West Malaysia offers fun for all the family; from toddlers to the elderly you’re sure to find a place to spend some quality time together. The peninsula has some of the world’s best hawker fare, chilly hill stations and fascinating old towns to explore and distances between attractions are very manageable for even the smallest of children.
1. Drive from Kuala Lumpur to Cherating: best road trip for experiencing diverse nature
Suggested time: 5 days / 4 nights
Total distance: 377km
Highlights: Fraser’s Hill, Taman Negara, Cherating beach
Clear your head on Fraser’s Hill
Blow the cobwebs out of your city head with the 2 hour drive up Federal Routes 1 and 55 to the colonial hillstation of Fraser’s Hill. At an altitude of 1524m you can be sure your lungs will thank you for the deliciously cool air. The hill is named after James Fraser, who initially set up prosperous tin mines in the area in the 1890s but later added opium dealing and gambling to his business interests before disappearing off the face of the earth in 1915. Nowadays the hill and surrounding valleys are popular with tourists who come for the cool weather, beautiful hiking and waterfall where children can enjoy an icy splash around.
Where to stay in Fraser’s Hill: Shahzan Inn. Recently refurbished and with functional rooms and fair selection of family-friendly facilities, this is fair bet for your Fraser’s Hill stay. Rooms from RM210.
Hike through Taman Negara
The road from here winds through picturesque jungle clad hills on Federal Route 64 towards Jerantut before turning to Kuala Tahan, the main entry point to Taman Negara. This is Malaysia’s largest national park and the 130 million year old rainforest is packed full of family-friendly adventure including jungle trekking, walking the world’s longest canopy walk, visiting orang asli settlements and night safaris where you’ll be shown glow-in-the dark fungus, snakes and, if you’re lucky, leopard cats. With so much to see and do, it’s worth planning ahead and booking a guide and accommodation package.
Book accommodation and guided tour packages to Taman Negara here Packages start at RM300.
Chill out at Cherating
The whole family will be looking forward to a relaxing rest after the jungle so we recommend driving on the E8 and Federal Route 3 to laid-back Cherating, famed for its long sandy beach and shallow waters that make it suitable for younger children. Older kids (and eager mums and dads) can take some surfing lessons, join a batik painting class and visit the turtle sanctuary. Don’t forget to indulge in some of the amazing fresh seafood which is cooked at outdoor stalls after sunset.
Where to stay in Cherating: Suria Cherating. Plush rooms and decent facilities including an outdoors pool, quality restaurant and sauna. Rooms start at RM170.
Read more: Top 5 road trip itineraries within Malaysia
The endless beach at Cherating is a perfect for little ones to play and swim. Photo credit: Barbican Man Flickr
2. Drive from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands: best road trip for tea plantations, farms and quirky theme parks
Suggested time: 4 days/3 nights
Total distance: 225km
Highlights: Genting Highlands theme parks, leaning tower of Teluk Intan, tea plantations, farms and family walks in the Cameron Highlands.
Theme Park in the clouds
Drive on the E8 to get to Malaysia’s quirky version of Las Vegas, the casinos at the Genting Highlands are the only place in Malaysia that you can legally gamble. However, for family fun there a couple of good value theme parks with exciting rides and a number of nearby farms within walking distance. For many, the most attractive thing about a visit to the highlands is the temperature. At 1700m, the temperature can get as low as ten degrees so make sure you all wrap up warm.
Where to stay in Genting Highlands:
Resorts World Genting – Genting Grand. Four star hotel with beautiful views of the Titiwangsa mountain range and close proximity to theme parks. Rooms start at RM45.
Leaning tower of Teluk Intan
The next day head off on Federal Route 1 before turning at Bidor for the Federal Route 58 to Teluk Intan, a small town in Perak famous for it’s leaning tower. The tower was built in 1885 as a water tower and then used as a lighting beacon to guide boats but over the years it begun to tilt and is now a popular local attraction and makes for good snaps. There is also a good flea market on Saturday nights where you can buy local specialities. Don’t forget to buy some famous Hong Peah sugar biscuits to bring back home.
Strawberries and tea plantations in the cool Cameron Highlands
Continue on from Teluk Intan up to the cool climes of the Cameron Highlands for more deliciously icy weather. The hill station is large at around 712 km2, it’s almost the same size as Singapore and at an elevation of over 1800m, you can be sure of energetic mornings and cool evenings. There are a number of attractions here for the family including long hikes, tea plantation tours, strawberry farms and rose gardens. If you are lucky, the Rafflesia, the wold’s largest flower will be in bloom in Blue Valley. For a retro treat on a rainy day, check out the Time Tunnel museum, packed with memorabilia from 1940s and 1950s Malaysia.
Where to stay in Cameron Highlands: Strawberry Park Resort. This hotel has amazing views, indoor pool, tennis courts and playground and is a short walk to the Brinchang market and Parit Falls. Rooms start at RM310.
Kids will love the exciting rides and cool temperatures at Genting. Photo credit: Phalinn Ooi Flickr
3. Drive from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru: best road trip for historic heritage and Lego thrills
Suggested time: 3 days/2 nights
Total distance: 348km
Highlights: Melaka’s historic streets and delicious treats, Muar old town, Legoland Malaysia
The E2 to Melaka is a road that is well-worn by tourists, and justifiably so for Melaka is packed full of heritage character and enough attractions to keep a family busy for days. Get your bearings with an exploration of the town’s historic area which includes the iconic Christ Church and Stadthuys and the ascent of Bukit St Paul for views over the whole city. Explore the old Chinatown with its beautiful shophouses, antiques and cafes. The shops on Jonkers Street are great for browsing for people of all ages and it’s tough to come away without at least a few bargains. If you happen to be in town over the weekend, Jonkers turns into a huge open air market and the traditional clan houses get packed with locals doing line dancing.
Where to stay in Melaka: The Sterling Boutique Hotel. Upscale hotel with quality interior design a short walk from the centre of town. Rooms start at RM221.
Enjoy local treats in Muar
Continue your exploration of bygone times with a drive down Federal Route 19 to Muar, the second largest town in Johor for a fun morning exploring sites including the many temples, mosques and heritage buildings. However, the real highlight of a visit to Muar has to be a visit to Tanjung Emas Park which is a great place for riverside strolls and has a brilliant food court serving up amazing ikan assam pedas (hot and sour fish) – a local speciality.
Get your creative juices flowing at Legoland Malaysia
If the kids have been good up to now, they’ll get their just rewards with a trip to Legoland a short drive outside JB. Take the E2 from Muar and if you are heading to Legoland directly, turn off at Skudai to the E3. With rides, hands-on activities and watery fun available, there’s something for evertyone here. The highlight is Miniland, which has Asian landmarks recreated in Lego. Families can bond with the Build-A-Raft activity where you can build a Lego raft and use it to float down a river. Don’t forget your swimmers as there are plenty of fun water-based activities here.
Where to stay in Johor Bahru: Legoland Hotel. Kids will absolutely adore the Lego themed rooms here and the splurge is well worth it to see the smile on their faces. Rooms start at RM1025.
Book tickets for Legoland here
_Come and check out Asia…made from Lego! Photo credit: Blue Quartz Flickr_
4. Drive from Penang to Kota Bharu: best road trip for street food and wildlife cruises
Suggested time: 5 days/4 nights
Total distance: 345km
Highlights: Penang UNESCO World Heritage Zone, Penang street food, wildlife cruises in Belum State Park
Heritage and hawker delights in Penang
The UNESCO World Heritage Zone inside Georgetown is a great place to start your road trip. Take a wander around the delightful streets including Love Lane, Pitt Street and Armenian Street and pop into some of the colourful Chinese temples. Take some time in the day to visit Penang Hill and go up using the steep Penang Hill Railway. You’ll be rewarded with amazing views and cool air. Alternatively, take the children for a trip to Penang Butterfly Farm, the first ever tropical butterfly farm with a population of more than 8000 butterflies. For many people the highlight of a trip to Penang revolves around gluttony. The city is renowned for its diverse street food so ask in your hotel for the best current recommendations for stalls and restaurants serving up assam laksa, char kway teow and Penang nasi kandar.
Where to stay in Penang: Boutique Residence Hotel. Intimate place in the heart of Georgetown with only ten guestrooms, Chinese and Peranakan artwork on the walls plus an indoor pool and top quality mattresses. Rooms start at RM244.
Wildlife, walks and river boat cruises in Belum State Park
Suitably fed, head back on the road for the drive on Federal Route 4 to Royal Belum State Park, with its ancient rainforest and spectacular biodiversity including tigers, tapirs and gibbons. A river cruise in the park is a great way for all the family to get up close and personal with nature but without overwhelming numbers of tourists whilst cruising the waters of Lake Temenggor and taking guided walks into the jungle. Drive to the jetty at Pulau Bindung where you catch a boat to your chosen resort. It’s best to book a package that includes activities and accommodation before arriving.
Book Belum State Park packages here
Hunt the night markets of Kota Bahru for spicy delights
The rest of the trip takes you across the peninsular on the E4 to Kota Bahru (turn off at Machang for Kota Bahru). The city may not possess many obvious charms but dig below the surface and you’ll uncover some great museums, Thai temples and some amazing Kelantan food which is heavily influenced by nearby Thailand. Head to the central market after dark and hunt down some of the city’s renowned ayam percik for a tasty treat.
Where to stay in Kota Bahru: Grand Riverview Hotel. Located ner the central market and it’s buzzing night time hawker stalls, The Grand Riverview has an outdoors pool and comfy rooms with modern facilities. Rooms start at RM229.
Introduce your kids to Penang’s exciting street food culture. Photo credit: Alpha Flickr
5. Drive from Penang to Ipoh: best road trip for theme parks, and water play
Suggested time: 3 days/2 nights
Total distance: 171km
Highlights: Penang National Park, Taiping Zoo, Ipoh architecture, Lost World of Tambun
Beaches, parks and playgrounds in Penang
Penang is a great place for family holidays and those with a thing for the beach will enjoy the quaint charms of Batu Ferringhi. The beach here might not be as good as some of those elsewhere in Malaysia but there are plenty of watersports available and kids will enjoy trips to the Toy Museum and exploring the beautiful forests and empty beaches of Penang National Park. There’s also a cool adventure playground here called ESCAPE which encourages kids to use their minds and bodies to complete challenging activities.
Taiping Zoo and Night Safari
Drive over the iconic Penang Bridge for the 90km drive the AH2 to Taiping, known as Malaysia’s rainiest city. Tourists head to this charming town to check out Taiping Zoo and Night Safari and to enjoy a spot of peace and quiet at Taiping Lake Garden. Don’t forget to stuff yourself on Taiping’s celebrated hawker food before finishing your trip with a drive down the AH2 to Ipoh.
Explore Ipoh and get wild at the Lost World of Tambun
The city is a walker’s dream with a beautiful old Chinatown and a number of colonial buildings to enjoy. Try and join one of the guided tours which depart from the railway station daily at 8am. To please the kids, it might be a good idea to head over to the Lost World of Tambun, Ipoh’s water-theme park with petting zoo, water play areas and rides and an adventure park. Mums might also fancy a bit of quality time with some pampering at the spa here before heading back home.
Where to stay in Ipoh: Ecotel Hotel Ipoh. Rooms here are an absolute steal with fast WiFi and new furnishings providing a comfortable stay in Ipoh. Rooms from RM81.
Book tickets for ESCAPE here
Book tickets for the Lost World of Tambun here
Check out some of the beautiful architecture in Ipoh. Photo credit: Kah Wai Sin Flickr
East Malaysia is where the country gets truly magical. Families can experience some truly unique moments together in some of Asia’s most beautiful settings. Roads are improving all the time in this part of the world so don’t expect much off-road jungle driving; it’s all a piece of cake. However, you might need to park the car and jump on a prop plane occasionally, but that’s all part of the exciting adventure.
6. Drive from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan: Best road trip for orangutans and mountain climbing
Total distance: 249km
Suggested time: 5 days /4 nights
Highlights: Jalan Gaya Street Market, Gunung Kinabalu, Poring Hot Springs, Mesilau Park, Agnes Keith House, Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
Browse markets in Kota Kinabalu
Start your travels in Kota Kinabalu, the modern and cosmopolitan state capital of Sabah. Take some time to browse the city’s handicraft market and kids will love the lively weekly tamu (market) on Jalan Gaya or jump on a boat for the short journey to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park for a bit of snorkelling off one of the pristine islands before starting your journey towards the Gunung Kinabalu National Park on Federal Route 22.
Get above the clouds on Gunung Kinabalu
You’ll need to book ahead if you want to climb Malaysia’s highest mountain and enjoy the spectacular once-in-a-lifetime walk on the world’s highest Via Ferrata. However, those with little ones may want to dodge the climb but can still enjoy a guided walk in the lush Mesilau Nature Park at the foot of the mountain or a luxuriant soak in the Poring Hot Springs before heading on to Ranau and hanging out at the Sabah Tea Garden. With its longhouse accommodation and tea picking activities, this is a great place for family fun and a tea fans will enjoy the views with a quality organic cuppa.
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu: The Jesselton Hotel. Filled with the charm of yesteryear, this vintage hotel is right in the heart of town hear the city’s best eating and drinking spots. Rooms from RM220.
Ranau: Sabah Tea Garden. Choose to stay in a traditional longhouse or a cosy cottage and revel in the cool temperatures and amazing views of Gunung Kinabalu. Rooms from RM140.
Book climbing trips to Mount Kinabalu and the Via Ferrata here All-inclusive climb packages start at RM1,120.
Dim sum, croquet and mornings with orang-utans in Sandakan
Rise bright and early for the 5 hour drive on Federal Route 22 down to Sandakan. The city is known as little Hong Kong for its large Cantonese population and has some of the best dim sum houses in Malaysia. A visit to the Agnes Keith Tea Rooms and House for a museum tour and a family game of croquet with tea and scones on the immaculate lawn is a must. Wake up early for the 20km drive on the 22 to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for a chance to see Asia’s only great ape have breakfast before popping next door to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre to learn more about this gorgeous and shy animal.
Where to stay in Sandakan: ibis Styles Sandakan Waterfront. Smart modern rooms with beautiful views of the Sulu Sea. Rooms from RM157.
The views from the summit of Gunung Kinabalu make all the huffing and puffing worthwhile. Photo credit: HK. Colin Flickr
7.Drive from Kota Kinabalu to the Tip of Borneo: best road trip for off-the beaten track Borneo
Suggested time: 5 days/4 nights
Total distance: 143km
Highlights: North Borneo Railway, Kota Belud tamu, Mantanani Island, Gombizau Honey Farm, Rungus Longhouse, Tip of Borneo
Ride a historic steam train through beautiful Sabah
Little train fans will be thrilled with a ride on the North Borneo Railway. This vintage British North Borneo steam train attracts train fiends from all over the world for the 60km journey to Papar and passes mountains, villages and verdant rice paddies. The train makes a tourist stop at Kinarut, a traditional market town, before heading on to Papar, a major agricultural centre. A colonial tiffin lunch is served up on board before the train puffs its way back to KK.
Browse traditional markets and revel in Mantanani island bliss
The next day drive 90 minutes on Federal Route 1 north to the provincial town of Kota Belud, celebrated for its weekly tamu and famous annual tamu in October with its brightly dressed ensemble of ethnic groups. Let the kids pick up some handicrafts and local snacks and be sure to stop over for a night or two at gorgeous Mantanani Island for snorkelling or diving and spectacular sunrises.
Where to stay in Mantanani Island: Mari Mari Backpacker Lodge. All-inclusive packages for RM442. Check in here for quiet unspoilt beaches, diving, snorkelling and island bliss.
Honey farms, longhouses and ferocious sunsets at the Tip of Borneo
Suitably refreshed it’s time for the drive on Federal Route 1 to Kudat, proudly standing at the tip of Borneo. It’s a sleepy town with a couple of cool attractions including Gombizau Honey farm where the whole family can learn about traditional rainforest honey making and get a taste, and Kampung Bavanggazo, a beautifully restored Rungus longhouse with music and exciting cultural performances where kids can learn about traditional longhouse life. However, the highlight of this trip is the pilgrimage to the Tip of Borneo, 23kms north of Kudat, and the meeting place of the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. The tip is renowned for its outrageous blood-red sunsets, wide selection of water sport activities and is perfect for long family walks along the deserted beach at Pantai Kalampunian.
Where to stay in Kudat: Tommy’s Place @ Tip of Borneo. Rooms from RM78. Family friendly place with watersports, cycling and it’s own turtle conservation project on a long and empty stretch of beach.
Book trips on the North Borneo Railway here Trains run every Wednesday and Saturday and the journey costs RM345.
_Amazing sunsets at the Tip of Borneo. Photo credit: Pavel Kirillov Flickr_
8. Drive from Sandakan to Tawau: best road trip for nature lovers and little underwater explorers
Suggested time: 5 days/4nights
Total distance: 180km
Highlights: Turtle Island Park, Kinabatangan River, dive and snorkel expeditions to the islands off Semporna.
Visit Turtle Island Park
Before even stepping into your car, hop on a boat in Sandakan for the 40km journey north to the Turtle Islands Park. The three islands that make up the park are the nesting places of two types of sea turtle; the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle. These endangered species can live for up to a century but face a bleak future as their eggs are considered a delicacy and poaching is a huge problem. Turtles regularly come ashore here and lay 80-150 eggs in trenches before heading majestically back to the sea. The eggs are then taken by rangers and placed in a hatchery. It’s possible to stay the night on the islands to watch the turtles lay eggs.
Book excursions to Turtle Island here
Wildlife cruises along the Sungei Kinabatangan
Spend a further day in Sandakan to enjoy its Cantonese fare (marmite chicken anyone?) before hitting the road for the trip on Highway 13 to Sukau (look for the turn off), lying on the banks of the coffee-coloured Sungei Kinabatangan, Malaysia’s second longest river. The area is famed for its jungle lodges and boat trips for river exploration where you may see pythons lazing on branches, pygmy elephants, orangutans and proboscis monkeys.
Where to stay in Sukau: Bilit Adventure Lodge, comfortable jungle lodge with a range of trips offered along the river. Rooms start at RM581.
Snorkel and dive in the crystal clear waters off Semporna
After enjoying a couple of cruises drive on the 13 before turning to the SA51 to the scruffy town of Semporna. The town is the jumping off spot for spectacular underwater family adventures to islands such as Mataking, Sipadan and Pom Pom. There is also a good sunset firefly cruise on Sungei Buaya and you can hire a boat to check out the friendly Bajau (sea gypsy) stilt villages that lie offshore. Finish up your trip with a drive down the SA51 and 13 to Tawau, a bustling border town with a fantastic fish market and lots of bargain shopping to be done at Tawau Bazaar.
Where to stay in Semporna: Sipidan Inn 2. Plan you underwater adventures from this tidy place which offers beautiful sea views and is a short walk from Semporna’s top seafood options.
Rooms from RM110. Book Sipidan Inn 2 here
Tawau: Heritage Hotel, Comfortable rooms with good facilities in the heart of town make this the top choice for a family stay in Tawau. Rooms from: RM106.
_Scan the river banks of the Sungei Kinabatangan for proboscis monkeys. Photo credit: Joan Campderros-i-Canas Flickr _
9. Drive from Bintulu to Mulu National Park: best road trip for cave exploration and ancient rock art, oil wells and national parks
Suggested time: 5 days/4 nights
Total distance: 125km
Highlights: Similijau National Park, Niah National Park, Miri and the Grand Old Lady, Mulu National Park
Melanau specialities and birdwatching around Bintulu
There’s no need to linger for too long in the booming oil town of Bintulu, but make sure you stop long enough to try out some of the local Melanau cuisine. A famous dish here is umai, raw fish with lime mixed with chillies, onions and salted vegetables and the town is also renowned for its take on belacan and cincalok so stock up with a few bottles before you hit the road. The first stop on this trip is Similajau National Park, off the 9105, a long park of sandy beaches, headlands and is renowned for its birdwatching opportunities, so be sure to bring your binoculars. In the park, the beach at Pasir Mas is where green turtles come to lay their eggs between July and September.
Ancient cave art and burial sites in the Niah Caves
After stretching your legs in the park, drive on the 9105 to Niah National Park for a visit to the caves. These caves are one of Sarawak’s most visited attractions and were once home to east Malaysia’s first human settlers with remains dating back 46,000 years when Borneo was still connected to the Philippines by a land bridge. Check out the burial excavation sites where the remains of ancient ancestors were discovered in alongside neolithic axes and, tools and boats. The most impressive cave is the Painted Cave which is home to the only prehistoric paintings in Borneo. Keep an eye out for swiftlet nests, as the Great Cave at Niah is where expensive bird’s nest soup begins its life with swiftlet collectors climbing to the cave roof on a very wobbly ladder with a candle to collect the lucrative nests.
Oil wells and seafood banquets in Miri
Head back on the road for an overnight stop in Miri, celebrated for its fantastic food scene and access to some pretty good beaches. Kids will love browsing the exotic local produce at Tamu Muhibah and a visit to the Grand Old Lady and the Petroleum Museum at the top of Canada Hill is great not only for its views but also for the Old Lady, Malaysia’s first oil well which helped transform Miri from a sleepy fishing village into the prosperous city of today.
Where to stay in Miri: Treetops Lodge. Great place to base yourself on the edge of Miri and with access to Lambir Hills National Park and cycling and fishing trips, this is a great place for families craving a bit of space. Rooms start at RM130.
If you want to explore the luscious jungle at the world famous UNESCO World Heritage Gunung Mulu National Park, or trek the Headhunter’s Trail and explore one of the world’s largest caves systems, you’ll need to leave the car in Miri and hop on a small prop plane to gain access to this place of extraordinary biodiversity where nature is truly king.
Book Mulu accommodation and activities here
Explore the joys of nature at the Mulu National Park. Photo credit: Bernard Dupont Flickr
10. Drive from Kuching to Batang Ai: best road trip for longhouse experiences, indigenous culture and river tours
Suggested time: 4 days/3 nights
Highlights: Kuching, Sarawak Cultural Village, Santubong river cruise, Batang Ai National Park, Iban longhouses
Total distance: 280km
Explore Kuching and visit the Sarawak Cultural Village
Kuching is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most charming towns with its cat statues, rows of beautiful shophouses and friendly population, so don’t be in a rush to leave and instead potter around the area. Once you’ve had your fill of local kue lapis and Sarawak laksa and checked out the Cat Museum, drive out to the Damai Peninsular on the 1101 for a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village where kids can learn to shoot a blowpipe, explore the typical houses of Sarawak’s ethnic minorities and watch beautifully choreographed performances of local dance and music.
Where to stay in Kuching: Singgahsana Lodge. With bargain prices, great facilities for the family, and an unbeatable location in the heart of town, this cheery lodge should be your best bet for a family visit to Kuching. Family rooms start at RM135.
Spot crocs and dolphins in Santubong
In the late afternoon drive to Santubong to enjoy a sunset river cruise down the Santubong River. At this magical hour scan the river banks for gangs of long-nosed proboscis monkeys, and watch for rare Irrawaddy dolphins and menacing saltwater crocodiles that linger on the banks.
Enjoy a unique Batang Ai longhouse experience
The drive on the AH150 (turn off after Engkili to Federal Route 3) to Batang Ai on the border of Indonesia takes around four hours and the national park which is accessible by boat is home to orang-utans, majestic hornbills and gibbons and has a number of walking trails including one to an ancient burial ground. There are a number of Iban longhouses around the park that welcome visitors on pre-arranged tours. If you want to stay at one and immerse yourself in the longhouse experience, make sure you have an invite and preferably a guide both of which can be arranged in Kuching. A stay at a longhouse is a quintessential Borneo experience and kids especially will love the fun and games in the evening and exploring the gardens that surround these communities. Don’t forget that though your Iban hosts will make you feel welcome and put on a bit of a song and dance for you, you’ll also be expected to contribute to the fun so make sure all members of the family are primed to sing a favourite song, do a trick and, at the very least, show off their best dance moves.
Where to stay in Batang Ai: Aiman Batang Ai Longhouse. Comfortable rooms and gorgeous views over the Batang Ai Reservoir. The hotel can arrange longhouse visits, fishing and jungle walks. Rooms start at RM345.
Book longhouse tours with Borneo Adventure Travel Company here
Little kids will love spending a night in an Iban longhouse. Photo credit: Sam Sherrat Flickr