Planning A Trip To Malaysia With Family (Luxury Travel and Sanity Advice)

Have you ever heard of a family that decides where to go on vacation based on elephants? Obviously, you haven’t met my family yet. But while we were planning a trip to Malaysia, this was one of the main criteria while zeroing down the place. Confused? Why don’t you read on to find out more?

This is a photo of a harbour with many boats and a resort from a viewpoint high up in Malaysia

Planning A Trip To Malaysia With Family

Before we get to the nitty-gritty of the planning process, let me first introduce you to the family. This is just to highlight how varied we are when it comes to travelling styles (or maybe to boast a little about my family). There is no doubt about it. We are a travelling family. All of us are avid travellers but this was the first time we were travelling together as a family. Even though there were multiple Malaysia tour packages available from India, we were keen on doing the planning and execution of the trip ourselves. It was a short trip to Malaysia and we only had a week before each of us returned to our respective home bases.

Meet my family:

  1. Amma (Mom): The heroine of this trip. It was Amma’s 60th and this trip was a way for all of us to celebrate her birthday together and in style. So few months before we started planning this trip, the heroine saw how an entire family went on vacation to Thailand on one of her Hindi soap operas. Don’t ask me which one. She watches too many of them. My primary objective, whenever I am at home, is to irritate her by asking her too many questions while she is watching one of these soap operas. So she casually mentioned it to my sister about how she wanted to go to Thailand together as a family. And that is how the idea of the trip came to us. We were planning to keep it a surprise for a while. But since Achan (dad) was part of the WhatsApp planning group (the number of unnecessary groups I am part of) and since everyone except him reads his Whatsapp messages on his phone, Amma got to know about the trip two days after Achan did.
  2. Achan (Dad): Achan used to work for an airline for many years which meant that he travelled all around the world on a free ticket dragging Amma along (sometimes us too) wherever he went. The same way he dragged her to Tanzania as newlyweds. If you ask me where I got my travelling genes, he is the only suspect who in turn got it from his parents. Nowadays, he travels to at least 4-8 cities in India every month for his business.
  3. Brother in law No 1: For a person who frequently shuttles between Dubai, New York and London, you would think he would have gotten used to travelling by now. But if you give him an option of Alcohol (we are proper Mallus when it comes to this), books and travelling, he will choose it exactly in that order.
  4. Brother in law No 2: You would have seen me blatantly crediting someone else for their photographs on this site. (If you haven’t, please go and read some of my older posts. Shame on you guys) He is my partner in crime when it comes to photographs but he will run a mile away if he sees a water body in the vicinity. Nowadays, he is the Marketing head of our business which means that he gets to travel a lot too.
  5. Sister No 1 (Twin sister): The problem with going and working in Europe for almost 7 months at a young age is that her standards are too high when it comes to travelling. Packing light is a concept that she is not aware of and 8 out of the 11 suitcases we took to Malaysia were filled with her stuff (She would argue that it was actually the kid’s stuff). She is a bit of an OCD when it comes to cleanliness.
  6. Sister No 2: She is nowadays working at a workplace which sends her to places none of us have ever been to and last I heard, China is planning to adopt her (She still refuses to write posts on China for me). We have travelled a lot together and we continue to do so. She is the packing expert and I always pester her to pack for my trips if she is around. But even she couldn’t do anything about my sister’s 8 suitcases this time.
  7. Me: You already have read a lot about me on this site. (You haven’t? Go and read all of them right now). So as the only travel blogger in the family, I was the designated person who was in charge of planning the trip. My sister’s argument was that you are the expert in the family. But look at all their credentials and all of them are equally crazy travellers. Now you know why I am a solo traveller and love to head out on my own. (Just kidding)
  8. Master M: The three-year-old nephew around whom everything in this family is currently revolving around. So just erase whatever you have read till now. Because our whole Malaysia itinerary was planned on where the kid wanted to go. And you remember, I did tell you about elephants before. Master M is crazy about elephants and there is not a single day that goes without him saying the word elephant. Master M hates to sit at home and he told everyone at his preschool that he was going to Malaysia months before we went.

So now that you know a little about my family, let me write in detail about how we planned a luxury trip to Malaysia on our own. I also had lots of help from my friends at Tourism Malaysia.

A picture of my family taken inside a restaurant in Hilton, Kuala Lumpur

Where to go for a luxury family vacation in January?

So it was decided that we were going to go on a family vacation. It was the first week of January which meant that Europe was out of the picture. We had only one week to spare since we were held up with family functions during the last week of December. My sister lives in Dubai which meant that the Middle East was also out. All of us (except the kid) have lived in Africa for quite a while and hence that was also not in the running. The only condition my sister had was that it had to be a direct and short flight from both Kerala and Dubai because of the kid. Even though Thailand was where mom wanted to go to, we were strongly against it (because all of us knew what the crowd would be like the week after New Year’s). Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Singapore etc were all ruled out since one or the other had already been there. Finally, we were down to two choices, Indonesia and Malaysia. Malaysia clearly won (mainly because of the elephants and the direct flights). I told you that the elephants were one of the most important criteria for us to choose the destination.

Places to visit in Malaysia with family in January

Now that we knew that Malaysia was the destination, we had to decide which other places we were planning to visit in Malaysia. There are so many tourist spots in Malaysia. We were flying directly to Kuala Lumpur and I will soon be writing a post on ‘things to do in Kuala Lumpur in 3 days’. Most of the Malaysia tour packages include KL with Genting or Langkawi as the second location. We were however not too keen on Langkawi since some of us had already been there. There are so many beautiful places in Malaysia and it was hard for us to decide where else to go in Malaysia for a short trip.

Weather forecasts also told us that it would be raining in most parts in Malaysia and many of the islands like the Perhentian islands would be closed in January. Most of us wanted to go to a beach destination (I am sure Brother in Law No 2 would have cursed us silently). But then I read somewhere that East Malaysia would be relatively bone dry when it came to rains and that is when we finally decided that Kota Kinabalu would be our second destination. It was perfect for us. It was a beach destination in Malaysia with no/light rains in January and it was just a 2.5-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur.

A gorgeous sunset in Kota Kinabalu. You can see a boat in the distance

Booking Our Flights to Kuala Lumpur from India and Back

Like I mentioned before, all of us were in Kerala during the last week of December to attend some functions. We were invited to three weddings and one house warming function. We were also celebrating Amma’s 60th with close family in Kerala (We Indians love our festivities and you definitely have to attend one Indian wedding in your life. You will either run for your life or you will love it). But all of us were flying back to different locations after the trip.

When booking tickets, we usually make the comparison on Skyscanner, Kayak, Yatra and MakeMyTrip. Once we find out the most convenient option, we usually go to the airline’s website and directly book our tickets. I was in Europe when my sister booked our flight tickets to Kuala Lumpur and back.

Booking internal flights in Malaysia

Once we decided that we were going to Kota Kinabalu, we had to book tickets from KL to KK and back. We used the same options listed above for this as well. Based on our criteria, we found out that Malindo Air was the best option for us in spite of it being a little more expensive than Malaysian airlines. But the only caveat to this was that they had early morning flights. Most of us are not morning people including the kid and there were too many zombies walking around in the airport. The only way you can get me up that early in the morning without snoozing the alarm is if I have an early morning flight.

A photo of the entrance of the Batu Caves from another angle. You can see the statue in the distance with a lake in the front of it

Booking Accommodation/ Where to stay in Malaysia

Since this was a family trip and since we are used to luxury as a family, we were looking at only five stars/ four-star hotels in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur was not that hard since there is no dearth of luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur. We were looking at luxury service apartment hotels in Kuala Lumpur since my sister had this innate desire to wash clothes in Malaysia. Just kidding. Since all of us were on the road for almost 10 days before this trip, we needed a place which had a laundry service. Also, it made sense that luxury service apartments were good when we were travelling as a family. That is how we ended up booking the Fraser place in Kuala Lumpur for our first two nights here. This place was ideal for our Kuala Lumpur itinerary since it was right in the middle of the financial district. Check out the latest prices and reviews for Fraser Place below.

Booking | TripAdvisor | HotelsCombined

Kota Kinabalu was a little more difficult. Why may you ask? We were going to a beach destination which meant that we needed a place with a beach. But the problem in Kota Kinabalu is that most of the island resorts are only for adults and most of the hotels in Kota Kinabalu city only had a beach facing view but no access to a private beach. Our only options in the city with a private beach were Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa and Sutera Harbour Resort (The Pacific Sutera & The Magellan Sutera). Both were expensive but I ended up getting a good deal for the Pacific Sutera and that is how we ended up booking this place. This was an excellent choice and we loved our time here. They even had an Indian restaurant inside the resort. Check out the latest prices and reviews for Pacific Sutera Resort below.

Booking | TripAdvisor | HotelsCombined

On our last night in Malaysia, we ended up booking our stay at the Hilton, Kuala Lumpur. This was a little far off from the financial district but the train station was just opposite to it and it was really convenient. Check out the latest prices and reviews for Hilton, Kuala Lumpur below.

Booking | TripAdvisor | HotelsCombined

Malaysia Visa for Indians

We do not have an option of visa on arrival and hence we had to get a visa to visit Malaysia. I have already written on the procedure on how to obtain a Malaysia Visa for Indian passport holders.

Vegetarian Food in Malaysia

There is no shortage of vegetarian food. Since Malaysia has a huge Tamil population, there was no dearth of finding Indian vegetarian food as well.

How to Get Around in Malaysia

We ended up using lots of Uber and taxis everywhere we went. I did not end up using public transportation since I was travelling with family this time. Both Uber and taxis are not that expensive and it is quite convenient to go around in both Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. Most of the time, we ended up paying around 15-30 Malaysian Ringitt.

Currency in Malaysia

We didn’t carry Malaysian Ringitt (MYR) from India and just went and withdrew from the ATM’s there whenever we wanted cash. One US dollar is approximately 3.90 MYR and One MYR is approximately 17 Indian rupees.

Hindu deities inside the Batu Caves in Malaysia

What to pack for Malaysia

Even though it rained for a couple of hours when we were in KL, the weather was generally pleasant in Kuala Lumpur. Kota Kinabalu is a beach destination and hence don’t forget to pack lots of beachwear and other beach essentials.

Booking tours in Malaysia

I hope you haven’t forgotten the elephants by now. This was one of our prime intentions to visit Malaysia and we ended up going on a full day guided tour to Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary, Deerland and Batu Caves. I was very particular about going to an ethical place and that is why Kuala Gandah was the perfect choice for us.

Also, check out some snorkelling and diving tours in Kota Kinabalu.

A group of elephants being fed by visitors at Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary

Sim Card and Wifi in Malaysia

Only one of us bought a Sim card in Malaysia and this was just in case of emergency when we were there. Wifi is available in most hotels free of charge. But most of us were mainly offline during the day when we were out sightseeing in Malaysia.

Travel Insurance In Malaysia

I never travel anywhere without travel insurance and I did it through ICICI Lombard this time too. I couldn’t do it online since you can do it only for a maximum of 6 people at a time online. I ended up spending almost 2-3 hours on the call with customer care.

Sanity Advice for travelling with family

I did promise you this. But there is only advice I can give you. Remember that they are family and that you cannot kill them. Even though it was a family vacation, we ended up going to some places in groups since not all of us wanted to do that particular activity. You don’t have to do everything together as a whole family. It helps to keep the sanity.

Master M is currently at that stage where he loves breaking things. He will be minding his own business one minute and the next minute he would have broken something. His favourite story to tell these days is how his dad scolded his mom for him breaking one lamp and a utensil in Kuala Lumpur. So if you are travelling with kids, ensure that one of you has a credit card with a huge limit(Master M’s dad in this case). You will never know when you will need it.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is no dearth of family holiday destinations in Malaysia. But it is definitely easy for us to plan a trip to Malaysia with family on our own.

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14 Comments

  1. Sounds like you had a great holiday, and survived the family trip! I’ve only been to Kuala Lumpur, but would like to see the Batu Caves and this elephant sanctuary if I ever return. Indian weddings sound like a lot of fun! Still haven’t been to one, hopefully will get an invite one day!

  2. I love the family travel sanity advice since people will have their own opinions of what to see and do. I appreciate the wifi information and reminder about travel insurance.

  3. Whoa! It must be flabbergasting to organize everything for so many people, that too esp for an international travel! Awesome. And your family is quite spread out across the continent. I’m just thinking – your family whatsapp group would be active all the time, with people across all timezones! Lolz.

    1. There are times when we will be in at least 5 different countries and we will be sharing our photos from the respective place. 🙂

  4. Wow! Sounds like a great trip. I’m amazed how skilfully you’ve organised the trip for the entire family. I like your sanity advise especially for handling little children like Master M. And yes a credit card with a huge limit definitely works in such situations. Thanks for sharing this little guide on Malaysia and the lovely pictures. I’m still to visit the place and now I have a lot of information about it to plan my trip.

  5. This was very funny to read. I am like your family–not a morning person–and I laughed at the part about the airport zombies. Also it’s so exciting that you got to see elephants at a sanctuary! Nice to know it was ethical too. That picture of the elephant is so cute!

  6. Ahhh I love Malaysia. We actually never made it to KL and had such a different experience. We spent time in Penang. Definitely want to go back when our little guy is born and experience it like you did! So fun1

  7. Fantastic article Soumya, with lots of practical info! But my favorite part is the advice for keeping sanity while travelling with family, hilarious!

  8. Loved knowing your family. They are all avid travellers. I am sure it must have been tough if your nephew dint want to see elephants. With kids, it is always a different kind of travel experience. I have a niece and I know it. Malaysia trip looks amazing. I have been there twice and it is a good place for family holidays.

  9. I really enjoyed your post. I’ve not yet been to Malaysia but I’m watching your posts very keenly as I would like to go there in 2019!

    I admire your strength in organising your family holiday for 8 people! I’m taking my family to India this summer. I always organise our trips and it hasn’t been easy. We’re only a family of 3!

  10. I really enjoyed reading this. Written so well with a lot of information, and love the photos as well. Thanks for sharing it!

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