The well-travelled EVIE FARRELL loves Malaysia so much she’s returned with her daughter Emmie time and time again. She reveals her favourite destinations for a family holiday
When Malaysia re-opened its borders earlier this year, my 12-year-old daughter Emmie and I jumped onto the first flight we could to its capital, Kuala Lumpur. We were desperate for a long-overdue fix of steamy heat, spicy curries, soft roti and coconut shakes, and we missed the friendly Malaysian hospitality we’d come to love. This welcoming, energetic and culturally diverse country has always been a staple of our travels. It was the place we returned to again and again for a break and some time out from our full-time adventures, where we would repeat our favourite experiences and uncover new ones on every visit.
Malaysia: A destination that has it all
Malaysia is a destination that has everything you could want for an exotic family holiday – from sparkling cities and giant, modern theme parks to wild orangutans and pygmy elephants, seemingly untouched beaches with crystal clear water, some of the best diving in the world – and of course, the most delicious food. With Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, Malaysia’s cuisine is a melting pot of flavours, textures and spices. And the best place to find it all is at the ubiquitous hawker markets, where you simply pull up a metal chair at a plastic table, order your food and tuck in.
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's capital
On this trip we started in Kuala Lumpur, in our beloved shopping and entertainment district Bukit Bintang, and devoured the street food at the famous Jalan Alor night market, paddled in the cool pools below the shimmering Petronas Towers and waited until sunset to explore Pintarsan Saloma, the new bridge that connects Kuala Lumpur’s centre and Kampung Baru, one of the few villages that still exist within the city. This stunning bridge lights up at night with Malaysian flag and patterns of colour and is a short walk from the city centre.
We hurtled down all the watersides and floated in the lazy river at Sunway Lagoon, walked the footbridges above the rainforest canopy at the KL Eco Forest and explored the street art, cafes and backstreets.
Enjoy limestone caves and natural beauty in Gopeng and Ipoh, Perak
As it’s easy to navigate Malaysia’s well-signed roads, we hired a car and drove north to Gopeng – Perak state’s adventure capital, where we braved 14 rapids as we rafted down the frothing Kampar River. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore the majestic caves in the mountains above but promised we would return.
Nearby Ipoh was once the centre of the world’s biggest tin mining industry but is now better known for its bean sprout chicken, towering karst mountains and more than 30 Buddhist and Taoist cave temples hidden in the limestone. Our favourite is Kek Lok Tong which, since our last visit, has had a moat carved around its base where you can paddle colourful boats. We stayed at The Haven All Suite Resort which is built under the limestone mountains. Not only does it have amazing views, but bathing in the evening air from the limestone is said to be restorative. While you’re here make sure to visit the Mirror Lake, accessed by a tunnel through the side of the mountain, and the Qing Xin Ling Leisure and Cultural Village. While we drove to Ipoh, taking the train is a scenic adventure, and you’ll get to arrive at the once majestic Ipoh Railway Station, built in 1917.
Penang (also known as a regional food paradise)
Penang is also one of our favourite holiday spots in Malaysia. It’s best to allow at least five days to explore the island, and you’ll mostly likely gain a kilo for every day you spend here. We try to spend at least three days in George Town – we love the Eastern and Oriental Hotel for its old-world charm and heritage – and wander the streets exploring street art, temples and mosques and meandering down back streets and alleys. It can get quite hot, but there is always a rainbow ice ball or coconut shake vendor to cool you down, and the many beach bars offer cooling coastal breezes and rope swings for kids to play on, as well as beers. We love Beach Blanket Babylon and a little further out Laguna Bay Beach Bar has live music, fire shows, beachfront chairs and tables and delicious hot pot. The most important thing to do in Penang, though, is to eat. Roti, rice dishes like nasi lemak, crepe-like apom, Char Kuey Teow (stir fried noodles and prawns), Penang curry and of course satay can be found at hawker markets, street vendors and small restaurants
Make sure to take the funicular to the top of Penang Hill — an adventure in itself, and thankfully now the monkeys that attacked us back in 2018 seem to have moved on! The new Habitat Penang Hill is an educational rainforest experience with pathways and lookouts towards Langkawi. Back in town, the indoor theme park The Top has incredible views and adrenaline-rushing activities like walking and ziplining around the outside of the 68-storey building.
Relax at Batu Ferringhi
The beachside town Batu Ferringhi has a number of stunning resorts. We particularly love the opened Angsana Teluk Bahang Hotel with its fabulous kids’ club and beach toys, Shangri-La Rasa Sayang and neighbouring Shangri-La Golden Sands. Escape Penang also has the longest waterslide in the world – it’s 1.1 kilometres of gliding fun and perfectly safe for children. The Zip Coaster is probably best for the bigger kids, but the water park and adventure play is fabulous for all the family. Make sure to visit Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm, the Tropical Spice Garden and Craft Batik, and if the weather is good head to the national park entrance and hire a boat to take you over to Monkey Beach. Have at least one dinner at Long Beach hawker centre, and in the evening, you can shop, get foot massages and enjoy the night markets.
Malaysia is a safe, welcoming country to enjoy with all the family. We are already planning our next trip!
In partnership with Tourism Malaysia