This year, Chinese New Year (CNY) will fall on 10 Feb (Sunday). The second day of CNY is 11 February (Monday). Due to the first day being on a Sunday, there would be a replacement public holiday off. That means, for normal office workers who did not take leave, they only need to get back to work on Wednesday, 13 February 2013. But if the boss permits, most Chinese would take the entire week off to go back to their hometowns.
However Chinese New Year is one of the major festivals in Malaysia- alongside with Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas. The eve of Chinese New Year on Saturday (9 February) is a very important day for Chinese as we would be having the traditional family reunion dinner on that day. Therefore, the Chinese who are going back to their hometowns would start their journey usually on Friday (8 Feb) or slightly earlier.
How would it impact you as a visitor to Malaysia?
Bus and train (KTM Intercity) tickets leaving Kuala Lumpur to other towns would mostly be sold out starting from Friday, 8 February. If you are buying these tickets around January- it would be very hard to get. That includes even ticket to Singapore. For air ticket, the price would usually be very very expensive especially towards the eve, first and second day of CNY. Because demand are high and tickets are mostly fully booked. Friends of mine staying in East Malaysia like Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Miri would book their tickets back home months in advance as tickets would mostly be either so expensive or literally sold out.
But many people would also drive back to their hometown.
All the major Plus highways would be jammed starting from probably Thursday, 8 February onwards. By 9 and 10, the jam would be unbearable, literally bumper to bumper on the long stretch of the highway. Therefore, unless you are going back to hometown to celebrate, I strongly advise you against travelling during that period. For married Malaysians, they would travel in between towns to see the in-laws. Example, first and second day of CNY, spend in KL and then after that would go back to usually the wife’s hometown. So the highway would be jammed (peak time on 9, 10 and 11).
Towns like Ipoh, Penang, Taiping, Melaka, Johor Bahru, Muar would be literally bumper to bumper as many people are back in their hometown and trying to get out and about. My friends used to hold friends’ reunion in Ipoh and it take them 2 hours to get to Ipoh town because the roads are so jammed.
Kuala Lumpur during Chinese New Year
When I was young, KL is literally a ghost and deserted town during CNY. But not anymore- many people have settled in KL, bought houses and they would even get their parents to come down to stay with them in their new houses. Still, the roads in KL would always be abnormally clear during the entire week of CNY- from 10 February to 15 February (Friday).
But shopping complex like One Utama, Megamall, Paradigm and Sunway Pyramid would be unbearably congested during that time.
In recent years, Kuala Lumpur no longer looked like a ghost town during CNY when everyone went back to their hometowns to celebrate. The malls are generally packed as usual as many people prefer spending CNY shopping. I remember when I was young, the roads were so clear during CNY- a huge difference than now.
I guess it is because many people had settled in KL, buying nice houses and making KL their homes. Usually their parents may come down here instead and take time to do sightseeing.
Whatever it is, I do hope that working adults would not neglect to go back to see their parents during CNY. It is the time of the year where your presence means a lot to them. They may tell you that it’s okay if you are busy or cannot make the time but deep down, they are very saddened and lonely- especially if surrounding houses become abuzz with activities. Therefore doing the festive session, please do not forget them- we would not know how many years we have with them and the gratitude that they have done to raise us up usually cannot be repay.
If you are a first time visitor to Malaysia, perhaps you may want to take note of the following:
Prior to the CNY:
- Most people will be leaving Kuala Lumpur and going back to their respective hometowns as the CNY approaches.
- From 8 February 2013 (Friday) onwards, airlines (especially Air Asia), KTM Intercity Train, express busses leaving/exiting Kuala Lumpur and heading to other cities will be FULLY booked. Avoid planning your travel from KL to other towns like KL to Penang during that time. And even if you can get tickets, they would either be fake tickets (always buy tickets directly from bus counters and not from third parties) or grossly overpriced
- In fact, some people may start taking leave earlier to go back for the preparation- so ticket availability would also be scarce (from KL to other states)
During CNY week (9 Feb CNY eve- 15 Feb):
- KL will be more quieter and the usual traffic crawl would not be happening during peak hours.
- Shopping complexes would be opened as usual and would be quite packed- with crowds similar to the usual weekend crowd- it seems that whoever who remained behind would gather at shopping complexes.
- Most Chinese businesses will be closed. Chinese restaurants that open will charge much more expensive (since the workers would be there serving the customers instead of celebrating the season with their families). You can still find food at mamak, Malay, Indian, Western food easily and usually with no increase in pricing.
- However, the trend there few years is that some smaller or nucleus families may not go back to hometowns- sometimes their family from outer town come over for a visit- since the houses in KL will be more comfortable, air-con and equipped with cable television to watch.
- Genting Highlands, located near KL will have a lot of people- room occupancy would be almost full, everything will be more expensive, you will need to wait for cable cars and buses- so my advise is avoid visiting Genting that time.
- Smaller and sleepy towns would be alive- you will see houses with decorative lights, and sounds of fireworks all over the place and can hear children playing happily away while the adults chat and watch cable TV (Astro Wah Lei Toi would be on like 24 hours a day). Penang and Ipoh will literally have traffic jam all over (because many people came from Penang and Ipoh to work in KL)
- From as early as Friday evening, 15 Feb 13 the jam may be starting at some major entry points to KL like Sungai Besi toll.
- And do avoid planning to travel from other towns back to Kuala Lumpur from 15 Feb (Friday) to 18 Feb (Monday) because you will be moving with a lots and lots of people who are going back to work after the CNY.
But it will always be great to visit Malaysia during a major festival season where the festive mood is very much alive. A good place to go starting from January to 24 February 2013 (Cap Goh Mei or last day of Chinese New Year) will be to head on to Petaling Street in KL.The place is fully alive and lots of CNY stuff are sold there- cute cards, decorations, dolls, souvenirs- unusual stuff that you can take home with you. You can get to Petaling street via the Pasar Seni or Masjek Jamek Putra LRT stops. STAR and monorail also have stops within walking distance to Petaling Street.
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