The Malay peninsula begins in Thailand, just south of Bangkok, and from there stretches south for almost 1000 miles to the Johore Strait, marking the southernmost point of continental Asia. The northern portion of the peninsula is split between Thailand and Myanmar. The southern portion of the peninsula belongs to Malaysia.
A prosperous, moderate Muslim nation, Malaysia occupies a sweet spot in one of history’s busiest intersections. Indians, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans have all played a role in the country’s history at one time or another. Like its neighbor, Indonesia, Malaysia lays claim to a sizable chunk of Borneo where it has two other provinces: Sabah and Sarawak.
The European empires of the 16th century recognized the strategic and economic value of ‘peninsular’ Malaysia and were quick to colonize it. They rotated through as various powers waxed and waned. The Portuguese got here first, then the Dutch, and finally, the British.
Malaysia today, like its city-state neighbor to the south, Singapore, is multi-ethnic and multicultural, with significant Indian and Chinese minorities. Unlike Singapore, Islam is the state religion, though there is freedom of religion for non-Muslims. Its economy has made it one of the Asian ‘Tigers’ and it boasts a high standard of living. Such modernization has not come without cost. Resource extraction, particularly timber and mining in its Borneo provinces has led to criticism by environmental organizations and spurred conflict with indigenous peoples.