Minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city is Penang’s natural heritage: her emerald green hills and golden sandy beaches. Leisure activities are varied - tennis to golf, riding to scuba diving. Penang is one place where you can jog, cycle, sunbathe, sail, beachcomb, snorkel and windsurf.
Beaches and Fishing Villages
Most activities are centered around Batu Ferringhi ( see John’s note on Batu Ferringhi ), where most of the popular beach resorts are located. Their facilities include waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, water scooters, and waterskiing. This prime stretch of beach is always a hive of activity with elite nightspots and restaurants which come to life in the evening.
Further down is the equally lovely Teluk Bahang Beach, which houses an international beach resort and is home to kampungs and a fishing village. If privacy is preferred, head for the secluded beaches of Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach, Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Mas which are accessible via the trails in the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve from Teluk Bahang.
The Pasir Panjang Beach at the south-western tip of the island is a secluded stretch of beach and clear waters, at the end of a 25-minute hike over challenging terrain from Betong.
See also Batu Maung, a small fishing village at the south-eastern tip of the island, which owes its fame to the beach-front shrine dedicated to Admiral Cheng Ho, the famous Chinese admiral who featured prominently in the history of the Malacca Sultanate.
The huge footprint in the vicinity is said to be that of the Admiral’s and is worshipped as something sacred. There is a belief that anyone who lights joss sticks and places it in an urn beside the footprint will be bestowed good fortune. The best seafood on the island can also be found here.
Penang Hill ( see John’s note on Penang Hill )
Penang Hill is actually made up of a series of hills which rise above the island. The peak stands at 821 metres above sea level, which makes it a cool getaway from the tropical heat below.
The hill is accessible via a funicular train which was first opened for use in 1923. The train operates in two sections and passengers change railcars at midpoint. It takes about half an hour to reach the summit and the train service operates at half hour intervals.
Alternatively, the fit and adventurous can hike up the hill from the many hiking trails available — the most popular trails start at access points close to the Botanical Gardens. The hike itself is about 6.7 km or 4.5 miles long, which will take hikers an average of 2 to 4 hours, depending on level of fitness.
Upon reaching the summit, one is rewarded with a panoramic view of Penang island. There are also old bungalows, a hotel, bird park and walking trails which are worth checking out.
This 30-hectare sprawling garden of flora and fauna is a favourite recreation spot for locals. Central to the Gardens is a waterfall that start over a hundred metres above, hence its more popular moniker of "Waterfall Gardens". Today, the waterfall is a restricted area and hidden from public view by the green foliage.
While the vibrant hues of Penang’s native fauna is the prominent feature, the star attraction is the large number of macaque monkeys that greet visitors from the entrance right to the heart of the garden. Walkers, joggers, runners, picnickers and lovers frequent this gem of a garden for its spacious and blissful settings.
Located at Teluk Bahang, 20km from George Town, the Butterfly Farm covers an area of 0.8 hectare. Visitors can marvel at the hundreds of species of butterflies and local insects in their natural habitat. The best time to visit is in the late morning or early afternoon, when the butterflies are most active.
Forest Recreational Park
The diehard nature lovers will find delight in the recreational forests of Teluk Bahang, Sungai Tukun and Pantai Kerachut on the island and Bukit Mertajam on the mainland.
There is a bewildering range of flowering plants and numerous species of insects, exotic birds, butterflies, snakes and lizards. Expect to find jungle tracks that lead to the heart of the forest with camping sites along the way.