We went to Malaysia for a minibreak last month. I was determined to do a beach vacay because, while my entire holidaying philosophy is that flying somewhere to lie on a beach is theoretically heaven, but would always been my second choice over “seeing stuff”, preferably of cultural/historical value, I have had to eat humble pie in the face of my new identity as a parent.
The kids enjoy beach holidays best – I have seen this both times we were near a beach. The going to places to see stuff tends to stress them out, and they are not old enough to really retain clear memories of the things they say anyway.
So, since we had only a few days, I plummed for something in Southeast Asia – started off with Cebu, moved to Phuket and finally settled on Langkawi.
I’ve only done a short stay in Kuala Lumpur (sans kids) and while it is a nice enough city, it’s not somewhere I would necessarily want to revist (except for the Vincii shoe store). This time, I really felt Malaysia more.
We flew Malaysian Airlines, with a stopover in KL. When I told colleagues my choice of airline, they gasped. I had totally forgotten the two Malaysian Airlines accidents in recent years.
That said, I was impressed by the down-to-earth but competent service the last time (or is it times?) I flew the airline (we were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class on one leg that time, my one and only business class experience), and this time was no exception. I would say the service on this airline is the best I have ever experienced. The crew are warm, slightly chatty and get things done. Singapore Airlines is supposed to have the best service but I find the air hostesses there a bit stuck up, possibly because of their Singapore Airlines girl fame.
The flights were short – only an hour on the domestic leg – but the in flight entertainment system worked from the time we sat down to when we reached the gate. On the shorter flight, they didn’t distribute headphones, but if you had your own, you were set. There was no pressure to give up your headphones if you were using them towards the end of the longer flights. I don’t know why airlines don’t get that if they only let people keep watching TV, there would be less folk jumping up while the plane is taxiing only because they are restless.
I was not a fan of the food though, which is a shame because Malaysian cuisine is so delicious. I remember my foodie colleague complaining about exactly this aspect, so it’s something they need to improve on. Incidentally, the best in-flight meal I’ve ever had was a Peranakan special on a Singapore Airlines flight; some Jet Airways meals in the early days were also lipsmacking good.
We picked Holiday Villas mainly for the excellent location right on the beach at its price point. I was disappointed with the overall decor of the hotel and the obviously old furnishings.
However, the room was spotlessly maintained by housekeeping, the hotel restaurants were reasonably priced and the beach access and pool were excellent.
Day 1: We landed in the early evening so just hung out at the pool. We had dinner at a shack called Cactus opposite the hotel (another advantage of the hotel was that there were these cheaper options outside), which is quite highly recommended online. The food was ok, we thought.
Day 2: We did a morning at the stunning beach. White sand, super clear water, little fish zipping around, perfect temperature. Everything you could ask of a beach.
That afternoon we took ourselves to the cable car and sky bridge. Neither was something I was particularly keen on doing, but V seemed to want to (his idea of a holiday is not hanging out at the beach ad infinitum). It turned out to be worth it though.
The cable car is actually quite a steep climb and drop (Mimi claimed to be scared. We tend to brush off her fears as drama, which they often are, but I think she is slightly scared of heights, or at least overthinks them to the point of scaring herself). One can pay extra to take an elevator down to the sky bridge, or do a rather steep walk. Mimi insisted she wanted to walk so yours truly was forced to accompany her, and while it was pleasant and calmed Mimi down, I began to dread the climb back up. If you’re someone with any kind of mobility issue (V can’t take steep downward climbs, for example), take the lift. Luckily, Mimi agreed to go up by lift, which honestly is quite stuffy given that they cram quite a few people in, but it gets the job done.
The sky bridge was short but quite beautiful. They really should clean the patches you can freak yourself out by standing on though – one can barely see below, thus defeating the purpose.
The ticket is good value for money, because it includes a visit to the 3D art exhibition (basically a lot of 3D murals you can take photos in front off, where Mimi proved she is a model in the making and I proved that I still don’t know how to pose attractively), and a really awesome 4D movie at the cable car lower station. There is also a rabbit petting area, lots of souvenir shops, restaurants and a few other attractions that you can pay separately for, so the whole attraction combined is worth a visit.
Day 3: Rather bizarrely, I had not been keen on snorkeling on this trip, partly because my only experience of snorkeling (in Phuket) had not been positive and partly because I felt Mimi might not take to it.
However, given how beautiful the water was when we got there, I began to feel it might be silly to miss out on snorkeling, even though the cost of the trip was expensive because only two to three companies are allowed to take visitors into the marine park.
Our tour was much better than the Phuket one though (even though we had booked that one through the Marriot, thus proving that price or brand is not necessarily a guarantee of quality). This time the boat was a large full sized one, the number of people manageable, and I had forewarned V that he was not to just wade off in his excitement, leaving us to figure out how to work the equipment.
This excursion was another lesson to me on not underestimated one’s children because Mimi took to snorkeling fairly easily, while Nene struggled (possibly his mask did not fit properly; he was probably experiencing what I did in my first experience so I could sympathise). We didn’t go out too deep but even near the shore there were so many beautiful colourful fish. We even saw a baby shark.
On the negative side, the fish kept nipping us if we stopped moving (thankfully not the shark), probably mistaking our dangling legs for coral. And the lunch was strictly so-so while the toilets were pretty dire.
Day 4: Our last day we decided to just dedicate to chilling on the beach and at the hotel. I had planned to take the kids to a wildlife centre, but they showed little interest and in principle I am against animals in captivity unless the zoo is particularly large and well reputed.
We spent hours at the beach in the morning, so long that V who had gone back to shower, got worried and came down to check that we hadn’t drowned. Nene was obsessed with catching things – crabs successfully, fish not so much (though a lady who borrowed our bucket succeeded). They also did the usual sand castle building and digging holes. Mimi got the hang of floating on her back.
The most exciting event was when a guy who had been fishing just a bit ahead of us caught a baby shark and a puffer fish in his net. He kept the shark and let the puffer fish go.
V and I got massages in the afternoon (and the very lovely Yuan Spa, if you’re interested) and then I did another stint at the pool with the kids in the evening.
One of the interesting things about Malaysia – or at least Langkawi – is that the tourist crowd is quite mixed. There were a number of Indians, locals, Westerners but also Arabs. So at the pool, there’d be people in bikinis to ladies in long kaftaans. And noone was giving anyone the side-eye which is how I think the world should be.
The food is obviously awesome. Because of Malaysia’s ethnic composition, there was Chinese food for the kids and more spicy Malay and Indian food for V and I. In fact, we had mutton curry and naan from an Indian restaurant down the road two nights in a row.
Like the service on Malaysian Airlines, I found people in Malaysia generally friendly and laidback. It helps that many people we encountered spoke English. As an Indian, one does not also feel racially out of place.
The above are exactly the things that are lacking in Hong Kong, and made me think about how pleasant it would be to live in a place where people do not shy away from other people.
Given the price, the beauty, the food and our overall experience, I would definitely go back.