Places to visit: Natural Gateways and Parks

Minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city is Penang’s natural heritage: her emerald green hills and golden sandy beaches. Leisure activities are varied –  tennis to golf, riding to scuba diving. Penang is one place where you can jog, cycle, sunbathe, sail, beachcomb, snorkel and windsurf.

Ayer Itam Dam

One of the most popular and scenic spots for exercise enthusiasts is the Ayer Itam Dam. Located above the famous Kek Lok Si Temple in the Ayer Itam village on the outskirts of George Town, the Dam is Penang’s answer to the Hoover Dam in USA or the Aswan Dam in Egypt, although at a smaller scale. Nevertheless, the Ayer Itam Dam can hold its own for the breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding areas.

The Aquarium of the Fisheries Research Institute

Have you ever visited an aquarium? If you have not, now's the time to see and touch our diverse marine wonders at the Fisheries Research Institute aquarium at Batu Maung. What are you waiting for?

The aquarium is located at the Fisheries Research Institute grounds at Batu Maung | Tel: +604 626 3925

Balik Pulau

The hills of Balik Pulau abound with clove and nutmeg trees which bear fruit from November to January and July. Or savor the durian, a seasonal fruit which is the luscious "king of fruits".

Beaches and fishing villages

Most activities are centered around Batu Ferringhi, where most of the popular beach resorts are located. Their facilities include waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, water scooters, and waterskiing. This prime stretch of beach is always a hive of activity with elite nightspots and restaurants which come to life in the evening.

Further down is the equally lovely Teluk Bahang Beach, which houses an international beach resort and is home to kampungs and a fishing village. If privacy is preferred, head for the secluded beaches of Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach, Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Mas which are accessible via the trails in the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve from Teluk Bahang.

The Pasir Panjang Beach at the south-western tip of the island is a secluded stretch of beach and clear waters, at the end of a 25-minute hike over challenging terrain from Betong.

See also Batu Maung, a small fishing village at the south-eastern tip of the island, which owes its fame to the beach-front shrine dedicated to Admiral Cheng Ho, the famous Chinese admiral who featured prominently in the history of the Malacca Sultanate.

The huge footprint in the vicinity is said to be that of the Admiral’s and is worshipped as something sacred. There is a belief that anyone who lights joss sticks and places it in an urn beside the footprint will be bestowed good fortune. The best seafood on the island can also be found here.

Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest

The Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest lies 457 metres above sea level and covers an area of 37 hectares. Some locals refer to Bukit Mertajam as Bukit Ubat (or medicinal hill) because of the therapeutic qualities attributed to it - people with minor ailments actually claim of feeling relieved after a hike. One of the more popular parks on the mainland, it is usually packed with people during holidays. Facilities include a swimming pool, camping and picnic spots, jungle treks and comfortable accommodation.

Bukit Panchor Recreational Forest

Located 10km from Nibong Tebal or 50km from George Town lies the Bukit Panchor Recreational Forest – an ideal getaway for picnics, camping and jungle trekking. A perfect place for the family.

Entopia, Teluk Bahang

Located at Teluk Bahang, 20km from George Town, Entopia covers an area of 0.8 hectares. Visitors can marvel at the hundreds of species of butterflies and local insects in their natural habitat. The best time to visit is in the late morning or early afternoon when the butterflies are most active.

Address: No 830 Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Penang  | Tel: +604 885 1253

The Esplanade: A microcosm of Penang's colourful legacy

No well-planned and picturesque city are ever complete without a park and George Town is no exception. Parks can range from grand landscapes like Central Park in New York City or Hyde Park in London, to modest affairs like Penang's Esplanade, the landing point of Francis Light and home to a historical battle fort. 

Kampung Seronok, Batu Maung

The name "Kampung Seronok" originated from a suggestion by an English engineer, D.W. Grehan who had, on a number of occasions, shared in the joy and merrymaking of the kampung folk, the days shortly after the Japanese Surrender.

What makes this place unique is the fact that it is virtually 'open' to visitors who are free to observe and participate in the various cultural activities, traditional games and rural economic pursuits of the people, showcasing the intrinsic values of traditional village life. 

Penang Bird Park, Jalan Todak

A must-see for bird lovers is the Penang Bird Park, accessible via a five-minute drive from the Penang Bridge. This 2-hectare park is home to more than 300 species of birds from all over the world, including our local bread and some endangered species too. See huge birds of prey, pelicans, the gigantic cassowaries, emu and ostriches surrounded by their natural habitats. The Park is also home to non-feathered animals like fishes, reptiles and mouse deer. The park also features beautifully landscaped gardens, relaxing waterfalls, lotus ponds, walk-in aviaries, a souvenir shop and a restaurant.

Address: Jalan Todak, Seberang Jaya, 13700 Perai, Penang | Tel: +604 399 1899

Penang Botanic Gardens, Jalan Air Terjun

This 30-hectare sprawling garden of flora and fauna is a favourite recreation spot for locals. Central to the Gardens is a waterfall that starts over a hundred metres above, hence its more popular moniker of "Waterfall Gardens". Today, the waterfall is a restricted area and hidden from public view by the green foliage. While the vibrant hues of Penang’s native fauna is the prominent feature, the star attraction is the large number of macaque monkeys that greet visitors from the entrance right to the heart of the garden. Walkers, joggers, runners, picnickers and lovers frequent this gem of a garden for its spacious and blissful settings. Every year, The Penang International Floral Festival will be held for about a week at the Botanic Gardens. The entire garden will be transformed into a floral wonderland with thousands and thousands of flowers and blooms, of all sizes and gorgeous colours.

Address: Jalan Kebun Bunga, 10350 Penang | Tel: +604 2270 428, 2271 354 

Penang Forestry Museum

Did you know that one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world is found on Penang island? Or that Penang is home to diverse species of plants and insects? Discover and learn about the wonders of our very own natural heritage at the Penang Forestry Museum, located within the Telok Bahang Forest Park.

Penang National Park (Taman Negara Pulau Pinang)

The Penang National Park (Taman Negara Pulau Pinang) is one of the few natural forested areas left on the island. It is also currently the world's smallest national park.

The Park is located at the north-western corner of Penang Island, on what resembles the side profile of a face, hence the name Muka Head (muka literally means face). With 1181 hectares of forest and 1381 hectares of wetlands, the Park's ecosystem is a diversity of habitats with hills, sandy and rocky beaches, streams and coastal forests - representing much of the natural habitats of Penang.

Penang Hill

Penang Hill is actually made up of a series of hills that rise above the island. The peak stands at 821 metres above sea level, which makes it a cool getaway from the tropical heat below. The hill is accessible via a funicular train which was first opened for use in 1923. The train operates in two sections and passengers change railcars at the midpoint. It takes about half an hour to reach the summit and the train service operates at half-hour intervals. Alternatively, the fit and adventurous can hike up the hill from the many hiking trails available — the most popular trails start at access points close to the Penang Botanic Gardens. The hike itself is about 6.7 km or 4.5 miles long, which will take hikers an average of two to four hours, depending on their level of fitness. Upon reaching the summit, one is rewarded with a panoramic view of Penang island. There are also old bungalows, a hotel, a bird park and walking trails which are worth checking out.

Pulau Aman

Pulau Aman in Bahasa Malaysia means "island of peace" and as its name suggests, it is the gateway to tranquility and serenity. Situated on an island covering an area of 288 acres, it is 2.5 nautical miles from the mainland just off the coast of Seberang Perai's southern district. The nearest town is Bukit Tambun. An idyllic fishing village with a population of only three hundred, the majority of people on Pulau Aman are elderly folks and laughing, carefree children. Fishing, water sports and jungle trekking are some of the popular activities of holiday-makers on the island. Places of interest, each with their own fascinating story to tell, await the exploration of the adventurous.

Pulau Jerejak

Pulau Jerejak is only minutes away from Penang city life yet tucked away among the magnificence of lush tropical rainforest; also known as the "virgin jungle" island as it is one of the few remaining preserves of primary forest in Malaysia. A virtually undisturbed island graced with the rich diversity of 362 ha of over 210 species of flora and fauna. Towering tropical trees, lingering lianas and exotic orchids prove to be sheltered to some of the most remarkable living creatures, such as the monitor lizard and the White-Bellied Sea Eagle. The island also boasts of an ancient emerald environment, older than the equatorial forests of the Amazon or the Congo, thus producing a marvelous ecosystem that is both inspiring and engaging. Equally intriguing is the island's history as a penal colony – an interesting bit to the surrounding pristine nature.

Telok Bahang Recreational Forest

The diehard nature lovers will find delight in the recreational forests of Telok Bahang, Sungai Tukun and Pantai Kerachut on the island and Bukit Mertajam on the mainland. There is a bewildering range of flowering plants and numerous species of insects, exotic birds, butterflies, snakes and lizards. Expect to find jungle tracks that lead to the heart of the forest with camping sites along the way. 

Tropical Fruit Farm, Teluk Bahang

Tropical fruit farm is situated at about 900 ft above sea level on the hilly terrain of Teluk Bahang, the orchard covers 25 acres and it was developed back in 1993 to converse the rare and exotic fruit trees and to educate and promote to the locals as well as foreigners on the gift that our land is blessed.

Address: Batu 18, Jalan Teluk Bahang, Penang | Tel: +604 227 6223

Tropical Spice Garden, Teluk Bahang

... the region's largest Spice Garden located in an eight-acre valley fronting the shores of Teluk Bahang on Penang island. The Garden showcases a living collection of more than 500 varieties of local and introduced flora from Malaysia and around the world, with particular emphasis on tropical herbs and spices, and also wild animals, birds and insects set amongst lush nature conservation.

Address: Lot 595 Mukim 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang 11100 Penang | Tel: +604 881 1797

Youth Park

Nested under a canopy of mature trees, the Youth Park is Penang's largest recreational area. Today it boasts new outdoor adult exercise machines, children's outdoor pools and play equipment, lush tropical gardens vibrant with colour, and quiet conversation corners.

An enduring staycation at Green Acres Orchard and Ecolodge in Balik Pulau

Green Acres © Adrian Cheah

Mr. Eric Chong and I have known each other since we were seven years of age, both attending La Salle School in Standard One, then St. Xavier's Institution in Form Four. This humble beginning has fostered a close relationship between us that enables me to offer my personal insights into my dear friend's passion project of becoming an orchard grower, a farmer, an organic crusader, an avid student of mother nature and above all, a man who has an unquenchable curiosity to seek and learn. He is unfettered by hard work with perseverance deeply rooted in his being. Together with wife Kim and son Adric (as well as their pet beagle, Ciku), they are the family behind Green Acres.

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The Saanen Dairy Goat Farm, a hidden gem to visit in Balik Pulau

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm © Adrian Cheah

Stories related to goats cut across cultures and geography, conjuring up myths and beliefs that have flowed through millennia right up to this present day. I find these vivid and dramatic tales utterly captivating.

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More than just fresh oysters at a Penang oyster farm

Penang oyster farm © Adrian Cheah

My early childhood days were filled with family weekends to the beach. We would swim, dig for lala and on occasions, arm ourselves with a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out oysters from rock surfaces. Some days we would also bag a few belangkas (horseshoe crabs) and hai ciau (axe clams). Those were the good old days when the shores of Penang were teeming with life and the waters, pristine.

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Hills and Heritage of Penang – the durian experience

Flowering Frenzy

durian flowers © Adrian Cheah

Every year after the hot and dry spell in January and February, durian trees in Balik Pulau will burst into a flowering frenzy in early March. About 90 days later, some durians will start to drop, paving the way for the durian season of feasting from May till July, sometimes stretching even to August.

If there is a hot and dry season in July and August, the durian trees will flower once again for another smaller harvest at the end of the year. However this common cycles have seen some disruption over recent years.

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Penang's very own Arcadia in the clouds – Penang Hill

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

Penang Hill is the state's foremost hill resort. Although it was originally called Flagstaff Hill, the locals have always affectionately referred to it as Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera. At about 830 metres (2,750 feet) from sea level, the temperature on the hilltop is considerably cooler than the nether lands. On regular weekdays, the hill is pretty quiet and can serve as a recuperative getaway, far from the madding crowd and city heat.

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Penang Hill – an uplifting experience!

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

A must-see in Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, Keretapi Bukit Bendera, a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. OK!, if you are not quick on your feet you can miss a seat, but the majority of passengers stand. Anyway, you see more and have the added fun of travelling upwards at 45 degrees to the landscape.

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Batu Ferringhi – a beach for lovers and dreamers

Batu Ferringgi © Adrian Cheah

I came to Penang for the first time only last July after spending time over the years in Hong Kong, China and India, but mostly in Indonesia. Being a lover of beaches I headed for Batu Feringgi on the north coast and settled at the Parkroyal Hotel. In Indonesia, the beaches at Kuta on Bali and Paragtritis on Java have been ones I have always returned to.

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Stop and smell the spices at Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden © Adrian Cheah

One of Penang's popular attractions is the Tropical Spice Garden which is located in Teluk Bahang, a few minutes drive from Batu Feringgi. For those seeking peace, tranquility and to immerse one's self in the splendour of Mother Nature, this veritable secret garden is the place to be.

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