A boon for everyone from inquisitive four-year-olds to history-loving teens, these three Malaysian cities will give you plenty of reasons to do a multi-day road trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
Malaysia’s glittering capital has enough child-friendly attractions to keep the kids occupied for days. At the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers, hands-on science museum Petrosains is an ideal place to start before heading over to nearby Aquaria KLCC, a 5,600-square-meter aquarium with an underwater tunnel that allows you to marvel at the sharks, stingrays, and turtles swimming overhead. For animal encounters of a different kind, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park boasts an enormous walk-in aviary, a bird show amphitheater, and a place for feeding emus, ostriches, and parrots. Water-loving families should take a detour to the satellite city of Petaling Jaya for a full-day excursion at the sprawling, 32-hectare Sunway Lagoon. Must-dos here include the Vuvuzela—billed as the world’s largest vortex water ride when it opened in 2013—the artificial wave pool of Surf Beach, and the theme park’s newest section, Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon.
If you wish to stay downtown, Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre has a two-bedroom family suite featuring bunk beds, bean bags, and a selection of toys: stuffed animals and a PlayStation included. Children even get their own en-suite bathroom with kid-size robes.
From Kuala Lumpur, it’s a 2.5-hour journey to the Kinta Valley and the city of Ipoh, which once supplied much of the world’s tin. The collapse of the local tin-mining industry in the 1970s inadvertently resulted in the preservation of many British colonial–era architectural gems and prewar shophouses. Wandering the laneways of the atmospheric Old Town, you’ll spot impressive murals by Ernest Zacharevic, who created several of Penang’s best-known examples of street art. Older kids may enjoy Han Chin Pet Soo, a restored Hakka miners’ club that offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past. Tickets are limited so do try to book ahead.
Ipoh is particularly known for a number of limestone cave temples; if you must choose only one, make it Kek Lok Tong for its surreal stalactites and the secret garden out back. The limestone ranges also provide an idyllic backdrop to The Haven Resort Hotel—an all-suite property equipped with a seahorse-shaped swimming pool, a playroom, and sports facilities—as well as the smaller sister theme park of Sunway Lagoon. Tucked between karst formations on the eastern edge of town, The Lost World of Tambun features a variety of water slides, a petting zoo with hamsters and rabbits, and Tin Valley, where children can try their hand at tin panning.
After the 2.5-hour drive from Ipoh, check in to Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa on Batu Ferringhi Beach. Kid-oriented touches here range from an indoor play center with three impressive drop slides to a dedicated children’s corner at the breakfast buffet. Roughly 15 minutes up the road, Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm provides a closer look at a host of insects and lizards, as well as more than 15,000 free-flying butterflies. Also close at hand is the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School, where children aged eight to 14 can make Malaysian favorites like assam laksa alongside their parents.
The quirky murals and outdoor installations of George Town’s UNESCO-listed historic center provide a fun photo op for all ages. Another must is the funicular ride up Penang Hill, also known as Bukit Bendera, although weekends tend to attract big crowds. To get away from the crush, The Habitat Penang Hill offers guided tours along a nature trail peppered with several themed gardens, a 230-meter-long canopy walk through virgin rain forest, and an adventure course that features five zip lines. Get a feel for the rural side of Penang by joining Matahari Cycle Tours on a ride through the agricultural district of Balik Pulau, taking in a goat-dairy farm and lunch at a hut amid the paddy fields.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Malaysia On Four Wheels”).