There is more to Penang than the beaches and Georgetown.
While Penang is home to a bustling metropolitan city, there are plenty of nature-based activities to enjoy here for the nature enthusiast. Jungle trekking in Penang National Park, the world’s smallest national park, is a popular activity among tourists and locals alike, with well-marked trails leading to both turtle and monkey beach. Both hikes take around 1.5 – 2 hours, and both beaches are accessible by boat. Many travelers enjoy the National Park so much that they stay for a night or two to camp. Wildlife in the area includes monkeys, monitor lizards and even migratory birds, frequently sighted at the mangrove swamps and mudflats in the park.
There are also 3 recreational parks that I know of in Penang: Teluk Bahang, Sungai Tukun and Bukit Mertajam. Teluk Bahang has a good network of hiking trails, along with well-maintained camping areas. Sungai Tukun is relatively small, and attracts a variety of wildlife, which visitors can observe, along with panoramic views, from the park’s observation tower. Bukit Mertajam, the largest of the parks, sprawls over 37 hectares of hilly terrain, and its 4 km hiking trail, which runs from the base of the mountain to its peak, is a favorite among joggers.
The beaches in Malaysia are a large draw for eco-tourists as well, and Batu Ferringhi, the most well-known, is a hive of activity from sunrise to sunset. 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. Further down is Teluk Bahang Beach, which is home to a traditional fishing village, and beyond that, Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Mas which are accessible via the trails in the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve from Teluk Bahang.
Some travelers may want to encounter a variety of wildlife without straying too far from George Town. If this sounds like you, I would recommend checking out the Penang Bird Park, a 5-acre track of land that hosts over 300 species of birds from all over the world for breeding and conservation purposes. The Bird Park also houses numerous other species, including deer, reptiles and tortoises.
If you’re a bit of a foodie, and you want to learn how some of the local spices are grown, you can pay a visit to the Tropical Spice Garden, an artfully recreated tropical rainforest oasis outside of George Town, with spice garden terraces, walking trails and small trickling streams and waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of monkeys jumping through the tree tops overhead. While I didn’t manage to get to the spice gardens, I did take a tour of the tropical fruit farm in Teluk Bahang. The orchard covers 25 acres and it is brimming with rare and exotic fruit trees. At the end, there is a fruit and juice buffet, included in the entrance fee, which I found delightful.
While it can be a little bit intimidating to venture out into the wild on your own, it can also be extremely rewarding, and there are many areas in and around Penang that are well worth a visit. If you’re a bit more tentative, there are also many eco tours that can be booked for a nominal fee. These will typically include an informative guide, as well as pick up and drop off from your hotel.