There are probably few things as hard as planning a family holiday that pleases everyone. Which is why, when you do find a destination that has enough adventure to satisfy the kids, offers the urban sophistication he's after, and shopping options to make any woman happy, it is like hitting a gold mine. Malaysia, a convenient seven hours from the UAE, is one such family destination with something for everyone. Here is our pick of the top five activities for all the family:
1. Head to the hills
Just under an hour's drive from the city lies Genting Highlands, the mountainous towns that bear testimony to Malaysia's colonial heritage. Perched 3,000 metres above sea level is a massive multi-use resort, which has everything from an amusement park and shopping plazas to multiple hotels and restaurants that cater for everyone in the family.
Genting Highlands resort (also known as Resorts World Genting) has not just one, but three theme parks. There's an outdoor amusement park with hair-raising rides like a flying roller coaster (you don't sit down on this wild ride, you actually fly while holding on to the safety bar!), an indoor theme park with its own skydiving simulator and a Ripleys Believe It or Not! Museum, plus a water park. The entertainment options are wide-ranging and sophisticated enough for both children and teens - think go-karting and video arcades. There are also plenty of shopping options, and slightly further afield there's golf.
But there's more to Genting than these man-made attractions. The scenic beauty of the 4,046-hectare rainforest-clad hillsides provides the perfect setting for some natural relaxation time. A short drive from the resort will take you to the Chin Swee caves, home to an ancient Taoist temple overlooking the lush green slopes. Here you will find statues of both Buddha and Kuan-Yin and an incomparable sense of serenity that can come only from being in such a remote spot away from the urban bustle.
Other activities in the area include visits to a strawberry farm for some fruit picking and farm-fresh food - something the kids are guaranteed to remember for a long time - and a visit to an orchid farm that specialises in the rare Phalaenopsis orchid flower.
With an array of convenient facilities, Genting is perfect for a short overnight holiday-within-a-holiday.
For details on the resort and accommodations visit www.rwgenting.com; for golfing options at the nearby Awana resort visit www.awana.com.my; and for information on the orchid farm visit www.waltexbiotec.com. To contact the strawberry farm call 019-3183831.
2. Play with elephants
You may think a visit to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre would be great for the kids - and you'd be right. But you might be surprised at how much fun you'll have too! About two hours away from Kuala Lumpur, this is a centre for elephants that have been disturbed by human development.
The Asian elephant is a critically endangered species and so in addition to helping those from Peninsular Malaysia, the centre also relocates elephants from nearby Thailand and Myanmar. So far, Kualah Gandah has relocated over 600 wild elephants. At the sanctuary, visitors can interact with elephants in a rare, hands-on environment. You can feed them, go on short rides au naturel (without a seating basket!) and even swim with them. Swimming with these gigantic animals is usually the highlight of the day with everyone getting into the river to bathe a baby elephant and get splashed by its trunk in return! All the elephants are extremely gentle and are used to handling all the attention, so it's perfectly safe. A few hours spent in the company of animals like this is a rare treat kids growing up in the UAE will cherish forever.
There is no entry fee, but visitors are encouraged to make a small donation.
For more information visit www.wildlife.gov.my.
3. Take wing
Kuala Lumpur may be one of the most modern cities in the world, but within the urban limits, it still offers a tropical, nature-filled experience that the family will love. The Kuala Lumpur Bird Park is the world's largest free-flight aviary. Although it's man-made, walking into the park feels like entering an unspoilt tropical oasis complete with lush green foliage and twittering birds. Spread across eight hectares, the park is home to over 3,000 birds - both indigenous as well as imported species - including beautiful hornbills, storks, ostriches, and flamingoes. Expect to be greeted by a friendly peacock, wandering around the paved pathway, as soon as you walk in; it will be the first of many casual encounters.
The park offers educational activities such as feeding sessions and plenty of amenities, including refreshment stops. You can even get your photo taken surrounded by a variety of friendly birds in a dedicated photo booth.
End your relaxing morning of bird-watching with lunch at the Hornbill Restaurant, which was built in the traditional Malay architectural style, then head to the neighbouring Orchid Park and nearby Butterfly Park.
For more information visit www.klbirdpark.com
4. Cultural exploration
Putrajaya, the city that functions as the administrative capital of Malaysia is perfect for a day of wandering and exploring historical sites.
You could call it ‘the city of bridges and street lamps', as each street has a different style of street light. There are some seriously eye-catching designs. There is also a variety of funky bridges connecting various parts of the city across the lake. You may wish to opt for a leisurely cruise around Putrajaya Lake so you can see architectural landmarks such as the prime minister's residence and the courthouse. There's also a botanical garden in Putrajaya - the largest in Malaysia - that houses more than 700 plant species. It's perfect for a serene afternoon.
It's great to check out some historical sites in the city while you're there. You won't want to miss the National Monument - an impressive sculpture commemorating Malaysian soldiers who died during the Second World War and the 1948 Malayan Emergency, and Merdeka Square, or Independence Square, which is significant not only because it is the place where the Malaysian flag was first raised, but also because it is surrounded by beautiful buildings that reflect the country's colonial heritage.
With your dose of history sorted, reserve the evening for some culture. The Saloma Theatre restaurant offers a Malay-style dinner and a show. Here you can enjoy an array of traditional delicacies while being entertained by performances reflecting the multicultural society in the country.
The shows get quite interactive, with dancers inviting the audience to join them on stage and teaching them a few of their moves, so don't be shy! It definitely makes for a fun night out with the family.
5. Have fun in the Sun(way)
The Sunway Lagoon is another popular day trip destination from Kuala Lumpur. It's a massive multi-park with five theme parks within it. It is home to the world's largest man-made beach, an interactive wildlife park, a horror-themed section and, of course, the usual array of rides and attractions. There's also a surf pool and other adventure activities like bungee jumping, so you and your family will definitely not run out of fun things to do all day.
You can unleash your inner child along with the kids and spend all day at the amusement park, but if you're after something slightly more grown up, there are world-class shopping options and a luxury spa too.
The complex also houses two hotels and luxurious villas that are perfect for a beautiful overnight stay complete with gourmet meals. Although, since the resort is located just over half an hour from Kuala Lumpur's city centre, you could always just spend the day there and head back to your hotel in the city at night.
Kuala Lumpur is proud of its lofty attractions. Here's where you can get some of the best views of the city:
- The iconic Petronas Towers, the tallest twin structures in the world, are truly impressive. A visit to the Sky Bridge, which connects the two towers, and the observation deck further up, will offer plenty of photo ops of the city below. Tickets cost from MYR50 (Dh60).
For more information, visit www.petronastwintowers.com.my.
- Kuala Lumpur Tower is a telecommunications structure set in the midst of its own forest reserve and is home to a revolving restaurant. Atmosphere 360 serves up a lavish, gourmet buffet, and offers bird's-eye view of the city along with some live music. It costs MYR200 per person for dinner, with afternoon tea offered too.
For details, visit www.atmosphere360.com.my.