Chinese New Year in Malaysia - All You Need To Know

Malaysia Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year in Malaysia is one of the biggest holidays in the country. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, it is celebrated nationwide by the Chinese community living here and falls at the beginning of the year.

While it is also celebrated worldwide, many Chinese people will take this period of time to travel back to their hometowns to celebrate this auspicious festival with their families.

The festival also begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Cap Goh Mei, which is on the 15th day.

Most importantly, on Chinese New Year's Eve, where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner, you will notice the city and villages come to a standstill.

Chinese New Year in Malaysia - What You Need To Know

Malaysia CNY
 Red crackers going off during the Chinese New Year (Pic from

This article highlights the pros and cons of travelling to Malaysia during the Chinese New Year (CNY) Holidays so that you know what to expect.

For the first time visitors to Malaysia, the CNY Festival is something to experience as you encounter open houses (where guest are invited to homes for food and drinks), Giving of Red Packets (Ang Pows), Lion and Dragon Dances, Temple activities and fireworks (red firecrackers). 

The fun in participating in Chinese New Year Visiting is where you experience down to earth simplicity and amazing hospitality displayed by the Chinese community here in Malaysia.

One cannot simply visit a strangers house unless invited, or it is a special open house for everyone organised by the government, ministers or prominent businessmen.

If you have a Chinese friend here in Malaysia and you are visiting during this period, you would most likely be invited to their home on the second or third day of the  Chinese New Year. The first day is always for family only.

 Angry Birds Ang Pows in KL (Pic by TheStar)

Red Packets (Ang Pows)

Ang Pows (Hongbao) are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as Chinese New Year or weddings.

The red colour of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. For the immediate family, the Ang Pows are distributed during the reunion dinner. These packets often contain money in certain numbers that reflect good luck and honorability.

Red Packets or Red Envelopes are also widely used for decorations in homes and businesses where they may hang them or craft them into various Chinese objects like firecrackers.

Giving and pows (Pic by

Who gives Ang Pows? 

Ang Pows are only given by married couples to small children, teenagers and unmarried adults. (raise your hand!).

These days, even Chinese bosses of a company doing well would hand out red packets to staff. Even various government agencies would go around to various organizations to hand out and pows as goodwill in Malaysia.

Tossing Yee Sang (Pic from NST)

Chinese New Year Eating in Malaysia

As most Chinese run restaurants, cafes and hawkers would be closed in the city of Kuala Lumpur, many of the F&B outlets in smaller cities and towns around Malaysia would be opened by the 2nd day of CNY.

Cities like Ipoh, Melaka and Penang would be thriving with business as many restaurants would be opened throughout the festive period.

In the city, most Chinese Restaurants in Hotels would be open as these days, many families would rather spend the reunion dinner there instead of cooking at home.

For those seeking a traditional Chinese dinner, hotels are one of the places where you can try the famous Malaysian Yee Sang (鱼生).

What is Yee Sang?

Yee Sang is a Malaysian Chinese appetizer served before lunch or dinner as a symbol of "good luck" for the new year.

The Yee Sang dish is made from strips of raw fish served with daikon (white radish), carrots, red pepper, turnips, red pickled ginger, sun-dried oranges, daun limau nipis (lime leaves), Chinese parsley, chilli, jellyfish, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers (or fried dried shrimp), five-spice powder and other ingredients, laced with a sauce using plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil.

Yee Sang (Pic from Wikipedia)

How to Eat Yee Sang?

Before lunch or dinner, a yee sang plate will be served and everyone stands up and on cue, then proceeds to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various 'auspicious wishes' out loud.

It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortunes; thus, diners are expected to toss enthusiastically but don't overdo it, or you might mess up the dinner table.

If you are not used to chopsticks, I would recommend you learn this skill as it is totally not cool to be using a fork for this.

Lion dance outside a shopping mall in KL

What Happens During Chinese New Year In Kuala Lumpur? 

You should be concerned that almost all businesses will be closed during the actual celebrations.

The entire city will come to a standstill while the only places opened are the fast-food joints, Indian-Muslim food shops (Mamak shops) and 24-hour convenience stores.

Shopping Malls will be opened, but several shops inside will be closed in the first one or two days. If you plan on doing some serious shopping, the Chinese New Year is not the time for it.

Prominent shopping malls and centres will be the centre of attraction in KL while normals streets would be pretty much not worth visiting as everything would be closed.

Those who really have to do some shopping or be in a shopping mall are some shopping malls. In Kuala Lumpur, you can visit.

And those who prefer the outskirts of KL also find some interesting shopping malls in Petaling Jaya to explore.

Malaysia Chinese New Year Traffic Jams
Traffic jam during Chinese New Year in Malaysia (Pic. Lync)

Chinese New Year Traffic in Malaysia

On travelling during the Chinese New Year period, you should be well warned that the 2-3 days before the festival, massive traffic jams out of Kuala Lumpur city.

In the worst case, it can take about 5 to 8 hours just to reach the city of Ipoh, which is usually only about 2 to 3 hours drive.

All transport modes will be full of travellers, roads, buses, trains and even flights. Either you book your travel arrangements way beforehand or are most likely not going to get tickets.

When going on the highways via bus, taxi or cars, take note of the travel days. Usually, it gets very hectic before and just before the official holiday ends; the return can pose a massive gridlock back into the city of Kuala Lumpur.

If you are travelling during this period, make sure you have something to eat, drink, read or do in the vehicle, besides playing with your phone.

Chinese New Year Lion Dance
Chinese New Year Lion Dance
What to do during Chinese New Year in KL, Malaysia
  • You can stroll around town as the city will be rid of the traffic and crowds
  • Chinatown (Petaling Street) would be a great place to explore
  • Catch a lion or dragon dance at various places around the city and smaller towns
  • Visit a Chinese New Year Open House (check with the newspapers on where and when)
  • Visit some of the Chinese Temples as they will be quite lively
  • Try the Yee Sang at any of the open Chinese restaurants
What to Avoid during Chinese New Year in KL, Malaysia
  • Travelling
  • Shopping
  • Looking for Chinese hawker food in KL city
  • Governmental business
  • Getting Visas
  • Getting anything fixed
  • Playing with Fireworks
*Main picture credit:
Overall, this is the only time of the year that the entire country comes to a standstill. Many years ago (10-20 years), most Chinese run businesses would close for a duration of 10 to 14 days.

These days, they would usually close for 2 to 3 days and some even up to a week. But with the current economy being demanding, many would be back to work on the 3rd day of Chinese New Year.

If you are travelling in Kuala Lumpur or out to some other part of Malaysia, you may want to check some other places to visit during the Chinese New Year in Malaysia.


For those visiting Malaysia during the Chinese New Year Celebrations, may you have a wonderful experience during your trip here?

Double check your reservations at your hotel or guesthouse before you arrive. If you are travelling during this period, make sure you have got all your transportation tickets too.

On a lighter note, make it a point to get to know some local Malaysian Chinese so that you can do a CNY visit to their homes, provided they are in the city, as this would be a wonderful experience.

Most local Chinese people are from out of KL city; therefore, they usually head back to the home towns during the Chinese New Year in Malaysia. But in recent times, some people rather bring their parents over to the city, versus going back home.

Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.


Please Select Embedded Mode To Show The Comment System.*

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form