Penang is by no means lacking in terms of culture, heritage, and abundant food choices. The rich diversity of her people is reflected in the wide variety of staple foods that are born in Penang and popularised in other states.
The tourism industry is one of the most crucial aspects of Penang’s identity. While Penang is known as a hub for food, it is also famed for its success in preserving culture and heritage. Walk into Georgetown and you won’t miss the unique architecture of old shophouses and temples.
As if it’s not enough to impress, Penang is also a haven for nature lovers with a bunch of places to explore such as Penang Hill, Teluk Bahang Recreational Forest, Sungai Tukun Recreational Forest, and Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest.
Sustainable tourism as outlined by the World Tourism Organisation, “Takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”. Ecotourism is a market-based strategy for environmental conservation and sustainability which provides economic gains and resources for local communities to prioritise preservation and natural resources protection. Management and conservation of environmental resources are vital to developments of tourism in Penang and to Malaysia as a whole, in fact, lack thereof negatively impacts the environment, the economic and local populations’ living conditions, and cultures.
Here are plenty of eco-friendly places you can visit, while also making an impact towards the preservation of environmental resources and protecting local communities’ livelihood!
#1: Penang National Park
Destination estimated over 150 bird species alone, the Penang National Park is a natural jewel as it’s one of the world’s smallest forest reserves and also home to the meromictic lake in Malaysia. The park covers an area of 1,213 hectares and encompasses both a fraction of land and sea giving an exhilarating place to discover the abundance of natural reserves located in the area.
The key gem of this nature reserve is their meromictic lake, which features a collection of fresh and saltwater species that live in the same water but on different layers. The warm salt water is on the bottom with cooler freshwater sitting along on the upper layer – this phenomenon only occurs between the months of May to November , Wish to witness this natural enigma, be sure to visit – the entrance is free! Further information can be found here.
#2: Treasure Hunt with YMCA Tourism
Get to know Georgetown, Penang through a 6 days-5 nights independent treasure hunt organised by The Penang YMCA, a community-based non-profit dedicated to facilitating and promoting the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of individuals in Penang. The 360 Intense Challenge camp programme provides a variety of activities in which include hiking at the highest peak of Penang, socialising with local youths, adventure in the ESCAPE park, and fun water activities within the shores of Penang. If treasure hunts don’t suit your likings, they also offer a wide array of other activities such as Homestay trip & Cycling at Balik Pulau, Homestay at Malay kampung and even visits at Balik Pulau farms.
#3: Entopia Butterfly Farm
You may also visit a colony of butterflies at Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm, located in Teluk Bahang. Entopia is a place centralised by butterflies and insects with a variety of species. This butterfly farm is one of the largest butterfly farms in Malaysia with more than 15,000 free-flying bugs and more than 200 species of plants alongside waterfalls, ponds, caves, and other artistic garden features. While you’re there, be sure to stroll alongside David’s Garden and get a great view of the Home Tree. If you wish to visit butterflies anytime soon, do book your visit here.
#4: Feed The Hungry In Penang
While you’re visiting the food haven of Malaysia, it’s a grim fact to know that there are still hungry and homeless living on the streets and in shelters across the island. Make some time to volunteer with Kechara Soup Kitchen where you will have a chance to pack food, distribute supplies and fill the hungry tummies of the needy.
Kechara Soup Kitchen is a non-religious community action group serving marginalised communities in Malaysia for over 13 years. Since 2006, this volunteer-driven organisation has been distributing food and supplies, providing basic medical aid and counselling to the homeless and urban poor communities. Kechara Soup Kitchen started in Kuala Lumpur and have since expanded with offices in Johor and Penang.
As a volunteer, you can either help out in the kitchen where you will wash and cut vegetables, pack food and distribute over the kitchen counter to those distributing the food or be part of the distribution team where you will give out food packets on the streets and maybe even give basic medical aid.
Visit their volunteer page where you can read their Covid-safe SOPs, volunteer guidelines, schedule and contact information.
#5: Bicycle Tour in The Countryside
If you are ever bored over the usual nature agenda of trekking & strolling, you should try cycling through Balik Pulau, Penang. Book a half-day guided bicycle tour of Penang’s countryside in pursuit of exploring rural areas of Balik Pulau on a 4-hour mini-group of 7 people for the bicycle tour of southwest Penang island. What is in store for you? Serene views rice paddies, fishing villages, and mangrove forests while soaking up the relaxed atmosphere on a lesser-known side of Penang. They also provide pickup and drop-offs at hotels, bike rentals and snacks, coffee, and light refreshments are also prepared for visitors.
Visiting a destination up close and personal allows you to understand the local community better and patronise small local shops. If interested, you may view further details here.
#6: Habitat Penang Hill Walk
Another forest reserve trip worth mentioning is the Habitat Penang Hill Walk where you can experience the real and high diversity of Malaysia’s 130 million-year-old rainforest. The experience comes with a thrilling walk on the Langur Way Canopy Walk, spectating the forest valleys and the great Andaman Sea. You are encouraged to visit the place in late afternoon to catch a breath-taking view of the sunset across the mountainous valleys and the sea, considered as one of the best views in Penang.
The trip will take about 45 minutes, with a ticket price of RM55 per adult. Interested? Book them here!
#7: Bukit Merah Orangutan Island
Animal conservation is also prioritised in environmental conservation, especially in Penang. Visit the Bukit Merah orangutan island to get up-close and personal with an Ape clan. The Bukit Merah, Lake Town is a 35 acres island of which 15 of it is reserved and developed for rehabilitation, care, and conservation of orangutans. It is considered as a notable attempt in working towards’ orangutans’ well being and species continuity as a lot of times, they are often illegally captured as pets and sold off in markets, the natural disaster also occurs where orangutans are forced to displace to another habitat that they are unfamiliar with, which ultimately increases their vulnerable to poaching and selling.
It is mentioned that you should visit there in the morning as that’s where orangutans residing here are the most active and will be more in their natural state of the day than any other time. Feeding food to the animals are not encouraged so as to prevent any unwarranted reaction from the orangutans. For more inquiries, you may view some information here.
#8: Monthly Cemetery Tour by the Penang Heritage Trust
If you’re feeling historical, check out Penang Heritage trust’s Monthly Cemetery Tour which is also supported by Penang Global Tourism (PGT). The Northam Road Protestant Cemetery is a site filled with significant pioneering Penang icons and early governors such as Francis Light, James Scott, Stamford Raffles, and others. Fun fact, this place was also featured in two international films entitled “The King and I” & “Anna and the King”.
Great news too, the admission is free! But pre-registration is required before you could visit, so book your time now. For further information, contact Penang Heritage Trust at 604-264 2631 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.