Our first visit to Asia with the children was a few years ago when they were 5 & 7 and we spent two weeks travelling around Thailand. It was such a great success and we loved seeing Asia through their eyes with everything so vibrant and exciting and different to home “Dad… I think there is a whole family on that motorbike….and no one is wearing a helmet!”
So after doing the Florida theme parks last year, we were yearning to get back to Asia. We managed to do a three week trip over Easter and visited both Bali and Langkawi (Malaysia) with the kids who were then 8 & 10 years old.
Bali seemed to tick all the boxes for an Asian adventure with everyone in the family getting a bit of what they want. The kids are happy with a swimming pool and some soft adventure activities and of course access to Wi-Fi and chocolate milkshakes! Mum likes a bit of chill out time by the pool or beach with a cocktail or two, whilst I’m happy with a bit of all of the above.
Bali itself is pretty small and has good infrastructure so it’s easy to get around, making it perfect for a family multi-centre holiday. It offers great contrasts from quiet hillside rice terraces to the white sandy islands. It still has areas where you can find fledgling surf beaches but it also has well-developed mid and high end beach resorts so something for everyone’s taste and pockets.
Our first stop in Bali was the town of Ubud, the inland cultural centre of Bali, just over an hours’ drive from the airport. Ubud is famous for being Bali’s spiritual retreat and it’s setting amongst the beautiful rice terraced hillsides that dominate the region and are quintessentially Balinese.
Ubud centre is a busy commercial set of streets, so if you want peace and quiet I’d recommend you stay a bit out of the centre. For our family, staying in the centre and having easy access to everything centrally was fine, it meant we also didn’t have to walk far for lunch and dinner. There are a few open markets in town to wander around and let the kid’s practice their haggling skills. The kids (and myself if I’m honest) loved the high quality Italian style Gelato stands that are springing up all over the place. Also some of the best food we had in Bali was in Ubud, very good quality Eastern, Western and some great fusion options in lovely restaurants with great evening ambience.
To appreciate Ubud, you need to get out the town and visit the surrounding areas. One of the holiday highlights was a half day white water rafting trip in Ubud.
We were picked up from our hotel and driven a short distance to the Ayung river. The minimum age for children is 7 years old, but it’s perfect for kids as it has lots of low grade rapids. You’ll get wet yes, but there is certainly nothing to be fearful of as a parent. Our rafting guide was fantastic with the kids and really made the 2.5 hour trip so much fun, encouraging them to shout as we went through each rapid. There was a stop at an amazing waterfall which you could stand under; we also stopped on a little island half way for a quick drink/snack and 10 minutes out the boat. Brilliant fun!
A trip to Ubud isn’t complete without a walk around the Sacred Monkey Forest which is surprisingly central in the town. The forest itself is very beautiful, very ‘Indiana Jones’ in places, but the local long tail grey monkeys are not shy, and can sometimes be aggressive if they sense you may have food. My advice is this, don’t take anything with you such as day packs, handbags, sunglasses or anything in your pockets that rustles.
Next we went to a beach on the south of Bali called Balangan and stayed in the most amazing private Villa about 5 minutes’ walk from the beach. Balangan Beach (and also Uluwatu a little further south) are real surf meccas. They have fantastic consistent rollers, peeling along the length of the beaches, but certainly not for the fainthearted! We hired a moped here and the kids loved riding pillion around the quiet lovely country roads. My daughter still says this is one of her favourite memories of the whole trip!
We took a day trip over to Jimbaran Beach and wished we stayed a few nights as I thought it was one of the best beaches on Bali (as my colleague Sophie discovered when she stayed here with her daughter). The beach is a very child-friendly bay, with wide white sands, shallow waters and smaller waves perfect for boogie boarding or first time surfers. Low key beach shacks selling milkshakes, snacks and beers line the beach and the sunsets on Jimbaran are amazing and a real highlight of the day. Grab a table at one of the seafood BBQ restaurants on the beach and enjoy a classic Balinese sunset over dinner.
We spent our last few nights in Sanur. It’s not as overdeveloped as Kuta and despite it being one of the more developed beach areas on Bali, I felt it still had a fairly laid back vibe. The beach area itself is very chilled out and the sea is almost lagoon like due to an outer reef that breaks up the bigger waves, again great for children.
As we were flying with Malaysia Airlines we took the opportunity to take a little 4 night side trip to Langkawi on the way home. It’s only an hour’s flight from Kuala Lumpur and is a lovely Malaysian island just near to the Thai border. In fact it’s possible to take a ferry over to Koh Lipe from Langkawi if you want a quick taste of Thailand (as my colleague Jonny did), or to use this as a border crossing for a longer trip into Thailand.
We stayed on Pantai Cenang beach, which is close to the airport and sits on a lovely stretch of white sand beach with small waves good for families. The main commercial street that runs parallel has everything you’d need for a family beach holiday.
We did two great day trips which I’d definitely recommend to anyone. The first we did was a trip to the Cable car and Sky Bridge. The Cable Car is the steepest in the world and takes you 708m above sea level, with amazing views from the top. Once at the top you can also walk across the Sky Bridge which is an impressive platform spanning two mountains. The kids loved the sections of glass flooring where you can see the huge drop below you. At the main base station there are lots of other attractions to keep the kids entertained. There are various simulators and immersive 4D theme park rides but the one the kids loved most was the 3D Art exhibition. A warehouse sized place with huge 3D perspective art that when you stand in the right place it looks like you’re falling into things, or about to be eaten etc. The kids spent hours snapping each other.
The next day we took a full day trip to the UNESCO GeoForest national park. We were collected from our hotel and our small group was made up of around 15 people. We had a fantastic local guide who kept it informative, but made it a lot of fun too. The boat whisked us around various parts of the Kilim National Park and stopped at Bat Caves and Mangrove swamps, we also saw Langkawi’s famous Eagles and more Monkeys! We had lunch on a floating fish farm and spent time on a deserted beach to swim and chill out. It was great to just whizz around such a stunning area for the day on a boat, you’re not on holiday until you’ve been on a boat!
Our last stop was one night in Kuala Lumpur. We arrived into KL on an early flight and checked straight into Sama-Sama airport hotel which is wonderful and located within the airport terminal so a really easy option with kids. Plenty of my colleagues who fly through KL are now familiar with this place!
We journeyed into central KL and visited the famous Petronas Twin Towers which is great for a photo shoot, but is otherwise just a high-end shopping centre. We decided to head over to the KL Tower, which is another tall needle like tower with great viewing decks both inside and outside. On the very top decks there are a few glass boxes that hang off the side of the tower and make for great photo opportunities (if you can keep your stomach from lurching!).
Close to the KL tower there is a street called Jalan Alor in the Bukit Bintang district and in the evenings it’s a foodie’s heaven. Around 6pm the street becomes pedestrianised and is crammed with restaurants, street food hawkers and is a great option for dinner and people watching.
If you’d like to visit Bali, I can help you plan the whole trip and take the pain out of the arrangements! I can recommend the best flight itineraries, great family-friendly hotels to stopover in, plus Bali family villas and beaches for the perfect tailor-made holiday. To start planning your trip, contact Jim.