1 Langkawi: First stop: Langkawi. The biggest of 99 islands in the region, Langkawi offers a brilliant combination of safe, scenic beaches set against lush forest backdrops, extremely reasonably priced fresh seafood and enough tours to learn all about the island. There are plenty of hotels in all categories but families can’t go wrong at The Andaman in the Datai Bay area. The seaview rooms are pricey but worth it just to start the day with a perfect vista of a powdery sandy bay, hugged on one side by a tropical forest and on the other by the serene Andaman sea (which is more like a tranquil river inlet and perfectly safe to swim and snorkel in). Staff are always on duty and our kids soon make friends with other young guests and are off, playing long jump over the tiny tributary on the beach or exploring the lush hotel gardens. A pleasant walk along the bay brings us to the only other hotel on this stretch of beach, The Datai, which is perfect for an early evening drink or snack and a very civilised way to end a lazy day.
But there’s only so long you can lounge about with kids, and thankfully Langkawi has plenty of interesting tours that appeal to the whole family. Our brood thoroughly enjoys a tour of the mangroves, delighting in the bat cave, swimming monkeys, floating fish farm (where they ‘cuddle’ a live horseshoe crab) and watching the eagles swoop down for food. We also make the journey to the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, Pulao Bunting, which we reach after a gentle hike and a fast 20 minutes by speedboat. (Note: It’s more economical and convenient to hire your own boat and skipper). We’re all curious about the origins of the local batik, so we take a trip to the Pisang Gallery in Canang and snap up a large painting of a typical Malay house, apparently by a renowned local artist, for around 800 Malaysian ringgits (roughly Dhs800). More importantly the children manage to buy tasteful gifts and holiday souvenirs for pocket money prices. Laden down with pretty packets of hand-made soap and batik purses, we leave Langkawi for KL vowing to return.
2 Kuala Lumpur: For the hustly bustly part of our three-stop tour, the Mandarin Oriental provides us with a futuristic view of the city. Located directly in front of the shiny Petronas Towers (which used to be the world’s third tallest building, until our very own Burj Khalifa bumped it into fourth place), there are a number of reasons why this hotel gets our thumbs up: spacious rooms, excellent service and – mums take note – a fantastic spa. But its location is the main selling point. With one of KL’s main malls, Suria KLCC, and the metro station on one side and a peaceful city park complete with elegant fountains on the other, popping out to the shops while the children potter has never been so easy. We often grab a bite at the clean, high-end yet excellent value food court at the nearby Pavilion Mall where restaurants serving fresh, oriental and Western options satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
Youngsters are welcomed everywhere and the genuine sales (up to 75 per cent discount – yippee!) make shopping a real pleasure. Although we could easily explore the nearby Petronas Towers and the highly recommended Petrosians Museum, we know KL isn’t just shopping malls and shiny buildings, so we go in search of the city’s greenery. We jump in a taxi and head to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, better known as FRIM, to walk the rainforest canopy – a hearty climb then a precarious 200m walk along a sisal bridge, suspended 30m above ground. The entire route takes around two hours at a steady pace and, while it’s manageable if you’re reasonably fit, it may not be one for younger children or anyone who’s afraid of heights. My husband, much to the amusement of our kids, is petrified! But we all enjoy tramping through the lush green vegetation of one of the world’s oldest forest research centres.
3 Malacca: For the final stop on our Malaysian adventure, we take a car and driver from the Mandarin Oriental down to Malacca for a very reasonable MR350 (around Dhs350). The two-and-a-half hour journey south is a pleasant drive through lush Malaysian countryside and it is interesting to compare the acres of oil palm trees to our date trees here in Dubai. Once in Malacca, one of the most important trading ports in the world in days gone by, we are fascinated by the combination of Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and traditional Malay influences. At the Majestic Hotel, the elegant 1920s home of the Tiger Balm entrepreneur now magnificently restored to its colonial glory, we are immediately whisked back to the time when Chinese junks sailed and Malacca was indeed the centre of the South China Seas. This is definitely the sightseeing bit of our holiday and a perfect, short adjunct for our little history buffs.
Thankfully, the hotel organises a comprehensive walking tour, following the river to Jonkers Street, the old Chinatown area famous for its antique shops, art galleries, places of worship and restaurants serving typical Nyonya (Malaysian Chinese) cuisine. Damien, our extremely erudite guide, informs and horrifies us with his tales of Malacca’s turbulent history. The kids, naturally, are fascinated by stories of murder and mayhem, but even they are stunned into silence at tales of Japanese occupants decapitating the heads of local Malaysians and displaying them on the railings of the aptly named Ghost Bridge. The old tall and skinny Chinese shop houses (tax was on the width of the property) are a must-see and while some now sell cheap souvenirs, others are still living museums with large, open central courtyards. We have a great time mooching around these charming areas, and I’m still enjoying slicing the famous solid block palm sugar, gulam malacca, into my oriental curries now I’m home in Dubai – a tiny taste to remind me of our perfect holiday.
Need to know
Where to stay
Hotel rates vary depending on the season.
• The Andaman in Langkawi (www.luxurycollection.com/andaman)
• The Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur (www.mandarinoriental.com)
• The Majestic in Malacca (www.majesticmalacca.com)
Fly Emirates from Dubai to KL and then Malaysian Airlines to Langkawi, all booked direct through Emirates (www.emirates.com) and costing around Dhs3,785 per adult including transfers.
Tourist Board in Dubai, behind Lamcy Plaza (04 337 7579; firstname.lastname@example.org) is a useful resource for anyone planning a Malaysian holiday. No visas are required for many nationalities, but it’s best to check with the Malaysian Consulate here in Dubai (04 337 2152).