The Shangri-La chain know how to do family-friendly. So if you’re looking for a pool-tastic beach resort with a kids club, accessed by a direct flight from Hong Kong, then the Golden Sands Penang is one to add to the list.
The Malaysian state of Penang encompasses a part of the mainland’s north-west coast and also Penang Island. The island has a lot going on, from Batu Ferringhi’s beachside resorts, the UNESCO world heritage site of George Town, to the mangrove forests and sandy beach habitats of Penang National Park. Penang is hot all year round, with its dry season running from December to March.
How do I get there?
Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines offer direct flights from Hong Kong, with a flight time of approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes. I bought a cheap fare through Cathay’s Fanfare site, with new deals released every Tuesday at 8am.
For those who want to add more adventure to their trip, you can also catch an overnight sleeper train, or luxury bus from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Shangri-La’s Golden Sands Resort
Golden Sands is located in Batu Ferringhi, a beach area on the north side of Penang Island. Allow a transfer time of 45 – 60 minutes from Penang International Airport.
Once inside, the resort has a fresh look with an inviting, airy lobby and reception area. From the outset, I found the staff to be friendly and welcoming.
My daughter and I stayed in an Executive Seaview Room with twin beds. We had a dreamy view out to sea, made even better by the balcony where we would sit and watch the sunset. All the sea-facing rooms have balconies which are useful for hanging out during baby nap times. The room itself is standard size, nicely decorated with a big TV, DVD player, kettle etc. The bathroom is fine, albeit on the smaller side, but then who is hanging out in the bathroom? (Although I do admit it is often a good place for the travel cot at night!).
The resort is a kids paradise with two large freeform pools and a separate water slide. The large kids pool is shaded with a canopy, and the shallow gradient means your toddler can splash around without you clinging on to them. Sun loungers are dotted around the lawns with complimentary water by the ice cream bar. There is an outdoor games area with table tennis and big chess plus a there’s a small swing set situated next to the Kids Club.
If you’re looking to work off that breakfast buffet, the gym is well equipped and there are lots of free activities from aqua aerobics to pool volleyball. The beach is kept clean and is nestled in a fairly quiet stretch with the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Hotel to the right and boutique Lone Pine Hotel to the left. The water is ok, but not a patch on Langkawi’s crystal clear seas.
The Kids Club offers complimentary activities for 4-12 year olds, from bracelet making to mini golf. The Club is housed in a separate building with the Adventure Zone (more on that later), arcade machines and an indoor play area. My daughter had never been to a Kids Club before, yet the staff were so welcoming, she happily trotted off to play leaving mum to read her book for a few hours.
The Adventure Zone has a softplay for the little ones and lots of slides for the bigger ones (including a few that I was too scared to go on!) You have to pay extra for this – approximately HK$50 for two hours – and don’t forget to pack long sleeves and socks.
Breakfast is a scrumptious buffet affair in the light and airy Garden Café with plastic cutlery on offer for the kids. Dinner buffets are offered several times a week with kids under 6 eating free (they obviously haven’t seen how much my 4 year old can put away). Sigi’s is in a nice spot, in between the pools and the beach offering a great lunch and kids menu.
Penang is renowned for its cuisine, thanks to the melting pot of its Malay, Chinese and Indian communities. A five-minute walk from the hotel is the hawker food centre, Long Beach. Here you can find stalls galore offering up delicious cheap Malaysian fare from chicken satay to nasi lemak.
I have to be honest here, I had planned to do all sorts but I genuinely couldn’t drag my daughter away from the pools and Kids Club! The hotel offers a free shuttle into George Town which, having been a few years ago, is a lovely place to stroll around, and kids will love a trip to Fort Cornwallis and the Butterfly Farm.
Should I go?
If you want an easy, family-friendly break with the option of combining exploration of historic Penang with the ability to return to a resort your kids will love, then yes! For me, what made the Golden Sands stand out was its staff who were friendly, helpful and fun. This also explains why so many of the guests are returning visitors (including one lady I met who’d been living there for 6 months). I also liked the location; you can walk out of the hotel and wander along the road to shops, restaurants and several hawker food centres.
We were in Penang during a delicious quiet period in early May, but I can imagine the resort can get very overcrowded during holiday times. If you want to beat the crowds then do your homework and avoid the school and public holidays as Penang is a popular destination for Australasian, Asian and Middle Eastern visitors. If you are looking for a quieter, more luxe experience then head next door to the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang.