Malaysia concluded their 2021 SEA Games campaign in Vietnam on Sunday exceeding their pre-campaign expectation of 36 gold medals.

The national contingent bagged 174 medals in total — 39 gold, 45 silver and 90 bronze — to finish sixth in the overall standings.

Host nation Vietnam, as expected, finished above everyone else with 205 gold medals, almost more than the combined totals of the next three best three nations: Thailand (92), Indonesia (69) and Philippines (52).

It was far from Malaysia's best performance as a non-host — they had 55 gold medals in the Philippines three years ago and the last time Malaysia had fewer than 39 was in 1995 when they finished with 31 in Chiang Mai.

This year, Malaysia began strongly with a clean sweep of gold medals in all eight diving events, with official flag-bearer Nur Dhabitah Sabri getting the honour of winning the first gold medal in Hanoi.

Pencak silat exponents Sazzlan Yuga and Taqiyuddin Hamid also contributed a gold in the men's seni ganda event to let Malaysia sit at the top of the medal standings with nine gold ahead of the opening ceremony.

National wushu exponents Clement Ting and Tan Zhi Yan delivered success for the country on the official first day of the regional multi-sport event as other countries began to overtake Malaysia in terms of medal count.

After the diving team, the national athletics department was the next best performers as Jackie Wong (men's hammer throw), Grace Wong (women's hammer throw), Irfan Shamsuddin (men's discus throw) and Andre Anura Anuar (men's triple jump) came first in their respective events.

Malaysia also clinched a surprise gold in the women's pole vault event through Nor Sarah Adi, who bagged silver in the women's 4x100m relay event as well.

Queenie Tang (women's discus throw) and the men's 4x100m relay quartet also set new national records en route to silver finishes.

Malaysian gymnasts were also among the highest gold medal contributors as Rachel Li bagged two of the gymnastics team's four gold medals by excelling in the uneven bars and balance beam events.

Despite Malaysia's struggles in several sports tipped for gold medals such as pencak silat (two gold), archery (two) and swimming (one), other sports stepped up to make up the difference including taekwondo, billiards and bodybuilding which contributed one goal each.

The biggest surprise of all was arguably golfer Ervin Chang, who became Malaysia's first winner in the individual event and ended the country's 21-year gold medal drought in the team event.

Just when it had looked like the target might not be reached, Malaysia sealed the gold medal number 36 towards the end of the campaign.

Sharmendran Raghonathan, Prem Kumar Selvam and Sankar Sureeya Sankar Hari came out on top in the men's team kumite final, making it a strong campaign for the karate squad who also had three gold medals in other events.

Cyclist Nur Aiman Zariff (men's road race), Muay Thai exponent Ahmad Nor Iman (men's combat 54kg) and badminton pair Chen Tang Jie-Peck Yen Wei (mixed doubles) ensured Malaysia finished with more gold medals than expected in the final two days.

There were also controversies that affected Malaysia's medal count, including the men's 4x100m freestyle relay swimming team getting disqualified, 100m sprinter Azeem Fahmi being flagged for false start, and pencak silat star Al Jufferi Jamari receiving a 10-point penalty in the final seconds that denied him a spot in a tanding final.

Vietnam 2021 draws its curtains with the closing ceremony on Monday before handing over the baton to Cambodia, who will be hosting the next SEA Games in Phnom Penh next year.