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Malaysia with the Family: Small Wonders

A young boy pops up into the Lego installation at Legoland’s Miniland
Photographer: JYOTHY KARAT

Take the troop on an action-packed family adventure that’ll take you to theme parks, down rivers, and exploring the urban jungle in Malaysia

Photographs: JYOTHY KARAT

As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m a total sucker for a family holiday. It bewilders me. I’ve a reputation to protect as a discerning, design-loving solo traveller, but, in reality, some of my most memorable trips have involved being bundled into cars on long road trips and huddled in close quarters with my eccentric family. For all the bad rap the family holiday gets, there’s little not to love. A good one has local cuisine, some pampering and a spot of rest and relaxation, and my favourite ones have me indulging in the sorts of activities us grown-ups are long supposed to be bored of. I’ve eaten nasi lemak by choice for breakfast for eight days straight, and I can confirm Malaysia ticks all the boxes for a family-friendly vacation. The trick is in drawing up an itinerary that’s fun, varied and unforgettable – whether you fit in just one destination or make time for all of them.

For a play-centric holiday, but one that offers a little something for every member of the family, fly to Johor Bahru and make your way back up by road to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, stopping in Malacca for a breather.


I’d decided against Googling it earlier, so my jaw drops as we pull up to the Legoland Hotel at the Legoland Malaysia Resort. Its vivid primary colours are a welcome contrast against Malaysia’s hazy charcoal sky. I have never seen anything remotely like it, except perhaps while playing with Lego as a child.

In the lobby is a pirate ship brick pit, where a bright-eyed set of twins and a burly senior gentleman sit side by side, quietly working on separate building projects with equal dedication. It’s evident these interlocking building blocks are as much for children as they are for adults, but, at this themed resort, kids are most certainly king.

In addition to its regular-sized conveniences, the Lego-themed rooms (choose from Pirate, Adventure or Kingdom) have bunk beds, tiny bathrobes and child-height sinks. Thankfully, the dinner buffet is a treat for people of all ages. You’ll find finger foods, marshmallow skewers and a decorate-your-own-muffin table alongside a live satay counter and lobsters on ice. Guests can request a box of crayons to paint the paper tablecloth, and I do. For now, I’ve forsaken adulthood. Before bedtime, a delightfully tricky treasure hunt leads me to a Lego surprise in my room.

I begin the next day at the theme park meandering around Miniland – the easiest and most cost-effective backpacking trip, with detailed miniatures of some of the best sights and structures in Asia. The revolving observation tower is the perfect way to bring the park map to life, and help me decide which order to go on the rides. Once I’ve been on the roller coasters (the Dragon is faster, but the Lego Technic is more thrilling), built and raced my own Lego car, and watched the live shows, I cool off on the wet rides.

It’s not a bad idea to reserve a second day for the Legoland Water Park. It’ll give you more than enough time to race down the slides, douse yourself at the Joker Soaker and float with foam Lego bricks down the lazy river.

For Johor Bahru, Legoland is a game- changer, turning what used to be a shopping destination for thrifty Singaporeans (the Singapore dollar is currently three times the value of the Malaysian ringgit, and the country is less than an hour away) into a family-friendly destination for visitors from all over Asia. Since its inception, the city has spawned a host of other theme parks for fans of everything from Angry Birds to Hello Kitty.

Little girls (and some adult ones) will delight in the life-sized Hello Kitty house at Sanrio Hello Kitty Town, and enjoy striking a pose with the dainty cat. At the Wishful Studio, an activity-based labyrinth of rooms, parents and tiny tots are decorating cookies with pink sugar and making adorable pop-up boxes. I decide I’m not too old for a kitty manicure and, before I know it, my nails are full of stick-on bows. I immediately feel the urge to indulge in a more mature pastime, so I go shopping.

For the best bargains, head to Johor Premium Outlet (JPO) in Nusajaya. One of Johor’s most popular attractions, this shopping complex includes over 120 stores at which you can avail heavy discounts on familiar high street and luxury brands.

Much less commercial is Malay Kampong, a cultural village within the city limits. Here, kids will especially love trying their hand at batik – they can learn to draw with wax or simply colour between the lines on one of their own child-friendly designs to create a frameable artwork. I watch a performance that uses bamboo percussion instrument like the angklung and kolintang, and join the graceful dancers in inang, a traditional Malay dance.

We also travelled to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur in search of the best Malaysian family holiday. Get the whole story – with contact details, prices and timings – in the November 2015 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India