It's safe, prosperous, progressive and a great value: This southeast Asian country welcomes all visitors with a surprising array of attractions.It's safe, prosperous, progressive and a great value: This southeast Asian country welcomes all visitors with a surprising array of attractions.
Families visiting exotic peninsular Malaysia are being taken for a ride and loving it. Themepark resorts have popped up all over the mainland. To the east in the Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, families can ride along together on jungle treks and wild, whitewater river trips.
Yet Malaysia is 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 (also written Malacca) would house such magnificent and varied family attractions?
Genting is one of Malaysia's Wildest Resorts
Among the most popular of Malaysia's exotic themepark resorts is the sprawling Resort World Genting (formerly Genting Highlands) built at a mountainside hill station known for its cooler climate. I believe there is something like 6,000 rooms within the various individual hotels at Genting. The resort complex 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 and Malaysia's only casino.
The individual hotels that constitute the Genting Resort are drastically different to suit various tastes, budgets and ages. We would generally recommend the First World Hotel as a family-friendly option – relatively affordable and with very close access to restaurants and the outdoor park. On the other hand, there’s Genting Hotel which is a little more luxurious and also houses the best casino, which goes down well with older visitors. The Highlands Hotel is pretty fancy too.
Glittering Mines Resort Evolved from Golfing in Mines
Just off the Kuala Lumpur-Seremban Highway, a stone's throw away from the Commonwealth Village, lies the 1,000-acre Mines Resort & Golf Club and exhibition complex. Built around a 150-acre lake created from an open cast mine, Mines Resort is a very popular attraction, worthy of mention, although its marketing slogan — one of the "Seven Wonders of Malaysia" — may be over the top.
The Mines is fundamentally a golf resort – this was the basis of the land reclamation project and then all the other features developed from there. After a day on the Robert Trent Jones designed fairway with the grandparents, and a fine meal at one of the many restaurants, everyone can go to Mines Wonderland, a nighttime themepark open daily except Monday. A balmy night under starry skies is best to appreciate the Aqua Laser Show, in which movies are projected on a screen of water, Animal Wonderland exhibit and the Musical Fountain, where spectacular light effects enhance the waltzing waters. The highlight of the park, closed for most of the past year for renovations, has been the 10,000-square-foot (1100 square-meters) 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. There are also some great shopping facilities at Mines, open all hours, which are popular with visitors of all ages.
Make sure to check out the Mines Palace of the Golden Horses, a breathtakingly beautiful hotel offering a blend of Moorish architecture and Malaysian culture.
Sunway Lagoon & Water Park Fun
Sunway Lagoon is another themepark resort that is very close to Mines Resort City, so a visitor could easily go to both within one trip or select either for a short break from the nearby capital of Kuala Lumpur.
This resort boasts of an ice skating rink open year-round, 10 cinemas, a 48-lane bowling alley and a so-called "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.
Sunway Lagoon is a really fun day out for families that don’t take things too seriously. There is lots of great entertainment (the theatre is always active with fun-for-kids programming), and a zoo which has quite an extensive range of animals (lions included). The resort is currently promoting their live stage show of "Peter Pan The Musical" which runs until January 2011; the reviews have been so good that it may return again next year.
Family Attractions in Kuala Lumpur & Environs
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, a compact country that is easy to get around.
Kuala Lumpur (commonly known as KL), founded in 1857, is now a modern bustling city with a population of 1.5 million. Originally settled by Chinese miners looking for tin, it remains the country's financial capital with a colorful mix of new and old, sometimes side by side. Sights to see include the Kuala Lumpur Tower; the Petronas Twin Towers — among 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 as well as 15,000 plants.
Introduce your children to the city's more traditional culture at the National Mosque (shoes off and heads covered, please), and the Colonial-era neighborhoods which evoke the spirit of W. Somerset Maugham.
We recommend a day trip to Kuala Gandah which is about an hour’s drive out of KL. The people there are friendly and do a great job conserving and protecting the local elephant population. This wildlife preserve sets a good example for the rest of Asia where animals are sometimes taken advantage of to promote tourism. Children who are concerned about the environment will especially appreciate that visitors can take rides, feed and even bathe the elephants. Kualah Gandah even has some experienced trainers on hand, too. Although this sounds quite touristy, the elephants really aren’t exploited at all. They’re treated very well and get plenty of time off. Their website is quite basic but has some good photos and information about volunteer opportunities for visitors who love animals.
KL's famous Petaling Street Market is fabulous if you want to experience real, grassroots Malaysia. The casual restaurants and noodle stalls, as well as the traditional shopping offered by many local vendors, are great too. Although you'll quickly understand that much of Malaysia's family fun occurs after supper, Petaling is one of the few outdoor markets that takes place at night, which adds a real sense of atmosphere and excitement to your visit.
If you like handcrafts and original folk arts, check out the colorful, wax-dyed fabrics at Kuala Lumpur's Batik Factory. Other must-see stops for the shopper and those interested in learning how things are made are the Central Market filled with silk, pewter and earthenware; Chinatown; and the world famous Royal Selangor Pewter Factory.
Bukit Bintang, a long-time commercial Chinese neighborhood whose park once housed a stage used for festivals, has become an upscale shopping area over the past decade. This area, including the streets of Bukit Bintang, parts of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Imbi that leads to major shopping malls, is where herbal medicine shops have given way to trendy restaurants, new hotels and law offices. A deluxe choice for accommodations (and you can afford absolute luxury with this exchange rate) is the elegant Ritz Carlton Kuala Lumpur. Located on Bintang Walk, a high-end shopping lane, the hotel's seasonal specials may surprise you with low rates.
History & Culture in Melaka
Older children may enjoy taking a day trip to the historic city of Malacca (known today in Malay as Melaka), 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, and discover the city's nature at the Crocodile Farm, the Reptile Park and the Malacca Zoo.
Penang Beaches Lure Families
A trip to Malaysia would not be complete without a visit to Penang Island. This resort is as much a destination for Asian families looking for sun and sand, as it is a getaway for Muslim families taking a holiday from the very conservative lifestyles of some Middle Eastern countries.
Penang, a tropical paradise located in the "Golden Triangle" in north Malaysia was established in 1786 as a British Trading Post. Interestingly, its distinctly British-sounding main city of Georgetown was named after King George III by a British trader and it quickly became a vacation destination. Those colonial roots are still present today so Penang is popular as a ‘home from home’ of sorts for Western visitors.
Put on plenty of sunblock 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.
There is more than just beach on this historic island; Penang's Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple is noteworthy for its colors and beautiful architecture. We’d recommend visiting during Chinese New Year (January – February) if at all possible because the lantern displays and celebrations are fabulous.
For those traveling with young family members, the Penang Toy Museum is popular. Estimated to contain in the region of 100,000 items I believe, it’s a nice day's outing because it tends to be nostalgic for parents and entertaining for little ones.
The island is easy to get to from anywhere in the country and neighboring Thailand. 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 Penang Hotel 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. 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.
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!
Trip Planning Details for Malaysia
For more information on the country's many attractions and accommodations, you can visit the Malaysia Tourist Office website. For families who want to dig deeper into the country's rich heritage and diverse cultures, you'll find a wealth of resources on Malaysia Explorer. This is also a great site to check out for information on travel to Langkawi, a destination we will return to.
Photos Courtesy of Tourism Malaysia
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.