Penang: A Natural Paradise
Besides food, art and heritage, the Pearl of the Orient also boasts many natural treasures just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid eco-adventurer
Think Penang and some key words immediately jump to mind: char kuay teow, laksa, UNESCO Heritage Site, Kek Lok Si Temple, The Blue Mansion and traffic jams (let’s face it, being stuck in festive season jams on the North-south Expressway is the stuff of legend). But besides the staples of food and heritage, did you know that this rapidly developing state also has a wealth of eco-activities to offer? Here are four that you should check out.
TAKE A WILD WALK THROUGH THE HABITAT One of the newest eco-experiences on the island, The Habitat is an excellent way for visitors to immerse themselves in the stunning natural beauty of Penang’s rainforests. The Habitat’s 1.6km nature trail starts just a few minutes’ walk away from the top station of the Penang Hill Funicular Railway, passing by themed gardens and framed lookout points that offer spectacular views of the Penang skyline.
Take advantage of the complimentary tours and learn how to spot the native flora and fauna. Enjoy the riot of colours at the Red,yellow and Purple Gardens, watch butterflies flit around at the Butterfly Bank, sway over the jungle on the Giant Swing and savour the aromas in the Fragrant Garden. In the future, you’ll be able to traverse the treetops via the Canopy Walk and stand on top of the world (or Penang, anyway) at the 13m-high Treetop Walk, which is the highest public viewing point on the island.
LEARN TO COOK AT THE TROPICAL SPICE GARDEN A former abandoned rubber plantation-turned-renowned natural attraction, the Tropical Spice Garden is located in Batu Ferringhi. While it boasts over 500 varieties of flora and fauna, the star of the show is – as the name suggests – the spices. Wander around yourself with an audio device (available in seven languages) and a map, or go on a scheduled guided tour. Full tours last for two to three hours, but the 45-minute express tour means you won’t miss out on the highlights.
Study spice secrets, sip fresh herbal tea and enjoy the garden’s serenity as you make your way through, but don’t forget to stop at the cooking school to put that newfound spice knowledge to use! Book a slot in a 10-person class and receive a complimentary guided tour of the Spice Terraces in the morning, then learn to serve up Nyonya, Malay and Indian cuisine under the watchful eye of professional chefs. Make sure to give it your best shot as you’ll be eating what you make for lunch at The Pavilion.
EAT LOCAL FRUITS AT ORCHARDS AND FARMS The abundance and variety of tropical fruits available is one of the best things about living in Malaysia, and taking a tour through some of the farms and orchards on the outskirts of the island is a great way to combine education with fruity fun. The Green Acres farm and orchard tour is renowned for the opportunity to learn about and taste local fruits like calamansi limes, rambutan, mangosteens, jackfruit and more. The farm is also proud of its still-producing clove trees, which are a rarity in Penang.
You can’t talk about Malaysian fruit without mentioning their king – durian – and durian season in Penang is always highly anticipated. Roadside durian stalls pop up by the dozen when the season gets underway from June to August, but imagine being able to pick and eat your durian fresh off a tree! That’s exactly what you’ll get to do when places like Green Acres and Freedom Eco Farm start their seasonal durian tasting tours. What better time to have your first taste of durian?
MEET THE BIRDS AND THE BUTTERFLIES AT THE PARKS If you’re a fan of our feathered friends, the Penang Bird Park is the first and largest of its kind in the country with over 300 species of birds spread over five acres of land. Wander through the calm garden-style environment of the park, replete with soothing water features, as you observe everything from tiny sunbirds to large ostriches in their natural element. Check out the hornbills, sunbirds and pheasants in particular; and if you have time, try to catch the twice-daily shows.
Prefer creepy crawlies? Entopia by the Penang Butterfly Farm may be just what you’re looking for. Home to the largest butterfly and dragonfly garden in the country, The Natureland, some 15,000 free-flying butterflies are found here at any one time. You’ll be able to learn about metamorphosis and even release some butterflies of your own! Otherwise, The Cocoon is where you’ll discover more invertebrates and experience what it could be like to be an insect with interactive edu-stations. EL