LOOKING for affordable holidays with the family has always been a challenge.
Back when our ringgit was stronger on the foreign exchange, we did not think twice about getting cheap flights on a low-cost airline to a neighbouring destination for a quick holiday.
But now that exchange rates are not in our favour, “cuti-cuti Malaysia” is back on the table, with local destinations featuring strong on our holiday list.
Recently, during the long school holidays, I went on two separate holidays within Malaysia with my family.
One to Kuantan and another to the Berembun Forest Reserve in Negri Sembilan.
Both did not take long to travel to – the former was a three-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and the latter a one-hour drive – ideal as a quick holiday without the hassle of boarding flights.
Kuantan was a beach holiday while the Berembun Forest Reserve getaway was a back-to-nature holiday.
We went to the forest reserve with some other families and lived in a chalet compound within a gated community in the hills of Bukit Berembun.
The chalets came with an infinity pool overlooking the hills, and it was a beautiful sight for us to behold.
The compound also had fruit trees and was a short distance from trekking trails within the jungles. Sad to say, we did not do any hiking.
As we were there only on an overnight trip, and the parents just wanted to laze by the pool while enjoying a BBQ, we ended up spending all our time within the compound itself.
But the beautiful views and crisp, healthy air of the forest hills made us feel like we were at one with nature.
Hence the cheat’s way to a weekend with nature.
There was no television, and hardly any wifi coverage.
The children ended up spending most of their time in the pool or walking around the fruit orchard.
I did not hear the cries of “Mummy, I’m bored...” even once during this 24-hour getaway, even though I did very little in terms of providing entertainment for them.
They were quite happy to entertain themselves with their friends.
For children who live within the concrete jungle of a city, the joys of nature was something they were delighted with.
We had such a good time that we vowed we would be back again, if not to this place, then to another similar location for another weekend holiday.
It was an eye-opener to me that when looking online for similar places, I found a plethora of them in Malaysia, usually off smaller towns around the country.
I realised that tourism in Malaysia had diversified immensely – glamping and comfortable camping as well as cabin experiences were aplenty.
Sometime last year, we had been on a similar trip to Gopeng within a cabin compound which had loads of fruit trees and was located by the Gopeng River.
The place did not have a pool so we went swimming in the river – something my children hadn’t ever done before, and I had not done since I was a child.
It was obviously a new experience for them.
They had only been in swimming pools and the sea before; swimming in a different body of water was something which turned out to be a bit of a geography lesson for them as I explained the dangers of river currents and the soft mud of river beds.
We also went on a caving trip at nearby Gua Tempurung as part of this trip – another first for them and it turned out to be both enjoyable and educational.
And the ultimate camping experience for lazy parents like us was when the resort staff pitched a tent for the boys just outside our cabin, which meant their night in a tent and our night in an air-conditioned cabin sorted!
I recall as a child, the kind of local holidays I went on with my family usually involved beach picnics and visits to historical places of interest.
While it was enjoyable, it lacked the excitement of immersing oneself with nature.
You could only go to the jungle if you went trekking – which my parents were not inclined to do – and sporty adventures such as caving were considered highly dangerous because it was not truly developed the way it is today.
These days, I can go for those holidays which I could not as a child.
They are all local holidays and come with an affordable price tag – something a lot of us need to consider bearing the economic times we live in.
They also come with very comfortable, and in some cases even luxurious – if you are willing to pay the price – accommodation packages, within nature reserves and countryside surroundings.
It definitely is not what true die-hard jungle trekkers and outdoor sportsmen will term an activity holiday, but for those of us cheats, it’s a great way to unwind from the stress of the week.
> Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She has found a new love for holidays in Malaysia. You can get in touch with her on Twitter @sheila_stanley or via e-mail at email@example.com
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