Our First Overseas Family Trip: Langkawi, Malaysia

While work has led Seb to clock more visits to Changi Airport than I can keep track of in the past three months, until October 18th, our family had yet to leave the boundaries of Singapore. We decided that Harper’s first round trip should be a quick one and after seeking guidance from some experienced expatriates, we settled on Langkawi, Malaysia.

I wanted a beach. While it’s tropical here year round, one of the drawbacks of a small island nation is that the seas are littered with freight ships. There are few shells for my treasure hunter to find and the vibe is far from the tranquility that I typically associate with an ocean.

Penny digging in the sand at Singapore’s East Coast Park Beach. Not pictured: the ocean littered with ships and the sounds of the nearby expressway.

While Harper was technically crawling before our 20-hour flight, she was young enough that she still slept all. the. time. A 9 month old is a very different creature developmentally, especially one that is pulling up to stand and cruises all over the place. We decided a short flight time was a must, and boy was this the right decision.

Friends of our had a great experience at the Andaman Resort and we trusted their opinion enough to pull the trigger and book something for the quickly approaching mid-term school break that fell right around Seb’s birthday.

Penny dutifully told all her mates at school that she’d miss the final day of the half term and we flew out Friday afternoon, after celebrating Seb’s birthday with the fanfare three year olds insist upon.

Seb barely managing to indulge Penny’s birthday festivities.

Penny’s excitement was high, but you could tell that she’s slightly muddled from our expatriation. She asked me questions such as “Will you have to find me a new school in Langkawi?” and threw a minor fit when I told her she wouldn’t be packing all her toys, insisting she didn’t want to wait “until they came over in the boxes on the ship.” Ultimately, I think this helped her sort out the difference between a vacation and a relocation.

Near or far, baby always has to join us on a trip.

We arrived at the airport early enough to check out the famed Jewel. It was a bit disappointing as the waterfall and lush greenery was reserved for some private event and beyond that focal point it’s essentially another gigantic mall. It’s not a bad place to spend a layover, and it had a cushy nursing room, but it’s not worth visiting otherwise.

What we could see of the Jewel waterfall.

Had I been hungry, a chocolate mint pretzel sounds like my kind of “unique.”

We clocked a lot of walking and Penny sprinted down every “travelator”. We brought our single stroller with Harper’s bucket seat, and Penny wound up using it as we stood in various lines. One of the perks of being pint size is she can still squeeze in.

When she had enough of us, Penny would lower both shade covers and disappear for a bit.

Our flight time was less than an hour, but what I didn’t anticipate about this was how infuriating the minor delays of boarding and taxing would feel. Especially with an overtired infant who needed to scream off some steam before settling to sleep. Harper cried more on that fifty five minute flight than she had during our entire day long trek to Singapore. And then she rested up to wail for the entire forty minute drive to the hotel. This all made much more sense later that evening when I saw the telltale sign of congestion dripping from her nose. I had come prepared with saline spray and the trusty Nose Frieda but they were no match for the initial onslaught of the cold. After a room service dinner for the sake of efficiency, we attempted sleep. It was fragmented with wakeful periods of misery during which I got covered in a lovely combination of spit up and snot, tried a steam shower to flush some of the congestion out, and ultimately stuck her upright in the stroller and paced the hotel grounds catching glimpses of the unfolding sunrise. Thanks to a battery operated white noise machine, Penny and Seb woke up a little more ready to tackle the day.

Early morning skies in Datai Cove, Langkawi

Penny soaking in the sea.

After a morning nap that rivaled her longest stretch of nighttime sleep, Harper was ready for lunch and a dip in the pool. The resort staff was so phenomenal that I felt guilty for the sleep deprived grump on my face. Soggy from hours of swimming and water sliding.Say cheese!

A capture of her one smile that day 🙂

Sleep that night was even worse as the congestion had migrated into Harper’s chest, creating her first-ever cough, something she found both insanely disruptive and bewildering. I attempted another midnight steam shower and Seb took a 3am stroller shift, and then we were bold enough as a family to endeavor on the morning rainforest walk. It was short-lived due to too little walking – the guide stopped to lecture every two yards and this was not a sufficient clip to put Harper to sleep in the carrier. Luckily, we got to spot some pretty cool monkeys before bailing to breakfast.

A leaf mask with a perfect peephole

I stayed in the hotel room with Harper for another epic nap, joining the rest of the crew beachside when she awoke. It rained daily, but never for all that long, and the pool-beach proximity made it easy to hop from on to the other and stay outside most of the day. There were also enough other kids around to catch Penny’s interest. That night, Seb and Penny went out to dinner together while I sacraficed a well-rounded meal to cross my fingers and put Harper to bed early.

Our third day felt like a breakthrough. Harper finally slept well enough that I had just enough energy to attempt a beach run before sticking her in the carrier to nap. I finally got to soak in the scenery. There were fascinating things to behold from sand to sky and it started to feel like a vacation for me too.

Getting the entire family on the beach felt like a hard earned victory and Harper followed in her sisters footsteps as she crawled right into the surf. While her cold had spread to me by this point, overall, things began to look up. Penny fed some fish in the resort’s neat coral nursery and then we attempted an actual evening meal at a sit down Japanese restaurant. Seb and I essentially took turns walking around with Harper while the other joined Penny who was picking at her sushi.

Definitely not dressed appropriately but digging it all the same.

We had one last day during which Seb finally got to take out the sailboat, Harper was content enough to explore her surroundings, and I actually got to sit down for twenty minutes on a beach chair and just stare at the horizon. By the time we headed back to the airport in the pouring rain, it felt like we had cobbled together a memorable enough first overseas vacation despite some seriously exhausting initial hiccups. I was still so grateful that the weather didn’t cascade into what felt like an inevitable flight delay. Our bedtime flight was filled with children and definitely was trying, as Harper railed against her internal circadian rhythm and refused to close her eyes, but never before has Singapore felt more like home than when the elevator doors opened to our apartment.

Penny joined me for part of my final morning beach run.

All in all, I definitely want to continue to explore this corner of the globe while we are here, but this initial trip was a humbling reminder of what travel with small people actually looks like. Seb’s vote was we stayed one day too many, but without the last day, we’d never have gotten to do the things we were each most excited about. Had the first two days not been so impacted by a sick baby, then four days would have been plenty. Resorts definitely make traveling with kids easier, but you don’t exactly get much of a feel for a place by just dipping your toes in ocean. We have yet to book our next trip, but have some flight alerts set up for around Christmas. With no extended family to sync up with in Singapore, we’re free to do crazy things like fly somewhere on Christmas Day so who knows where we will wind up next.

Andaman Resort highlights:

    Daily, from 12-3, kids got a free ice cream cone poolside. It really gave everything a celebratory feel and they had mango, Penny’s second favorite flavor. (Her favorite, Blueberry Basil, is only available at a local shop in Glen Rock, Marc’s Cheesecake)
    Water slide! It was super fun, and safe enough that bigger kids could attempt stunts while smaller ones got enough of a thrill from a ride down on a parent’s lap
    Nature. Between the lush rainforest, the tranquil beach cove, and the super cool coral nursery there were a lot of ways to interact with the environment
    Breakfast buffet – so many choices! And as someone who likes a heaping pile of veggies at 7am, they were shockingly on board with my somewhat odd preference. Penny also stuffed herself with “inside bread”, continuing the long tradition of kids who scorn crusts, and lots of tropical fruit.
    Accommodations. Comfy beds, helpful staff, logical resort floor plan, outdoor hallways (a total blessing when you need to do laps with a stroller) and umbrellas left to borrow for the few uncover jaunts you may have to make during a downpour, it felt like they had thought of everything.

Drawbacks

  • The resort was fairly isolated, which could have presented a struggle if Harper’s condition warranted actual medical attention. It was a reminder to me to always pack the vital kids medicines even if you are traveling with healthy kids.
  • The “Kids Club” activities were a total bust. The “nature drawing” that we tried consisted of an aunty tossing a “how to draw animals” book at my kid. And when we tried to come back for nature collage, they looked at us a bit incredulously, saying that in order to do that one, they’d have to go and get some stuff from…nature. It was a fine indoor holding pen for rambunctious kids, but the programming left a lot to be desired.

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