These destinations might technically require a passport out of Singapore, but there are easy beach family holiday destinations to be had beyond Sentosa that don’t require a plane ticket. (Although if you are looking for a staycation, Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa has an impressive kids’ club.) Whether you live in the Lion City or you are using Singapore as a stopover, or you are based in Southern Malaysia, here’s an easy way to travel with kids to some great family holidays destinations and soak up the waves and the salt water without actually doing much commuting at all.
Batu Batu, Malaysia
The latest chic resort catering to Singaporean holiday weekenders boasts a sea view from every villa. There are seven beaches and snorkeling is ideal for kids. They offer bottle sterilizers, baby purees, children’s DVDs – everything to entice the young family. The restaurant is also divine.
Perhaps the one major downside is that you need to be wary of crawling infants and toddlers around the large balconies. Our tip is that it’s worth taking a stroller. Much of the resort is surrounded by a boardwalk, so it’s probably safer to keep small kids strapped in when using those access ways.
There is the additional hassle of having to drive 3 hours to Malaysia, park the car at (the secure carpark at) Mersing and then catch the 20 minute speedboat, but at what price paradise?
Before there was Batu Batu
there was Nikoi. Another beautifully kitted out resort, Nikoi prides itself on
modernising traditional Indonesian architecture and integrating with its
landscape. Which means sometimes there are turtles that lay eggs on the beaches and those are pristine. (In fact, the ecology is impressive – the
island boasts a mangrove area and plenty of water activities for older kids.)
The flip side is there is no air conditioning or televisions in the rooms. Even Internet is only intermittent. The dining room also consists of one giant communal table made out of driftwood – which looks stunning but does mean you are eating with strangers. Still, this rustic chic is exactly what makes Nikoi so charming – like a luxury Robinson Crusoe getaway.
It is a bit of a commute to get there. After taking the ferry to Bintan, it is a windy 45 minute drive around to the other side of the island plus another short ferry trip. Take travel sickness tablets for kids with sensitive tummies.
[For more details about Nikoi, read the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Bintan has long been one of Singapore's favourite family holidays destinations with kids in Indonesia and boasts several family-friendly resorts so it’s really a matter of taking your pick.
Prices at Club Med, which has the holy grail in their famed kids’ club, are extremely seasonal – keep an eye out as it can range from quite reasonable to exorbitant.
Nirwana Gardens is better year-round value. It’s not glamorous, but it also has a kids’ club as well as several family-friendly forms of entertainment including an elephant ride, flying fox, horse riding, paintballing and bowling. While the beach is not stunning, the tradeoff is the commute from Singapore is one straightforward ferry ride.
If you are checking in with young toddlers, request a room close to the pool as the resort is large and it can be quite a distance to walk.
Or if you're looking for lots of different activities, Bintan Lagoon Resort is the largest of all the resorts on Bintan. It has a huge volume of water sports and jungle activities that can keep the entire family occupied for multiple days including two golf courses, two swimming pools, the beach and adrenalin-pumping sports like paintball and go-karting. It's other major advantage over the other properties on Bintan is that it has it's own private, direct ferry from Singapore straight to the resort beach. [For more travel tips on things to do at Bintan Lagoon Resort with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa, Malaysia
This is by far the easiest beach (apart from Sentosa) to get to via car from Singapore. If you negotiate the Malaysian border crossing carefully (early morning is best particularly on long weekends and it is always worthwhile taking the long route via Tuas rather than the busier Woodlands crossing) the commute can be under 2 hours.
The drive is very straightforward which means you can literally fill your car up without worrying about weight or luggage restrictions. (Although there is a shop if you forget something vital.)
The beach is very child-friendly – the waves are small, it’s quite clean and it’s not a great distance between the start of the beach and the water. The pool also caters to all ages with a lap pool section, toddler pool and waterslide. There are also plenty of indoor kids’ activities for rainy days. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue.]
The major downside is the service. When it plays host to functions, any pool-facing rooms are subject to some very noisy partying until midnight. Housekeeping during your stay is basic, at best, and there are only 2 unmemorable restaurants to choose from. But if you’re desperate for some salt water, these may be small inconveniences.
Rawa Island Resort, Malaysia
Rawa is rustic. So if you are fastidious about something stylish and chic or you must have modern creature comforts, this is not the place for you. There are no televisions in the room, no bathtubs in which to soak and unreliable Internet access. For those reasons, if you are very fussy, it may not be somewhere to take newborns.
But the huge plus is the glorious beach. It’s a good thing the beach is so gorgeous because most of the activities are based around it from snorkeling to kayaking to volleyball – plus the two brilliant waterslides from the pier. There is very little else at the resort – no swimming pool, one small shop and only one restaurant (although there are always several options available on the buffet. And yes, every meal is a buffet). Thus Rawa may not be your first choice during the rainy season.
The commute requires a drive plus an under hour boat ride with secure parking at the Mersing Ferry Terminal.
Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort, Malaysia
Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. This hidden gem is an ideal family holiday destination to travel with kids. The beach is beautiful and clean with moderate waves that can be body surfed. There are 3 pools including the bar pool right next to the toddler pool for pleasurable child supervision. The two restaurants are of a high standard and with large enough menus that there’s no need to leave the resort (although there is practically every type of fast food chain next door). There is also a retail store on the premises.
The catch? On a good day it is a solid 7-hour drive from Singapore. For those looking for a road trip, this could be a pleasurable experience, especially if done outside peak time. But if you have children who don’t travel well in the car, there is potential for problems before you even reach your destination. [For travel tips on surviving road trips with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Montigo Resort Nongsa, Batam, Indonesia
longer just a dodgy destination for sex tourism, Batam now has it’s own chic
resort that offers a family-friendly option for kids holidays. It is a series of three-storey,
Greek Island-style, white-walled villas that come in at a sizeable 3,300 square
feet. The living rooms open out on to a plunge pool and very functional
kitchenette. Upstairs are two bedrooms with ensuites and on the roof is the
barbeque terrace. All villas are terraced down the hill to give great ocean
views across to Singapore, a nice touch.
Unfortunately, although they look expensive, the finishing touches on the villas are not quite so polished. The doors don’t close properly, drains don’t drain and tiles are missing.
Still the overall effect is very stylish which is just as well because (due to the layout of having the huge villas all facing the sea) the resort is so big that if you want to go to the pool you have to call up and get a golf cart to transport you. (It might drive you mad, but the kids will love this.) The pools themselves are distinctly lacking in shade so can get quite hot. Technically there is a beach but this is also a significant distance away and not really swimmable because of the reef. But if all you are after is somewhere easy and close to Singapore for the kids to dig in the sand, this works well.
The icing on the cake is that the resort is one simple ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal with free shuttle pick up. (Eventually they plan to have a wharf directly at the resort.) At the time you book you can also opt for a private boat which allows you to also clear customs in an exclusive lounge. It costs roughly double the price of the public ferry for a family of four but when you see the prices that chartering the vessel usually costs, you may think it’s worthwhile spoiling yourself.
Telunas has two offerings –
a private island and a beach resort.
The private island is not super luxurious, but it is pleasant and peaceful. The over-water rooms are large and have fantastic views across to the beach resort, there is a pool and the limited number of guests makes this an intimate and peaceful experience.
The beach resort is much more basic – the rooms are a similar standard to Rawa – but the big bonus here is the stunning beach. While there’s not much snorkeling or surfing to be done, the warm and flat water is swimmable all day and the sand is lovely and fine. Private island guests can also access the beach resort beach via shuttle long boat.
The entire Telunas experience at both resorts is rustic so there is no internet, air conditioning or televisions.
The commute is a ferry to Batam and then a one-and-a-half hour ride via long boat.
[For more details about Telunas Resorts, including a limited time discount exclusive to suitcases&strollers readers, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Sea Gypsy, Malaysia
Sea Gypsy aims to be something like an eco resort, which means it is
extremely rustic. No hot water, no air conditioning, no televisions and they
don’t even like you to boil electric kettles in the rooms. (Boiled and
sterilised water and hot water for baby baths can be provided on request.)
The flip side is the beach is glorious for small kids. It is shallow to quite a far distance and you can swim in low or high tide. Snorkeling and dive day trips can be organised through the resort and there are some water sports toys for older children and adults to hire for a small charge to play with. [For more travel tips on snorkeling and diving with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Snorkeling With Kids and SCUBA Diving with Kids.]
The tap water is well water, so the resort say sit is clean and safe to drink, and there is a definite push towards encouraging guests to embrace being ecologically minded. For instance, biodegradable nappies are available for sale on the island. If you prefer to bring your own non biodegradable nappies, then you are required to dispose of them yourself (i.e. take them away with you). This includes swimming nappies.
In the afternoons there are activities (such as arts and crafts) on offer for the kids to give parents a bit of free time for a token cost.
Unlike many of the other similar resorts in Malaysia and Indonesia, though, Sea Gypsy will also cater a kids’ and a babies’ menu. Dinnertimes are especially good for parents – all the kids are fed at 6pm by the staff who will then take the children away and entertain them for you for the evening. Afterwards, baby monitors are provided (the family rooms are the furthest from the restaurant so there are few disturbances if parents want to party on) and doors can be locked externally to stop little explorers wandering off. In the daytime there are supervised kids activities for over 4s however if your younger kids are toilet trained they might still get in too.
There is paid parking at Tanjong Leman for a nominal fee or transfers from Singapore can be provided. Then it’s about 20 minute boat trip on a medium size speed boat.
The Practicalities of Family Weekend Getaways From Singapore
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Indonesia or Malaysia. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
For travel tips on negotiating the Singapore and Malaysian border crossings, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
To read the suitcases&strollers family beach safety tips from the team at Bondi Rescue, click here.
With contributions from Shaun McEwan and Alissa Cuthbert