The Malay Peninsula is a 1,555km long, north-south outreach of the Southeast Asian land mass. It stretches in the north from south of Bangkok and Tavoy in Burma/Myanmar down to Johor Bahru at the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia. Johor Bharu lies on the first degree northern latitude, close to the equator. Cape Piai near Johor Bharu is mainland Asia's southernmost point. At it's widest point the peninsula measures about 322km, at the narrowest point at the Isthmus Kra merely 44km.
The Malay Peninsula is politically separated into the three states of (south) Thailand, the southernmost part of Burma/Myanmar and west Malaysia. In the east the peninsula is bordering to the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea (Pacific Ocean), in the south to the Johor Strait and the Singpore Strait, to the west the Strait of Malacca and further north the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean).
The Tenasserim Mountain Chain
The mountain chain at Ranong in Thailand, seen from Kawthaung / Burma (Victoria Point) near the Kra Isthmus. The coastlines are mostly overgrown with mangrove forests, and the mountains are close to the sea. Ranong Province is known as the province in Thailand with the most rain over the year. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
East of Burma/Myanmar lies the Mergui Archipelago with it's 400 bigger and smaller islands. Other islands are Ko Chang and Ko Phayam in the Andaman Sea, Phuket, the Phi Phi Islands and Ko Lanta, who belong to Thailand. Langkawi, Penang and Pangkor Island are more islands west of Malaysia. Not far southeast lies the neighbouring huge island of Sumatra, from Malacca only about 30km away, while the southern peninsula's tip is connected with a bridge to the island of Singapore. Few kilometers further south of Singapore lies the island group of the Riau Archipelago. In the east, besides of the further away Borneo are merely a few smaller islands. There is Pulau Tioman, the only bigger and touristic Malaysian island, there is Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao further north in Thai waters.
The backbone of the Malay Peninsula is the Titiwangsa Mountain Chain, which is part of the Tenasserim Mountain Chain. These mountains expand rather at the western side, what makes the rivers who flow into the Andaman Sea respectively Indian Ocean, considerably shorter than the rivers who run westwards into the South China Sea.
Tenasserim Mountains at Krabi / Thailand
Typical for the mountains around Krabi and along the west coast are these limestone mountains with their bizarre shapes. The slopes are very steep and impassable. They make therefore good refuges for animals. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
The highest peak of the Titiwangsa Mountain Chain is Mount Tahan in Malaysia with a height of 2,187m.
Besides the mountains there are wide plains, partially interrupted by wild, if not bizarre looking isolated mountains, lakes and long, long beaches. The western side of the peninsula get's much more rain than the west. In Ranong Province / Thailand the coastlines are still widely coined by large mangrove forests. The natural vegetation of the tropical peninsula was by a great part rainforest. As everywhere in our modern times, nature is getting destroyed for the sake of profit-making. Large parts of the rainforest fell victim to rubber plantations (particularly Thailand), palm oil plantations (particularly Malaysia), and other cash crops. Wet rice cultivation takes place in the plains.
In earth-historical times the Malay Peninsula was connected with the neighbouring islands, including Sumatra, Java and Borneo (see: The Wallace Line).
Maps of the Malay Peninsula
For large, interactive versions of the 'Map of South Thailand' or 'Peninsular Malaysia' click the links or on the image.
For a large, topographic 'Map of the Malay Peninsula' click the link.
The western coasts and slopes are exposed to the heavy rainfalls of the southwest monsoon. The mountain chain is a climate border. The east of the peninsula is exposed to the northeast monsoon and has a clearly different climate, although there are only a few kilometers between the two different zones.
Victoria Point / Kawthaung
The southernmost point of Burma/Myanmar is Victoria Point / Kawthaung on the Malay Peninsula. The long months of the southwest monsoon bring heavy rainfalls and typhoons. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
There is a main railroad line which was built in the early 20th century, which connects Bangkok via Hat Yai, Butterworth (Penang) and Kuala Lumpur with Johor Bahru at the southern tip. Parallel to the railroad is a main highway running, connecting Bangkok and Singapore. Big sideroads form a network with all the province capitals in Thailand and Malaysia. Urbanization and economic development are rampant. The Burmese/Myanmar portion of the Malay Peninsula is yet the most undeveloped part of it.