updated 21 May 2012, 20:19
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Tue, Jun 15, 2010
The New Paper
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Looking for the perfect family getaway?
by S Murali

PICKING the right place to holiday is always a tricky thing in the Murali household.

The parents foot the bill and make the bookings, but there is a strong little lobby group prancing around the house and driving us crazy with demands.

There are certain musts for these little people: a big swimming pool, a nearby beach, comfortable hotel rooms with the Disney channel and minimal travelling time.

The last factor is also for the sanity of the parents because as soon as the plane takes off, the five-year-old typically asks: “Are we there yet?”

Keeping all this in mind, as well as the fact that we had a four-day window, my wife and I picked Penang.

Short trip

It is a great place, and you endure only about one hour of “are we there yet?” questions before arriving at Penang’s Bayan Lepas airport.

The next important task was to pick the right hotel.

Again I got lucky, thanks to the good people at Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, who invited my family to stay at their newly-renovated resort and sample their family-friendly atmosphere.

Strangely, the trip from the airport to Golden Sands took nearly as long as the flight. But that was only because we chose to holiday at the start of the Malaysian school holidays and arrived during Penang’s peak hour.

Once you reach the hotel, however, the warm staff members quickly make you forget the winding journey, helping you settle into their comfortable rooms with nary a fuss.

I requested the family combo unit, which meant that my wife and I slept in one room while 10-year-old Tara and Raul, five, were given twin beds in an adjoining room.

The next morning we were at the pool early and noticed that Golden Sands looked uncannily like Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort sister property in Singapore.
Later, I discovered that both hotels share the same designer. The older of the two is Penang’s Golden Sands, which opened in 1980.

Golden Sands underwent a RM$50 million (S$21 million) upgrade in 2008, which was completed last December, and Rasa Sentosa is also getting a makeover.
Among the upgrades are new family-friendly rooms, free Wi-Fi, a new gymnasium and a Cool Lounge.

The latter, in particular, caught my eye. Its purpose is to service early arrivals and late check-outs, so the lounge is equipped with a spacious waiting area, changing rooms, lockers, shower facilities and refreshments.

There are also books and DVDs that can be borrowed, television sets, and computers for Internet surfing.

Facilities aside, however, what really excited my kids was the hotel’s Adventure Zone, which has some scary slides and a very interesting play area.

Two of the slides look impossibly steep, but the kids slid down and made it look like, well, child’s play.

The beach just outside the resort is beautiful and great for building sandcastles.

But there are warning signs against swimming there because of the jellyfish.

Beach activities

Still, there are other things to do on the beach, depending on what sort of thrills you want. Activities include horse-riding, parasailing and riding a dune buggy.

And once you are done working up an appetite, Penang the food paradise awaits.

From the Golden Sands’ excellent Sigi’s Bar and Grill (try the 1kg tiger prawns) to the nearby hawker centres, every meal was a highlight for the family.

Although we made a beeline for the more famous eateries, like Line Clear Nasi Kandar in Penang Road, even the food outlets we hit by chance – like Karaikudi

Restaurant in Jalan Sungai Kelian – served up some delicious fare.

Then there is the shopping.

Now you Singapore shopping fans should head for Gurney Plaza, and not just because it is owned by CapitaLand.

It would rival anything Singapore has to offer and does so at better prices.

A pair of Clark’s shoes I bought in Singapore was 20 per cent cheaper at Gurney Plaza, and the branded clothes on sale were value for money.

Our best purchase of the trip? Probably a World Cup Jabulani Size 4 football (one size smaller than the one used in South Africa), which cost RM$59.90.

Nearly everyone who saw him that day talked to my son about the ball in his hand, as he proudly carried it to the airport on our way home.

Unfortunately, we were stopped at the security check point, where it was pointed out that carrying a fully-pumped ball on board was against regulations.

But in typical friendly style, one of the security officers, noticing how my son had gone all pale, went to his locker to get a pin to deflate the ball with.

That was the icing on the cake on a tremendous trip the whole family enjoyed.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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