Phuket, Thailand. Photo: 123rf.com
1 PHUKET, THAILAND
Besides its beautifully sandy beaches, there’s actually plenty more for families to do on this small island off the west coast of Thailand. A popular stop is Bang Pae Waterfall at Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, where you can take a refreshing dip or have a picnic by the rocks. Or, take a hike at the nearby hills and countryside.
For a day trip, a speedboat ride to the famous Phi Phi Islands is a must. The island-hopping tour takes you through the archipelago – check out the serene beaches or stop for a quick snorkel or swim. You can also join a guided tour to explore the sea caves of Phang Nga Bay on kayaks, where you might chance upon some wildlife sightings.
If you’re in need of some retail therapy, there is no shortage of markets and malls. Phuket Walking Street (Lardyai Phuket) on Thalang Road in Phuket Old Town has something for everyone. A weekly market that started in 2013, it is home to a range of food, souvenirs, handicraft and clothes stalls. From 4pm on Sundays, there will even be toy stalls and trampolines to delight the kids.
Where to Stay: Katathani Phuket Beach Resort (www.katathani.com) is located in secluded Kata Noi Bay, less than an hour’s drive from Phuket International Airport and away from the bustle of touristy Patong. Tucked amid lush greenery, with white sandy beaches at its doorstep, the resort offers facilities like pools, a health clinic and restaurants.
How Much: From 12,406 baht (S$485) a night for the Deluxe Family Room; includes breakfast.
2 SABAH, MALAYSIA
Just a little over two hours by plane, Sabah offers the ultimate relaxing break. Head to Poring Hot Spring and Nature Reserve that’s about 136km (three hours’ drive) from Kota Kinabalu. De-stress with a soak in the mineral-rich spring waters and soothe your tired, aching muscles while you’re at it. Also at the park, a butterfly farm, Poring Orchid Conservation Centre, a tropical garden and the Rafflesia flower site.
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Just off Sabah’s coastline is Turtle Islands that’s home to the Turtle Island National Park. The protected park is where hundreds of green and hawksbill turtles come to lay their eggs every evening, while the rock pools and coral reefs off the coast are perfect for snorkelling. Chalet accommodation is available at the park, just be sure to book ahead.
If you only have a day or two, go on a day trip to Manukan Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Kota Kinabalu. Teeming with corals and marine life, the reefs here are great for diving and snorkelling. Alternatively, chill out on the pristine white sand beaches or explore the great outdoors by walking one of its many nature trails.
Where to Stay: Just 30 minutes from Kota Kinabalu town centre is the award-winning Nexus Resort Karambunai (www.nexusresort.com). Enjoy views of the South China Sea or soothing greenery from the golf course and ancient rainforest. For leisure and recreational activities, there’s golf and tennis, as well as three free-form swimming pools, a spa, children’s club and playground, nature park and lagoon park.
How Much: RM750 (S$245) a night for a Borneo Garden King Room; includes breakfast.
3 LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA
The Jewel of Kedah is an archipelago of 99 islands. Its main beaches – Tanjung Rhu, Pantai Cenang and Tengah Beach – are ideal for a picnic, swimming or just relaxing.
Art lovers will want to visit the 3D Art Museum (www.panoramalangkawi.com/3d-artmuseum), the largest 3-D art museum in Malaysia and the second largest in the world. Located at Oriental Village, a themed shopping centre, the museum houses over 200 gigantic 3-D artworks that, when photographed, look almost lifelike. Artworks include Venetian gondolas, the pyramids of Egypt, rainforests, safari locations, and more.
Out for a thrill? Then ride the Panorama Langkawi Skycab (www.panoramalangkawi.com). The steep cable-car ride, also located at Oriental Village, starts at the foot of the Machincang mountain range and will take you past waterfalls and forests before it arrives at the Middle Station, where you can alight and walk on the viewing platforms. From here, the cable car takes you to the top of the mountain, which offers panoramic views of Langkawi, Kedah and Southern Thailand, and natural wonders like caves and cliff walls. From the Top Station, make your way to the Skybridge, a suspended bridge that takes you through virgin jungle and other areas that are otherwise inaccessible.
Kilim Karst Geoforest Park (www.langkawigeopark.com.my) is another must-see. The Unesco-endorsed park, developed on the oldest limestone formation in Malaysia, features a breathtaking karst landscape and boasts diverse habitats, including mangrove swamps and bat-filled caves. Explore this natural wonder on foot and try to spot the tree crabs and macaques. Or take a boat tour through the forest reserve.
Where to Stay: Nestled in the hear t of an ancient rainforest, Datai Langkawi (www.thedatai.com) is a wonderful escape that’s a stone’s throw from the magnificent Datai Bay. Besides golf and spa facilities, the hotel also offers guided rainforest walks, trekking tours, cooking classes and batik-making workshops.
How Much: Check website for exclusive offers for Singapore residents.
4 BALI, INDONESIA
Awash with wonderful beaches, spas and markets, Bali is also home to other fun activities for the family. The Bali Seawalker (www.seawalker.co.id) is one, and you don’t even need to know how to swim or dive. A boat takes you out to sea, you don the specially designed Seawalker helmet and then make your way down to the bottom of the ocean, where you will come face to face with a myriad of underwater creatures. There’s no need for a dive tank and you’ll have a guide with you at all times.
For more water adventures, head on down to Waterbom Bali (www.waterbom-bali.com), where kids will be thrilled with all manner of rides, from the simple Twin Racers to the exciting Double Twist. Very young children will enjoy the water cannons and body slides at the park’s Funtastic attraction.
Get up close with the animals at the Bali Safari & Marine Park (www.balisafarimarinepark.com), home to more than 60 species of animals, including rare and endangered ones. The Night Safari is highly recommended – kids will get to interact with animals in the African Savannah section, ride a tram and feed the zebras, elephants and giraffes, and meet komodo dragons, bats and Brazilian tur tles on Komodo Island.
While in Bali, go on a horseriding tour with the family along the beach or river; some even take you through lush green rice fields and pineapple plantations. Beyond just an adventurous way to see the sights, it also leads to wonderful photo opportunities.
Where to Stay: Sens Hotel & Spa Ubud (www.senshotelsresorts.com) is located about 7km from Ubud town centre, considered by many to be the cultural heart of Bali. The resort offers panoramic views of rice paddies and features two types of accommodation: guest rooms and villas with a private dipping pool. Facilities include a spa, fitness centre, library, children’s club, as well as a cafe and restaurant.
How Much: From S$94++ a night for a Superior Room. This room rate is only valid in February 2016.
5 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
There is so much more to the Cambodian capital than Angkor Wat. For a spot of shopping, visit Central Market (Psah Thom Thmey) in the city. Housed in a 1930s Art Deco-styled building, this massive market is a must-visit for its antiques, fabrics, apparel, even gold and silver. Rub shoulders with the locals at the multi-level Orussey Market near the city centre. You’ll find everything from food to homeware and electronic goods. For ethnic crafts, jewellery, silks, musical instruments, antiques and curios, head to the Russian Market, which used to serve Russian customers in the 1980s. Need a break from shopping? Head to the trendy cafes around the bazaar.
Best explored on a tuk-tuk, Phnom Penh is also easy enough to get around on foot. Check out Sisowath Quay, the city’s pedestrian-friendly riverside promenade where you’ll see children skateboarding, locals doing aerobics and musicians busking. Flanking the Quay are cafes, restaurants and shops.
For a spot of culture, don’t miss the grand Royal Palace and National Museum (www.cambodiamuseum.info). Then treat your family to a Khmer meal of rice, meat and vegetable dishes or noodles. Try traditional dishes like kuy teav, a pork broth-based noodle dish; lok lak, stir-fried beef with veggies and black pepper, and naem, which is similar to Vietnamese summer rolls.
Where to Stay: The Kabiki (www.thekabiki.com) is a peaceful oasis in the hear t of Phnom Penh, between the Royal Palace and Independence Monument. The child-friendly retreat features beautiful gardens, two pools and 18 tastefully decorated rooms.
How Much: US$90 (S$127) a night for a Family Room with bunk beds.
This story was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Simply Her.