We came to Malaysia by chance, and ended up staying.
Our flights to Hanoi were a lot cheaper if we stopped off in Kuala Lumpur and flew on from there. A lot. So, seeing as we were landing in the city anyway, we planned a few days there to see the sights and suchlike, maybe a week at a push, before we flew on.
Two months later and we were just about ready to leave.
Serendipity had brought us to this country, this city, which we had never in our wildest dreams considered spending time in, so focussed were we on our Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos itinerary. But, as it turned out, this was the perfect place to being our Southeast Asia travels, especially for first timers like us.
If you’re travelling with kids to Southeast Asia and not sure where to begin your adventure, we would highly recommend a few weeks in Malaysia. Here are just some of the reasons why:
1. Language barriers are not really a problem
Malaysia is a huge melting pot of different cultures particularly the city of Kuala Lumpur. The dominant ethnicities are Malay, Chinese and Indian, with Chinese equalling or slightly outnumbering the Malay, depending on which data you trust. This mix of people and backgrounds means inhabitants largely rely on English to communicate with each other, making it easy to get by on your native language when you first arrive.
2. Food is familiar, cheap and delicious
Because of the mix of cultures here, you can find pretty much anything you want to eat, anywhere. It’s not overly spicy, and if you want to try a traditional nasi lemak (coconut rice with anchovies) or a beautiful rendang curry, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge. However, with a strong Chinese influence, there is sweet and sour and familiar fried rice pretty much everywhere. Indian features heavily too, from the scrummy breakfast roti’s to the Malay fusion nasi kandar, a steamed rice served with Indian and Malay curries. Fussy eaters? Don’t panic, because McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other western food is common in the malls, or there’s always the failsafe chicken satay, loved by everyone.
3. Cost of living is cheaper
If you’re heading to Thailand because you think it’s cheap, make sure you’re going with your eyes wide open. We’ve been somewhat surprised by the prices in Thailand, particularly when comparing them with our low cost of living in Malaysia. The cost of rent in KL Is around 35% cheaper than those in Bangkok, and groceries are around 20% cheaper. It’s not a massively important factor, but if you’re on a super tight budget, it’s worth considering, especially when you take into account all the things you can do free or cheap in KL with kids.
4. Entry is both visa and cost free (from the UK)
We were hugely impressed to discover we could fly into Malaysia and gain entry for 90 days with no visa requirements at all. 58 countries currently have access visa free to Malaysia for 90 days, whereas a further 100 jurisdictions can get a 30-day visa free entry (check your country here). Comparing this to the hassle and expense of getting shorter visas for Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, it makes arriving in Kuala Lumpur a really pleasant experience. It certainly encouraged us to stay longer, and is already encouraging us to go back.
5. The possibilities for onward travel are endless
Flights out of KL connect you with numerous destinations around Asia and further afield. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Denpasar, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and many more desirable locations are just a plane hop away, and short flights are inexpensive in comparison to costs in the west. If, like us, you prefer to travel overland where possible, trains and busses link you easily to Thailand in the North, Singapore in the South and to beautiful islands and highlands elsewhere in Malaysia. Links to Penang and Langkawi are easy too, from where you can get onward ferry travel to any of the beautiful Thai islands, or ferries also connect to Sumatra, Sarawak and even to the Philippines.
These are just some of the things that kept us in Malaysia far longer than we had first intended. The country is clean, friendly and we found so much for to do with the kids in Kuala Lumpur and other towns and cities. If you’re heading to Southeast Asia for the first time with kids, there are worse places to start your adventure than in wonderful Malaysia.