South Asia's safe and prosperous country of Malaysia surprises families with myriad historic, cultural, culinary and even theme park attractions.
Malaysia is so rich in culture and Southeast Asian history. It consists of a diverse population including indigenous Malay. Rounding out the citizenry are Indians and Chinese, attracted to this land during the 19th century in search of a better life. Who would think that this country situated between the South China Sea and the Straits of Melaka would house such magnificent family attractions?
Exotic Theme Parks
Theme park resorts of note include the Genting Highlands Resort ( 603/6101-1118), built at a mountainside hill station known for its cooler climate. This resort houses both an indoor theme park, with kiddie rides, a video arcade and bumper cars, and an outdoor theme park with coasters, swings and twirling teacups. There’s also a challenging 18-hole golf course, a horse ranch offering equestrian activities including children’s rides and beginners’ lessons, a number of hotels and Malaysia’s only casino.
Just off the Kuala Lumpur-Seremban Highway, a stone’s throw away from the Commonwealth Village, lies the 1,000-acre Mines Resort City ( 603/943-6688, 800/ 88-6018) and exhibition complex built around a lake created from an open cast mine. It is being touted as one of the Seven Wonders of Malaysia. The Mines Wonderland nighttime theme park includes the Aqua Laser Show, in which movies are projected on a screen of water, and a musical fountain where spectacular light effects enhance the waltzing waters. The highlight of the park is the 10,000-square-foot (1100 m²) Snow House displaying ice carvings of Malaysian landmarks like the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and international attractions including London’s Big Ben and the Sydney Opera House. Make sure to check out the Mines Palace of the Golden Horses ( 603/943-2333), a breathtakingly beautiful hotel offering a blend of Moorish architecture and Malaysian culture.
You could spend days at Sunway Lagoon (+65 235-2498), just outside of Kuala Lumpur, as this resort boasts of an ice skating rink open year-round, 10 cinemas, a 48-lane bowling alley and a ‘wet and dry’ theme park. Being North American, I was attracted to the Niagara Falls Flume Ride. However, no one warned me before taking this ride, that I’d get soaked and look like I had gone over the real falls — in a leaky barrel.
Kuala Lumpur’s Family Attractions
Make sure not to use up all your energy at the theme parks because there is so much more to do and see in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur (commonly known as KL) is a modern bustling city. Sights to see include the Kuala Lumpur Tower ( 603/208-5448), the Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest at 1,469 feet/452m, the Orchid Gardens and nearby Bird Park and the Butterfly Park housing 6,000 of these exotic insects and 15,000 plants. Introduce your children to the National Mosque (shoes off and heads covered, please), and the Colonial-era neighborhoods which evoke the spirit of W. Somerset Maugham.
If you like colorful textiles, check out the Batik Factory ( 603/263-7303), the Central Market filled with silk, pewter and earthenware, Chinatown, the Petaling Street Night Market and the world famous Royal Selangor Pewter Factory ( 603/268-9600).
Bukit Bintang, a long-time commercial Chinese neighborhood whose park once housed a stage used for festivals, has emerged since 2000 as an upscale shopping area, indicative of the city’s new prosperity. Including the streets Bukit Bintang, and parts of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Imbi that lead to the major new shopping malls, this is an area where herbal medicine shops have given way to trendy restaurants, new hotels and law offices. Bintang Walk, a high-end shopping lane leading to the Ritz-Carlton will intrigue visitors of all ages.
A deluxe choice for accommodations (and you can afford absolute luxury with this exchange rate) is the elegant new Ritz Carlton Kuala Lumpur ( 603/2142-8000) where seasonal specials mean rates as low as US$100/night for a double sleeping four.
History and Culture in Malacca
Older children may enjoy taking a day trip to the historic city of Malacca, 90 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. Although the official religion in Malaysia is Islam, other religions practiced include Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism and you’ll see evidence of many places of worship.
A trishaw ride through Malacca is an adventurous and typical way to explore the country’s oldest mosques, churches and temples. A trishaw, still commonly seen in many Asian cities, is a rickshaw or cart attached to a large bicycle. Drivers with bulging calf muscles speak enough English to negotiate rates, according to the number of passengers and destination. Since trishaws typically seat two adults, you may need to hire a few so you can all cycle-tour together.
Learn more about Malacca’s history at the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum (606/ 283 1273), and discover the city’s nature at the Crocodile Farm, the Reptile Park and the Malacca Zoo (606/232 4053).
Beaches Encircle Penang Island
A trip to Malaysia would not be complete without a visit to Penang Island. This tropical paradise located in the “Golden Triangle” in north Malaysia was established in 1786 as a British Trading Post. Malaysia Airlines offers a number of flights throughout the day from KL. Accommodations at all price points, from thatched roof beach huts to business class high-rises, are plentiful.
The Berjaya Georgetown Hotel ( +65 6235-2498) in the Island’s capital city of Georgetown, is right next door to Adventure Island, Malaysia’s first rooftop water park! Royalty from around the world stay at the Penang Mutiara Beach Resort ( 604/886-8888). Mutiara means pearl – and this resort is a real gem! This “Pearl of the Orient’ stands on 18 acres of lush greenery, with all the rooms facing Teluk Bahang, the most amazing stretch of beach on the island. There is a children’s indoor and outdoor play area and two reflecting pools.
Put on plenty of suntan lotion, because you will be out all day exploring the Penang Bird Park, Penang Butterfly Farm, Botanical Garden and Orchid and Hibiscus Garden. For fun under the very hot sun, the beautiful beaches beckon: Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang.
A Penang Island tour should also include a trip up Penang Hill by funicular railway for a spectacular view of Georgetown. Also be sure to see Georgetown’s Little India, Chinatown, the Reclining Buddha and the famous Snake Temple, where pit vipers adorn the altars and — for a price — will adorn you!
Warning: If you thought the theme parks were scary, this is not for the faint-hearted!
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