I remember being stood in some hotel toilets when a woman came up to me and said: “Hello, you don’t know me, but I’m your Aunty.”
I was 6-years-old, it was my first trip to Malaysia and, I was a Bridesmaid at my cousin’s wedding.
It was also the first time I’d met some of my Chinese family who mostly lived in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
My mum, my older sister and I have since traveled the country many times as a family, during our child/teen-hood.
We’ve met monkeys in caves, we’ve climbed waterfalls, we’ve shopped ’til we’ve dropped, we’ve scuba-dived and we’ve eaten some of the most colourful food.
We’ve been culture vultures, we’ve been tots who tantrum in the heat and we’ve hit the cities too.
If you, like us, are planning a family adventure to Malaysia (and Thailand), here are our highlights:
Food + Drink: Malaysia is a foodies paradise with an array of cuisines available from Malay to Indian and Chinese. You can expect proper Indian food served on banana leaves, try freshly made Roti ( Canai = plain or Teloor = Egg) with Dal. Our whole family ( 8 of us) had Rotis and Dal for tea costing less than £5 in total. Malaysia is also great for Malay (obvs) and Chinese food, with most decent cafes off the beaten track.
Try Malaysia’s national dish Nasi Lemak (Coconut rice, curry, egg & anchovies or onions) for breakfast… yum! And make sure you try Tau Fu Fah (a sweet tofu pudding) they sell on the street markets it comes in a small bag with a straw.
And if you’re Vegetarian like me, Malaysia is heaven because it’s full of Buddhist vegetarian cafes & restaurants with vast menus including meat substitutes. Think frogs legs made out of bean curd… my favourite has to be mock crispy goose.
Outdoors: Make sure you take organised trips into the safe jungle areas with rope bridges, beautiful wildlife and more. Or take a trip to the Paddy fields to see how they grow rice.
Also on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur are the Batu caves which are full of monkeys… just beware as the monkeys can be very “playful.” They trapped us in a cave and then when my sister tried to run out a little monkey grabbed on to her skirt swinging on it as she ran.
Arts + crafts: We visited Batiq factories and workshops to have go at learning this beautiful art-form (although an hour is plenty, my mum made us go around a lot of places as she is an artist and at the time was studying textiles!). It’s also worth purchasing some silk if you’re into material as it’s loads cheaper than in the UK.
We also visited the Royal Selangor Pewter factory and museum which was worth a quick visit as well as being able to enjoy ice cold drinks in Pewter cups.
Tuk Tuks and Rickshaws: My absolute favourite way to travel around the streets as a family. It’s cheap, fun and a great way to explore places especially when legs are getting tired! Rickshaws are my preference with someone cycling at the front of the carriage. Tuk Tuks are fab too and they’re basically auto-rickshaws so better for longer journeys.
Malakka/Melaka: The “historic state” of Malaysia. It’s definitely worth a day trip to see museums and old workshops. I remember learning about feet binding which was an ancient Chinese tradition seen to make girls more beautiful.
Cameron Highlands: If you like tea (or strawberries), this is the place to be as there is so much tea (and strawberries) growing everywhere. It’s very mountainous so it’s quite humid and misty, a definite contrast to most other parts of Malaysia.
We also really loved going to a Steam Boat restaurant in the Highlands.
Langkawi Island: This luscious island makes for the perfect beach and adventure holiday. With great bike rides, an F1 racing track and cool cable cars which are a great way to sight-see. But our highlight was learning to scuba dive in the crystal clear sea and climbing waterfalls. Paradise.
Kuala Lumpur: KL is Malaysia’s New York City with huge shopping complexes (some with roller-coasters inside), Sun Way Lagoon water and theme park and in the centre there are various street markets selling food and fake designer wear such as some of the stalls on Petaling Street. There’s also fast food joints if the kids are in need of some comfort food (although lots of places sell freshly cut sweetcorn if you want something a little healthier).
Make sure you visit the Petronas Twin Towers… They’ve got some fab gardens and a little water park outside and then lots of shops on the ground-floor.
But if you get chance and have some cash to spare, head up the towers to the exquisite Japanese restaurant where you get to sit on the floor and eat authentic cuisine.
Borneo: This magical island plays host to Mount Kinabalu and beautiful lush forests. If you’re kids are old enough to climb the mountain you’re in for a treat.
Borneo is fairly unspoiled with lots of houses on stilts but there are also some large hotels with golf courses in juxtaposition to the shanty towns.
Penang: This is close to Melaka. We loved staying at Golden Sands resort (Shangri-La hotel) for some much-needed down time by the pool, away from the hustle and bustle. But do make sure you take a visit to the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple.
Thailand: We took a taxi to southern Thailand from Penang for a day trip (costing around £20 to hire the taxi for the day). We loved getting the stamps in our passports as well as seeing lots of temples and tasting some gorgeous Thai food. But if you have time or on another family adventure do explore Thailand as well!
On another family holiday we visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok was brilliant for a few hectic days seeing sights and trying out some of the most wonderful food. We also loved Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. It was beautiful and green with lots of pretty temples, but our favourite memories were riding Elephants, going white-water rafting and mountain cycling.
So please don’t be put off exploring if you’re travelling as a family, as there’s so many exciting things to do, places to go and yummy food to eat.
I’ll be returning to Malaysia and Thailand this Christmas as we are travelling around South-East-Asia with the kids for our belated honeymoon. I’ll be blogging and vlogging our journey as we go! I’ll be focusing on family-friendly places to go, activities and entertainment whilst my husband Chris who was a quarter-finalist in this year’s BBC’s MasterChef, will be trying out cooking classes and authentic food and flavours.
My husband Chris and I have always loved to travel and we don’t think our nomadic ways should be put to bed because we’ve had kids.
You can learn so much when you explore different cultures and countries as well as get to grips with the native language.
When our eldest was one we toured America, we went on road trips and we have visited friends and family all over the world. We love any excuse to have an adventure.
Here are our top tips for travelling as a family:
Dreaming: Get some travel magazines and holiday brochures to create a collage together, as a family, of all the places you’d all love to go to and what kind of things you want to do. Then stick it up somewhere prominent in the house to keep you reminded of your communal dreams.
Planning: Whilst I like to think of myself as an intrepid explorer, planning is essential when travelling with tots. As it’s a lot harder to just rock up in an unknown country without plans or accommodation. By planning your adventures, you can make sure the journey is smoother and you fit in all the things you want to do.
Packing: Organised packing is a must depending on where you’re going e.g. mosquito nets and repellent, phone chargers, plug adapters, walking shoes etc… and whether you use a suitcase or backpack or both. A baby carrier or a pushchair? Think of the terrain and all the activities you’re likely to be doing and of course ages of your kids! Plus take plenty to do and eat when travelling long distances. We tend to take books we can leave after we’ve used them and non-sentimental games.
Oh bring tissues and wipes… lots.
Learning languages: Prior to your trip it’s a great idea to learn some of the key phrases from the native language of the places you’ll be going to. We tend to download apps or play language learning CDs in the car or podcasts. It’ also worth taking a dictionary and phrase book to help you when your travelling. Most people speak English but it’s polite to try plus if your going to some of the more remote places it’ll really help to have some key phrases.
Food + Drink: My Grandpa always taught me to dip my chopsticks into my hot Chinese tea to clean them before eating. He also told me to never have ice in my drinks and to always have bottled water. Try find a supermarket to stock up on snacks and water so you always have stuff on you.
Comfort: If travelling with young kids take something for comfort such as their favourite teddy bear or blanket and make them part of the trip.
Blog/scrapbook: A great project you can do together as a family is to create a scrapbook of your adventure or if you want to a blog about your adventures. It is such a great keepsake to record everything you’ve done as well as reminding you of all the fun you had. And most of all it will keep you hungry for more exploring.