Born and bred in Malaysia, may wan’s beautiful home country frequently calls her back, not just for its beautiful beaches, wildlife and family attractions, but for its unique melting pot of cultures.
An insider’s guide to Malaysia’s beautiful beaches, wildlife, family attractions and unique melting pot of cultures.
Where else in the world can you see so many different customs, traditions, languages and food tastes rolled into one? It’s a place where all religions and cultures are openly celebrated and where, despite its modern cities, historic towns, amazing food and beautiful beaches, the warm, welcoming people are the magic ingredient in making Malaysia so appealing for families to explore.
Hustle and bustle
My hometown of Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city and, as the capital of Malaysia, its sights and attractions are plentiful. There’s much for kids to see and do and with a surplus of mega shopping malls around town, mums and dads can literally shop till they drop.
One of my favourite things to do with my children on a KL morning is devour our preferred breakfast of roti canai, a South Indian flatbread served with a mouthwatering dahl curry, paired together with a rich aromatic ice coffee. Bellies filled, we head out to explore the National Museum (Muzium Negara) to immerse ourselves in Malaysia’s rich cultural and historical heritage. We also love exploring the night markets of Petaling Street, which houses hundreds of different stalls ranging from trinkets to delicious side street food. Its chaotic, noisy, over-the-top atmosphere combined with all those delicious aromas are what makes it so thrilling and exciting. Not to mention the fact that I love a good bargain and it’s a great place to hone your haggling skills.
i-city Theme Park is another great spot after dark with its dazzling City of Digital Lights. We also recommend a visit during the day for the water park, snow park and fun 3D museum. If you want to enjoy some family-friendly thrills while beating the Malaysian heat and humidity, Berjaya Times Square Theme Park is an indoor theme park with loads of things to entertain kids of all ages. Sunway Lagoon is another great spot for families with long loops for daring kids, plus gentle slides and rides for little ones.
Of course, a trip to this dazzling city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the world-famous Petronas Twin Towers. Located in the heart of the city, the jawdropping towers are truly a sight to behold.
Old meets new
Our family’s favourite spot in Malaysia has to be Penang, just a one-hour flight, or a four-hour drive from the capital. This city is like nowhere else in Asia, with its fascinating mix of Eastern and Western influences and gorgeous juxtaposition of modernity and colonial tradition.
Penang holds a very special place in my heart. My parents would take my twin sister and I on an annual road trip to Penang to celebrate the Chinese New Year with my paternal grandparents. My mother always booked us into the family suite at the gorgeous Eastern & Oriental Hotel. Established in 1885 by the Sarkies Brothers, the luxurious sea-fronting, colonial-style hotel is ideally located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town; no doubt this is why it was so popular with the rich, literary and famous back in the day. I blissfully remember exploring the hotel’s manicured grounds with my sister, in awe of the pretty, old-world architecture and history of the hotel.
Speaking of history, there are many historical sites to explore within the UNESCO heritage area. My children and I particularly enjoy the beautifully preserved Pinang Peranakan Mansion. A museum dedicated to Penang’s Peranakan heritage, it is heaving with historic bric-a-brac, and is a riot of colour and detail.
One of the highlights of lovely George Town is its incredible, interactive street art. It is no surprise that these masterpieces have become an Instagram sensation, so make
sure to leave plenty of time to snap your way around the city.
Ride one of the world’s steepest funicular trams up Penang Hill for stunning views and beautiful flora and fauna. You’ll also find a bird park packed with exotic birds and giant walk-in aviaries, plus an owl museum and temples to keep the kids busy.
Flit to Entopia, another popular attraction that is the place for kids to bug out while learning about the insect world. Kids will love sharing the park’s fragrant flower garden with as many as 15,000 spectacular Malaysian butterflies (representing up to 60 species) and a whole world of creepy crawlies.
If your little ones love wildlife and are ready for more adventures, head to Penang National Park and Monkey Beach, a scenic playground with water sports, snack shacks and, of course, monkeys. For even more monkey business, head to Orang Utan Island, a wildlife conservation park that is home to more than 25 wild, free-ranging orangutans.
A drive up to the famous Kek Lok Si Temple, said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, is another must-do for its commanding view of the sea as well as its striking seven-storey pagoda and 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha.
If your kids would prefer a walk on the wild side, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, is located on the northern tip of the island of Borneo. It’s just the place for adventurous families seeking amazing wildlife encounters, picture-perfect beaches and intrepid jungle treks.
In the capital, Kota Kinabalu (or KK as it is known by locals), pretty Buddhist temples sit alongside majestic mosques and modern shopping centres are surrounded by traditional produce markets.
While older, very fit kids might want to try conquering Mount Kinabalu in Kinabalu National Park, there is plenty for little ones to explore around its base, including an insect museum, nature walks along suspended walkways built above the forest canopy and a gorgeous botanical garden. Those seeking adventures under the water can take a shuttle boat from KK to explore the diverse marine life and pretty coral reefs around the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.
But, of course, Sabah’s biggest drawcard is its population of orangutans. The most famous place to encounter an orangutan is at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in East Sabah, where visitors can stroll between viewing platforms to observe the great orange-hued apes do their thing.
It’s well worth making the side trip to Johor Bahru, just across the causeway from Singapore, for a visit to LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort, a family holiday-worthy destination in its own right.
With themed lands, stores and cafes, kids can enjoy more than 70 hands-on rides, slides, shows and creative attractions as they explore the incredible Lego-themed park brick by brick, battling dragons and pirates along the way. Enjoy even more brick-tastic adventures at the LEGOLAND Water Park where kids can surf the wave pool, float their way along the Build-a-raft lazy river, and enjoy thrills and spills on the epic water slides.
Make your brick-filled break even more magical with a stay at the LEGOLAND® Hotel. With its dragon-guarded entrance, clever, interactive features throughout and Lego-themed bedrooms, this is one hotel that is sure to inspire little imaginations.
For a slower pace, take the 35-minute flight from Penang to the island of Langkawi. With its warm turquoise waters and lush jungles, it is considered one of the most beautiful islands in Malaysia.
Water-loving families can jump on a boat for an island-hopping adventure around the surrounding cluster of islands. Explore the famous bat caves, Gua Kelawar. Home to a large population of Malaysian fruit bats, your guide will give you a flashlight to explore the cave. Hop on over to the Island of the Pregnant Maiden. Legend has it that whoever swam in the waters of this island would be blessed with child. My obsession with history and local superstition has also lead me to Mahsuri’s Tomb and Museum, a historical and cultural complex, where tales of curses and myth mesmerised me and the Malay ladies playing folk music on traditional instruments left the kids equally enchanted.
If your kids have a head for heights then take them to the Langkawi Skycab – sections feature the steepest gradient of any cable car on Earth – to Mt Machinchang, 708 metres above sea level. For even more highs, the Langkawi Skybridge, accessible from the top station of the cable car, is one of the world’s longest curved suspension bridges and offers incredible panoramic views.
When you’re ready to head back down to Earth, Oriental Village is an outdoor shopping mall in the foothills of Mt Machincang, where, you’ll find plenty of family fun including Segway tours, motor cross trails and more.
After each busy day of exploring, we’d head back to the tranquillity of our resort to spend our afternoons lazing around the infinity pool and soaking up the views of this gorgeous archipelago.
Whichever direction you choose to go in Malaysia, you’ll find breathtaking landscapes, irresistibly aromatic food, and a bottomless pit of activities for kids. Just a few reasons why my love for Malaysia is equally endless.
05 Orangutans in Sabah © Wayneimage Images 02–05 & 07 © Shutterstock.com 06 LEGOLAND Hotel fun © Ashton Rodgers 07 Langkawi Sky Bridge © ra66. 06