Malaysia welcomed her first modern mall in 1973 when Ampang Park opened its doors. The shopping complex supplemented its retail offerings with perhaps our first experience of an indoor “theme park” in the form of a children's playground and an entertainment deck.
The starlight revolution
Fast forward 14 years, and Yaohan The Mall’s fondly remembered three-storey indoor theme park, Starlight Express, became all the rage. Much loved by adults and kids, it was the zenith of family-friendly entertainment at the time, with a huge array of fun games and thrill rides.
Who could ever forget the heart-thumping pirate ship ride, Zamperla, and the dreamy, if a bit scary, Matterhorn? Other attractions hinted at a more romantic experience with names like 'Kiss Me' and 'Harbour Cruise'.
“Some of my best childhood memories are of when my cousins from Singapore would come down and we would beg our parents to bring us all to Starlight Express. Once we were there, we never wanted to leave!” KL-born Harpal Singh reminisces.
The 90s splash
In the mid-1990s, mall theme parks took a dive into the water and moved outdoors, with a series of water theme parks linked to retail complexes. From connecting two lakes of different levels in the Mines Wonderland Theme Park to Safari Lagoon becoming the first rooftop water theme park above a shopping mall, these were engineering feats worthy of the "Malaysia Boleh" spirit.
Mines Wonderland featured water taxis linking various attractions – such as the White Kingdom zoo with its albino animals, and the Zheng He Treasure Ship Lantern which told the history of Admiral Cheng Ho – to the mall itself, alongside musical fountains and aquatic light floats that mesmerised visitors.
Pumping up the thrills
To compete, ‘bigger and better’ became the name of the game as indoor amusement parks cranked up the thrill factor. Leisure Mall in Cheras launched the first indoor rollercoaster that zoomed out of the building before sweeping back in. Berjaya Times Square countered with a rollercoaster five stories high, the largest in Malaysia.
“I remember being very excited about the launch of the Berjaya Times Square theme park,” says Barry Mark, describing the 380,000 square feet indoor theme park, the second largest of its kind in Asia, that still remains to this day.
A new era
By the early 2000s, the popularity of large amusement centres run by shopping malls had waned and began to be phased out.
However, in recent years, the concept has seen a bit of a revival, albeit with a contemporary twist. District21 at IOI City Mall is not nearly as big as its predecessors, but its 11 attractions catering to all ages have proven a hit. There are easy rides that bounce, slide and revolve in a loop for children alongside high-intensity physical games like the Sky Trail rope course and Free Fall jump simulation for adventurous adults. These transformative 'rides' are also handy when repurposed for team building and corporate training.
Over at Sungei Wang Plaza, various sports and leisure companies have collaborated with the shopping complex to launch Beast Park @ Jumpa Annex, an indoor theme park with climbing gym, playground with the ninja obstacle course and training academy.
The project hopes to draw in a new generation of people and inject new life into Sungei Wang Plaza, which has gone through many changes since opening its doors in 1977.
In view of COVID-19, theme parks have adopted strict SOPs to ensure social distancing and safe handling so that all patrons are safe. Be sure to check out their social media page for new rules and opening times.
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