Located at the tail-end of East Malaysia, Kuching is a small and sleepy city reassuringly safe for families travelling with young kids. If cats tickle your family’s fancy, you’ll find Kuching (Malay for ‘cat’) something of a novelty; effigies of cats can be found on every street corner, from lamp posts to fountains adorned with feline statues. Swing by the Kuching Cat Museum to ogle a hodgepodge of cat-themed memorabilia.
Eating out is never a problem in town, as the city is chock-full of good, affordable eateries. Expose the kids to local specialties such as kolo mee (wavy egg noodles tossed with minced pork, char siew, pepper and shallot oil), Sarawak kek lapis (moist, multi-coloured layered cake) or Dayak cuisine such as manok lulun (chicken stewed in bamboo) or tempoyak (a fermented durian condiment).
Culture vultures are bound to appreciate the Sarawak Cultural Village, a heritage site located outside Kuching city centre. Come here to learn traditional crafts such as basket-weaving or tour different types of stilt houses – you can even spend the night in one if you wish. Those looking for a dose of nature can swing by local travel agencies to enquire about outdoor activities. If the kids came prepared with proper hiking shoes, book a day-trip to the otherworldly Wind Caves and Fairy Caves to view dramatic rock formations and troglobites such as swiflets and bats.
Getting there AirAsia and Malindo offer several flights daily from KLIA.
Embarking on a jungle adventure to Taman Negara, the sprawling 4,343 sq km national park spread across three states – Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang – is a must-do for adventurous families who relish the outdoors. A jungle experience like this will not only be a lot of fun but will also imbue the kids with a deep respect for Mother Nature, especially when you consider that it’s over 130 million years old.
A wide range of activities caters to kids of all ages, from slow and easy jungle trekking to heart-stopping rides through the rapids on the choppy waters of Sungai Tembeling. Visit an aborigine settlement to try your hand at ‘hunting’ with a traditional blow pipe or stop by Kelah Sanctuary to feed and observe large schools of freshwater fish. Whether you’re traipsing on swinging canopy walkways or standing under the shockingly cold waters of the Four Step Waterfall, your collective experiences will prove more precious than physical souvenirs.
Where accommodation is concerned, staying at Mutiara Taman Negara Resort will save you time and energy since it’s the only resort located within the park. That being said, countless mid-range hotels and budget bed-and-breakfasts can be found in Kuala Tahan at lower prices.
Getting there Taman Negara is accessible via public transport, shuttle bus, van or car. Visit tamannegara.asia for more information.
Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it’s affectionately known, is a delightful coastal city rich in history, and fascinating indigenous culture and tradition. A 1.5-hour drive away from the city is the Kinabalu National Park and while you probably won’t be climbing Mount Kinabalu, there are still plenty of activities for the kids in the vicinity such as nature walks or even fun farm tours at the Desa Cattle Dairy Farm, where it’s oddly reminiscent of an alpine scene complete with Friesian cows.
An easy 30-minute drive from KK is the Mari Mari Cultural Village where five main tribes of Sabah – the Dusun, Rungus, Lundayen, Bajau and Murut – are represented. Here you can get an interactive experience and more than a glimpse into each tribe’s culture and traditional activities. Taste traditional wine and foods and try your hand at playing the Murut warrior pipe.
Also, don’t forget to take some time to visit the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, which houses orangutans along with other exotic animals in a zoo environment. Alternatively, take a full day tour to the Sandakan Sepilok Orangutan rehabilitation centre, which is a great way to see orangutans in their natural environment.
Getting there AirAsia and Malindo offer several flights daily from KLIA.
Kuantan usually registers on most itineraries as a pit stop between long hauls of travelling. Its location and easy access (a 2.5-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur) also make it an easy weekend trip.
Take a day trip away from the commotion of the city and go to Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary to feed and bathe the elephants, and support the good work they do relocating and rehabilitating elephants. A trip to the East Coast wouldn’t be complete without a blow-out local seafood dinner. Ana Ikan Bakar Petai specialises in fish char-grilled with sambal petai (chilli paste with stink beans) wrapped in banana leaves – what you’ll get is a beautiful mess of ikan bakar.
Of course, if you go to Kuantan you’ll have to go to the beach too. Head to Teluk Cempedak, which is very popular with locals and visitors, and a great spot to unwind and take a quick dip in the South China Sea. There’s a boardwalk with scenic views connecting Teluk Cempedak to Teluk Tongkang, a cove more suitable for campers. If you’re willing to go further, Cherating is approximately 60km away where you can try surfing, treat yourself to Club Med Cherating, or just check into a beach hut and chill out while the kids run wild on the beach.
Getting there Firefly offers several flights daily from KLIA. There are also express buses from KL to Kuantan every hour. Driving takes approximately 2.5 hours via the Karak Highway and East Coast Expressway.
As one of the most visited islands in the world, Phuket has something for everyone and is an easy escape from the city for a long weekend. Its shed its scandalous reputation to become a real family destination. Instead of heading to the usual spots of Patong, Kata and Karon, try quieter beaches like Nai Harn, Bang Tao, Surin and Kamala.
In terms of activities, there’s a lot to do – from taking a diving course and visiting a water park like Splash Jungle to mini golf at Dino Park (which has seen better days but the kids really enjoy it), elephant rides at Phang Nga and whitewater rafting, Phuket has lots of options.
There are several temples to visit but nothing to write home about, although the Big Buddha monument in the Nakkerd Hills is worth a visit for its panoramic views. Teenagers may want to try their hand at shooting, though many parents may not approve!
Day trips to surrounding islands are easy to organise and great fun on the typical long-tail boats. Go to the Racha and Coral islands for snorkelling, James Bond Island for sea kayaking and Koh Yao Noi for a biking tour to tire the kids out. And don’t forget to eat all the fantastic Thai food – kids have a great affinity for banana pancakes and fried rice!
Getting there There are regular daily flights with AirAsia and MAS.
Our southern neighbour is a very convenient family destination only a short flight away; it’s also easily accessible by road and rail. Most of the attractions here are family friendly and there are plenty of green spaces and open areas. The Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park are first choice – kids never tire of these places and older ones always enjoy the Night Safari. Parks abound from the remarkable Gardens by the Bay to the classic Botanic Gardens. One of the nicest things to do on a Sunday is head to the East Coast park and hire bicycles for the whole family.
Be prepared to be asked to visit Universal Studios; although if you can steer the kids away from it, there are alternatives like the Wild Wild Wet Water Park or the G-Max Reverse Bungee at Clark Quay, which involves being strapped in and shot upwards. Sentosa is also always a good idea as there are beaches, Fort Siloso for a history lesson, laser tag and food courts. When it all gets too much, head to the beach bars along Siloso Beach Walk for milkshakes and Margheritas.
If you prefer an educational break, Singapore delivers with museums (the ArtScience Museum is particularly interesting), art galleries, the Science Centre, and bumboat rides on the historical river.
Getting there There are regular flights between from KL with MAS, AirAsia, Tiger Air and Jetstar. Driving takes approximately 4-5 hours and there are several bus companies leaving from various points in KL.