Pack Your Bags for A Far East Journey to the Pearl of the Orient – With Your Family in Tow
In October, 2016, I had the opportunity to explore the Malaysian state of Penang, while centralized in the urban hub of George Town. One day, after striking up a conversation with a young woman, traveling with her husband and 5-year-old son, I began to think about some of the unique challenges that parents face when traveling with an entourage.
Since Penang extends beyond George Town, encompassing beaches and jungles and fishing villages, I thought I would compile a list of the most child-friendly places and activities, for those families planning to visit this region in the near future.
Sunbathing in Batu Ferringhi
This is a vibrant beach, which has a little bit of something for everyone. For the adrenaline junkie, this stretch of white sand boasts a number of water activities, like banana boating, parasailing and jet-skiing for a medium fee, which you can usually barter down with the operator to get a better deal. If rest and relaxation is what you’re after, then head for one of the great little massage/reflexology huts scattered along the top of the beach, which offer a cushy place to watch the sunset. There are plenty of good local street food and drink stalls nearby, and areas of the beach are enclosed with buoys as barriers, so that children can swim freely.
Summiting Penang Hill
In order to visit Penang Hill, you need to board a cable car or tram, which will bring you to the summit for a spectacular, panoramic view of George Town and surrounding area. Once you’re on top of the hill, you can enjoy an espresso or order a dish of your favorite tropical fruit at one of the many food stalls overlooking the point. Children will enjoy the owl museum, the 5D Cinema, the kiddie train ride and the super pythons. If you follow some of the hiking trails, you may even be lucky enough to spot a dusty leaf monkey or a giant black squirrel. Just make sure to keep in mind that this is a popular attraction, and in peak season, you may have to queue for awhile unless you’re willing to pay double (RM 60 per person) for the fast lane.
Jungle trekking in Penang National Park
While I wouldn’t recommend jungle-trekking for families with young children, especially along tracks that are often steep, wet and tricky to maneuver, Penang National Park is a beautiful place to visit, and located around 35 km from George Town. If you do decide to brave the 1.5 – 2 hour hike to Turtle Beach, you can visit a small turtle sanctuary before catching your boat (pre-registered at the entrance for around RM 80) back to your starting point. You can also take a boat directly to and from Monkey Island, where many families spend a night or two camping. Make sure to pack lots of water and food, since there are no vendors on site.
Finding Adventure in Teluk Bahang
I don’t usually advocate for visiting amusement parks as part of any travel itinerary, but I’m willing to make a special exception for Escape AdventurePlay in Teluk Bahang. As an avid climber, I enjoy developing my hand-eye coordination wherever possible, and this park is second to none when it comes to getting a little bit tactical. With slack lines, wobbly bridges and a zip line, there are a number of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Whether you’re flying high above the trees, free falling from a 20m jump platform or taking a swing at the inner-tube slide, you can find adventure here at this thrilling amusement park.
Hitting the pavement in George Town
One of my favorite things to do in George Town when I was visiting was just to walk, one foot in front of the other, without purpose or destination. With its eclectic mix of colonial architecture, modern cafes, time-worn shop houses and art-adorned city walls, there is something to discover around every corner. If you have young children, or just want to try out the novelty of local transportation, you might like to hop aboard a trishaw for a breezy tour of the city. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even rent your own trishaw to tote the family around. There are also many child-friendly attractions in George Town, which include the “Made in Penang” interactive museum, the clan jetties and the Penang 3D trick art museum.
Exploring Kek Lok Si in Air Itam
The Kek Lok Si Temple, situated in Air Itam, is a well-known Buddhist temple, with an interesting blend of Burmese, Chinese and Malaysian architecture. The temple is located on a fairly steep incline, which is challenging to climb, but once you’re at the top, the views are outstanding. If you can part with RM 6 per person, you can also take an inclined lift to see a large bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. There is also a tortoise pond and a wishing tree, which seems to be a big hit with the kids.
Boarding the Ferry to Butterworth
Taking the ferry from Penang Island to Butterworth is a wonderful outing for the whole family. On the way to the ferry, there are many kiosks that sell fresh fruit and other Malaysian snacks, so the kids won’t go hungry. The ferries have a nostalgic feel, a remnant of the old mode of transportation used to get on and off the island. Once you arrive in Butterworth, you can either make your way to the train station, or you can check out Tow Boo Kong, a Chinese temple surrounded by many vegetarian food stalls.
Thank you to our guest writer :
Claire Horwood, Victoria, Canada.