Family friendly outdoor attractions in Penang
Much has been said about the island’s colonial architecture, golden beaches and scrumptious street food. But explore a little more and you’ll discover a rich natural heritage that offers an educational and exciting recreational time for the family. By Eleanor Lopez.
Tropical Fruit Farm
A fruit medley of sorts, the Tropical Fruit Farm is where you go if your little ones delight in all things sweet, sour, tangy or juicy. With over 250 types of topical and sub-tropical fruit trees spread over 25-acres of hillside terrain, you could spend a good hour of two wandering through a wide selection of berries, melons, mangoes and pomelos.
And if it’s in season, brave your senses for the notorious durians which are renowned for their pungent odour and creamy flesh. You’ll even find some truly exotic provincial favourites such as cikus, rambutans, jackfruits and sour sops.
Tours in English are conducted throughout the day with guides highlighting the trees that are in season and explaining the different tastes, origins and uses of the fruits and trees. This takes about 45-minutes to an hour after which you will get to sample some freshly cut fruits and enjoy a free flow of refreshing fruit juice.
A barbecue lunch is also available if you plan on going there for the late morning, and this needs to be booked ahead of your visit.
Tropical Spice Garden
More than just a garden of spice trees and plants Tropical Spice Garden (TSG) is a great place to spend the better part of the day at with your family. The best way to enjoy a truly holistic experience would be to participate in the cooking classes offered at the TSG Cooking School.
Starting with a complimentary guided tour of the Spice Terraces, you will discover the many uses and diversity of the spice plants and herbs. The Spice Globe along the terrace serves as an educational pit-stop where a brief history of the spice trade is recounted and you will get to taste and smell a variety of dried spices.
En route you will be able to catch glimpses of the free-roaming resident wildlife; the Dusky Leaf monkeys, giant squirrels, flying lemurs and slumbering vipers. The tour ends with cups of warm herbal tea at the Bamboo Garden and then it’s off to the cooking school for your culinary adventure.
Children from 8-14 may share a workstation with one of their parents or work independently if they’re confident and able enough. Our friendly chefs and kitchen assistants are always close by to give a helping hand where needed.
A couple of hours later you will be tucking into your delicious lunch in the alfresco Pavilion. Not far is the one of a kind Slides & Ladders giant board game with colorful tubes and platforms, so your youngsters can have a spin on it after lunch.
Tropical Spice Garden
Penang Bird Park
More than 20 years old, Penang Bird Park remains the country’s first and largest park offering a close encounter with our feathered friends. Spread over five acres on mainland Penang, the park is home to more than 300 species of birds from all over the world, including a praiseworthy collection of Malaysian species which are noted for their colourful plumage; Fairy Bluebirds, Kingfishers, Peacocks and Flowerpeckers to name a few. But its main attractions still are the regal Hornbills, exotic Sunbirds and eight-foot tall Ostriches.
Many of the species are carefully and scientifically housed in enclosures within an environment that imitates their natural habitat for breeding and conservation purposes.
Young children especially will be delighted with giant walk-in aviaries where birds fly freely and will alight on your outstretched arm to feed. You may want to consider wearing long sleeves to prevent accidental scratches as they perch on your arms and shoulders.
Apart from the winged variety, you will get to see other wildlife such as tiny mousedeers, 18-foot crocodiles, iguanas and pythons. The landscaped designs also offer photographic opportunities and picturesque viewing points with cascading waterfalls, natural ponds and collections of hibiscus, cacti and palm trees as backdrops.
Penang Butterfly Farm
This is one of the more child-friendly attractions in Penang, even their website takes on a fun and informative tone that would appeal to youngsters. Another pioneer on the island, the Butterfly Farm which celebrated its silver anniversary in 2011 was established to serve two purposes; as a tourist attraction and a center for learning and conservation.
Although it is primarily a tourist attraction, the farm is known and respected internationally as a breeding centre and places a strong value on research, conservation and preservation.
Entry to the farm is inclusive of a guided tour which takes place at certain times of the day. Covering an expanse of almost two acres, the farm has a flying population of over 4,000 Malaysian butterflies from 120 different species, some of which are quite rare and endangered. It’s best to go in the mornings as the butterflies are more active then and you little ones can enjoy the thrill of standing in the midst of thousands of these fluttering creatures.
Amongst the star attractions are the Indian Leaf, Yellow Bird Wing and the local favourite Rajah Brook’s Bid which was first discovered in Borneo in 1885. Part of the educational approach includes an introduction to the life cycle of a butterfly, their habitat and all the elements of nature that creates the circle of life.
The tour or walk around the farm will take you past a large fish pond with over 70 fresh water fishes, individual displays of reptiles, snakes, ducks and free flying birds, a Hide & Seek garden with camouflaged insects, an Insect Museum and Gift Shop.
Penang Butterfly Farm
HEIGHTS OF FASCINATION
Approximately 6km from the city in a little town called Air Itam, Penang Hill stands 823 metres above sea level offering panoramic views of George Town. The country’s oldest hill resort has seen a transformation from an 18th century colonial settlement to a major tourist attraction that is steeped in history and natural beauty.
Comprising several peaks, the hill serves as the largest water catchment area on the island. And with temperatures at a moderate 21–25C, it’s the best place to cool down in the hot and humid tropical climate without needing to layer up. Slot this in for an early morning excursion, so you’ll still have the rest of the day to lounge by the pool bar while your kids splash about.
You can choose to take a leisurely 2-3 hour hike up on the jeep trek which starts at the Penang Botanic Gardens, hire a buggy or ride on the air-conditioned Funicular Train which runs every half hour from the foot of the hill. This will take you up Strawberry Hill where you alight within the vicinity of David Brown’s Restaurant, the Owl Museum and Monkey Cup Garden.
If you’ve never seen a Venus fly trap in action, then the Monkey Cup Garden is a must visit. With a wide variety of carnivorous plants, especially pitchers, children will be fascinated to learn how these ornamental plants factor in the food chain.
For those who seek a more educational experience, there are tours conducted on the last weekend of every month which start at the Botanic Gardens and take you up Penang Hill. Each month touches on a specific theme and guides will not only highlight the unique flora and fauna but also share some fascinating facts and stories about the history of the hill and its founders.
Another first of its kind for Penang, ESCAPE opened its doors late last year with its first phase 'Adventureplay'. Located in Teluk Bahang not far from the Penang Butterfly Farm, the theme park is part of the eco-friendly band of attractions in the idyllic fishing village.
Using nature as its framework, the theme park was designed to utilize the existing trees around its 2.8 hecter vicinity as props. The 13 adventure themed games which include tree climbing, swinging from ropes and cave exploration, are suited for children and adults. As its tagline proudly announces, “From babies to 99 – Escape has it all”.
With Monkey Business, children and adults will put their balancing skills to test as they navigate the tricky rope course. Walk like a gecko with the help of sticky feet and rope as you ascend the Gecko Tower or Go Ape in a race to be the fastest at climbing trees. Safety is paramount as auto-belay harnesses are in place in case you miss your footing.
And for some much milder recreation, children can try panning for gold and gems hidden in soil, sand and stream with Discovery Dig. Or have a go at go-karting with Zoom Bug. For adults wanting some fun of their own, a downhill journey with a tubby tube in Tubby Racer or an exhilarating leap through the air with Atan’s Leap would have you squealing with excitement.
But it’s not just fun and games as education plays an important part of the experience. A stop at Serambi, a specially built Learning House will give you information about nature and environment. Toddlers aren’t left out as there is a special Playroom with cushioned floors filled with toys and games as wells as Tots Trail a multi-activity structure to keep them entertained.
Keep in mind that you are in the tropics so instead of getting hot under the collar, here are some tips on how to keep cool and stay sane.
1. Dress appropriately: sturdy sandals or trainers so they don’t slip off your feet. Light cotton T-shirts (with sleeves if possible) and shorts for those long treks and hikes. A hat or scarf to cover your head in non-shaded areas.
2. Being outdoors mean being exposed to the elements so always remember to pack your sunglasses, sunblock, insect repellant and a lightweight raincoat.
3. Stay hydrated and top up your bottle of water at every opportunity so you don’t run out. Pack some snacks for your kids (and even yourself) to avoid the hunger cranks.
4. Check the opening times and tour schedules before you depart to avoid disappointment.
5. Make sure you have enough cash on you as many of the attractions in rural areas have recurring trouble with their credit card machines.
6. If you’re travelling by taxi, find out the rates beforehand so you don’t get fleeced. Buses are quite regular but may require some transit. Plan ahead as it may be less of a hassle to book a taxi for the day to take you to several attractions in the same area, especially if you have young children.
This is one of the features from the latest Time Out Penang annual guide 2013/14. You can purchase the guide here.