Keretapi Sarong: Celebrating 60th Malaysia Day with a 10,000-Strong Flash Mob

Keretapi Sarong 2023 was the biggest train flash mob event with over 10,000 participants!

I finally got to travel to Malaysia for the first time since the pandemic! Events company LOCCO invited me, together with other influencers from Indonesia and the Philippines, to Keretapi Sarong 2023 in celebration of Malaysia Day. From Cebu, I conveniently flew direct to Kuala Lumpur aboard event partner AirAsia via the Philippines’ most beautiful airport terminal, MCIA T2, on September 15th. The world’s best low-cost airline flies three times weekly between the two cities.

After landing at KLIA2, I took the KLIA Express to KL Sentral where I met the other Filipino influencers by chance, Gael of The Pinay Solo Backpacker and Gabz of Pinoy Travel Freak. We taxied together to a Japanese restaurant for the welcome dinner with the other influencer participants before checking in our respective hotels. I stayed at Santa Grand Signature, a new Peranakan-inspired hotel with spectacular city views, with three other Indonesian influencers, Olive, Salman, and Astari. (Read my hotel review here.)

Keretapi Sarong participants gather at KL Sentral in Kuala Lumpur.
2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Malaysian federation.
With Gael of The Pinay Solo Backpacker and Gabz of Pinoy Travel Freak at Dataran Merdeka

The following day, September 16th, was the big day. Malaysia Day, or Hari Malaysia in the Malay language, is a public holiday held on this date every year to commemorate the establishment of the Malaysian Federation in 1963. This event saw Malaya, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore unite into a single state (Singapore, however, was expelled from the federation less than two years later, and become an independent country). This year’s celebration was extra special because it marked the 60th anniversary of the historical event.

Malaysia Day kicked off with the Keretapi Sarong, literally “Sarong Train”, a flash mob event introduced by NGO Random Alphabet in 2012 and adopted by LOCCO in 2017. Inspired by the No Pants Subway Ride movement in Western countries, it was established to promote wearing the sarong, a piece of fabric worn as a traditional garment in Malaysia, and held in Kuala Lumpur’s train network, where participants wear sarong in traditional and innovative ways.

Attendees dress in the traditional attires of the various ethnolinguistic groups in Malaysia.
A young woman in traditional Minangkabau attire.
A couple in Iban attire from Sarawak

At 8:00 am, our group from Santa Grand Signature walked from the hotel to Dang Wangi LRT station and took the train to KL Sentral, where the largest group of people convened. With the theme of “Ethnicity”, this year’s flash mob not only encouraged people to wear sarong but also their traditional clothing. I wore a long-sleeved polo shirt custom-tailored from a natural-dye batik tulis fabric I bought in Bali, Indonesia. People were dressed in various outfits with the most elaborate ones incorporating headdresses such as the traditional clothing of the Iban and Minangkabau. The mood was very joyous and festive. People gathered tightly around an empty space in the middle of an atrium, spontaneously singing Malay folk songs and performing dances.

As noon approached, everyone began proceeding to ride the trains to Masjid Jamek, the station nearest to Dataran Merdeka, where the main event was being held. People were still breaking out continually into song, and would chant “Masuk! Masuk! Masuk!” (Enter! Enter! Enter!) as the crowds poured into the trains. Masjid Jamek was packed to the brim with people. It got hot as the crowded shuffled out of the narrow passageways, but this did not dampen people’s spirits as people continued to chant, sing, and wave their Malaysian flags.

Men in sarong play football in Dataran Merdeka
Young ladies try their hand at batik painting.
Gasing or Malay spinning top is played competitively at Dataran Merdeka

At Dataran Merdeka, thousands convened from the different train station meet-up points to watch performances and participated in various traditional games and activities like gasing (spinning top) competition, sarong football, and batik painting. This year’s Keretapi Sarong was the biggest event yet since its inception, attracting more than 10,000 participants! The event was also held in other cities like Johor Bahru and Ipoh, where 600 and 500 people joined the celebrations, respectively.

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