This vibrant Asian country offers much for families: sophisticated cities, colourful heritage, picture-postcard tropical islands, amazing wildlife, and delicious food which is less spicy than Thai cuisine. It’s also compact enough to be easily navigated, and lots of locals speak English; more importantly, they love children and will make you and your brood feel very welcome.
Most people arrive in super-modern Kuala Lumpur. If you’re exploring the city or need 24 hours to readjust after your flight, cosy and calm boutique hotel Anggun makes the perfect pitstop. It has dedicated family suites and a restaurant on site; it’s also within easy distance of the sights. View the city from the Petronas Towers skybridge, explore Little India and Chinatown, shop for wares at the markets, visit the Botanical Gardens, zoo and aquarium, or decompress at a theme park.
Whether you then head up the west coast or eastwards to the Gulf of Thailand will come down to the time of year: the west coast’s rainy season is between April and October, whereas the east has a more marked monsoon from mid-November to February.
If west is best, a 4-hour drive northwards takes you to delightful Pangkor Island, within whose verdant rainforest you’ll find welcoming hideaway Tiger Rock – a collection of airy timber houses centred around an infinity pool and surrounded by greenery. Jungle living here means nature walks, a relaxed lived-in vibe, large cheerful rooms, and plenty of kids’ kit and toys. Free transfers ferry you to the beach, where you can try watersports and kayaking.
Another 2.5 hours further north, UNESCO World Heritage site Penang is worth a stopover for its colonial villas and Chinese and Hindu temples. The perfect place to unwind after sightseeing is former gentlemen’s club turned chic boutique hotel Clove Hall, which has a lovely swimming pool in a tropical garden, plus elegant Garden Suites for families.
Near the Thai border are the lush islands of Langkawi. The largest has its best beaches and most untouched jungle on its north-western tip, where you’ll also find stunning rainforest resort The Datai. Children have their own pool beside the gently shelving sand, and they can go on guided nature walks to spot monitor lizards and birds of prey. What’s more, the Kids’ Lab has a resident marine biologist. Parents can relax in the 4-pavilion spa and have no less than 5 restaurants to indulge in (babysitters and nannies can be arranged!); there’s also an adults-only pool at the top of the resort. All can try their hand at complimentary watersports, from sailing Hobie Cats and snorkelling to kayaking through the mangroves.
If the east coast is easier (perhaps you’re flying in or out of Singapore), our latest discovery is another island resort on small Palau Tengah, a thrilling 20-minute speedboat ride from the mainland. Batu Batu consists of 22 traditional Malay villas, many of which have bunk-bed annexes for kids. There’s also a beachside swimming pool, a small spa, a playhouse and a friendly, laid-back vibe. As well as having a great array of watersports and nature trails to discover, guests get the chance to release turtle hatchlings into the wild.