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Differences Between Malaysia and Indonesia

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Malaysia and Indonesia are two countries located in Southeast Asia, both of which are known for their intricate cultures, beautiful landscapes, and vibrant economies. While both countries have a lot in common, there are also many differences regarding geography, religion, language, and more.

How is Malaysia different from Indonesia? 

The main difference between the two countries is their size. With an area of about 1.9 million square kilometers, Indonesia is larger than Malaysia, which has an area of about 330,000 square kilometers. Furthermore, Indonesia has over 17,000 islands, whereas Malaysia has only two main parts, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo Island. With about 270 million people, Indonesia has a larger population than Malaysia, with about 32 million.

Discover what makes these two countries so different by reading on!

What is Malaysia like?

malaysia map

Malaysia is a Southeast Asian country with a diverse cultural heritage, located on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo.

This vibrant nation is home to over 31 million people and offers a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European cultures. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation, and its diverse population is reflected in the country's many languages, customs, and beliefs. This nation is the home of tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, and vibrant cities and is a popular tourist destination for its diverse culture, cuisine, and attractions. It has a thriving economy and is home to world-class infrastructure and numerous multinational corporations. Malaysia is considered one of the world's most progressive countries and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

What is Indonesia like?

indonesia map

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic country in Southeast Asia, consisting of over 17,000 islands. It is home to over 276,4 million people, making it the world's fourth-most populous country.

Both politically and geographically, Indonesia is divided into 34 provinces, each with its unique culture, customs, and language. The country is a major oil, natural gas, and coal producer and serves as a strategic economic and political link between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Its diverse landscape and vibrant culture have made the country one of the world's top tourist destinations. With its beautiful beaches, tropical rainforests, and exotic wildlife, Indonesia is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore.

Differences Between Malaysia and Indonesia


The biggest geographical distinction between Malaysia and Indonesia is that Malaysia is located on the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia. In contrast, Indonesia is located on Sumatra, Java, and Borneo islands.

Indonesia is almost six times larger than Malaysia in terms of land size. Indeed, Indonesia's area size is 1,905 million km² while Malaysia's area is 329 847 km².

While the two countries are geographically diverse, Indonesia's 54,720 km coastline is the world's fifth largest, while Malaysia has a far smaller 4,675 km coast.


The Köppen climate indicator identifies Malaysia as having a Tropical Rainforest and Moonson climate, as does Indonesia, which also has a Tropical Savanna climate.

In both countries, the most prevalent subtype is the tropical rainforest climate.

During the wet season, both countries experience high humidity and heavy rainfall. Like in Malaysia, Indonesia's monsoon season starts from November to March. In West Malaysia, the monsoon season may even begin in mid-October.


One major difference between the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia is their size. Indonesia is much larger than Malaysia. Thus, Indonesia's government is much larger, with more ministries and departments.

Indonesia also has more rights and freedoms than Malaysia, including freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Malaysia is more authoritarian, and its government is much more centralized. It also has more restrictive laws on media and other forms of expression.

In both countries, Internet freedom, according to Freedom House, is said to be "Partly Free," with many popular sites like Reddit or Vimeo being blocked in Indonesia.

Ethnic groups

Indonesia comprises many distinct ethnic groups, including Javanese, Sundanese, Malay, and Madurese.

On the other hand, Malaysia is largely comprised of Malay, Chinese, and Indian populations. This wide variety of ethnicities in Indonesia has the potential to create tension, which the government often attempts to manage.

Official Language

The official language spoken in Indonesia is Indonesian, while Malaysia's official language is Bahasa Malaysia.

However, most Malaysian people are multilingual and can understand English, Chinese, and Tamil.

The English language in Indonesia is not prevalent and is less commonly used than in Malaysia. Additionally, Indonesia has various traditional languages still spoken by some communities, such as Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese.

Dominant Religion

In Malaysia, the majority of the population is Muslim (61,3%), while in Indonesia, the majority (86,7%) is Muslim as well, but there is a significantly larger proportion of Christians (10,72%). Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world and has had a history of Christian communities due to Dutch colonization.

Malaysia, on the other hand, is mainly Muslim. Still, it also has significant numbers of Buddhists (19,8%) and Christians (9,2%), making it a much more diverse nation regarding religion and culture.


Malaysian cuisine is heavily influenced by Chinese and Indian cooking, while Indonesian cuisine has a strong Dutch influence due to its colonial past.

Malaysian dishes are generally spicier and sweeter than Indonesian dishes, with a heavy reliance on spices and coconut milk (like in the Nasi Lemak). On the other hand, Indonesian dishes are more savory and often use peanut sauce (you can find this sauce in the Gado Gado), soy sauce, and other salty flavors. Malaysian cuisines also tend to use more noodles, while Indonesian dishes are more likely to be served with rice.

Capital city

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia's capital city. Its territory is situated in the Selangor state, in the middle of Peninsular Malaysia's west coast. Some of its famous sights are the Petronas Towers and the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Over 1,8 million citizens live in Kuala Lumpur, which is known as a strong travel hub of Southeast Asia.

Jakarta's Indonesian capital is located in the Nord-West of Java island. Its landmarks include Istana Merdeka, the Monumen Nasional, and the Jakarta Cathedral. It has around 10.56 million residents.


Malaysia has the Ringgit as its currency, while Indonesia uses the Rupiah.

The exchange rate between the Ringgit and the Rupiah is 1 Ringgit to 1350 Rupiah, which gives Malaysian travelers a slightly higher purchasing power in Indonesia than Indonesian travelers in Malaysia.

Furthermore, the Ringgit is a much more stable currency than the Rupiah, with less fluctuation in the exchange rate.

Tourist Attractions

Indonesia is known for its vast array of stunning beaches, rich cultural heritage, and stunning views of volcanoes (Mount Semeru) and rainforest. Meanwhile, Malaysia is well-known for its diverse cultures, modern cities, and wonderful wildlife sanctuaries.

Top 5 tourist attractions in Indonesia:

  1. Bali: The island of Bali is known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant culture, and luxury resorts. It is a popular destination for surfers, divers, and people looking to relax and enjoy the tropical climate.
  2. Borobudur Temple: This ancient Buddhist temple is one of the largest and most impressive in the world. It is located in Central Java and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. Komodo National Park: This park is home to the famous Komodo dragon, as well as a variety of other wildlife species. It is a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
  4. Lake Toba: Lake Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and is located on the island of Sumatra. It is known for its beautiful scenery and is a popular spot for swimming, boating, and other water sports.
  5. Yogyakarta: Yogyakarta is a city on the island of Java and is known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant arts scene. It is home to many historical landmarks and is a popular destination for travelers interested in history and culture.

Top 5 tourist attractions in Malaysia:

  1. Petronas Twin Towers: These iconic skyscrapers are the tallest twin towers in the world and are located in Kuala Lumpur. Visitors can go to the observation deck on the top floor for panoramic views of the city.
  2. Cameron Highlands: This highland region is known for its cool climate and beautiful scenery. It is a popular destination for hiking, sightseeing, and enjoying outdoor activities.
  3. Penang: Penang is an island off the coast of Malaysia known for its food, culture, and history. It is a popular destination for travelers interested in trying local specialties like char kway teow and laksa.
  4. Taman Negara: Taman Negara is a national park in Malaysia that is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. It is a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
  5. Perhentian Islands: The Perhentian Islands are a group of small islands off the coast of Malaysia that are known for their beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. They are a popular spot for snorkeling, diving, and other water sports.

National Symbols

The national symbol of Malaysia is the national flower, Hibiscus Rosa-sinensis, and Sarawak's state flower. The national animal of Malaysia is the Malayan tiger, also the state animal of Terengganu. The national anthem of Malaysia is "Negaraku" and the national day celebration is held every 31 August.

In comparison, the national symbols of Indonesia are the flower, Moon Orchid; the animal, Asian Elephant; and the anthem, "Indonesia Raya." The national day of Indonesia is celebrated on 17 August.

Comparison chart: Malaysia vs Indonesia

GeographySouth-East AsiaSouth-East Asia
ClimateTropical rainforestTropical rainforest
GovernmentDemocratic and federal governmentsDemocratic and federal governments
Ethnic Groups150+300
Official LanguagesMalayIndonesian
Dominant ReligionIslamIslam
CuisineSpicy, aromatic, sweet (coconut-rich), and sourFlavourful, spicy, fresh, savory
Capital CityKuala LumpurJakarta
CurrencyRinggit (MYR)Rupiah (IDR or RP)
Tourist AttractionsPetronas Twin Towers, Camerons Highlands, Penang IslandBali, Komodo Island, Borobudur Temple, Lake Toba
National SymbolsHibiscus, Malayan tiger, Negaraku national anthemMoon Orchid, Asian elephant, Indonesia Raya national anthem

How are Malaysia and Indonesia similar? 

Both countries are located in Southeast Asia and are predominately Muslim countries. Both countries are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which promotes economic and political cooperation between member states. Both countries also have a similar hot and humid climate with monsoon seasons.

As a result of their colonization by European powers, Malaysia and Indonesia countries share similar histories and cultures. Furthermore, both countries are popular tourist destinations and have growing economies.


Which island contains both Indonesia and Malaysia?

Indonesia and Malaysia are both located on the island of Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is on the island's western side, while Malaysia is on the eastern side. Borneo is also home to the country of Brunei, which is located on the northern coast of the island.

How did Islam spread to Malaysia and Indonesia?

Islam is believed to have first arrived in Malaysia and Indonesia through traders and merchants who came to the region from the Middle East and South Asia. These early Muslim traders and settlers played a key role in spreading the religion throughout the region.
Over time, Islam gradually became more widespread and began to influence the cultures and societies of both Malaysia and Indonesia. Today, Islam is the dominant religion in both countries, although significant populations of people practice other religions.

Which European colonial powers occupied Indonesia and Malaysia?

Indonesia was first colonized by the Dutch in the early 17th century and remained a Dutch colony until the end of World War II. Malaysia, on the other hand, was colonized by the British in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indonesia and Malaysia gained independence from their European colonizers in the aftermath of World War II.


In conclusion, Malaysia and Indonesia are two different countries located in Southeast Asia. While they share many cultural similarities, they have distinct differences regarding the geography and climate of their respective countries. Malaysia is closer to the equator and experiences a tropical climate all year round, while Indonesia is located further south and experiences a monsoon climate. Both countries are known for their beautiful natural landscapes and friendly people, making them both popular tourist destinations.

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About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
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