Malaysia - It’s kids’ play
Written by David Bowden and Stephen Peaple Images by David Bowden
David Bowden heads off to the wilds of Malaysia to enjoy some family-friendly adventure and then checks in to several chill-out resorts where kids are treated like royalty.
Happy children make happy parents, particularly when travelling. To keep both smiling, there are few destinations as welcoming as Malaysia, where resort staff are attuned to the needs of the whole family. Need a babysitter? Staff to entertain the kids while you’re being pampered in the spa, or just grabbing a coffee? You’rein the right place. But Malaysia’s family-friendly attitude isn’t limited to the resorts; from natural allures to thrilling activities for all ages, there won’t be a moment unfilled for families in one of the world’s most gorgeous locations.
Into the wilds
Tropical rainforest still carpets much of Malaysia, with the island of Borneo one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and divided between Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, whose northern states of Sarawak and Sabah account for roughly a quarter of the island. While more than 350 new species have been discovered since 1996, some areas of the 130 million-year-old forest have been carefully opened up to allow tourists glimpses of the treasures within.
Start your rainforest discovery high in the canopy at the educational Sepilok’s Rainforest Discovery Centre, near Sandakan, which offers an engaging bird’s-eye view of the forest along an ever-expanding network of tree walks and forest trails. When you’ve wrapped up your meandering stroll, head to the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where the kids will be fascinated as they watch orphaned orangutans undergo survival-skill training twice daily (10am and 3pm) in the hope that they can be returned back into the wild.
Let the scenery unfold around you on a river safari along the Kinabatangan River. Running from the mountains of southwest Sabah to the Sulu Sea east of Sandakan, you will not only be likely to see more orangutans, but also endangered Bornean pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys, as well as myriad birds, macaques, and lizards.
For an up-close-and-personal treat for the kids, head to Sandakan’s Turtle Islands National Park, where visitors are welcome to assist the rangers as they record data from green and hawksbill turtles as they lay their eggs along the beaches in the evening hours. The adorable hatchlings are released into the Sulu Sea, a Disney-esque moment the children always enjoy.
In west Malaysia, Langkawi Island is home to mangroves longing to be explored by families on an eco-safari. The wetlands host birds, monkeys, otters, and dolphins, though visitors are often most enthralled by the swooping eagles, which pick fish out of the waters in this 550 million-year-old area that is now a UNESCO Geopark.
For the intrepid family of explorers, Gunung Mulu National Park, deep in the forests of Sarawak, contains some of the world’s biggest caves. Most visitors explore four huge caves that are home to millions of bats and swiftlets, while the jungle trails and adventurous riverboat rides make this an exciting stop not to be missed.
On peninsular Malaysia, former colonial hill stations such as the Cameron Highlands offer cooler temperatures, quaint colonial cottages, tea plantations, and mountain walks. Children will also enjoy the cactus garden, butterfly farm, and picking fresh strawberries in Brinchang.
There are many fun activities for the children, many of them uniquely Malaysian, such as learning the dances and songs of local communities, creating paintings on batik cloth, making local kites called wau, and learning to spin a top in an east coast fishing village.
The cultural village at Damai Beach, Sarawak, is a great place to learn about the area’s main cultures. This living museum enables visitors to explore traditional native houses and see cooking, dancing, and handicraft demonstrations.
Cooking classes for all ages are conducted at the Majestic Malacca Hotel where a local chef introduces the unique taste of Nyonya cuisine to eager participants. Another cool activity in Melaka and Penang is to explore these UNESCO heritage cities in ornately decorated trishaws.
Within the capital, get your bearings with awesome views across the metropolis from the observation deck at Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL Tower). Also housed here is a celebration of the country’s multicultural heritage (1 Malaysia Cultural Village), exotic animals (Animal Zone), and the thrilling F-1 Simulator. For those content with a few less horsepower, there are also daily pony rides!
For more great city views, head up to the two-storey Skybridge on the 41st floor in the iconic Petronas Towers, or go higher still to the 86th floor. The Petronas Towers adjoin KLCC Park where families can enjoy the ornamental water gardens, a children’s playground, and Lake Symphony, with its 42-metre high fountain. The park also houses KL’s most beautiful mosque, the Masjid As-Syakirin.
Aquaria KLCCis hosted in the convention centre at the southern edge of the park. The sprawling facility offers a range of ‘living ocean’ habitats housing more than 5,000 species. For a real thrill, children aged 6 to 13 can take part in a sleepover under the aquarium’s glass shark tanks.
There’s plenty of splashing fun as well, as Sunway Lagoon Water Park features rides, slides, and glides through and over water. It’s not all water, though, as the park includes an Extreme games area, a Scream Park, and a wildlife park.
There are few things most kids gravitate to more than water, particularly a sparkling resort pool. Playground equipment, kids’ clubs, and child-minding facilities are essentials for an enjoyable stay at your hotel, and many Malaysian resorts deliver the goods.
Club Med Cheratingon Malaysia’s east coast weaves its magic with activities to entertain kids of all ages. Choose watersports, art, trapeze work, rollerblading, or musical lessons.
Sutera Harbour Resortin Kota Kinabalu is one of east Malaysia’s best destinations for its scale and facilities. There’s plenty to do here with two resorts, a marina, a bowling alley, and movie theatre, as well as golf and tennis grounds.
Frangipani Langkawihas one of the longest beachfronts that provides a safe haven for swimming and fishing. Honoured with several environmental awards, parents can educate their kids on protecting Mother Earth while enjoying themselves at the same time. And that’s exactly the sort of holiday the whole family can enjoy.
Malaysia’s secluded forests and private islands house some of its best-kept secrets.
The Estatesat Pangkor Laut offers total luxury in nine exclusive estates situated in a small cove on the private island of Pangkor Laut. Accessible only by yacht or private vehicle, the secluded estates offer guests total escape and privacy. Estate Eight boasts views of the sea and a two million-year-old rainforest from its infinity pool. A team of discreet, dedicated butlers, maids, and personal chefs attend to your needs.
Alternatively, checking in at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges situated right at the foot of Malaysia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, makes for a sublime getaway. Snuggle up in front of the fireplace on chilly nights, or simply admire the lush greenery of Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site from your doorstep. Trek to the top of Mount Kinabalu, or simply indulgein the hot springs at nearby Poring.
If hiding away is your ideal, then The Datai Langkawi will keep you ensconced within its forested embrace. Free-standing villas built from local red balau timber, black granite, and white marble ensure total privacy, and the discreet service is never lacking. Relish the thought of being in the idyllic heart of a tropical rainforest, while nearby the waters of the Andaman Sea tempt you to its gleaming white shores.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By the numbers
The Great Ape Trust reported that 49,600 Bornean orangutans remain on Borneo.
Turtles land on Sabah’s Turtle Islands National Park on 365 days of the year to lay their eggs.
The idyllic island of Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands, but only three are developed.
Brick by brick
Asia’s first LEGOLAND theme park is scheduled to open in September in the southern state of Johor (close to Singapore) with 40 rides, shows, and displays spread out to almost 31 hectares. The centrepiece is Malaysia’s MINILAND, which features 1:20 scale models of landscapes from across Asia, as well as iconic buildings such as Petronas Twin Towers, KL Tower, and Singapore’s Merlion Statue, all created from 25 million LEGO bricks.
Known for its internationally award-winning shopping, Pavilion KL sits in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Golden Triangle’ in the thriving Bukit Bintang shopping district. More than 450 of the world’s most coveted brands vie for your attention along stylish boulevards.
Shopping is made all the more alluring with the Tourist Reward Card that gives exclusive offers for more than 200 popular brands. Myriad cafés and restaurants provide space to drink and dine between expeditions, while the beauty and wellness centre provides a retreat to pamper those worn-out feet! www.pavilion-kl.com
From KL International Airport, connect to the maze of domestic airports that connect the split landmass of Malaysia, such as Sandakan Airport, Labaun (for Sabah), and Limbang (for Sarawak). Check flight connections at malaysiaairports.com.my.
What’s on now and soon
1 Malaysia International Tourism Night Floral Parade 2012
June 30 to July 8
Head to the garden city of Putrajaya to enjoy the colours and scents from the very best of Malaysia’s landscape designers at Floria Putrajaya 2012, then stay for the spectacular floating floral parade on Putrajaya Lake.
1 Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism Festival
July to September
This prestigious event – now in its third year – attracts artists and buyers from across the globe, and gives insight into Malaysia’s fascinating contemporary art scene.
Sunset Music Fest at the Tip of Borneo
June 29 and 30
Sabah’s biggest two-day open-air concert takes place in the beautiful and dramatic headland of Tanjung Simpang Mengayau – known as the ‘Tip of Borneo’. Local and international acts serenade audiences as the sun sets over the pristine beaches and azure seas.