As if Australia wasn’t enough of a holiday, we stopped in Malaysia for five days on our way home. In addition to showing the kids some of the sights of Kuala Lumpur, we were visiting family and celebrating Chinese New Year.
Here’s my photo-journal of our stay. (And here’s the equivalent post for the Australian leg of the trip.)
A small cheat to start, as the first image here is also the last photo of my Australia post. Travelling from Perth to Kuala Lumpur involved catching the last flight of the night – at 2am.
That meant a short night’s sleep for everyone. But it did also mean being able to watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean.
Slightly (but only slightly) tongue-in-cheek, Malaysia has two national sports: eating and shopping. You can barely travel a mile in any direction without encountering a sprawling, modern mall. And food is a serious business too.
The first thing our relatives did when we arrived – at 8am after an overnight flight – was to whisk us off for dim sum. The children are well versed in that but the concept of soup (wonton dumplings or noodles) for breakfast was new to them. They threw themselves into it with gusto, though.
They tried varieties of Chinese food they had not previously encountered. Malay cuisine was a bit too spicy for them. However, they adored the pure theatre of being served a giant Indian roti bread that was as tall as Kara.
They didn’t like everything but they were willing to try new food experiences, which is all you can ask. Even Toby, who abhors change, expanded his horizons (even if we did have to resort to McDonald’s one night).
On our first night, we went for dinner at the revolving restaurant at the top of the KL Tower. At 282 metres above ground level, it offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the city.
We timed our reservation so we were able to see the city by both day and night. Kuala Lumpur is almost unrecognisable today compared to when I first visited as a small child. The Petronas Twin Towers are the tallest of an array of skyscrapers that punctuate the skyline. And there is still a huge amount of building development now. As a city, KL continues to grow and evolve.
The following day we went up the Twin Towers themselves. At 452 metres high, they were the tallest buildings in the world between 1998 and 2004. While others have surpassed them since, they remain an incredible achievement. We were lucky enough to go up on a clear day and the views across the city were spectacular.
Along with projects such as the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the Sepang Formula 1 circuit, the Petronas Towers were intended to signify Malaysia’s growing place in the world as part of an initiative called Vision 2020. They have certainly achieved that. There are many more people aware of the country than there were even 25 years ago.
Petrosains and Aquarium
Located within the Suria KLCC mall at the base of the towers are two of Kuala Lumpur’s finest tourist attractions.
The Petrosains Science Discovery Centre is packed with interactive exhibits and helpful staff. We spent three hours there. In truth, we could have had an entire day and still not finished.
Aquaria KLCC is a world-class aquarium with a fine collection of tropical marine life, all thoughtfully displayed. The kids were entranced. Kara needed no encouragement – no surprise there! – to reach in and stroke a (small, non-bitey) shark. And I could have spent hours in the underwater glass tunnel gazing as big sharks, rays, turtles and other ocean-farers swam happily over and around my head.
Chinese New Year
Every year we take the kids to the Chinese New Year celebrations in London. We timed our Malaysia trip to coincide with the start of this year’s festivities, giving them a deeper, richer experience.
My relatives helped immerse them in all the New Year rituals. Traditional clothes. Tea ceremonies and the giving of ang pow (red envelopes, a symbolic monetary gift given by elders to juniors). Even tossing the Cantonese raw fish salad yee sang. The kids got to see how Chinese New Year is properly celebrated.
One of the other advantages of visiting at Chinese New Year is that this is a time when families traditionally return home to reunite. This meant we got to see a lot more of my relatives than we would otherwise have done. On my dad’s side of the family alone, he is one of ten siblings, so you can imagine how large the extended family is.
I love this family selfie. It includes my dad’s younger sister and brother, his wife, one of their two children and his wife. Throughout our stay, they bent over backwards to offer us the most generous of hospitality. The kids saw so much, experienced so much and learned so much in just five days. And just as they did in Australia, they loved discovering they are part of a much wider family.
Something old, something new
Mahjong is as Chinese as cricket is quintessentially English. Our game-loving kids were quick to embrace it and their interest has continued since our return home.
The Putra Mosque has a distinctive pink dome and is built from rose-tinted granite. It’s located in Putrajaya, the country’s purpose-built administrative centre – part of the same rush of Vision 2020 investment during the 1990s.
Heather and I had seen some of the sights on previous trips, but some were new too. And even familiar locations felt different when viewed through the eyes of our kids, for whom everything was a novelty. The travelling experience has changed so much as a family to what it was pre-kids. Not better or worse, just different.
All good things must come to an end. It was hard for all three children to say goodbye to the family they had grown so close to so quickly, although the blow was softened by the promise of Skype calls and WhatsApp messages.
We had an early flight on Sunday morning, so we decided to check into a hotel on Saturday night. This meant we could stay close to the airport and get our goodbyes out of the way.
The kids were subdued the following morning. It was 6am so they were knackered – but also sad. But they powered through the 13½-hour return flight without incident and, a couple of hours after touching down, we were back in the familiar surroundings of home. It had been an amazing trip and the kids have built so many great memories that will hopefully live with them forever. Travel is an amazing, eye-opening experience – for both them and us.
So, where next?