The arts and crafts of Malaysia are as colourful and rich as its multicultural background. From cloths to kites, Malaysian artisans use various media for their expression. Internationally renowned Malaysian arts and crafts include fashionable beach sarongs and pewter products from the Royal Selangor Company.

A popular souvenir to bring home from the east coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan is batik. Traditionally a technique of hand-dyeing fabrics using wax to repel the dye in select places, batik also refers to printed fabrics decorated with classic batik motifs. Another popular Malaysian fabric, the songket, is made by weaving gold and silver threads together with fabric threads to create delicate designs.

Some textiles have deeper religious significance. The process of weaving the pua kumbu (a sacred ceremonial textile), for example, represents a spiritual and socio-religious undertaking for the Iban women in Sarawak.

Yet another popular handicraft item is the labu sayong, a glossy, black-coloured clay jar. Each gourd-shaped jar takes days in forming, firing, drying and engraving. The most authentic ones can be found in Kampung Sayong in Perak.

While you’re in Kelantan, don’t miss the opportunity to experience a dying folk art, the wayang kulit (shadow puppet). Be enthralled as the Tok Dalang (puppet master) skilfully manipulates puppets etched from cow or buffalo leather into riveting characters from the odysseys of Ramayana and Mahabharata, against a backdrop of live gamelan music.

Also look out for large, colourful kites called wau. The kite’s frame is handmade from bamboo, while the patterns and motifs are carefully glued on piece by piece from rice paper.

In addition to its handicraft, Malaysia’s contemporary art scene is turning heads and starting conversations. Viewed as dynamic and relevant, work from the Malaysian contemporary art scene has been auctioned at record prices abroad, establishing visionary Malaysian artists as a force to be reckoned with.

Key Tips

  • Don’t miss out on Malaysia’s vibrant performance art. Check out what’s on in venues like Istana Budaya, KL Performing Arts (KLPAC) and The Annexe Gallery during your stay.

  • If you’re thinking of buying some handmade souvenirs and have limited time, head to Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. The many arts and craft stalls ensure plenty of choice, from wooden handicraft to all kinds of batik items.

  • A good starting point to explore Malaysian traditional arts and craft is to visit the Sarawak Cultural Village in Sarawak or Taman Mini Malaysia & Mini ASEAN in Melaka. Here, you will be able to witness traditional craftsmen in action and perhaps even try your hand at batik or other artsy activities.