10 must-visit museums in Malaysia to learn about our culture and heritage


The Borneo Cultures Museum’s black-and-gold diamond facade is inspired by a Sarawakian craft motif. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

Museum, as well as some art galleries, are a great place to learn about the history and culture of a place or people. In Malaysia, there are numerous interesting museums and art galleries that one can visit to discover our heritage and more.

If you are looking to draw up a weekend itinerary that is fun for the whole family, and one that also includes Malaysian art, culture and history, then add these places to your list.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

Tour the museum’s four galleries for a walk through Malaysian history, starting with early human civilisations in the pre-history section, where a replica of Perak Man, the oldest human skeleton in South-East Asia, stands; through to the Malaysia Today Gallery, which highlights the country’s stories from pre-Independence to current day achievements.

The Malay Kingdoms Gallery highlights the rise of the Melaka Empire in the 15th century, while the Colonial Era Gallery charts its fall in 1511 and subsequent years of foreign influence from the Portuguese, Dutch, British and the Japanese. The National Museum or Muzium Negara also has outdoor exhibitions where a variety of artefacts, ranging from vehicles (check out the trains!), natural and man-made structures, weapons and sculptures, are displayed at its compound.

Another attraction is an original-scale Terengganu timber palace known as Istana Satu, while the Orang Asli Crafts Museum nearby offers visitors a glimpse of the cultures of indigenous communities in Malaysia.

You can also visit the Malay World Ethnology Museum that displays the art and material culture of the Malay people. Don’t forget to stop by at the Music Gallery that exhibits our local traditional musical instruments in the gallery. Both museum and gallery are located within the grounds of the National Museum.

Address: Jalan Damansara, Perdana Botanical Gardens, 50566 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: Opens daily from 9am to 5pm; closed every first Monday of the month, first and second day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri and first day of Hari Raya Aidiladha

More info: Facebook and Instagram (Muzium Negara Rasmi)

TERENGGANU STATE MUSEUM

There are nine galleries that display various segments from the perspective of history and culture, including the Textile Gallery, Maritime Gallery, History Gallery and Science Gallery.

At the Textile Gallery, there are hundreds of textile collections from the past to present day. Among the collections on display are Telepok Cloth, Cindai, Pelangi Cloth and batik.

In the History Gallery, there are archaeological dioramas such as in Gua Bewah, Gua Bidan and Gua Taat, which are all found in Terengganu. In addition, the history of Terengganu can be found in this gallery. The original Inscribed Stone, evidence that Terengganu was the first state to accept Islam in the peninsula, is also in this museum.

An Animal Nature Exhibition is currently happening, displaying nature’s biodiversity and also the 10m-long Spinosaurus dinosaur replica. This Animal Nature Exhibition is on until Dec 31. Time to learn more about history at the Terengganu State Museum.

Address: Terengganu State Museum, Bukit Losong, 20566 Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu

Operating hours: Saturday-Thursday (9am-5pm), closed on Friday

More info: Muzium Negeri Terengganu website

BORNEO CULTURES MUSEUM

Borneo Cultures Museum is housed in a 30,000sq m state-of-the-art building, and is Malaysia’s largest museum complex and the second largest museum in South-East Asia after the Singapore National Museum. The museum opened earlier this year and features five levels and a large exhibition area. There are over 1,000 artefacts that represent the rich history, culture and heritage of the diverse population and indigenous peoples of Sarawak, as well as those on the island Borneo.

There are three permanent galleries in the museum that carry the themes: In Harmony With Nature, Objects Of Desire and Time Changes. There’s also a children’s gallery, arts and craft hub, temporary exhibition area, museum shop, restaurant, event halls and more.

Address: Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, 93400 Kuching, Sarawak

Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 4.45pm; Saturday, Sunday & public holidays, 9am to 4pm

More info: Borneo Cultures Museum website

The Muzium Padi in Kedah is a uniquely-shaped building.The Muzium Padi in Kedah is a uniquely-shaped building.

MUZIUM PADI

Muzium Padi or the Kedah Paddy Museum was officially opened in October 2004. You will find one main building with six other smaller blocks surrounding it. All the exterior of the buildings are decorated with padi motifs, and with the Keriang Mountain as a backdrop, the museum looks like it is located right in the middle of a village with beautiful padi fields.

There are three levels in the museum: The first level showcases the history of padi planting in Kedah, historical tools that were used, and the varieties of rice available in the country. Apart from padi, there are also mini exhibitions on traditional fishing and fish farming.

On the second level, you will find six galleries with paintings and artworks that depict padi and other agricultural activities in Malaysia, from the olden days till today.

On the third level, you will need to climb 59 steps to get to the “peak” of Keriang Mountain. This is actually a large mural (8m tall and 103 wide) of the mountain which allows one to see a panoramic view of “padi fields” down below.

Address: Lot 798 Jalan Gunung Keriang, Mukim Gunung Keriang, 06570 Alor Setar, Kedah

Opening hours: Sunday to Saturday, 9am to 4.30pm; on Fridays it is closed from 12.30pm to 2.30pm. Closed on HariRaya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidiladha

More info: Muzium Padi website

One of the displays at the Muzium Tentera Darat in Negri Sembilan. — Photos: Tourism MalaysiaOne of the displays at the Muzium Tentera Darat in Negri Sembilan. — Photos: Tourism Malaysia

MUZIUM TENTERA DARAT

Muzium Tentera Darat or the Army Museum, is located next to a military base in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan. The museum features the Malaysian Royal Armed Forces’ exploits and achievements throughout the history of its existence. It is the largest army museum in the country and is on par with many other military museums and galleries in the world based on the quality and quantity of its available exhibits.

There are audio-visual rooms where visitors can watch historical footage as well as dramatisations of important real-life events that took place in Malaysia. Exhibits range from artefacts and replicas including military weapons, planes and tanks from the Portuguese era to the Merdeka period.

Address: Batu 4, Kem Si Rusa, 71050 Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan

Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm

More info: Muzium Tentera Darat website

NATIONAL TEXTILE MUSEUM

The National Textile Museum is the perfect stop if you want a quick history lesson about Malaysian art, fashion and craft. There are four permanent galleries dedicated to the art of textiles. This is a small but colourful museum with selected heritage collections such as songket, pua kumbu, telepuk and tekatan, to name a few.

Besides textiles, the Ratna Sari Gallery showcases accessories, jewellery and and other personal adornments of different ethnic groups in Malaysia. Made of gold, silver, copper, beads and plants, these are pieces that are worn on various parts of the body, from head to toe.

Address: JKR 26, Lot 50 Seksyen 70, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, KL

Opening hours: Opens daily from 9am to 5pm; closed every first Monday of the month, first and second day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri and first day of Hari Raya Aidiladha

More info: National Textile Museum website

MUZIUM ADAT ISTIADAT

More popularly known as Istana Jahar, the Muzium Adat Istiadat in Kelantan was built in 1887 and was once the royal palace of Bendahara Long Kundur Sultan Ahmad. It was also used as a tomb for several ruling sultans, including Sultan Ismail Ibni Sultan Muhammad IV (1920-1944). The building was officially opened as a museum in 1992 and was registered as a heritage building in Kelantan in 2005.

Many of the exhibits here feature the state of Kelantan’s royal customs, artefacts and documents from the different eras. Apart from that, there are also textiles, traditional costumes and jewellery, traditional crafts and other important items that visitors can check out.

At the back of the building there is a weapons hall which showcases the different types of weapons used in the olden days including many types of keris, spears, knives and more.

Address: Jalan Sultan, Bandar Kota Baru, 15000 Kota Baru, Kelantan

Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, 8.30am to 4.45pm; closed on Fridays

More info: Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan website

SABAH ART GALLERY

The Sabah Art Gallery organises several exhibitions and events each year that mainly promote artworks by local artists. What’s interesting about this gallery is the building itself, which is shaped like a traditional basket used by one of the indigenous communities in Sabah. Formally known as the Sabah Art Gallery Conservation Building, it is the first officially recognised “green” building in Borneo and was awarded a “Silver” classification from the Green Building Index Assessment Panel in 2012. It is also the first green public art gallery in Malaysia, and is fitted with solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system, movement sensor lights and a passive design.

Traditional motifs commonly used by the state’s many ethnic groups including the Murut, Iranun, Bajau, Lotud and Rungus can be seen throughout the gallery.

There are over 3,000 artworks – paintings, sculptures, carvings, weaving and more – that visitors can check out in the gallery.

Address: 14, Jalan Shantung, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 4pm; closed on Mondays

More info: Sabah Art Gallery website

ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM MALAYSIA

There are 12 permanent galleries at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, which include the architecture, jewellery, textile, coin and seal, arms and armour, ceramics and metalwork galleries. Illustrating the wide influence of the Islamic civilisation, there are also galleries dedicated to art and artefacts in India, China and the Malay world.

The museum shop located on the ground floor offers a selection of Islamic crafts and artefacts from around the world, books that revolve around art and the Islamic world and a product line developed exclusively by the museum.

Address: Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 KL

Opening hours: Opens daily from 9.30am to 6pm

More info: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia website

NATIONAL ART GALLERY

The National Art Gallery (NAG) or Balai Seni Negara underwent major renovations in 2020, and only opened its doors to the public a few months ago. It celebrates its 64th anniversary this year, so you can expect plenty of exhibitions, events and showings to be held at the venue until 2023. Nusa is the national permanent collection exhibition, while Foto Seni is something you can check out at the National Portrait Gallery, located within the NAG. Another feature is Tugu Atas Bukit, a solo exhibition by local artist Saiful Razman.

Address: No. 2, Jalan Temerloh, Off Jalan Tun Razak, 53200 KL

Opening hours: Opens daily, 9am to 5pm

More info: Balai Seni Negara website

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