Malaysia is a tropical paradise of immense charm – a veritable treasure trove of diverse cultures and hospitable people, exotic cuisine, fascinating festivals, quaint villages and the dazzling city of Kuala Lumpur. It’s one of the easiest and most family-friendly countries in Southeast Asia to travel in, offering a blend of colourful Asian culture, pristine beaches and wilderness areas. Malaysia is made up of two separate regions. Peninsular Malaysia is located off mainland Southeast Asia, bordering with Thailand. Peninsular Malaysia is separated by 650 kilometres of the South China Sea from East Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) is the heart of Kuala Lumpur and full of family-friendly attractions. There is a huge, free playground that is definitely worth a visit, plus restaurants, arts and culture, sightseeing, hotels and multiple shopping malls as well as the aquarium Aquaria KLCC. KL Bird Park is located in the famously serene and scenic Lake Gardens. Known as “World’s Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary”, the park offers 8.4 hectares of lush gardens to be explored. Petronas Twin Towers are the tallest twin buildings in the world and a great spot for the kids to take in the city’s landscape. Be sure to visit the Sky Bridge which connects the two towers’ and the observation deck on the 86th floor.
Indoor Play Centres are in many of the malls in Kuala Lumpur. Some cool ones to check out are Kid’s E World at The Gardens, Megakidz at the Mid Valley Megamall and Malaysia’s largest indoor theme park, Berjaya Times Square Theme Park. Petronas Discovery Centre is a hands-on science museum where kids of all ages will be entertained with the many interactive displays. Sunway Lagoon is an award-winning theme park 20 minutes from Kuala Lumpur, and with over 80 rides divided into six sub-parks, it is sure to fill a day with plenty of fun.
Surrounded by turquoise oceans and jungle-clad mountains, Langkawi offers a change of pace from the bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur. As one of Malaysia’s most popular beach getaways, Langkawi provides the best in-water activities while also catering for those in need of some retail therapy with duty-free shopping. While you could very easily spend all of your time lazing on Langkawi’s beaches, there is much more to be seen around the island including the Langkawi Sky Bridge which towers 700 metres above sea level and offers views of Gununh Mat Cincang and Telaja Tujuh waterfalls. Add to your sky-high adventures with a ride on the Langkawi cable car which will take you on a 15-minute ride to the top of Mat Cincang where panoramic views of the rainforests and islets await. Underwater World Langkawi is one for the littlies with more than 500 species of sea creatures and a 15-metre underwater tunnel where you can wander below sharks, stingrays and green turtles. You can also get up-close-and-personal with marine life at Pulau Payar Marine Park by snorkelling the reefs that surround the uninhabited island.
Spelled locally as ‘Melaka’, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the perfect stop for a combination of old-town vibes and rich heritage. The town is easy to navigate by foot where sites such as the A’Famosa Fort, Christ Church and The Stadthuys are all in close proximity. The Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum also provides an interesting peek into times gone by where three restored houses have been arranged to resemble a 19th-century Baba-Nyonya residence. You can hire a bike and ride along the winding canals or head to the outer areas for a visit to the Melaka Strait Mosque, otherwise known as the ‘floating mosque’ with its impressive gold dome and stained glass windows. Kids will adore the Mini Malaysia & ASEAN Cultural Park with its full-scale models of traditional homes and a range of traditional Malay games and activities. Over the weekend, Jonker Walk transforms into a bustling night market with an array of stalls as well as live music and tasty local treats that is sure to keep the whole family entertained.
Penang has been nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ owing to its sandy beaches and happening food scene, making it a popular holiday destination for lovers of South East Asian fare and hospitality. A visit to Georgetown will take you back to the days of King George III where colourful street art has combined with the centuries-old temples. Dating back to the 1880s, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and its bright blue facade is a highlight for those looking to explore Malaysia’s history and can be viewed on a guided tour or with a stay in the boutique bed and breakfast. For those seeking some action, ESCAPE Penang will provide thrills and spills for kids of all ages, while a visit to Made in Penang Interactive Museum will have the whole family in stitches with optical illusions that make for a unique photo opportunity. Finally, a trip to Penang wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kek Lok Si, Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple, where over four hectares of temples, gardens and pagodas are sure to dazzle.
Best time to go to Malaysia
Temperature in Malaysia does not vary a great deal, so a visit to Malaysia can be planned for any time. The average temperature ranges between 21–32 degrees Celsius and the humidity is high.
The rainy season occurs between November and February on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and on the west coast, the rainy season is from April to May and from October to November.
You need to have a valid passport valid for at least six months, or an internationally recognised travel document. Australians do not need to apply for a visa if they are only going for a social visit (three months only).
Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sepang is one of the major airports in Southeast Asia. It’s well stocked with public phones, ATMs, banks, transport hire and tourist information. A good choice of food and beverages can be found throughout with Western fast food outlets, 24-hour restaurants, cafés and bars. Duty-free items like cosmetics, perfume, chocolates, liquor and wine can be picked up in shops both in the arrival and departure areas.
Malaysia is located in the South China Sea, near Indonesia. Malaysian Airlines flies from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. Royal Brunei Airlines flies from Melbourne to Kota Kinbalu and Kuala Lumpur.
When taking a local taxi in Malaysia, make sure that the driver has the meter switched on. If he refuses and asks for a flat rate (which is usually considerably inflated) don’t hesitate to refuse the offer and get another cab if needed.
The main bus companies in Kuala Lumpur are My Rapid and Cityliner. Buses to other states in Peninsular Malaysia are Transnational, NICE coaches and Plusliner.
Food and drinks that kids will love
There is plenty of food to try in Malaysia, and not just Malay, Chinese or Indian food. Many restaurants serve Fusion cuisine, which has emerged from the world’s cultures over the past years. Why not try some nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) or mee goreng (fried noodles with bean sprouts, eggs and prawns), nibble on some idli (steamed rice cake served with chutney or dhall) and feast on cendol (Indian-Muslim-style sweet cold dessert with ice, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup).
Malaysia is largely made up of Muslims so they do not eat pork and its products, nor do they touch alcohol. Food in restaurants is displayed as “halal” (prepared according to Islamic tradition) or “non-halal”.
Beware if you try food from hawkers’ stalls. Avoid stalls near busy traffic or unclean places and avoid precooked food. If the operator and his stall looks clean, chances are your food will be handled in a hygienic manner.
Shopping hours are from 10am to 10pm daily so there is plenty of time to hit the shops and get the latest bargains. There are plenty of Malaysian batik, handicrafts, antiques, jewellery, woodcarvings, pottery, songket and designer goods available and you can have fun bargaining with the shop attendant at bazaars and markets.
Tipping is discouraged in Malaysia, though most restaurants have a formalised service charge of 10% clearly marked on the bill.
What to wear
Light, cool, and casual clothing is recommended all year round, although Malaysian customs dictate that you still dress modestly. For more formal occasions, men should wear jackets, ties, or long-sleeved batik shirts, while women should wear dresses.
Dress neatly when entering places of worship. Ladies are advised to cover their shoulders and wear loose pants or long skirts when entering mosques and temples. No short dresses, shorts or singlets.
Remove shoes before entering homes, mosques and Hindu temples.
Greetings are acceptable with a smile and a nod. Hotel staff may greet you by placing their hand over their left breast, which means “I greet you from my heart”. Shaking hands is acceptable but kissing the hand or the cheek should be avoided. Many Muslim women prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex.
Public behaviour is especially important in Malaysian culture. Most Malaysians refrain from displaying affection (embracing or kissing) in public; it would be appropriate for visitors to do the same.
Electricity mainly operates on 220/240 volts using European twin plugs with round prongs or English square plugs.
It is best to see your GP before you travel to Malaysia and get the necessary vaccinations. Visitors from yellow fever-infected areas must have a yellow fever vaccination before you enter Malaysia. Be sure to buy travel insurance before you go.
The tap water in Malaysia is not safe to drink. Drink only bottled water from bottles with unbroken seals, and make sure ice is made from bottled water.
The official language spoken in Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu with English as the second language. Various Chinese and Indian dialects are also spoken, along with indigenous languages in the East Malays.
Hello – Helo
Goodbye – Salamat tinggal
Good morning – Salamat pagi
Yes – Ya
No – Tidak
Thank you – Terima kasih
Please – Tolong
I don’t understand – Saya tidak faham
My name is – Nama saya
How much? – Berapa?
Redang Island is famous for its crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches. With great snorkelling – and plenty of tropical fish to spot – it is a water babies paradise and the perfect place to fill up your Instagram feed with swaying palm trees.
Langkawi Sky Bridge
This man-made structure stretches 125 metres long over the rainforest below, providing a brilliant view of the surrounding area. You need to take a cable car ride up to the top before you can access the bridge – but the journey is just as fun as the destination!
Various caves and temples frequently visited by Hindu devotees, the golden statue of Lord Murugan welcomes you before you climb the 272 concrete steps to the top and is the real crowning glory. The Kuala Lumpur skyline can actually be seen from afar on the ascent.
There is plenty to see and do in the beautiful Cameron Highlands, but nothing quite as awe-inspiring as the tea plantations. Imagine rolling hills of lush green stretching as far as the eye can see – certainly a great backdrop for your next selfie!