This city was “made for walking and eating,” proclaimed CNN when it named Penang as one of its must-visit destinations. There’s little doubt that Southeast Asia’s favourite weekend getaway city is revered for being a “gastronomic spectacle,” but did you know that it is also a place to work up an appetite or work off a heavy meal while indulging your active, playful side?
To experience Penang’s buoyant energy and excitement, let the PARKROYAL Penang Resort team show you the best ways to stay active and have fun while you’re in town.
Address: 828 Jalan Teluk Bahang, Teluk Bahang, 11050 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Telephone number: +60 4 881 1106
Opening hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm (Tuesday to Sunday)
Begin your adrenaline-fueled holiday with the gravity-defying rides at ESCAPE.
Recently bestowed the honour of being Malaysia’s best theme park, ESCAPE is a must-visit attraction for Penang visitors and locals alike. The award-winning theme park was founded by entrepreneur and Penangite Sim Choo Kheng as a throwback to his own “free-range childhood,” where simple outdoor play was the order of the day.
“Without play, the planet is a miserable and destructive place,” says Sim. This ethos led him to develop ESCAPE, a “low-tech, high-fun” fantasy world for little kids as well as “big kids” (aged 13 to 60) and “super kids” (anyone over the age of 60). Be warned: behave like an adult here, and you could be shown the exit.
ESCAPE theme park currently comprises two sections: Adventureplay and Waterplay, which opened at the tail end of last year. Expect mostly high-octane entertainment (ziplining, bungee jumping, speed racing), interspersed with dedicated spaces for relaxing and catching your breath.
The best is yet to be, as ESCAPE will launch its third play area, Gravityplay, in December this year. Featuring the world’s longest waterslide at 1.2km, riders will be chairlifted to a jaw-dropping height of 420m at the top of the hill to get started!
Get directions to ESCAPE theme park | Buy tickets
Since April last year, a hike up Penang Hill has yielded more than the sweet reward of a bird’s eye view of the city. The Habitat, nestled at the top of the hill, is Penang’s shiny new ecotourism attraction, and it is gaining praise for helping visitors to rekindle their love for nature.
“There were a lot of ‘very Mickey Mouse’ tourist attractions on [Penang Hill], but they were missing the opportunity to teach people why nature is so important,” says Reza Cockrell, co-founder of The Habitat.
While she is based in Hong Kong, Cockrell’s mother is from Penang, which explains her affinity to the city. “Particularly here in Asia, people have become so disconnected from their natural environment. So we wanted to build something that brought people back into the rainforest,” she says of The Habitat.
To experience what The Habitat has to offer, you can do the hard work of hiking up Penang Hill. Or take the easier option of riding up in a four-wheel drive or hopping on the funicular railway. Incidentally, the latter runs on one of the steepest tunnel tracks in the world!
The entrance to The Habitat’s 1.6km long nature trail is just a short walk from the funicular railway’s Top Station.
Once you’re in the magical realm of The Habitat, you can look forward to the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk—it’s the highest public viewing platform on Penang Hill, named after botanist Charles Curtis, who was the first superintendent of the Penang Botanic Gardens. You can also walk along the Langur Way Canopy Walk for an unobstructed view of the surrounding rainforest.
To get more out of your experience, check out The Habitat’s events, such as nature tours, sunset walks, and a tree climbing experience. Their website is currently under construction, but you can get updates from their Facebook page.
Get directions to The Habitat | Buy tickets
Cycling is a mode of transport in Penang with huge growth potential, according to its city mayor Yew Tung Seang. “We have always wanted to transform the city into a bicycle-friendly state and provide better bike commuting facilities for the people,” he says. “Our 176 km of bicycle lanes enable cyclists to commute from Straits Quay to Sungai Ara, and in the future, to Penang International Airport.”
What this means for travellers: cycling is a safe and viable option for exploring Penang. According to TimeOut, 80 per cent of the bicycles used in Penang are mountain bikes. For just RM10 per day, you can rent them from bike rental shops such as Eko Baiku and Lovebike. Alternatively, you can use Penang’s bike sharing service, LinkBike.
For cycling maps, look up resources such as Penang Cycling and Bikemap, or follow this recommended route to cover all the major attractions in the city’s historic Georgetown. You can also refer to TripAdvisor for cycling tours to join.
If you thought the pace of life in Penang’s city area was delightfully languid, you haven’t experienced life in Balik Pulau, translated to mean “the back of the island.”
To get to Balik Pulau, you can take a city bus or taxi from Georgetown. You will pass a number of hilly, winding roads before reaching the centre of downtown Balik Pulau, recognisable by a colonial-era fountain and low shophouses.
Once there, rent a bicycle to enjoy a leisurely ride while soaking in the sights of the pastoral town, which include a durian farm, a goat farm, a nutmeg factory, and a stable. For the most scenic route that will take you through sleepy villages, plantations, and paddy fields, book a day trip with Matahari Cycle Tours.
To go further into the real kampungs (villages) of Balik Pulau, bring your trusty hiking stick and head for the hills. Navigate the adventurous paths and forested ridges, where you may encounter vegetable and fruit farms, and even free-range chickens running loose.
If you intend to travel without a guide, try this suggested itinerary for spending a full day in Balik Pulau. Remember: bringing along anti-mosquito spray is a must.
Get directions to Balik Pulau
Penang National Park (entrance at Jalan Hassan Abbas)
Address: Pejabat Taman Negara Pulau Pinang
Jalan Hassan Abbas,
Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang
11050 George Town, Malaysia
Telephone number: +60 04 881 3500
Opening hours: 7:30am to 6:00pm daily
Why visit the world’s smallest national park, which covers a mere 25 square kilometers?
Here’s a good reason: Penang National Park is home to over 1,000 species of flora and 270 species of wildlife. Park inhabitants include the slow loris, flying lemurs, civet cats, sea otters, pangolins, dolphins, monkeys, and turtles. And according to the Malaysian tourism board, bird enthusiasts can have a “field day” watching the antics of white-bellied sea eagles, stork-billed kingfishers, egrets, and more.
Another of the park’s unique features is its “meromictic lake,” where layers of water do not intermix. More precisely, the park’s lake is known as a “seasonal meromictic lake” because it is only during the May-to-November monsoon season that it becomes stratified in two layers, where its bottom layer is made up of warm saltwater from the sea, while its upper layer comprises cool and fresh water from the rivers and rain. This creates an unusual lake ecosystem—it is not a phenomenon that is visible to the naked eye, but know that it is special!
To spend a day hiking in Penang National Park, follow the trails recommended on TimeOut and TripSavvy, or read first-hand accounts by other travellers. You can also browse sites such as Tours By Locals to hire a licensed tour guide.
Get directions to Penang National Park