*Produced by SilverKris for Penang Global Tourism*
With its world-renowned street food culture, thriving arts scene and the Unesco World Heritage-listed George Town, Penang is a popular draw for domestic and international tourists alike. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many travellers are looking to steer clear of large crowds and head for the great outdoors instead.
Thankfully, Penang serves up nature in spades. While most visitors probably already know about Penang Hill, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding 130-million-year-old rainforest, there are many other hidden spots where you can get reacquainted with nature.
1. Balik Pulau
Located at the southwest end of Penang Island, this charming old town is a great base from which to explore the area’s many lush plantations, green-and-yellow paddy fields, traditional kampung houses, fishing villages and animal farms. The bucolic countryside packs an assortment of treasures for nature lovers and is best explored on wheels – be it on a bicycle or an ATV – where you can enjoy Balik Pulau’s tranquil rural landscape at your own pace. Take your time discovering the villages’ cottage industries such as the making of bedak sejuk (a type of cooling rice powder used in traditional beauty and skincare regimes) or kuih bahulu (a traditional Malay pastry). Balik Pulau is also famous for its durian orchards, especially between May and August when the King of Fruits is in season.
2. Teluk Bahang
For city-dwellers looking to get reacquainted with nature, a visit to the town of Teluk Bahang – close to the northwestern tip of Penang Island – is a must. Here, you’ll find Boulder Valley Glamping & Event Place, a luxe getaway nestled within the Teluk Bahang rainforest, where you get to enjoy the beauty of nature without giving up on creature comforts. For something a bit more high-octane, the nearby ESCAPE Theme Park offers a chance to experience the rainforest in a whole new way with a thrilling four-minute joyride that stretches across 1,111 metres as it zigzags through the tree canopy. You get bonus bragging rights as this ride is listed as “The World’s Longest Water Slide” in the Guinness World Records. Over at the Tropical Spice Garden, calm your senses as you stroll among towering nutmeg trees and relax by scenic koi ponds with floating water lilies. Another attraction you’ll want to visit is Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm, “The World’s First Tropical Butterfly & Insect Sanctuary”. Here, you’ll find some 15,000 free-flying butterflies fluttering about. There is also an indoor discovery centre featuring two floors of learning exhibits and activities, enabling visitors to self-explore the world of invertebrates through various interactive edu-stations.
3. Gertak Sanggul
While most visitors to Penang head to Batu Ferringhi, few know about the hidden beaches that await at the village of Gertak Sanggul. Expect postcard-perfect scenes of swaying casuarina and coconut trees backed by gently rolling waves. There are several beachfront restaurants here, so you can enjoy a delicious seafood meal while admiring the tranquil scenery. After grabbing a bite, hop on a boat to Pulau Kendi, located off the coast of Gertak Sanggul. Far from the madding crowd, the uninhabited islet’s untouched forest and shorelines are perfect for those looking to go completely off the grid.
4. Pulau Aman
Colourful fishing boats, secluded beaches, historical sites and a vast array of seafood dishes — these are what you can look forward to on Pulau Aman, an outlying islet off the coast of Batu Kawan, Seberang Perai. With just 300 inhabitants, this sleepy fishing village lures seafood-craving foodies with fresh-off-the-boat delicacies, but beyond its rustic floating restaurants, there are various heritage sites to explore. This includes the Telaga Emas (Well of Gold), which was first discovered by a local villager back in 1789. Though close to the seashore, it continues to provide fresh water to the villagers. Adventure seekers can also try their hand at kayaking around the car-free islet or trekking through the jungle, while those who prefer something more serene can simply veg out by the beautiful coastline.
5. Kampung Agong
Located in Bakar Kapur in Penaga about an hour’s drive from Penang Island, the idyllic Kampung Agong is a good spot for those looking for a glimpse into village life in yesteryear Malaysia. Built on a former coconut plantation, the countryside agro-themed park is framed by a dramatic backdrop that is the 1,217m-high Gunung Jerai. Here, you’ll enjoy a laid-back atmosphere with traditional wooden houses and paddy fields amidst soaring coconut trees. There are also Instagram-worthy outdoor pianos, swings and giant nests dotted around the landscape. For those who can’t bear to leave, the park offers a homestay programme that includes farming activities, bicycle rides around the area as well as delicious home-cooked feasts.
6. Frog Hill
Step off the tourist trail and visit this abandoned tin-mining site located just a short drive from Kampung Agong. Occasionally referred to as Penang’s answer to China’s famous Jiuzhaigou, this natural attraction is known for its translucent turquoise-hued water. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a couple of wild water buffaloes taking a dip. The hike up Frog Hill (also known as Bukit Katak) requires making your way across rough and uneven terrain, but the breathtaking views along the way make it well worth the effort. If you’re planning an early-morning climb, be prepared for the weather to be slightly chilly and misty – pack a good jacket and some hot coffee to enjoy once you reach the summit.
7. Taman Rimba Bukit Mertajam
Thrill-seekers should hit up this 7km-long trail in Taman Rimba Bukit Mertajam (also known as Cherok Tokun Nature Park). Known to the locals as Trek 800, this challenging three-hour hike involves clambering over rocky mounds, crawling under fallen logs and crab-walking down steep slopes. Along the way, look out for sights such as a giant ship-shaped boulder nicknamed Batu Kapal, which means “stone ship” in Bahasa Melayu, and a massive Mengkundur tree – said to be the largest tree in Penang. If you’re looking for something less strenuous, simply go for a wander around the forest’s tranquil and well-paved trails.
8. Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest
You don’t have to venture far to come up against unspoilt natural beauty. Situated around 20km from Penang Bridge is this secret forest about the size of three football fields, which offers shelter to more than a hundred species of birds and untold numbers of reptiles, insects and mammals. As you slowly make your way across the 1,163m boardwalk, keep an eye out for winged friends such as the blue-eared kingfisher with its bright red beak or the purple heron with its elegant long neck. Closer to the ground, trekkers are likely to stumble upon the dinosaur-like oriental garden lizard or the sanguine Malayan box turtle. Walking on the site’s 210m-long suspension bridge to two observation towers overlooking mangrove land is quite an experience on its own!
For more information on getting to these locations and other points of interest there, please visit the Penang Global Tourism website.