I had an exciting, action-packed whirlwind trip through Malaysia with my 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son recently where we had five flights and stayed in eight hotels in 14 days.
Malaysia is a wonderful place for Australian families to visit as it’s a doable five-hour flight, very affordable, hospitable and English speaking is ubiquitous.
The food is delectable throughout Malaysia. From the hawker street fare of Kuala Lumpur to the world-recognised traditional Malay cuisine in Penang, and the fresh seafood and Muslim-influenced food on Langkawi Island.
I loved the variety of the travel experience, from the exciting hustle and bustle of the KL metropolis, the culture-infused traditions of Penang, and then the relaxing, undeveloped island experience of Langkawi. It felt like visiting three different countries within one!
Return flights with Air Asia from Perth to Kuala Lumpur for the three of us were only $1240. We also had three domestic flights within Malaysia with Air Asia for less than $100 each, however, I was disappointed with the lack of customer service available and for this reason would think twice about flying with this airline again.
There were complications with every flight, and no one was available to address queries either by phone or email and the bot chat service didn’t address any problems. One flight was delayed five hours and we were only compensated with a cheeseburger and most flights I was separated from my children, despite booking tickets early. This was the only downside of our trip, Malaysia itself was fabulous and all of the hotels were exceptional in their service and quality.
We arrived in KL at midnight and caught a $40, one-hour, Grab ride (popular Asian hail riding service) to our first destination – the fun, trendy boutique MOV Hotel, situated downtown in the heart of the city. We loved the modern, sleek room and were keen to explore the bustling nightlife we witnessed lit up from our windows and pool terrace. It was an exciting, colourful party vibe with bright lights and pumping music.
We wandered through KL’s largest hawker street food market, absorbing the intoxicating sights and aromas of fruits, seafood and kebabs. The pungent smell of durian – the cherished Asian fruit delicacy was omnipresent – which to our Western senses, smelt like dirty laundry and rotten meat. The collage of colours, smells, lights, and sounds was enthralling, sparking our curiosity and stimulating our senses; why we love traveling to exotic places.
The streets were busy but organised. Crossing the roads was easy with efficient traffic systems and safe crossings.
We rolled back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning, observing a mix of partying westerners, local hospitality workers, and some street workers, including quite a few ladyboys. The kids experienced the big, wide cosmopolitan world.
MOV Hotel is a fabulous place to stay in KL, to experience the exciting nightspots and shopping during the day. We visited the high-end fashion of the Pavilion shopping mall which featured more than 700 stores, showcasing Cartier, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, and an exhaustive range of designer brands over nine storeys.
We had lunch at an American-style diner in the Pavilion, where we feasted on nachos and milkshakes for about $30. The choice of eateries was immense, with a massive range of international cuisine on offer.
As much as I enjoyed window shopping through the high-end brands, Chinatown was a more realistic option, it was fun to rummage through rows of markets offering counterfeit designer shoes, handbags, perfume and sunglasses. The kids loved it! My daughter bought a large bottle of J’Adore perfume for $20, my son a pair of Nike Jordans for $40 and I bartered a stylish navy-blue Prada handbag for $30, as well as a couple of Ray Ban sunnies for $20. I could not tell the difference between the original and the imitation products – the quality was impressive!
Chinatown was interesting – old, dilapidated buildings fused with traditional colonial architecture. I didn’t see too much poverty, only encountering one beggar to whom I felt compelled to donate some Malaysian Ringgit.
We sat on a classy restaurant patio that evening absorbing the bustling KL entertainment over a delicious meal which comprised money bags, a crab salad, duck curry, several wines and fruity mocktails for around $60.
Given our short trip to Malaysia, I booked a 40-minute flight to Penang for around $200 for the three of us, instead of a six-hour train or bus journey.
We took an hour Grab ride from the airport to Double-Tree by Hilton, situated on the north of the island set in a tropical, resort setting, where we were greeted with a Nutmeg Mocktail, garnished with nutmeg fruit.
The service and facilities at Double-Tree Hilton, Penang were first-class. The staff was lovely and helpful, and the hotel had so much on offer – a Kids’ Club, spa, fitness centre, Teddy Bear Museum, pool, fuse ball, a large pool with a relaxed resort setting, a kids’ splash pool, a conference centre, a ballroom which facilitated a wedding, and a band played on Friday and Saturday nights.
The hotel was situated across from the beach, offering sweeping views of the tranquil sea dotted with islands.
We stayed in a One-Bedroom Sea View Suite that was spacious with a lounge area, separate bedroom, and a separate lavish bathroom. Their toiletry products were Crabtree Evelyn, which was nice since we didn’t take toiletries with us, allowing for space given we only took carry-on luggage, to ease traveling.
We traveled five minutes down the road to the gorgeous Shangri-La Rasa Sayang, Penang which was located in the popular tourist district of Batu Ferringhi. Living up to its classic image of luxury, serenity, and class, this resort was exquisite.
We were welcomed into the exclusive Rasa Wing which included a Club Lounge that served complimentary all-day tea, coffee and soft drinks, High Tea, and evening cocktails and canapes.
The canapes were delectable – mussels, fried fish, chicken pieces, fresh fruit, and mini desserts. It was equivalent to an evening meal with personalised service from our comfortable lounges. The dress code was casual, cocktail – no swimwear, thongs, or singlets allowed. This region housed many discerning international travellers, mostly European.
The Shangri-La Sayang Rasa Wing also granted us access to the main hotel’s extensive breakfast buffet or the Club’s more intimate buffet with an la carte menu, including delicious Eggs Benedict, waffles and fresh fruit juices.
Our accommodation was gorgeous – a spacious Rasa Junior Suite King, which lived up to the lavishness of the brand’s code, with a glamorous bathroom, toiletries, a large bathtub, a separate shower and luxurious robes and linen, and a huge balcony with an enormous bath from which to look over the rainforest grounds and pool.
Malaysia is renowned for the art of reflexology. I had an amazing beach reflexology/massage at Father & Son Reflexology, the oldest beach massage family in Penang. By massaging my feet, the masseuse was able to tell me so many health truths – including I have low blood pressure, wear reading glasses, had a sore right knee from jogging, sore, tight shoulders, strong ovaries, and genetic short-term memory challenges which could be improved by using chopsticks to rewire the brain! I was blown away.
Instead of a four hour ferry ride and two-hour journey to the ferry, we flew 40 minutes to Langkawi, from which we took a 30-minute Grab ride to Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa. It is set on the palm-lined white sands of Langkawi island, offering unspoilt sea and island views, including Rebak Island which was our next destination. It is a short walk from the centre of Pantai Cenang, a tourist restaurant and shopping district.
Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa housed waterfront chalets from which to soak in the tranquility of the island. The lobby was stately and expansive, as were the spa and restaurants – characteristic of traditional Malaysian architecture mixed with opulence, where original hotel elements had been reused in the refurbished, renovated complex.
The resort was serene and leafy, with water features throughout, a magnificent winding pool, and sea views omnipresent throughout the hotel.
Our Family Room was comfortable with a king-sized bed, a separate king single, separate bathroom and a private porch that offered majestic sunset views over the water and islands.
Guests were offered complimentary buffet breakfast at both restaurants – Spice Island offering traditional Malay fare and the Pelangi Grill which served delicious Western cuisine, including mimosas.
Langkawi felt like another country. It is Muslim and the vibe was entirely different from KL or Penang. There is also no tax, making alcohol and chocolates inexpensive.
We had a delicious seafood meal on the street at Telaga Seafood for $30. My plate was filled with prawns, octopus and fish, all freshly caught from the ocean, and chips and salad. The kids had salmon, salad, fries, and fresh watermelon juice.
We left Pelangi for Rebak Island Resort & Marina, which was a 10-minute speed boat ride. This is a special island resort, so peaceful, immersed in native tropical rainforest.
Our room was large, with fresh fruits and a bottle of wine, and overlooked the ocean and pool.
The pool was a hub and the poolside bar offered evening entertainment with a musician singing old classics.
Activities at Rebak Island Resort & Marina were freely available including kayaking, volleyball, tennis, pool, and bike riding.
The meals were infused with traditional Malaysian cooking styles and flavours.
We had an amazing experience at the Westin Resort & Spa, Langkawi. We stayed in a luxurious one-bedroom villa which had a large, private pool and front access to the beach through our own gate.
We were treated to a private BBQ in our villa the first evening with a personal chef and waiter. This included three salads, an assortment of breads, lobster, steak, lamb, prawns, and three desserts. They set up our outdoor area for the dining experiences with all the cutlery, candles, and environment for five-star dining.
Our accommodation was exceptional! A humungous bathroom, a large bedroom featuring a king-size bed, and a huge living and dining area with a self-contained kitchen. There was also a separate bathroom.
The Westin is fantastic for families with so much on offer – squash, pool, basketball, soccer, netball, bike riding, SUP, kayaking, and a catamaran.
The Kids’ Club offered great daily activities including Batik painting which engaged my children, plus nail painting, Master Chef, T-Shirt painting and sand art.
We flew back to KL to arrive at the luxurious St Regis. Our St Regis Suite was opulent with a large powder room, a huge dining and living space, a large bedroom, the biggest dressing room I’ve seen, a separate bathroom with views from the bathtub overlooking the KL lights, and a technological toilet that was warm to sit on, and included a myriad of buttons and settings to filter the bottom cleansing process!
An exciting part of the St Regis experience was their passion for Christmas. Decorations adorned the hotel and their special Christmas Staycation was amazing!! The kids decorated gingerbread houses with a personal chef, painted Nutcrackers, decorated a Christmas tree in our room, gingerbread men, and Christmas decorations which we brought home with us.
We were treated to a mouth-watering Christmas menu in our room of Surf and Turf with the thickest, juiciest steak, fresh king prawns, a smoked salmon salad, and an assortment of desserts. There was also a children’s menu of spaghetti bolognaise or fish and chips for the less adventurous child.
In the morning, my son discovered a stocking hanging from outside our door with sweet treats and teddy bears.
We then had a magnificent night at the Hilton KL, where we were greeted by beautiful staff, a Jungle Bird cocktail, the Hilton Kuala Lumpur signature cocktail/mocktail, sweet delicacies, a box for each child with their names in chocolate and specially selected treats, and a personalised welcome greeting on the king-size bed made of palm fronds, flowers, and towel art.
That night we had an amazing, unsurpassed virtual reality experience at dinner with eight courses paired with a fantasy story at the Banquet of Hoshena. It was truly magical!
The staff was terrific, arranging a wake-up call and take-away breakfast of coffee, fresh orange juice, pastries, fruit, and a western-cooked breakfast for us to take on the plane ride home.
It was a magnificent holiday in Malaysia – accessible and suited to families, with so much to offer. It is very affordable, and luxurious but also infused with traditional Malaysian culture. I’m surprised more Australian families don’t visit Malaysia, it was a beautiful experience for me and my two children.