Child friendly Penang
Parents generally have their thoughts on the quality of their children’s education, and those in Penang get peace of mind from the extensive range of schools around. But beyond the school gates, what does the Pearl of the Orient offer the young?
The great outdoors
Youth Park (+604 226 3051), also known as the Penang Municipal Park, comes high on the list of facilities appreciated by children and parents. Located off Jalan Utama (or Waterfall Road), the park has a large swimming pool with fountains, a very impressive range of well-maintained equipment for a variety of ages under the shade of large trees, and a big open space for running about. There are also mountain bike trails and hiking trails through the forest, some going all the way to the top of Penang Hill – if your kids are up for the exertion.
Nearby, the Botanic Gardens (+604 227 0428/www.penangbotanicgardens.gov.my) offers nice walks and lots of grassy areas. Streams flowing through the gardens are clean and suitable for paddling through, whilst the many monkeys in the gardens and surrounding areas will be fascinating to kids. As cute as they are, it’s advisable to be cautious and not to feed them.
If you prefer the sea and sand, there’s the popular Batu Ferringhi beach stretch. They have all the noisy and exciting activities of a typical tourist beach, like paragliding, banana boats and jets skis, but parents should be careful with small kids on these busy beaches. Be especially cautious where horses and quad bikes are in use. Jellyfish are also common in the sea around Penang and can cause painful stings.
We recommend going further west, where the beaches provide a relaxing time and your kids can play in the sand without any hazards. Turtle Beach is a tranquil place reached after a one-and-a-half-hour hike through the National Park in Teluk Bahang. There is a turtle sanctuary on the beach, and baby turtles can sometimes be seen in tanks, waiting to be released to the sea. Camping is allowed here and there are some facilities like toilets and barbecues.
Boys and girls
On the sporting front, football fanatics will love the new indoor football arena, Soccer Experience, on Jalan Kelawei (+6012 427 9155, +6016 441 0470/www.soccerexperience.com/penang_home.html). They host a youth league for boys and girls (under 8’s to under 15’s), whilst tots can take part in the Sunday morning kids league. Great news is that they also host football-themed birthday parties, which – for the football nut – will make you the best mum and dad in the world. Girls will be more interested in donning a tutu and they can do so at Greenapple Ballet Academy (+604 827 0388/www.greenappleballet.com), where ballet lessons are available for 3-years and up. The Penang Toy Museum in Tanjung Bungah (+6012 460 2096), however, will delight any child. It houses over 100,000 objects and last admissions are at 8.30pm.
Adventure and fun
Dragon boat racing can be seen at the Teluk Bahang lake some times of the year (www.penangdragonboat.gov.my), but if you and your kids want to try the sport for yourselves, head to Penang Water Sports Recreation Centre (+604 890 9373) in Tanjung Bungah. They also rent canoes and equipment for other beach activities like volleyball or beach soccer.
For special treats, take your kids for some five-star action. The Adventure Zone (+604 886 1911/www.adventurezone.com.my) at the Shangri-La Golden Sands Resort provides thrills and excitement. An entry fee entitles non-staying guests to two hours of fun (though kids can’t get enough of their great indoor slides), but if you’re keen to turn this into an outing for the whole family, try the Sunday buffet lunch at the Garden Café (+604 886 1911/www.shangri-la.com) next door – the buffet spread is fantastic, with free access to the Adventure Zone per buffet guest.
Flora and fauna
The tropics teem with creatures to excite the imagination and curiosity of children. Kids will love seeing the huge and the horrible bugs on display and the live butterflies fluttering around at the Penang Butterfly Farm (+604 885 1253/http://www.butterfly-insect.com) or the colourful variety of fruits at the Tropical Fruit Farm (+6012 497 1921/www.tropicalfruits.com.my). Also in the area, Tropical Spice Gardens (+604 881 1797/www.tropicalspicegarden.com) is a must. There are three trails through the garden, and as they take anywhere between 20-45 minutes, come prepared if you’re with your little ones. They also have great cooking classes for kids, where dishes are prepared with all manner of herbs and spices.
The Bird Park (+604 399 1899/ www.penangbirdpark.com.my) on the mainland boasts over 3,000 birds and 300 different species ranging in size from ostrich to humming birds. Many are housed in large walkthrough aviaries and geodesic domes, but if your kids prefer more slithery creatures, the Snake Farm (+604 976 8511) beside the Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas and the Penang Fisheries Aquarium (+604 626 3925/www.fri.gov.my/aquarium) in Batu Maung (closed on Wednesdays) is where to head.
Culture and history
Whilst the shopping malls in Penang offer the usual fray of entertainment facilities, Penang’s cultural delights are really in her historical offerings. The War Museum (+604 626 5142) will be of interest to many and is located in the Batu Maung area, whilst Fort Cornwallis (+604 650 5136/+6016 411 0000) in George Town has real cannons on the walls and a statue of Penang’s founder, Sir Francis Light himself. And, if kids want to get a little creative, Royal Selangor’s School of Hard Knocks (+604 891 2018/www.royalselangor.com) offers a fantastic hands-on experience for kids to make their own pewter bowl. Located in Straits Quay in Tanjung Tokong, you’ll have no problem finding a place to have a nice child-friendly meal afterwards. There is a comprehensive and varied choice of eateries where parents can enjoy leisurely meals, while children play away in a safe, pedestrian-only environment. All fusspots are catered for in Penang and the variety of activities for kids mean parents will have one less thing on their mind.