The Smith and Pisecky Families
Travelers: Brigitte and Alistair Smith and their kids Sebastian (age 9) and India (6), both students at Dulwich College Beijing. They traveled with friends Katerina and Petr Pisecky and their kids Magdalena (age 7) and Lukas (5), who attend The British School of Beijing and Eduwings Kindergarten respectively.
Destination: Borneo and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dates: December 22-January 4
Cost: Approximately RMB 34,000 for a family of four. This includes flight tickets for RMB 16,000 (booked at a special rate three months in advance), hotel accommodations for RMB 7,900, and spending money totaling around RMB 10,000. Alistair got an employee discount for Hilton Hotels and Resorts, but notes that common rates for the places they stayed at ranged from RMB 500 to 800 per night.
Tour company: None. The travelers arranged everything themselves using Malaysia Airlines’ website for flights, Hilton Worldwide’s website for accommodations, and TripAdvisor and Malaysia’s official tourism website for information. They stayed at the Hilton Kuching, Batang Ai Longhouse Resort (managed by Hilton), and DoubleTree by Hilton, Kuala Lumpur.
Last Christmas, we flew Malaysia Airlines from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur and then connected to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state on the island of Borneo. Also known as the “City of Cats,” Kuching is where we spent most of our stay. The first three days, we were at the Hilton Kuching. We then headed to Batang Ai National Park on the border of Indonesia and stayed at Batang Ai Longhouse Resort for three nights. After that, we returned back to Kuching to explore some more and to celebrate the arrival of 2013. After New Year’s in Kuching, both families headed to Kuala Lumpur. In KL, the Piseckys stayed at the Doubletree Hilton while the Smiths stayed with friends at the Pavilion Residences.
Following an eight-hour delay in Kuala Lumpur due to a missed connection, two tired families boarded the evening flight to Kuching. As we approached Borneo, we began to experience bad weather; by the time we approached Kuching, wind and rain were buffeting the plane and the pilot was telling everyone to strap in tight. We landed in a massive storm, which the locals on the flight described as some of the worst weather they have ever experienced. There was little to see as we aproached the city or drove to our hotel in the hour or so that followed.
By contrast, the view out of the hotel window the next morning was spectacular. The river and the lush green jungle seemed to grow right into the center of Kuching. Over the following days, we got to see Bako National Park, Jong’s Crocodile Farm, Batang Ai Longhouse Settlement, Damai Beach, and Semeggoh National Reserve.
Some of the highlights included unspoiled rainforest and deserted beaches at Bako National Park, high-altitude jungle canopy walk bridges in Batang Ai rainforest, the Rainforest Smuggler’s Trail near the Indonesian border, the James Brooke Cafe by the river in Kuching (where we ate some of the best laksa we’ve ever had), and the Top Spot Food Court, where we enjoyed rooftop dining with an amazing array of fresh seafood and other dishes representing Thai, Indonesian, Chinese and traditional Sarawak cuisine.
The Christmas Day trip to Bako National Park, entering from the open sea through high waves on a flat-bottomed motor boat, was the highlight of the trip. We hiked through pristine rainforest, traversed a petrified forest on the beach, swam in incredible surf on the coast, and saw endangered proboscis monkeys – all in one day.
According to the Piseckys, the breakfast at the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur was probably the best buffet breakfast they have ever experienced (they live a hotelier’s life and have been to many hotels). The homemade Indian banana bread (a crepe-like dough filled with fresh bananas and roasted in front of us until the banana melted in to the dough) was simply yum!
For us, the bamboo barbecue in the rainforest after swimming in a pristine jungle waterfall was a real highlight. The hotel team cooked us lunch over a barbecue pit, which included fresh fish, chicken, and rice steamed inside thick bamboo trunks.
- Malaysia is a democratic and tourist-welcoming country, with a great mix of cultures. Kuching had clearly identifiable Chinese and Indian communities, in addition to the majority Malay population. All the locals we met were very friendly, the food was fantastic, prices were very affordable (cheaper than China) and – most importantly – safe (apart from the crocodiles, of course).
- Malaysia can accommodate active holidays filled with jungle treks, boat rides, and hiking or relaxing getaways with plenty of beach resorts, turquoise sea, chilled cocktails, and delicious tropical fruit. Whether your children are still young or soon to be grownups, this is a great place for a family holiday.
- The weather around Christmas is hot, sunny and humid, with average temperatures of around 28°C. There were one or two heavy tropical showers, but they cleared up very quickly.
- Light cotton trousers are recommended for jungle hikes to avoid mosquito bites and scratches from jungle foliage. The ground tends to get a bit wet and slippery in parts and you may have to walk through shallow streams, so hiking shoes with good grips are also recommended.
- Mosquito repellent and antihistamines are a must, especially on jungle hikes.
Photos courtesy of the Smith and Pisecky Families
This article originally appeared on p32-33 of the beijingkids July 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com