaysian and Western food. Every buffet will feature a wide variety of delicious meals, so this will be an excellent opportunity for you to try out some of our best local food. Keep your eyes peeled for buffet ads in newspapers or on banners on your daily walks around town.
Look out for Ramadan bazaars
Another feature of the fasting month here in Malaysia are Ramadan bazaars, which are open-air food markets where people buy food to break their fast with. These markets are great fun to visit and are popular with Malaysians from all backgrounds and faiths due to the wide range of food available. Most of the food is Malaysian but now and again you’ll see stalls selling lasagna, kebabs and pizza, especially in urban areas. Your hotel or hostel will know where the nearest bazaars are, but here’s a plus if you stay at BackHome during Ramadan: from 6 June to 1 July 2016, we’ll be running food tours at Ramadan bazaars nearby from 4-6pm, Monday to Friday, so now you know what to do: stay with us during the fasting month and go on our food tours!
Avoid getting stuck in traffic
If you’re going to be anywhere near Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Subang or Shah Alam, do yourself a favour and don’t make the mistake of finding yourself stuck in a taxi between 5.30-8pm. This is the height of rush hour traffic during the fasting month. If you need to get anywhere in the evenings, you’ll be better off taking public transport of the above-road kind, namely, the LRT and the monorail.
The year of “Yes”
We mentioned earlier that Muslims regard Ramadan as a good month for being generous and charitable. If you’re visiting and happen to make some new friends, make sure to say “Yes” if they invite you to join them to break their fast at home. Malaysians love sharing their food and Ramadan especially is a wonderful time to witness the local culture. When you break fast in someone’s home, not only will you be treated to traditional food and sweets, you’ll get to meet the family and observe how they celebrate the fasting month.
Not fasting? No problem
Foreigners aren’t expected to fast but it’s considered polite to avoid obviously eating and drinking in public in front of others. Having said that, Malaysian Muslims will understand and won’t get offended if they see you with a can of Coke or an ice cream- we understand how hot it can get here! It goes without saying, of course, that it’s okay to eat and drink when you’re having your meal in a restaurant.
We hope we’ve managed to convince you to come over to Malaysia during the fasting month! We promise that it’ll be an enlightening and eye-opening experience. See you soon!