Kick back in Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands off Malaysia’s west coast. This tropical paradise of white-sand beaches and coconut trees is perfect for family beach holidays in Asia but also has plenty to do to keep all ages entertained, from gentle boat-trips through the wildlife-rich mangrove swamps to high-speed jetski tours.
Experience Kuala Lumpur, either as a stop in its own right or en route to adventurous family holidays in Malaysian Borneo (see below). Head straight to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) to marvel at views from the record-breaking Petronas Twin Towers with its 41st-storey skybridge. Then explore the rest of KLCC, the shopping, dining and entertainment hub – hit the shops at Suria KLCC, a huge shopping centre at the foot of the Towers, then run off steam in Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park with its two-acre playground and dancing water fountains at Lake Symphony. Kids also love the hands-on science exhibits at Petrosains Discovery Centre and meeting underwater creatures at KL Aquaria.
Leaving KLCC behind, head to Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market for traditional Malaysian crafts or to KL Forest Eco Park Park for interesting nature trails and the views from both its 200m canopy walk and the KL Tower Observation Deck. At the edge of the centre, the 92-hectare Lake Gardens (Perdana Botanical Gardens) is a hub for family activities: visit the National Planetarium or explore the many animal attractions including the Kuala Lumpur Deer Park, Butterfly Park and Bird Park (the world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary).
Enjoy an interesting day-trip from Kuala Lumpur – to the sacred Batu Caves, 7km from the city centre, or for aquatic fun Sunway Lagoon themepark, both a 15-minute drive away.
See mainland Malaysia in more depth on an adventure trip, starting with the highlights of Kuala Lumpur before taking in the Cameron Highlands, the ancient rainforest in the Taman Negara National Park and the ancient temples of Penang, also home to the Penang Turtle Sanctuary.
Adventure trips are also the best way for families to visit Malaysian Borneo, which occupies the northern part of the shared island of Borneo and is divided into the states of Sarawak and Sabah. Many trips start in the city of Kuching, Sarawak, where families can stroll along the waterfront and have fun spotting the statues of cats throughout the city (‘kuching’ means ‘cat’ in Malay). From here, head to the Bako National Park for jungle hikes and the chance to see monkeys, monitor lizards, wild boar and more. Other highlights in the Sarawak region include staying with Iban head-hunters in Batang Ali and seeing the orangutans at the Matang Wildlife Centre in the Kubah National Park.
The Sabah region also offers the chance to see Borneo’s most famous inhabitants at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. And don’t leave the region without cruising along the Kinabatangan, Borneo’s longest river, or snorkelling in the clear waters of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Families of experienced hikers also climb Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South-east Asia.
Head to Singapore, another fantastic destination for families and a perfect stopover en route to Malaysian Borneo or Australasia. The big-hitter here is Sentosa Island, accessed by cable-car from the top of Mt Faber and offering several family attractions, chief among them the Universal Studios movie theme-park, which includes the Shrek-themed Land of Far Far Away and the Madagascar-themed tropical jungle. You can also climb to the top of the famous Merlion for a 360° view of the island, ride Megazip Adventure Park zipline and Skyline Luge Sentosa, inspect creepy crawlies at the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom, get splashy at Adventure Cove Water Park and check out the S.E.A Aquarium.
Be a bit more laidback in the centre of Singapore. Don’t miss the waterfront Gardens by the Bay nature park, a greenification project including a grove of stunning Supertrees functioning as vertical gardens, illuminated by night. Kids might recognise this spot as the inspiration for the planet of Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy. With ages one to 12, head for the Children’s Garden with its water features (bring swimwear) and colourful café.
Elsewhere in Singapore, take a boat-ride on the river or soak up the atmosphere in the Arab Quarter and Little India, stopping at the Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple to see the 15m Buddha adorned with 1,000 lights. Then head north to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden within the UNESCO-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens and to Singapore Zoo or the separate Singapore Night Safari nocturnal zoo. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the north also entertain little wildlife-lovers.
Southern and western Singapore also have lots of family-friendly attractions. Explore Chinatown with its remarkable mix of places of worship (from a mosque to a Hindu temple) then investigate the interactive exhibits at the Singapore Science Centre (and go snowtubing in its Snow City) or see the 600 tropical species at the Jurong Bird Park. The 13-acre Chinese Gardens at Jurong Lake are another oasis of calm, while the interactive exhibits at the Singapore Discovery Centre bring the story of Singapore to life – and kids love its giant iWERKS cinema.