Tropical Spice Garden

For the budding gardener

What we say: 3.5 stars

Ginger, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom and vanilla evoke images of exotic tropical climes, gin-pickled, eccentric plantation owners, westward bound clippers and delicious, aromatic curries. The Tropical Spice Garden, in a jungle valley that was formerly a rubber plantation, a stone’s throw from the sea, is a great place to discover the heady world of spice, past and present.

First gorgeous vista of the Tropical Spice Garden, the giant water lilies and lotus flowers.

First gorgeous vista of the Tropical Spice Garden, the giant water lilies and lotus flowers.

Although the staff at the ticket counter will bring you firmly back to reality by producing an industrial sized bottle of mosquito repellent, strongly advising a liberal dousing, don’t be put off, for like an intrepid early planter, great riches await the adventurous -- this is one of the most rewarding, fun half-day trips Penang has to offer.

Meditate on the simplicity of natural beauty.

Meditate on the simplicity of natural beauty.

The superbly designed garden is a feast for the eyes. For starters, take the shimmering Water Garden, a sampan boat wallowing near its reedy banks, giant water lilies the size of dustbin lids dotting the surface, as fish dart below and dragonflies hover above.

Take wagers on losing a little one across the stepping stones.

Take wagers on losing a little one across the stepping stones.

Meandering pebble paths zigzag up to the spice terraces, stepped down one side of the valley. Amble past citronella, torch ginger, aloe vera, turmeric, tamarind and countless others, learning about medicinal, culinary and even musical uses before winding up at the vanilla grove, rust red bark stencilled against jungle green. Learn too, either from the audio guide or discreetly placed information boards, about a lost world of travellers, pioneers and planters and the importance of the spice trade in Penang’s rise to glory; how fortunes and empires were made and unmade overnight by the modest clove, pepper and nutmeg.

A careless moment with one of these club-sized pestles is not advised.

A careless moment with one of these club-sized pestles is not advised.

The terraces descend down into the Heart of the Garden, an ancient rainforest eco-system framed and fanned by gargantuan palms, with trickling waterfalls and stepping-stones along the main artery. The space suddenly clears to reveal a stroke of garden design genius: a huge jungle swing, with a well-placed net for overzealous visitors and beautiful views across the gardens and out to the sea beyond.

Become a swinger on the wonderful jungle swing.

Become a swinger on the wonderful jungle swing.

In the Bamboo Garden, another original but welcome touch is the self-service tea kiosk, inspired by the traditional public tea stations on Penang Hill. Sit and catch your breath over an invigorating brew of lemongrass and stevia, poured from mammoth kettles perched on clay stoves over charcoal fire.

Help yourself to a herbal brew or fresh spring water at the tea kiosk.

Help yourself to a herbal brew or fresh spring water at the tea kiosk.

Refuelled for the climb up the hill to the Beverages of the World section, take a closer look and learn about the harvesting and processing of the tea, coffee and cocoa plants without which our world would undoubtedly cease to spin. Fittingly sited next to the stimulants, a giant game of snakes and ladders cheerily awaits, with big colourful steps for the ladders and giant flumes for the snakes, yet another inspired addition to keep the kids spirits from flagging.

Who's for a quick game of giant Snakes and Ladders?

Who’s for a quick game of giant Snakes and Ladders?

A tasteful gift shop packed with spices you can bring home adjoins the cooking school. The school offers courses where you can learn to cook an array of local dishes from scratch every day except Mondays, starting with a guided tour of the spice terraces and ending with lunch on the pavilion. Groups are kept small to allow for a personalized approach. Advanced booking is advised.

Become a spice expert at the cooking school.

Become a spice expert at the cooking school.

If the aromatic smells wafting from its doors have you drooling, Tree Monkey, a wonderful restaurant set in the treetops and serving Thai delights is the answer. Wriggly children and nature enthusiasts will more probably than not be rewarded with sightings of the rare spectacled dusky leaf monkeys that seem to love hanging out at this spot, to glance curiously at their guzzling cousins.

If you’re not hungry take the meandering jungle walk past the original rubber trees back down to the exit. A stretch of beach lies just across the road, or stay on this side for the bus stop if you fancy heading a bit further along the coast to the National Park or Butterfly Farm, or in the opposite direction for Batu Ferringhi’s night bazaar, beaches and water sports.

More details
(04) 881 1797
Opening Hours: Daily, 09:00-17:30
How to get there:

To get to the Tropical Spice Garden take bus No. 101 (Weld Quay – Teluk Bahang – Weld Quay), around 45 minutes one-way or bus No. 102 if coming from or going on to the airport. Ask the driver to drop you at the Tropical Spice Garden.


Last updated: 21st November, 2014

About the author:
A childhood of Northern Irish rain clouds and tribal loyalties made Judith long for distant, different shores. She sampled Edinburgh and Paris while studying History and French at university; London became home for a first job in advertising; Rome her base while leading European educational tours. Her future husband lured her away from pizza, piazza and prosecco back to the U.K where she taught yoga to kids and wrote her first novel. Another adventure beckoned and with toddler in tow she headed to South East Asia. She has settled in Penang where, in between looking after her son, she mostly writes, reads and eats, but not always in that order.
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