In our opinion (whatever that’s worth) Malaysia is one of the most underrated countries in SE Asia despite being one of the most diverse. Knowing this, we were excited to dig in to see some of what Malaysia has to offer. Although we still kept some more well-known destinations at the forefront of our 2018 travel plan, we were also excited to get off-the-beaten tourist path. There is a sense of irony in how everyone (us included) wants to go to an untouched, exotic location, yet we are so dependent on advice from other travelers in deciding locations and setting plans. One of the best things about travel is getting to know and enjoy cultures and people different than our own, yet when a place becomes too touristy part of that is unfortunately lost.

[ D A Y • 1 ] Tokyo → Kuala Lumpur: Batu Caves, Merdeka Square, Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Central Market, Jamek Mosque, Petaling Street (Chinatown)

Well, hello Malaysia!!! We had a good number of reservations about booking a red-eye on Air Asia with our two little creatures, but were pleasantly surprised with how well the experience went (well, besides Penny’s 15min all out screaming tantrum at take off before falling asleep for the majority of the flight – *insert huge sigh of relief here*). Thankfully this let the rest of us all get a few hours of sleep, which was much needed as we planned to hit the ground running when we touched down.

We landed in Kuala Lumpur right as the next day was getting going  making the overnight flight worth it (plus it saved the cost of one night stay – #winning). Since our room wouldn’t be ready until later that afternoon, we opted to transfer to the hotel, quickly drop off our bags in the holding area, change clothes in the restroom, and set out adventuring! Never waste a minute.

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A limestone mountain which is home to the 400million-year-old Batu Caves (or “Batman Cave” as Miles fondly refers to it) was our first stop. Our Grab driver dropped us off at the foot of Lord Murugan, the tallest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia, and we were off!  There are a good number of steps to reach the entrance of the cave (272 to be exact!) which houses several Hindu Shrines. Although it was a bit of work, it felt so good to get out and move after the hours on a plane. When we reached the entrance, Miles was a bit disappointed not to find the superhero, but that quickly subsided when one of the resident monkeys welcomed us with a handshake!

We slowly explored the largest of the caves, Cathedral Cave, which features an amazing 100m tall arched ceiling. The site of the brightly colored temples set against the towering stone walls certainly made the climb worth it. We took some time meandering the grounds and then fueled up on coconut water before transferring to the heart of the colonial district, Datarn Merdeka, where Malaysia proclaimed its independence in 1957. In the center of the promenade sits the tallest flag pole in the world measuring 95m, proudly flying the Malaysian flag. With the contrasting architecture of modern skyscrapers and classic mosques, the skyline surrounding the open field was something to behold!

Afterward, we strolled over to Central Market (“Pasar Seni”), a market whose roots date back to 1888 when it originally served as a wet market.  This stop was perfect opportunity for chowing down on some local fare for lunch, cooling off, and to trying our hands at batik painting (this is one of the few art projects we have ever seen Miles enjoy and complete…ever). Batik is a craft/artform that has been practiced for centuries, using a combination of wax and dye. Hot wax is dripped onto the cloth, which prevents the dye from taking hold in that area. After the artist has finished dying the fabric, the wax is then removed, revealing the final product. Once finished, our batik paintings served as a great souvenir to remember our time in Malaysia.

We truly loved that this market was a fantastic mix of Maylay, Chinese, and Indian cultures. Hungry, we headed upstairs to the food court to try some of the local fare before leaving – delicious & cheap! We knew we had just a bit more time before the afternoon thunderstorm rolled in thanks to Dark Sky, so we quickly visited Jamek Mosque, the oldest Islamic place of worship in KL, and the center of the Islamic faith in Kuala Lumpur until the National Mosque was built in 1965.

We headed back to the hotel just as the rain started, checked into our room, and relaxed for a few minutes until the sky cleared. The kids (+ us!) had been really excited to check out the rooftop pool ever since we booked The Face Suites, so obviously that had to be our next stop. Holy city views!! Post-sunset, we dried off (towels are provided at the hotel pool, just show them your room key) and headed out for some street eats along Petaling Street in Chinatown (Never pay full-price here – always bargain if you see something you like!). It was a great, albeit exhausting, first day. The kids continue to impress me with their resilience. KL, we really dig you already!

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The Face Suites: Our hotel had the highest rooftop pool in Kuala Lumpur, and it was every bit as amazing as it looks. In fact, the view was so good that we ended up skipping going up in the famous Petronas Towers for a city view. In our opinion one of the coolest parts of the KL skyline ARE the Petronas Towers themselves! Book The FaceSuites for your trip Here.

Budget Airline Tip: If you haven’t flown budget airlines like Air Asia before we do encourage you to come prepared! What do we mean prepared? Well, expect nothing except for transport from point A to point B and zero frills. Traveling with kids? Bring some easily packable blankets, something to drink, and either pre-order a meal or bring reliable snacks! You can most certainly purchase meals on board the aircraft, but they will cost more than pre-ordering.  Budget airlines are a great way to save and maximize your travel dollars, but can also set us parents up for failure and a pretty miserable experience (see our flight home from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo below – ugh!).

Transfer Tip: We initially had a difficult time getting a Grab car to come pick us up in front of the hotel. However, if you walk a bit away from the entrance of larger hotels you’ll have better luck getting a Grab car to accept your request for pick-up. Grab was substantially cheaper than taxis while we were there, plus you can pay with card using the app making the transaction more seamless.

Batu Caves:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2100
  • Admission: Free

Central Market:

  • Hours: 1000 – 2100
  • Admission: Free

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Jamek Mosque:

  • Hours: Saturday – Thursday, 0830 – 1230 and 1430 – 1630
  • Admission: Free

Jamek Mosque Tip: Robes are available at the entrance to cover-up before heading in to explore.

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Petaling Street:

  • Hours: Daily, ~1500 – 2200
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y • 2 ] Kuala Lumpur: Village Park, KL Eco Park, Upside-down House, Sri  Mahamariamman Temple, KL Bird Park, Jalan ALor Night Street Market

It’s rare, but every now and then I get a small moment where I feel like a fly on the wall watching the kids. So many times I get caught up in the logistics of our daily life that I forget to take a step back and just appreciate the here & now. So, here’s a little glimpse into the morning – Miles explaining to Penny that we are hanging out in KL (the fact that he even knows where that is on a map just rocks my world). He’s a pretty terrific big bro and although they bicker like all siblings their bond is pretty sweet. Don’t mind my exploding heart over here!

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We had been given a recommendation from a good friend who lived in KL a few years ago to start off the day by indulging in Nasi Lemak, a popular Maylay dish, at Village Park for breakfast, so we headed there first. I love that Dom and I have friends that have lived all over the world and that can give us insight into their ‘ol stomping grounds. It makes trips so much more special and usually leads us to things we might have missed without those connections – thank you, Cara! Post-breakfast (and if you’re wondering Penny did in fact pull-it-together once the food arrived!), we headed to KL Eco Park to stroll through one of the oldest permanent tropical rain forest reserves in Malaysia and the only remaining stretch of tropical rainforest within the Kuala Lumpur city limits.

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Since Miles had put in 30,000+ steps the previous day (his Garmin vivofit is one of the main ways we motivate him throughout our trips, especially the ones that involved a good bit of walking. Check it out Here!) we promised him some silliness @the Upside Down House (located right at the exit of the KL Eco Park making it a convenient reward) for not complaining about any of the walking between stops (we opted to travel stroller-free on this trip).

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After, the ridiculousness of the Upside Down House there was a unanimous vote of “YES!” to travel back to Central Market for another amazing (+ cheap) lunch (Dom watched the kids here, so I could have some solo time and try my hand at batik painting, too – Happy Mother’s Day to me!).

We made a quick stop in Chinatown at the oldest Hindu temple in KL, Sri Mahamariamman, which dates back to 1873, and then it was off to the world’s largest covered bird park! With 3,000 birds calling the park “home” it does take some time to see. Plan on ~2hours to see the whole park at a leisurely pace as it’s fairly big (think 2x the size of Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park!).

We finished the day off with yet another rooftop pool swim (seriously couldn’t get enough of this view!) and then a short walk to Jalan Alor Night Street Market for live music and street eats. Lots of restaurants in this market have tables and chairs set up outside on the street, so just pick one that looks interesting and grab a chair! There are lots of opportunities to try something unusual, so try to be a little adventurous!

I don’t remember exactly what we picked off menu, but I do remember thinking it was delicious! Over the course of the evening we ended up striking up a conversation with a lovely Malaysian family that was sitting at a neighboring table. It seemed that most people were ecstatic about the recent political election results (*insert BIG exhale here*). Honestly, we were a little worried before the trip as it never once occurred to us to check on the political scene before booking tickets. Given the political history it seemed that it could be a bit rocky depending on the election results. Another good lesson learned here: Try to have an idea of any upcoming elections or conflicts before heading to somewhere slightly off the beaten path.  Anyway, we’re thrilled that everything turned out peacefully and all in all, it was one heck of a Mother’s Day thanks to my beautiful tribe!

Village Park:

  • Hours: Monday – Friday 0630 – 1730, Saturday and Sunday 0630 – 1600

Village Park Tip: Try the Nasi Lemak!

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KL Eco Park:

  • Hours: 0700 – 1800
  • Admission: Free

KL Eco Park Tip: There is a great little information center prior to reaching the park that is filled with tidbits about the forest reserve. Additionally, it’s air-conditioned and has a small kids’ play area on the second floor and the best part? It’s FREE. To head to the canopy walk, take an immediate right after exiting the museum; it’s impossible to miss!

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Upside-Down House:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1900
  • Admission: Rm20/Adult, Rm15/Child

Sri Mahamariamman Temple:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2100
  • Admission: Free

Sri Mahamariamman Temple Tip: Make sure to have your knees covered before visiting and be prepared to remove your shoes and check them for a nominal fee before entering (they told us that we weren’t allowed to carry them inside even in a bag).

KL Bird Park:

  • Hours: 0600 – 1800
  • Admission: RM63/Adult, Rm42/Child. We didn’t realize it soon enough, but deals can be had on klook.com if you book ahead of time!

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Jalan Alor Night Street Market:

  • Hours: 24/7
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y • 3 ] Kuala Lumpur: Brickfields/Little India, KL Butterfly Park, Perdana Botanical Garden, Masjid Negara, Thean Hou Temple, Towers (view from bottom), KLCC Park

On our last day in KL, we started in Brickfield’s Little India where Miles busted some moves on the street (goodness I love this kid’s style!) and we enjoyed some dosai and bru coffee for breakfast at Chat Marsala. Fueled up, we headed to the Butterfly Park. Our kids LOVE insects, so stops like this are big motivators. The more we travel the more we have come to realize that planning motivational stops like this not only helps with behavior, but also aids in keeping our kids moving.

Perdana Botanical Gardens were just a mere 10 minute walk away, so we ventured on over to get out some wiggles on the playground before exploring Malaysia’s National Mosque, Masjid Negara. One of the nicest things about Perdana Botanical Gardens is that it does not allow public traffic through, so as a parent you can somewhat relax, which is really nice when you’re adventuring around a new and very busy city. There are still park service vehicles and motorbikes, however, so don’t expect to be able to completely let your guard down, but it is nice to have the opportunity to let them walk (run in Miles case) a bit ahead. The gardens are beautiful, but more than anything our kids enjoyed the brief independence. 

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Naturally, we followed our visit to the “blue mosque” with a stop at a Chinese Temple, Thean Hou, situated on a hill overlooking the city and dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Mazu. One of the things we have loved most about this trip is the unique blend of the country’s three main ethnic groups (Indian, Chinese, and Maylay) and how you can easily experience a bit of each one daily. A visit to this temple fit in best for our family during the day, although just look at those lanterns! I think getting here in the evening and seeing them illuminate the temple would be pretty breathtaking as well. Maybe getting here just before dusk would be best? Either way it’s a beautiful place to be and catch a killer view of KL.

Our last stop before landing back at The Face Suites was Suria KLCC Park, a 50 acre urban green space, to marvel at the foot of the Petronas Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world), and to check out yet another playground! This area has a lot going on and is a great spot to meander and relax. Jogging trails, sculptures, a fountain, wading pool, and a already mentioned two-acre playground (our kid’s favorite part) make this a must stop.

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With all of the walking over the past three days (Miles’ little legs logged 93,000steps in total), we promised Miles that we would Grab Car back to our hotel (a SE Asia version of Uber). When our driver pulled up Miles was STARSTRUCK! As luck would have it our driver drove a SPIDER-MAN car!!! Solid way to end our time in KL. We (of course) hit up the pool one last time before crashing for the night. We head out bright and early to the east coast to visit Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands next!

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Brickfields Little India:

  • Hours: 1000 – 2100
  • Admission: Free

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KL Butterfly Park:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1800
  • Admission: RM12/Adults, RM7/Children. Family admission (2 adults and 3 kids) Rm38.

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Perdana Botanical Garden:

  • Hours: 0700 – 2000 everyday
  • Admission: Free

Masjid Negara:

  • Hours: 0900 – 2300 Saturday through Thursday; 0245 – 1800 Friday. You may enter only when prayers are over and will need to have shoulders and legs covered. Robes are on loan before entering (free).
  • Admission: Free

Thean Hou Temple:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1800
  • Admission: Free

Petronas Towers/KLCC Park:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1900. Closed for Friday prayers 1300 – 1430.
  • Admission: Prices vary by how high you want to go. We opted not to go up in the towers due to the fact that our hotel had a killer view of the skyline. However, if you would like to take a ride and experience Petronas book your tickets through klook.com for around $25USD for admission to observation deck on floor 86.

[ D A Y • 4 ] Kuala Lumpur → Kota Bharu → Perhentian Islands

We landed in Kota Bharu just as the sun was beginning to rise. A long van ride to Kuala Besut Jetty and a short ferry ride later, we finally had toes in the sands of the Perhentian Islands (Besar). Besar is the bigger of the two islands and it’s a bit more developed than its smaller neighbor, Kecil.

We found the accommodations there to be better appointed, and there were more restaurant options as well. If you can manage it, snag a room on the beachfront, as it allows you to enjoy the beach while still setting aside nap time for your littles. We do a lot of “napping-on-the-go” when we travel, but if there is a way to get our kids down for a formal nap without missing out on adventures we are all for it. The Perhentian Islands were a highlight of our trip, and if you head to Malaysia don’t miss out on them!  The coral, beaches, marine life, people, and the crystal clear waters were incredible. We thought our hotel, Tuna Bay Resort, was great for both the beach and accommodations. Snorkeling through the reefs right off the shoreline seriously felt like swimming through a huge aquarium…all within sight of our room.

Since we were able to arrive on the island early afternoon we were able to enjoy a good half-day on the beach and then do a little sunset trekking before dinner. Sunsets in Perhentian are pretty epic and most of the beaches are pretty empty, so this translates to an amazing way to round out the day before dinner. When the alarm went off that morning, our 0600 flight didn’t sound like that great of an idea, but wading into the warm island waters as the sun sets casting purple and pink hues into the sky? Maybe it was a pretty great idea after all.

[ D A Y • 5 ] Perhentian Islands (Besar & Kecil)

We woke early, enjoyed a beachside breakfast at Tuna Bay Resort, and set out for a day of hiking, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach. To be honest, Perhentian wasn’t initially on our radar when we outlined plans for our Malaysian adventure, but when a good friend of ours brought them up and we took a look, well, it was love at first sight. We immediately deviated from what we had originally worked up and focused on reworking a good bit of our holiday to include some “island time.” I feel so blessed to be able to experience the magic of this area, as much of these eastern Malaysian islands remain untouched. In fact, we never saw an actual road on the island and the only way to get from place to place was to trek (through the jungle), or hire a water taxi (for $4 – 5 USD) to take you from one one deserted little island to another.

Tony, our main server at Tuna Bay Resort had become good friends with the kids and so we asked how we could best utilize our time on the islands over dinner the previous night. He gave us a map and helped us chart out a great day of adventures. So, yes, we took his recommendations and they were fabulous! We headed from Turtle Bay to Long Beach to Coral Bay, and barely saw another soul besides our water taxi drivers the entire time. It was one of our favorite travel days ever.

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At our last stop, Romantic Beach, we found ourselves alone again, and I decided to go snorkeling while Dom watched the kids (we had been trading off throughout the day). I ended up running into a shark (thankfully it was just a reef shark, so completely harmless), and I freaked! Totally not expecting that, and it got my heart pounding and my adrenaline pumping.  It didn’t leave me with quite the romantic feeling I had pictured to end the day, but made for a great memory nonetheless.

Our second night again ended with another ridiculous sunset. I’ll be the first to admit that the islands aren’t the easiest to get to and certainly take a bit more planning, but they’re soooo worth it! I hope Dom and I have the opportunity to come back and dive in these waters again soon.

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[ D A Y • 6 ] Perhentian Islands → Kota Bharu → Cameron Highlands

We left the islands behind (*tear*) and rented a car in Kota Bharu to drive into the mountains and experience Cameron Highlands (the Highlands are ~5,250ft above sea level). Although we are used to driving on the left, the windshield wipers and turn signal were reversed (compared to Japan) and we found many of the traffic rules seemed to be more like mere “suggestions.” 5 crazy, bumpy, hours later though we made it (all in one piece, too!). The cooler temperatures were certainly a nice change to the heat and humidity of the islands. This was mainly a travel day, so not many pictures.

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One of the curious things that stood out was how many old Land Rover Defenders we saw. I’m not sure if it is because of the past British colonization or if they are just the most dependable vehicles on the planet, but there must have been 100+ of them still hard at work carting produce, people, and equipment around this very agricultural area. I would love to know the story behind each of them. We checked into the Strawberry Park Resort, kicked off our shoes, and ordered room service for dinner. Lots of space for the kids to run around and play and a two bedroom suite gave everyone plenty of room to stretch out.

Side Note: If you plan on renting a car at all during your stay don’t forget to get that international driver’s license – easy mistake to make when planning!

[ D A Y • 7 ] Cameron Highlands: BOH Plantation, Mt. Brinchang, Mossy Forest Boardwalk, Sam Poh Wan Futt Chi Temple, Siri Thandayuthapani Swamy Temple, Brinchang Night Market

We woke up and enjoyed the view from the balcony of our incredible (and affordable) room at Strawberry Park Resort. We ate breakfast overlooking the BOH Tea Plantation at BOH Sungai Tea Centre, one of the largest tea producers in the area, and then drove to the top of Gunung Brinchang (the highest point in Cameron Highlands – ~2,000m above sea level). Although we struck out on the view atop the mountain (due to cloud cover) I feel very fortunate that the weather cooperated for nearly our entire trip, as the forecast didn’t look inviting the week before we left.

We filled the afternoon with a brief walk through the Mossy Forest, trying our first steamboat (Indian cuisine) at Ferm Nyonya (so spicy I cried while eating it), exploring two temples (Sam Poh Wan Futt Chi and Sri Thandayuthapani Swamy) and a stop at Brinchang Night Market to grab some delicious street eats and strawberries. This area of Malaysia honestly feels like you’re stepping into a scene of Lord of the Rings – breathtakingly green.

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BOH Sungai Tea Centre:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1630 (closed Mondays)
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free

Gunung Brinchang:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free

Mossy Forest:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free

Mossy Forest Tip: We stuck to the small boardwalk due to time constraints (hence the sandals), but you could very easily make this into a much more difficult and muddy excursion! From what we have heard many of the trails are not well-marked, so a guided tour of some sort might be best! If you stick to the boardwalk like we did it’s super self-explanatory.

Ferm Nyonya Restaurant:

  • Hours: Everyday, 1130 – 1530, 1730 – 2200

Sam Poh Wan Futt Chi Temple:

  • Hours: 24 hours
  • Admission: Free

Sri Thandayuthapani Swamy Temple:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2300
  • Admission: Free

Brinchang Night Market:

  • Hours: 1500 – 2400
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y • 8 ] Ipoh: Art of Old Town, Artisan, Ipoh World Han Chin Pet Soo, Concubine Lane, Perak Cave Temple, Gunung Lang Lake, Sam Poh Thong, Kek Look Tong

I had read a couple months ago in The NY Times about the city of Ipoh (Malaysia’s third most populous city) and its slow resurgence since coming out of a decline in the 1980s (locals consider it “the town that tin built”). It has turned from a run-down industrial town to a city rich in art and a burgeoning foodie scene. In the article it specifically mentioned how one causal restaurant really stood out in old town; so on a whim we figured a day trip to check it out would be worth the time (~2hour drive from Cameron Highlands).

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Mr. Lau, the owner of Artisan Handmade Bread, was every bit as kind as the write-up suggested and every bit as talented when it came to crafting delicious food. I definitely don’t classify myself as a “foodie,” but this may have been one of my very favorite experiences of the trip… all for 33 Malaysian Ringgit per person (~$8usd). We truly have met some of the sweetest people during our time here and this is one more instance where it is true – it’s the people that you are with and that you meet along the way that make a trip memorable.

We spent the rest of our time strolling around the city meandering down streets like Concubine Lane, marveling at various “Art of Old Town” works (street art), exploring Ipoh World at Han Chin Pet Soo (tea museum), and taking in several limestone cave temples (Perak Cave Temple, Sam Poh Thong, and Kek Look Tong)! What a day!! One last night in Cameron Highlands before driving back to Kuala Lumpur to jet back to Tokyo!

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Artisans:

  • Hours:  0930 – 1600 Wednesday – Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday
  • Admission: $5 – 15 for some of the best food you have ever had (#worthit)

Ipoh World at Han Chin Pet Soo:

  • Hours: 0930 – 1700, Closed Mondays
  • Admission: Free

Perak Cave Temple:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1800
  • Admission: Free

Sam Poh Thong:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1700
  • Admission: Free

Kek Look Tong:

  • Hours: 0700 – 1730
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y • 9 ] Cameron Highlands → Kuala Lumpur → Tokyo

And that’s a wrap! Penny screamed a good bit on the plane ride back (despite having two seats to herself, again). Miles slept and played with his cars (goodness, I really like age 4). Dom and I took turns “relaxing” (if you could even call it that) in between trying to appease Penny. Traveling with kids is ridiculously hard sometimes, but I often remind myself that “hard” is not the same as “bad” and as much as I was more than ready to get off that plane; I am so excited for our next adventure. We will miss Malaysia, it was definitely one of our top two favorite international trips since moving to Japan! Now where to next?!

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