So next week we are off. This time the entire family flies away for a week. We usually do one long trip per year and then we do daytrips around our home town. Last year, we went to Sweden for a month. So where are we off to this time?
Let me give you a hint: It is warm. And it has a beach. OK, not much of a hint maybe, it still leaves a lot of potential destinations.
An Accessible September Beach
There are not too many places in the northern hemisphere (which is where we are going) where the beaches still are great in September. The beaches in Japan close at the end of September (when summer offiicially ends). Except for Okinawa, where the beaches are still open in December. And the Yaeyama islands even further south, which are among the most beautiful beaches in the world. But this time, we are not going to anywhere in Japan. We are going to southeast Asia.
Malaysia, truly Asia
You have heard the jingle, and probably have a hard time getting out of your mind: Malaysia, truly Asia. And pictures of stunning white beaches and sumptuosly luxurious hotel resorts. I hope we are going to get some of those. We are going to Langkawi.
For those not familiar with it, Langkawi is an island (actually an archipelago) off the west coast of Malaysia. Located in the northwest corner of the country, it borders on Thailand. Pukhet is actually closer than Kuala Lumpur, although not by much. But Langkawi is a continuation of the archipelago on the west coast of Thailand, which also continues through Myanmar up to Bangladesh. That part of the archipelago is not as exploited as Langkawi, which even though it is a UNESCO ecopark has been a tourist destination for a long time.
The pre-trip preparation
When you have a family of six, preparations are essential. Even if three of them are going to celebrate their fifth birthday when we get home. Well, maybe that makes preparations even more essential. Finding things that are equally interesting to kids and adults is difficult. You have to do a lot of research. I have probably read all the websites about Langkawi that are in a language I can understand. You want to know and understand your destination, but even though you have read everything about the destination you do not know anything about it until you get there.
Worrying about everything, or nothing.
i find it pretty useless to plan for travel, actually. Even if I write blog posts about it. There is always so much to worry about when you travel that it is useless to do it. And then my motionsick daughter throws up her breakfast, grandma simply HAS to pee before she gets on the escalator, we go to rhe wrong terminal at Narita Airport, I forget my international drivers license at home, a meteor from outer space strikes the airplane and the alien invation starts, and any of a hundred things happen. Or do not happen, but you worry about them. Or do not worry about them - if you are prepared. Preparation is the key to a successful trip. Just do not prepare too much.
When it was only me and my wife traveling, we went somewhere and discovered what we could see. With kids, you can not really do that any more. You need a home base with some activities, beds and toilets close by. Especially the first day. Malaysia is actually much further east than you would think when looking at a map, so the time difference to Japan is only two hours. Which means I do not think jetlag will be too much to worry about. It was a real problem when we went to Hawaii, but then we found the magical solution.
Beyond jetlag worries
So even if we do not have to be worried about jet lag this time, arriving at your destination, checking into the hotel, and crashing on the bed is what you need to be prepared for. Even if you arrive on the same day as the night market in Kuah, where our hotel is. I am definitely not sure that the kids will be up for it, even if it is only a 20 minute walk. And then have the pools and beach ready for the second day. And some nice restaurant.
The first day is set, the second is pretty set too because the kids just told us they wanted to go to the pool everyday. And to the beach. And then back to the pool. So of course the pools and beach are the most important parts of this trip.
What do you need to book?
That said, there are some things you have to book in advance. A hotel for six people is not all that easy to find. Especially not a nice one. And then the flight (with the ensuing complaints from my wife that I did not book a day in Kuala Lumpur first, even though I am pretty sure I asked her... oh well. We have been married for ten years now). And a car. Making sure all our passports are current and has more than six months left. But the most important thing after booking is printing out the bookings.
I always print out everything that have to do with the trip. Not everyone agrees with this and passports are usually enough (if not then a credit card works), but once you have had a bad experience with your phone crashing you learn that the brief inconvenience are worth a lot in reduced worry.
Money is the next big thing
Making sure you have money is the next thing. Not just money in your account, but also money in your hand. I always prefer to have some of the local currency handy, because not everyone will take credit cards. Very few places are like Sweden where restaurants and hotels happily declare themselves cash-free and street vendors ask you to pay with their mobile phone. So you need some cash, and you need your credit card, and you need a way to wirhdraw more cash when you need it.
Prices in Malaysia seem to be reasonable, much more reasonable than in Hawaii or Japan. Malaysian cooking is a mix of influences from all over the world. Nonya cooking from Melaka (which is in Malaysia) is one of the great cuisines of the world, even if it probably is one of the biggest secrets in Southeast Asia.
What can you see besides the beach?
Langkawi has a lot more to offer than beaches. It is a fairly big island with rice fields and some reasonably big mountains. One of the beaches is a black sand beach, and now that the one in Hawaii is evidently engulfed by the lava flow.
The cable car, the skybridge, the ecopark, all of those are interesting to kids as well as adults. A sunset boat ride is probably also going to work for all of us, except for grandma who has severe motion sickness. But we have not booked any of it in advance, and that is actually part of the travel planning.
Building half-day itineraries
We plan but not too much. It will rain some days (more than some in September), and the kids may get tired. So figuring out what you can do in half a day works great for us. If you want to stay away a full day just connect two half-days together. That means the black sand beach plus the ecopark; the ropeway and the skybridge; Kuah town; sunset cruise. There, two days gone already. We did the same when we had the kids in their stroller, although then it was walking. Now we will have a car.
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I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.