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Hari Merdeka

A Guide to the Malaysian Independence Day Celebrations


Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur

Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Malaysia's Independence Day (August 31), known as Hari Merdeka, is a festive time to be in Kuala Lumpur, or anywhere in Malaysia. The country only gained its independence from Britain in 1957, and Malaysians still celebrate the historic event with gusto.

While in Malaysia for Hari Merdeka, expect small celebrations all over the place, a parade, fireworks, and a lot of smiling faces.

Hari Merdeka in Malaysia

Major cities throughout Malaysia have their own celebrations for Hari Merdeka, however, Kuala Lumpur is undoubtedly the epicenter. While the festivities are toned down a bit when Hari Merdeka overlaps with Ramadan, Malaysia still celebrates with a parade, flags, and loads of illegal fireworks in the streets!

Each Hari Merdeka comes with a logo and theme, usually a slogan oriented toward unity as Malaysia has a large mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese citizens with different ideologies and religions.

Malaysia's Independence Day

Malaysia gained their independence from British rule on August 31, 1957. The official announcement was made at the Royal Selangor Club Padang in Kuala Lumpur in front of dignitaries which included the king and queen of Thailand. The event then moved to Merdeka Stadium where more than 20,000 people gathered to celebrate the sovereignty of their new country.

The lights were turned off for two minutes of darkness, then at midnight the British Union Jack was lowered and Malaysia's new flag raised in its place.

The Merdeka Parade

Hari Merdeka ends enthusiastically every August 31st with a festival and parade known as the Merdeka Parade. A royal procession, cultural performances, military demonstration, intricate floats, and other activities fill the day.

The Merdeka Parade is held in a different venue every year, but regularly returns to Merdeka Square -- not far from the Perdana Lake Gardens and Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. Ask any local about where to find the parade; plan to grab your spot to watch in the morning.

The Federation of Malaysia

Although Malaysia gained its independence in 1957, the Federation of Malaysia -- comprised of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo along with Singapore -- was not formed until 1963. The day became known as Malaysia Day and is celebrated as a national holiday on September 16.

Singapore later gained its own independence from Malaysia on August 9, 1965.

Travel During Hari Merdeka

Try to arrive in Kuala Lumpur a few days early as Hari Merdeka affects flight prices, accommodation, and bus transportation. Many public services close in observance of Independence Day and buses to other parts of Malaysia may be full.

You'll probably make lots of new friends during Hari Merdeka; take a minute to learn how to say hello in Malay!

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