SOMETIMES A RELAXING-THOUGH-DISTANT VACATION can be more of a hindrance than a help, especially when you’ve got your family in tow. That SUV you bought transports kids, toys, nappies, and enough survival gear for an attack on the Himalayas – and that’s just for a trip to Cold Storage.
Sometimes the family car is the best choice for a getaway, especially for those quickie long weekends, and you know you can get home in a few hours. No airport hassles, hire-car disasters, or being stranded in a kidunfriendly resort!
For most Klang Valley dwellers, Singapore and Penang are just too far for that weekend visit; the East coast is getting easier, but this is Monsoon season. Johor is an option, and there are Lumut and Pangkor, but even they are a drive that will tax the patience of parents
One place that most of us never look is on our doorstep. Seremban, only 40 minutes drive from the Mines Toll Plaza, is barely further than KLIA but stands at the gateway to Selangor’s closest neighbour, Negeri Sembilan (NS). Because of the North-South Expressway, most of us only see NS as a journey point for getting to Singapore, Johor, or Melaka. But there’s a lot more to this state than its road system, and it’s well worth a weekend.
Heading down to Port Dickson is the best way to start off a trip to NS. The North-South Expressway is the most direct and will take you about 1.5 hours from KL, but if you’ve got more time to spare, then head for Nilai and Sepang and take the old backroads that twist along pretty roadside kampungs and rolling hills.
Think of yourselves first and head for the Avillion Port Dickson, and check-in for some 5-star luxury. As most of the town is laid out along the main road, it’s hard to miss and you’ll soon find yourself ensconced in one of the water or garden chalets that radiate old world charm and elegance with their wooden frames and four-poster beds. For a touch of true decadence, ask for the rooms with the outside bathrooms – these walled compounds give you all the privacy you need with the added bonus of feeling like you’re showering in nature.
All rooms come with a separate day bed (“pangkin”) that can be used as an extra bed for children, but you’ll probably want to go for one of the two-bed suites or get the kids their own room so you can enjoy the lush, junglefringed surroundings of the resort.
While there’s no on-site spa, reflexology and other rejuvenating procedures can be arranged in your room, and while you’re pampered let the Kids Cabin staff take care of your little monsters with activities ranging from movie screening to T-shirt painting. The kids also have the run of the Village Pool alongside the Village Court Restaurant, while it’s a more refined adult atmosphere at the nearby Cochin pool. There’s also a Pet Farm and a daily treasure hunt, guaranteed to make the most of their time.
For the more energetic, the Water Sports Centre offers fishing equipment and kayaks to paddle around the nooks and crannies of the restored and postcard pretty Riau beach. The Village Court Restaurant offers all-day dining with a mixture of local and western dishes, with a BBQ buffet dinner on Fridays and Saturdays including locally caught seafood, spit-roasted lamb, and fresh sushi and sashimi. And the Crow’s Nest Restaurant offers superb views – and even greater food – over the Straits of Melaka.
Of course, you could always leave the resort and explore PD itself. One of the best ways to get a culinary treat is to find a taxi and tell the driver what kind of food you fancy (Thai, seafood, etc.) and let him to take you to the ‘best’ place in town. There’s a great Thai seafood place next to an unmarked supermarket somewhere on an industrial site that we would never have come across otherwise. Most PD taxi drivers will drop you off and wait for you to finish for around RM20, which is a bargain for chauffeur service.
There’s the Cape Rachado lighthouse, about 10km further down Highway 5 towards Melaka (just past Teluk Kemang). Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the lighthouse is still used, and on a clear day you can see all the way across the water that separates Malaysia from the coast of Indonesian Sumatra. It’s also a haven for migrating birds, so bring along your binoculars and bird books. The Cape Rachado is also home to Pantai Tanjung Biru, or Blue Lagoon, which is undoubtedly one of the prettiest beaches in the PD area.
Fans of Malaysian history may want to continue driving up to the Historical Complex (Pengkalan Kempas) at Pasir Panjang, where you’ll find one of Malaysia’s oldest Islamic graves, that of missionary Sheikh Ahmad Manjun, who was murdered in 1467. The site also features three unusual monoliths known as The Rudder, The Sword, and The Spoon (believed locally to have supernatural properties).
If you haven’t had enough of PD, opt for a night at the Guoman Resort, about 5km down from the Avillion. It’s aimed squarely at families, and its 90-acre site is overflowing with activities. For golfers there’s a challenging 9-hole course, and the resort boasts PD’s largest swimming pool, which, along with the water slide should keep the kids occupied for hours. There’s a childcare centre and plenty of indoor activities like table tennis and video games, as well as a host of beach and water sports activities.
Rooms are spacious and comfortably modern, and extensively refurbished in 2002. There’s a fully equipped gym for adrenaline junkies, and if you need solitude then shut yourself away in the sauna or steam room, or freshening up in the outdoor Jacuzzi.
Guoman’s relaxed attitude extends to its dining facilities. Sun soakers can indulge themselves at the sunken Sip and Dip Pool Bar, enjoying a beer or snack while wallowing in the water, the Ocean Café will meet most of your tastes, and the Porcelain Room offers a great range of Cantonese dishes. Round off the night with live music at Billiards and Bar, or stare out at the ships and lightning storms over the Melaka Straits from the Sails Lounge.
After a bracing 9-hole start to the morning, get back on the road; follow Highway 5 towards Melaka and head for the Tampin Recreational Park. Tampin is a charming little town, and the Recreational Park is a year-round draw. You’ll find monkeys, porcupines, swans, and ducks in a lush, green setting – a perfect spot for a picnic lunch. After lunch, browse the mini-aquarium before heading back onto the North-South Expressway, aiming for Pedas, about an hour’s drive away.
Here, at Wet World the kids can spend the afternoon in the supervised wave and splash pools, trying out the water slides and rides while you treat yourself to the therapeutic effects of the volcanic hot springs that the area is known for. Take a dip in one of the public pools, or opt for a private soak in one of the many ‘bathrooms’ and try out various dermal hydrotherapy treatments. The park is only open until 7pm, so get there early to make the most of your afternoon.
After such an exhaustive day, you might be tempted back to KL, but if you’ve got time it’s well worth spending a night in Seremban, just 30 minutes away from Pedas, and exploring some of the areas surrounding the town. Most people think of Seremban as the far reaches of the KL commuter belt, but it has its charm and identity distinct from KL, PJ, or any of the other satellite towns. First port of call on any expedition should be the delightful Lake Gardens, rated as one of the country’s most picturesque garden parks.
Seremban is not swimming with high-end hotels but the Allson Klana, just a stones throw from the Lake Gardens, is a haven for extreme sports nuts with rappelling and all manner of crazy stuff on offer, as well as one of the largest swimming pools in Malaysia. It also has a variety of family rooms and condominium-style apartments overlooking the Lake Gardens.
Slightly more luxurious is the nearby Royal Adephi (formerly the Hilton Seremban). A true 5-star hotel, the Adelphi has all the amenities you’d expect – spa, squash, tennis courts, swimming pools, and children’s facilities. While the Allson is all action, the pace at the Adelphi is a little more sedate, and you may find yourself spending time in one of the many hotel dining establishments, ranging from the buffet-themed Asiatique to the fine Chinese cuisine of Han Pi Yuen, or the pastries and traditional cakes and sweets of Sweet Seremban, as well as Anjung, reputed to be the town’s leading bar.
After a morning run along one of Lake Garden’s many jogging tracks, check out the Royal Museum and Palace complex at Sri Menanti about 20 minutes away on the Kuala Pilah road. The Palace is a stunning five-storey building built in the Negeri tradition without nails. Built in 1902, this black hardwood and gold coloured building housed the Negeri Sembilan Sultan as well as his treasury and the Royal Records.
Just a few kilometres away you’ll find the Terachi Cultural Village. Set amongst the paddy fields, these traditional wooden shophouses exhibit and sell a huge range of locally made merchandise and crafts. Check with the NS tourism office, as the village is also used as the venue for cultural shows, so it’s a great opportunity to catch some traditional dance, music, and theatre against a backdrop of farmers ploughing their fields with buffalo.
After lunch at one of the Village’s many foods stalls, you may feel the need to make a move for home, so follow the road back to Seremban where you’ll rejoin the North-South Expressway. On your way back you might want to make just one more stop-off just by the SerembanLabu exit to check out the State Museum, which adds a historical perspective to the sights you’ve seen over the past few days, and explains such Negeri oddities as the matrilineal system that’s based on the belief system of the Minangkabau people, in which women are the tribal leaders and dominant clan members.
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