All new things to discover in Malaysia

Family-friendly destinations showcased at PTAA’s travel expo

MELAKA An hour away from the capital is a the perfect day trip. Rich in history and culture, you get a lot of small museums and small eateries with amazing food in one convenient location (Tourism Malaysia)

As cheesy as it may sound, what they say in the diplomatic community is true—your first posting will always hold a special place in your heart. For us, it was Kuala Lumpur (KL). I’ve had great experiences in Malaysia’s capital and it was quite the first posting for my husband who learned so much as a diplomat in our embassy’s political section there. While he was busy at work, I made sure to also fill my time by exploring the city and as much of the country as I could to have lots of material for my writing.

Last week, I visited the Philippine Travel Agencies Association’s (PTAA) Travel Tour Expo. It has always been one of the annual events Filipinos frequent to get great travel deals. This year, Malaysia had quite an active participation and I found myself somehow reunited with some of the things I enjoyed while living there.

I sat with Tourism Malaysia’s senior deputy director for the international promotion division Jamilah Abdul Halim, who mentioned tourist arrivals from the Philippines were on the upswing pre-pandemic, hitting the 400,000 mark between 2018 and 2019. Now that ease of travel is starting to return, Tourism Malaysia is looking into inviting Filipinos back once more. This, to prove that they’re still an affordable, easy to get to, and exciting travel destination. “There are a lot of new things to discover,” Halim said. From the second tallest building in the world adding another unique fixture in the KL skyline—Merdeka 118—to foodie destinations and family-friendly spots. “And everything is so accessible,” she added.

Theme parks for the family

One thing I noticed while living in KL was the sheer number of amusement parks inside the capital and just within a short driving distance of it. A water park like Sunway Lagoon is reachable by metro. It is conveniently connected to a mall. It has always been popular for families with children as a weekend day trip. Genting Highlands, just an hour from KL, is a mountain retreat on the peak of Mount Ulu Kali. It has a hotel, casino, a new theme park (SkyWorlds), shopping centers, and even a huge, nearby complex with gardens and a Chinese temple for people craving a taste of traditional culture and nature.

Legoland Malaysia Resort in Johor has always been popular. It is worth a repeat visit. It brings together an amusement park and resort in the same complex, which ensures a fun (and tiring) day for your kids. They’ll surely be knocked out by the end of the day, leaving you to have a quiet dinner. The hotel is launching new themed rooms children and even older fans of the franchise will enjoy. I recently mentioned the upcoming launch of a Ninjago room to a friend’s son and the reaction was priceless. Come July, Legoland will also be launching its latest attraction, which would feature brand-new iconic landmarks built from Lego bricks.

TARA NA SA MALAYSIA Clockwise from top: Live batik painting at the Malaysia booth at PTAA's Travel Tour Expo; Dancers who came from Malaysia for the cultural showcase at the PTAA offer a wonderful performance; and Chargé d'affaires Mohd Fareed Zakaria together with embassy and tourism officials invite Filipinos to visit Malaysia along with tourism ambassador Kabir Khan (Tourism Malaysia)

Foodie trips out of KL

Malaysia is also a country that gets to enjoy a blend of many different cultures. This translates to their cuisine. Penang, Melaka, and Ipoh are great foodie destinations. Penang is an hour away from KL by plane. It is where I’ve had some of the best Peranakan dishes in my life. The Asam Laksa I had in a small eatery is still something I rave about to this day. Asam means sour and this type of laksa uses tamarind to add dimension to the already complex flavors we have grown to love.

Peranakan is a term referring to descendants of Chinese immigrants who came in the 15th and 17th centuries and settled in the area now known as Malaysia and Singapore. They brought with them their own culture and fused it with that of the locals, creating a unique blend you can fully experience in George Town. If you have limited time, you can also opt for a day trip to Melaka, just an hour away from KL by car.

‘We are so similar but we have yet to discover so much of each other.’ - Malaysian Embassy chargé d’affaires Mohd Fareed Zakaria

Authentic nasi lemak and Hokkien prawn mee are other dishes you should add to your must-try list. Talk to the locals and ask for their recommendations on which stalls in their mamaks (food centers or eateries) are the best—you’ll never go wrong.

KL is easily accessible with daily direct flights through Philippine and Malaysian Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia. My advice is to stay a few days in the capital to get to know KL. Visit Little India for amazing roti canai, Chinatown for one of its best speakeasies housed in a pre-war building (PS150), and Putrajaya for the pink mosque. After familiarizing yourself with the capital, venture into the other cities and delve a little deeper into the culture.

“We are so similar but we have yet to discover so much of each other,” said Malaysian Embassy chargé d’affaires Mohd Fareed Zakaria when asked why more Filipinos should visit his country. He added that this is also the reason Malaysians should come to the Philippines.

This year, Malaysia is targeting up to 16.1 million tourists, 10 million shy of their 26 million arrivals in 2019. Revenge travel is real and I won’t be surprised if we’ll be seeing more Filipinos and Malaysians flying out to visit neighbors and beyond. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s this: We must enjoy things in the present and make lasting connections with the people around us. What better way to do that than travel?