Bare your sole: The joys of recreation
Syazlynia Rahim takes in all the recreation she can muster on the island of Penang.
Penang’s not just about food, food, food – visitors to this beautiful island have a veritable plethora of recreational activities to choose from, whether it be indoors or outdoors, extreme or moderate. There’s something for everybody in Penang and here’s a few to help you get started.
Sports on the hill Hash House Harriers clubs are an international phenomenon, with two thousand groups meeting in major cities around the world. Expert hasher, Bibi von Gemert of Penang Hounds (www.penanghounds.com), remarks that hashing is a bit like ‘hiking and walking and running at the same time’. Hashers describe themselves as ‘a drinking club with a running problem’, and they’re known to sprint together not just for exercise, but to socialise and guzzle copious amount of beer that cancel out the very health benefits of the sport.
The weekly Saturday hash can be arduous for beginners, but the prospect of beer at the end is the light at the end of the tunnel. Penang Hound’s beginners’ hash trail starts out through a swathe of dense forest, leading up Penang Hill. Trails are not sign-posted but rectangular bits of paper leave a trail for you to follow (look out for them on trees, ferns or on the ground). Still, Bibi warns the path may be littered with danger: ‘If we’re the first people on this trail, we might come through some snakes’.
As a hashing beginner, you will hike up a steep muddy incline, and then suddenly find yourself engulfed by tangled forest. As you pull yourself up through ropes (placed by considerate hashers), the air grows cooler and everywhere one looks, something is growing, stretching, reaching for the sun. Hash highways below take you to different points on Penang Hill and there’s even one that leads you straight to Batu Ferringhi – a four-hour hash that’s recommended only for the pros.
Once the hash trail changes from a steep incline to level ground, a Penang Hound member will speedily take off, commencing the running part of the hash, while your bursting heart and lungs will war with that most primitive of human instincts: not to be left behind. Jogging becomes tougher when moving down the hill (the foliage gets thicker here), but you’ll end your hash trail at a large clearing and go on to claim your reward – a pint or two.
Rhythm and swing
Yoga has become very in, very hot, very now, so if you find yourself on the island, jump at the chance to learn at the hands of an expert yoga practitioner. Having practiced yoga from the age of 17, Han Ni of Inner Peace Yoga Circle (+604 229 2540/ www.innerpeaceyogacircle.com), should be your port of call into the land of Kundalini yoga.
We want to ‘awaken your dormant energies,’ says Han Ni, ‘by combining breathing techniques, postures and mantras through a yoga of awareness’. This form of yoga focuses on psychic centres of the body, known as chakras. A typical class starts out with the ominoussounding ‘breath of fire’, a breathing exercise powered by abdominal contractions. You pull the abdomen in towards the diaphragm during exhalation and out during inhalation. This is done quickly and loudly. With each breath, the body expands and contracts faster, in order to build a rhythm and allow that rhythm to take over. This is easy to do while sitting down; it’s harder when lying on one’s chest and feet off the ground, but practice will make perfect.
For a different form of rhythm, practice your swing at one of Penang’s golf courses. Non-members can play at the verdant Bukit Jambul Country Club (+604 644 2255/www.bjcc.com.my) (a green fee applies), but if you’re cooped up on the other side of the island, head to the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang’s (+604 888 8888/www.shangri-la.com) nine-hole course. The five-star hotel welcomes non-staying guests and the reasonable green fee also includes a putter and a sand wedge.
The mainland, however, is where serious golfers go. Safira Country Club (+604 398 3111/site.safiraresort.com) also has recreational facilities for the whole family to enjoy, whilst Penang Golf Resort (+04 578 2022/www.penanggolfresort.com.my) has a stunning 36-hole course designed by Graham Marsh. Seberang Perai’s other 36-hole course is at Bukit Jawi Golf Resort (+604 582 0759/www.bukitjawi.com.my), where 315-acres of fairways are complemented by swinging palms and stunning views.
The outdoor activities available at Jerejak Rainforest Resort (+604 658 7111/www.jerejakresort.com) are also worth venturing out for. After a short boat ride (the resort owns its own jetty) to the resort on Jerajak Island, it’s all about outdoor adventure: you can trek through the jungle (die-hards hike to the other end of the island to view the dilapidated former prison and overgrown leper graveyard), do a spot of wall-climbing, fling through the air on a flying fox, creep along a suspension bridge and make like a gun-expert on a paintball course. You don’t even need to be an in-house guest at the resort; a daytrippers package including all the recreation activities and ferry transfers will set you back RM65 per person.
Shimmying up a climbing wall proves harder than it looks. An ever-changing arrangement of coloured hand-holds allows you to scale walls to giddy heights by attaching yourself to your guide for protection as you ascend (an advanced, but perhaps freer, technique), though the feeling of reaching the top of a terrifying wall when you thought you couldn’t is worth all the pain of getting there. The paintballing course is a hop, skip and a jump away from this wall. The basic idea is to run around while trying to splat a rival team with paint pellets and avoid being hit yourself, so bring as many people along as you can in order to form a team.
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If you find yourselves at the Botanical Gardens, you might miss out on the little-known Youth Park (Persiaran Kuari, George Town), located on the same road no less, and be worse off for it. It would be easier to list the things you can’t do, than the activities that you can do. Greenery stretches to as far as the eye can see and there’s also a path that leads up to Penang Hill. Come here for the local swimming pool, a game of five-a-side on the football pitch and hike up the hill; stay for the skating rink, archery range and BMX track. A lovely local secret.
Penang National Park
Dominated by tropical rainforests, mangroves, wetlands, mudflats, beaches and rocky shores, the Penang National Park at Teluk Bahang (+604 881 3530/ www.wildlife.gov.my) offers a verdant habitat for more than 150 species of bird and numerous species of plant. It’s less famous than its bigger sister, Taman Negara, but there’s all the hiking, boating, fishing and swimming any outdoor enthusiast would want. Families love the mecromictic lake visible from Pantai Keranchut and there are hikes for everyone, from family-favourite walks that end at the various beaches to strenuous treks that feature uneven terrain and challenging slopes.
There are two types of cyclists: those that bike on-road and those that cycle off-road. Whatever your preference, Penangites can agree on the fact that the only way to properly see Penang is on a bicycle. There has been a fungi-like proliferation of biking clubs on the island who take their hobby to new levels. Get in on the action with ECG Bike Tour (+604 262 3821/www.egcbiketour.com). They offer bicycle rentals and guided bicycle tours within the George Town Heritage site, and their route includes the Peranakan Museum, Goddess of Mercy Temple and St. George’s Church. Grab a map and venture out on your own by renting one of their Exitway mountain bikes.
Or, get in touch with Cyclon Cycle (+604 263 1688/www.ccipg.com.my). They’re bike specialists who will help you find your perfect mountain bike or leisure bike and they also offer repairs, upgrades, and accessories.
If you want to explore Penang Hill on wheels with like-minded enthusiasts, you can. The rugged obstacle paths and challenging routes also attract mountain bikers and there are active groups you can get in touch with (Penang Mountain Bike Association and Penang Mountain Bike Club, for example).