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The Malay word bandar translates into “city” today – synonymous with the word kota. It comes from the Persian word bandar which means “port” (the Malay and Indonesian word regularly used now is pelabuhan, which literally means “docking area”) – alas, most Malay cities tend to be port cities as well, bandar eventually became synonymous with kota and eventually overtook kota in naming cities.

In Indonesia, the usage is mixed between port-cities and, well, ports. Their word for airport is bandar udara (directly translated to “air port”), shortened to bandara. In Malaysia, the word used is a rather lengthy lapangan terbang (directly translated to “flying field”) – probably stemming from the fact airstrips were, for a long time, the only aviation hubs in Malaya.

On the topic of transport, kereta originally means carriage – kereta lembu in both Indonesia and Malaysia as “bullock cart”. Trains are translated to kereta api, often shorten to “keretapi“, (“fire carriage”, owing to the energy source for early Southeast Asian trains). However, while kereta soon became the word for “motorcar” in Malaysia, mobil is used in Indonesia – kereta refers to train cars. Cycle in Indonesia is translated to sepeda but just Malay-ized in Malaysia to sikalbasikal (“bicycle”) and motorsikal (“motorsikal”) as opposed to sepeda and sepeda motor or just plain motor in Indonesia.

Most Malaysians find Indonesian very difficult to understand, largely from the differing spelling convention and vocabulary. While Dutch vs. English influence played a role (e.g. Indonesia’s “apotek” vs Malaysia’s “farmasi” for pharmacy) – it’s largely how they evolved on different paths.



  1. Strictly speaking, kota is the Malay equivalent for fort. It isn’t exactly synonymous for bandar, at least it wasn’t meant to be. Bandar should be the proper translation for city.

    • I thought modern Malay uses “kubu” more often. In any case, according to Kamus Dewan, “kota” also mean “city” – and sayings like “desa dan kota” won’t make sense if “kota” merely meant fort. I guess this reflects the different vocabulary in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Malaysia, “bandar” became synonymous with city as cities were situated around ports.

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