Malaysia is one of the best places to travel in South East Asia with Kids.
Nine months ago if you asked me where Kuala Lumpur was I would have been hard-pressed to show you on the map. I always knew I wanted to see “those beautiful twin towers” with the bridge between (I saw them in the movies), but I didn’t know they were in Kuala Lumpur. Now, sitting here in the city after just arriving back from a trip to the top I am sold.
With over 9 months of continuous travel under our belt, having traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam I feel Malaysia has been sadly overlooked by the traveling masses.
Besides being one of the safest places in the world, there is an endless supply of beauty, clean air, fun activities for kids and adventure to make any family traveler swoon. Did I mention the amazing and cheap food and melting pot of cultures?
- Costs: The SIM card costs 25RM ($8), with 40RM for a basic voice and data package for a month. Additional data costs between 28RM (300Mb) and 88RM (5Gb). Other plans are available if your primary usage is data rather than voice.
- How: Branded Celcom stores and some 7-11’s. A passport will be required.
- Topping up: You can top up at Celcom stores, 7-11 or online.
- Data speeds: Fast 3G or 4G is available in much of the country, with EDGE/GPRS in more remote areas.
Travel and Medical:
World Nomads Family Explorer Insurance – Truly comprehensive health and travel insurance that is inexpensive and actually works. Covers your entire family – buy in 6-month increments to save money!
Adioso (with many great flights on Singapore air or air Malaysia as well as smaller airlines- sometimes under $25 one way)
Bookings.com or Agoda
Peninsular Malaysia (April 23 – May 13) 22 days
1. Kuala Lumpur (5 nights)
Loving every second of the Petronas Twin Towers. Even though it is a bit pricey, it is worth it to take a trip to the top.
Where we stayed: Ceria Hotel Bukit Bintang
Just $49 per night for a deluxe family room (after Agoda fees). This was a nice place close to the Times Square Mall and within walking distance to the monorail. The staff is friendly and the room was plenty big for the entire family.
The Ceria Hotel Lobby is a great place to mingle or even get some work done.
Cool Things to do in Kuala Lumpur with Kids:
Go up the KLCC Twin Towers: They may not be the tallest buildings in the world but they are the tallest twin towers and they are the most iconic and the most beautiful skyscrapers I have ever seen. The trip up to the towers wasn’t cheap ($65 for the entire family) but being able to look up at that bridge and say “I’ve been there” was worth it. They say you need to show up at 8 am to get tickets to go to the top, we showed up at 4:45 pm and got tickets for the 5 pm elevator up without a hitch at the end of April, but it is off-season.
Up Top the KLCC Tower Sky Bridge
After you go up the towers make sure you exit out the rear to the fabulous KLCC park. It is a free water park and playground that is worthy of a Sultan. Plan your day in advance and throw a swimsuit and towel into your day bag, dry off after an afternoon trip to the top of the towers, have some cheap eats and catch the 8 pm light show at the fountains. Another free adventure that is perfect for everyone.
Playing in the FREE KLCC City Center Water Park.
The main street of Chinatown is beautiful by night.
Chinatown is a fun place to eat great street food, try some traditional Malay Chinese cuisine in one of the many Chinese restaurants or buy a pair of cheap sunglasses just in case you were like me and lost them off a skyscraper in Hong Kong. Make sure you half the price they are asking for and hold your ground. If you children start crying that may help seal the deal as well, our son saved us 3 dollars this way on a pair of flip flops.
3. Mud the Musical
Now, this is Theater at its best! You would never know we were the only guests.
MUD is a fantastic musical that tells the story of the origins of Kuala Lumpur. They run an afternoon show and an evening show every day in the Merdeka Square area, near the Masjid Jamek LRT stop. While our theater was completely empty aside from our family, it didn’t stop the actors from putting on a phenomenal show with so much energy and enthusiasm you would have thought the place was full. The show is interactive so you will probably find yourself on stage as well.
4. The Batu Caves
There are bats in the “Batu” cave, although this is not why it’s named that.
Only 8 miles outside of Kuala Lumpur City the Batu Caves are a worthwhile half day trip. You can catch the KL monorail to KL Central station and take the KTM commuter train to the very end. It is a very slow train, but a pretty ride and makes for a nice day trip. You could get there a lot faster by private vehicle but it is hard to beat $7 RT for a family of 4 on public transit.
5. Little India
Main Street Little India
There is Indian food on just about every street corner of Kuala Lumpur so you do not need to go all the way to Little India to eat great Indian food. We took the tram to see what the fuss was all about and finally decided on one of the outdoor restaurants where you do a “choose your own affair.” There were no prices listed so we worried the whole time we were being ripped off although the wait staff assured us it would be “cheap food”. Well, it was cheap (about $11 for the 4 of us) and this left me wishing I had bought the Tandoori Chicken and just a little more of that amazing Nan.
6. The KL Bird Park
Feed these birds once and you will have a cheap guide for the entire day.
OK, the bird park was a bit of a disappointment (at least when it comes to birds). That being said, we were a little spoiled after our trip to South Africa and the Bird of Eden bird park in Plettenberg Bay. We did have a nice half day here, the kids enjoyed the small playground inside the park and watching a baby chick hatch from its egg in the incubator. The Bird Park is right in the middle of KL’s Botanical Gardens and closes to some of its star attractions so you if you plan a bit you can make a day out of it.
2. Cameron Highlands (4 nights)
Where we stayed: Hotel De’La Ferns
A “boutique” hotel 2km up the hill from the main stomping grounds. We booked this because we were able to score a triple room at the last minute reduced rate. The problem is that it is a 20-minute walk into the main town. The benefit is that it is quite and provides an amazing free morning breakfast and spectacular scenery. If you have a car this would be great, otherwise, I would suggest one of the hostels in town.
Just hike into the Jungle and see those tea plantations. It is worth it, and the images will be imprinted on your mind forever. The Cameron Highlands is a unique chance to experience the Jungle on your own terms. Ditch the packaged tours, go to the streets to find some local food and take a hike! There are lots of wonderful options for families.
3. Penang (Georgetown) 4-nights
Loving the “Love Bikes” but wishing we had helmets
Penang is a wonderful stop along your Malaysian Family Gap Year Adventure. It is full of culture, funky art, kind people and really cool bicycles.
Where we stayed: Star Lodge
A very basic, no thrills accommodation but we were able to score two rooms right in the heart of Georgetown for a total of $40 per night. They had decent WiFi and there was a wonderful hostel next door where we ate French toast every morning. It is definitely a “flashpackers” hostel, but you can book by the night and they had availability when the entire town was full because of the labor day holiday.
4. Perhentian Islands (6 nights)
Chilling on the private beach of the well priced Shari-la Island Resort. Great snorkeling right off the beach!
Where we stayed: Shari-la Island Resort
Probably one of the nicest resorts on the small island. Right next to Quivers Divers dive resort, it offers a protected bay for snorkeling (with wonderful fish), cheap rental gear and discount snorkeling expeditions. The daily breakfast buffet is worth $20 US and is included. At $69 for our family of four per day, it was the perfect stay. We also heard good things about Coral View on the big island so that may be worth checking out.
WiFi: painfully slow (which was OK because I needed to relax) – ask the manager to use his phone and landline computer if you need to book accommodations or look up hotels on the mainland. He is very nice and will give you access for free. They have WiFi in the lobby but it is spotty.
To get to the islands sounds complicated but it is fairly straightforward. We booked a cheap flight on “firefly” using Adioso and were there from Penang in 1 hour. From the airport, it is a 75 ringette taxi transfer to the boat terminal. We purchased our taxi ticket and our too and from boat transfers in the airport. They were friendly and they weren’t trying to rip us off.
We stayed at Shari-la Island Resort and dove at Quiver divers for $19 per dive. Our kids had a great time. There was decent food nearby and the private beach at the Shari-la resort makes it one of the best places for the price in my opinion. Although the atmosphere is somewhat “cold” outside the resort and at the dive company we found it fun and extremely friendly.
→ 5. Detour to Singapore on our way to Borneo (Sabah) 7 nights
On our way to Borneo, we decided to take a detour through Singapore and spent a week there. Here, you can read more about Singapore with kids.
Borneo Malaysia (May 21 – June 6) 12 days
7. Sepilok (Sandakan) The Orangutang Sanctuary, Sun Bears, and Borneo Rain Forest! (3 nights)
Getting ready to go into the surprisingly modern Orangutan Center in Sepilok
Where we stayed: Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat
This is one of the coolest places we stayed on our trip with budget bungalows overlooking the Borneo Rainforest and the most spectacular shower you may ever have. Don’t miss out on a very memorable experience. If you are staying in Sandakan, stay here!
Wifi: Horrible but present to some degree in the communal dining area.
8. Kinabatangan for the River Safari (2 nights)
Headed down the Kinabatangan river for an evening boat ride.
Where we stayed: Sukau Backpackers
Basic but a good location for wildlife enthusiasts”
9. Semporna, Mabul, and Sipadan: Divine Diving (5 nights)
Underwater magic at Sipadan. A once in a lifetime experience!
Where we stayed:
- Semporna: Sea Fest Hotel – A great mainland stay prior to beginning your hop to Mabul.
- Four days in Mabul as part of our Sipadan Diver package: Scuba Junkie
Diving Sipadan Island may have been one of the better experience of my life. To describe it in any normal terms would do it a disservice. Hanging out on Mabul with the kids was a special experience for the entire family and I am so grateful for Scuba Junkie who welcomed us with open arms!
10. Kota Kinabalu: Peak Experiences and Creating Cultural Awareness (5 nights)
5:30 am at the top of Mt. Kinabalu
Where we stayed: Hotel 54
A Lonely Planet top pic, Hotel 54 is a superb place to stay while you are planning a climb, recovering from a climb, or simply enjoying a day of activities in the city. They have a great communal dining room and the owner is a gem who can help you with planning treks and tours.
As far as Borneo is considered, I would not call Kota Kinabalu my favorite city by any means. But the mountain 2 hours outside of it will take your breath away. Literally, and it will do a number on your leg muscles as well. It was the first big mountain that I have ever climbed and it will surely not be the last.
I had hoped to bring the kids to the mountain with me, but my wife instead took the kids for a one-day dive excursion with Scuba Junkie. They had a great time as well. Scuba Junkie agreed to watch the kids during a snorkel while my wife went for a dive.