Travelling with children raises all sorts of problems, not least how to keep the kids happy and occupied while not boring the pants off their long–suffering parents.
What you need is somewhere that offers a host of things that will be fun for everyone – and, if you’re travelling on to Europe, somewhere that’s both convenient and not too taxing to get around.
Malaysia fits the bill nicely – it’s crammed with family–focused activities, many either in the capital Kuala Lumpur itself, or just a short taxi ride away.
A good hotel option is the new Hilton Kuala Lumpur, located at KL Sentral, the city’s transport hub. The rooms are decorated in modern Zen style and all come with a plasma TV. There’s a pool, a playground, a children’s menu and babysitting.
First on any parents’ itinerary should be a Kuala Lumpur shopping spree to kit out the little tykes in clothes, shoes, and two–dollar black market DVDs, CDs, and computer games. A good place to go bargain hunting in KL is the area around Bukit Bintang Plaza.
Next it’s time to get them exhausted in Malaysia’s largest indoor theme park, Cosmo’s World, in Berjaya Times Square, reached by monorail from downtown KL. Here bumper cars, carousels and pendulum swings are good for young children, while thrill–seeking older kids and adults rave about Galaxy Station, which includes six major rides including a giant inverting roller coaster and several dramatic rotating, spinning and upside–down contraptions.
The enormous building also houses the largest shopping mall in the country, with more than 1,000 stores, including dozens of children’s clothing outlets and toy shops. There’s a ten–pin bowling centre too, as well as 65 restaurants and cafés.
Hot Malaysian days have spawned several major water parks, each within 15 minutes or so of downtown KL. The most popular, Sunway Lagoon, is themed around three different ‘worlds’. In ‘Waters of Africa’ you’ll find the Congo Challenge, Malaysia’s only headfirst six–lane racer water ride. Here too is a double–tube water ride that drops two riders from great heights then shoots them up again, and ‘African Pythons’, where you spin around in loops before being propelled into a pool.
‘Wild, Wild West’ is like a Hollywood cowboy set, with saloon dancing girls and Apaches wandering among totem poles and authentic–looking shop fronts. Expect water rides with Grand Canyon rapids and drops slightly reminiscent of Niagara Falls. Meanwhile, the ‘World of Adventure’ includes a roller coaster, a swinging Spanish galleon, real Siberian tigers, dry rides suitable for young children, and the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. The nearby Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel offers good family–friendly rooms.
Another close–to–downtown family–favourite theme park option, the Mines Wonderland, features a hotchpotch of fun–fair rides, miniature golf, fountains and lakes and toy–train rides. Highlights include the dazzling ‘Light Fantasy on the Water’, consisting of animated floating creatures lit by thousands of colourful lights, and the huge ‘Snow House’, which hosts giant ice carvings of various KL landmarks, as well as London’s Tower Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
Yet another theme park close to KL is the Desa Water Park, which has 12 water rides including the longest water coaster, as well as three wave pools, including the Bubble Pool for toddlers.
For more action fun take a trip to the cool hills of the Genting Highlands, around 50 km north–east of KL. This is the home of a range of resort hotels and the Genting Theme Park, which features both spectacular indoor and outdoor rides. Highlights here include the new zero gravity Flying Coaster, the double loop Corkscrew roller coaster, and the Skydiving Wind Tunnel, where you can experience the sensation of jumping out of an airplane and freefalling.
The KL Bird Park – the largest walk–in free–flight aviary in the world – is also popular with families. It’s just ten minutes from the city centre and set within beautiful landscaped grounds which also house a deer park, an orchid and hibiscus garden, a butterfly park, and a kids’ playground. More than 3,000 birds fly around the sprawling, 21–acre landscaped aviary.
Offering wildlife of a different sort is the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, the holding point for wild elephants whose natural habitats have been encroached on by development. Around eight elephants, including orphaned babies, are kept here at any one time – the youngsters are fed milk from giant plastic bottles. Several local tour companies offer day trips to the sanctuary.
Further afield is Langkawi, a collection of small idyllic islands located off the north–western edge of mainland Malaysia. You can fly to the largest island, Pulua Langkawi, which has a domestic airport, or take an overnight train from KL, followed by a short ferry ride.some of the best golden sand beaches in Asia and surrounding coral reefs that make for wonderful snorkelling. Inland there are rustic villages scattered around the rice paddies, and rain–forested mountains.
When you want a change from the beach or your resort pool you can get up close to reptiles at the Snake Sanctuary or a crocodile farm, or pop into Underwater World to see sharks at the largest aquarium in Asia village. There’s a pool, a superb beach strip through the palm trees, a spa for the grownups, and babysitting and a free kids’ club for children 4–12yrs.
Penang, also on Malaysia’s north–western coast, is also know for its beaches and crystal seas. As well as water–based activities there are excellent hawker restaurants, a butterfly farm, trishaw rides, beautiful colonial buildings, a cable car up Penang Hill, and hundreds of market stalls.
Another great family resort option is the Grand Plaza Parkroyal Penang, situated on Batu Ferringhi, the best beach in Penang. The resort has 35 rooms suitable for families, a free kids’ club, a nursery, babysitting, and a lounge for teenagers featuring Sony PlayStations, a library and a pool table.
Another good family option is the Penang Holiday Inn, also on the beach. The resort’s unique ‘Kidsuites’ are designed for children under 12 years and come with a kids’ section equipped with bunk beds, a TV and video, and a PlayStation. Three themes are available – Jungle, Treasure Island and Space. There’s a cool kids’ club too.