South East Asia is often thought of as a very far away and exotic destination for families in Europe. However with the start of low cost routes like the one offered by Norwegian Airlines and its new London to Singapore route, many of the South East Asia’s top destinations are becoming much more accessible and affordable to families, whether its for a two week family holiday or family gap year.
We have just spent the last 8 months in South East Asia as part of our family Gap Year with our young daughters. We’ve picked out our favourite destinations in South East Asia, although some may seem off the tourist trail, all are safe and accessible to families.
Due to it’s strategic location, Singapore is great hub to fly in and out of: we would recommend 2-3 days in the city and stay at Sentosa Island resort where you have lots of family attractions including a beach on your doorstep. Most hotels have a free shuttle bus to take you into the city centre. We stayed at the very family friendly W Singapore – Sentosa Cove.
Be sure to visit the Gardens By The Bay; featuring futuristic-looking super-trees that tower over the gardens as well as cooled conservatories and glass greenhouses that are home to a stunning myriad of flora.
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
KL is such a great city for families, a melting pot of cultures and history it’s a must visit. We only touched the surface, with great public transport and easy to use taxi services; like Grab getting around the city with kids is hassle free. There are so many parks and attractions for children that I guarantee you will never get board. One of our favourite things to do in the city was visiting KL Bird Park right in the centre and walk around the biggest open air aviary in the world.
3. Georgetown, Penang ( Malaysia)
Although we were disappointed with the beaches in Penang. George Town is definitely worth a visit and even if you just go, to eat yourself silly, Penang is famous for some of the best food in the whole of Malaysia, from delicious curries to seafood. Make sure you stroll around the old town searching for Street Art and visit the Blue Mansion. Penang is easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur, we took the train and Ferry from Kuala Lumpur which was an experience in itself and the kids loved it. The island also has some very well organized kids attractions like the Entopia butterfly farm that we visited.
4. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
If you’re adventurous family like us and love island life, white sandy beaches and snorkelling adventures Perhentian Island is a must visit. Tourism on the islands is still low key with no big five star resorts yet.
Our two daughters Bella and Maya had just learnt to swim, so we’re excited to take them on there first snorkelling trip, you can imagine their excitement when we told them we were visiting a place called Nemo’s garden, to find a real a life Nemo. Our days were spent playing on the beach building sand castles and snorkelling. Our trip here was one of the highlights of our 8 months in Asia.
We stayed one week at the Perhentian Island Resort which has probably the beast beach on the island of Pulau Perhentian Besar.
5. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
HCMC Is a great starting point in the south of the country. We always recommend visiting capital cities with kids, they are the beating heart of the country that show you so much about the inner workings of place and it’s people. You might see some of the strangest sites and eat the strangest of foods, but this is when the best travel memories are made.
HCMC is also a great starting point to visit the Mekong Delta. A word of warning: the busy roads and traffic takes a bit of getting use to. If you have young kids make you use a sling or baby carrier, pushchairs are difficult to manoeuvre on the uneven pavement and roads.
6. Hoi An, Vietnam
We completely fell in love with Hoi An, so much so we made it our home for two and half months, during our trip. The beauty of Hoi An is that you have a rich historical town that is well preserved and sits on the river, and only 2km from the town you have An Bang beach.
Hoi An old town is small enough to walk on foot or cycle around, but also big enough to get lost in. The buildings have been preserved and traditionally restored. Through out the year there are numerous culture events taking place celebrating Vietnamese culture and history, we were lucky enough to be there during TET new year celebrations in February, during this time the whole town is decorated with brightly coloured lanterns.
For kids there are loads of things to keep them amused: our favourites were Jack’s cat cafe, the pottery village and best of all head to Ang bang Beach for swimming and sandcastles. Also you will notice there are so many talented artisans in Hoi An make sure you get something unique made at the many tailor shops.
7. Uluwatu, Bali Indonesia
Although Indonesia and especially Bali has been on the radar of Australian families for years. It has now become more accessible to Europeans too. Most families immediately head to Sanur, but we would recommend heading to Uluwatu instead. Its quieter and slightly off the tourist trail famed for it’s surfing breaks.
Get out and explore some wild beaches, we also managed to find some great beaches for swimming with the girls. Due to the many surfers that visit the area there is great laid back atmosphere and lots of healthy family friendly restaurants to eat in. For the best experience try renting a small villa on airbnb near Uluwatu.
8. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is a must see if you visit Bali, its called the cultural heart of Bali, although the town centre is very busy and over run with tourists. If you venture out into the countryside and the maze of paddy fields you get a glimpse of traditional Balinese life which involves working in the paddy fields and praying and taking offerings to the Hindu temples.
Make sure you hire motorbikes or a driver and explore the out skirts of Bali. Our favourite attractions were Monkey temple and Tirta Empul temple which is an important temple complex and holy mountain spring, located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali.
9. Gili Meno, Indonesia
If the motorbikes and traffic of Bali all get a bit too much, head to Gili Meno a short ferry ride from Bali. There are no mortised vehicles on the the islands, horse and cart or bicycle is the main mode of transport. Our favourite island was Gili Meno although there are less amenities it is quieter and if you go snorkelling off the beach I guarantee you will spot a turtle. We stayed at the quiet boutique Hotel Seri resort.
To get to Gili Islands we would recommend taking the Patagonia Express ferry service.
10. Koh Lanta ,Thailand
Koh Lanta is such a family friendly island: you can get there from either Phuket or Krabi airport and then arrange a transfer including the ferry to the island. The beaches are great for kids the water is shallow and calm. There is various accommodation options from 5* hotels we stayed at the family friendly Crown Lanta Resort but there are also rustic beach bungalows. There are lots of outdoor activities to do from Kayaking to snorkelling.
Flying to and From Asia
We flew back from Singapore using Norwegian Airlines, which is such a great airline to use for families, the price of the tickets make a family holiday to Asia really affordable. Before you purchase your ticket, options are given to include inflight meals and a baggage allowance. If you decide not to include these, the price of the ticket is much lower.
Norwegian airlines use brand new 787 dream liner with:
- Comfortable seats with plenty of space for your legs,
- Fresh air and optimal cabin pressure resulting in less jet lag
- 65% larger windows than in comparable planes
- Smart mood lighting
I was a little skeptical as to how much these features would enhance our comfort and experience. The truth is we did notice that the air seemed fresher, and I (Felicity) didn’t get any sinus problems, which I’m normally plagued with after long flight. But most importantly once we finally landed in London we didn’t seem to feel so tired or jet lagged.
The entertainment system was great too and includes a fantastic selection of kids films and games which kept the girls entertained for hours. Also Marco and I managed to watch three films each, which is totally un heard for us as we are normally wrangling the girls.
For further details about flying with Norwegian airlines see below.
- Fly a twice daily direct service between London Gatwick and Singapore Airport
- Flights are operated by a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and economy
- Fares start from £155 one way / £265 return in economy and £525 one way / £955 return in Premium including all taxes and charge
- Inflight entertainment
To book visit www.norwegian.com/uk
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