Jungle near the city
Published/Last edited or updated: 30th September, 2017
To experience Malaysia’s rainforests without straying too far from the sanctity of the city, you need go no further than the Penang Botanic Gardens.
Set within a valley at the base of Penang Hill and bordered on three sides by dense tropical forest, the gardens offer a respite from the hectic streets of Georgetown. Wandering along its broad, tree-lined boulevards, and listening to the whir of cicadas and the chatter of birds and monkeys in the jungle beyond, it’s easy to see why this has always been such a popular place for locals to come and relax (although the peace is somewhat shattered by occasional blasts from a nearby rifle range).
The present gardens were established in 1884 on this 29-hectare site as a recreational facility for the town and as a repository for a wide variety of different plants. For seasoned horticulturalists, the gardens are perhaps not as impressive or as well tended as others around the world and although there are lots of labels citing the Latin names of species, there is not much information.
The rolling lawns and the backdrop of the rainforest make this a pleasant place for a stroll, and there are plenty of different zones to explore, including a Fern House, Orchidarium, Formal Garden, Palm Collection, and Sun Rockery, all featuring both endemic and foreign species. Even if you have never been that interested in plants, you may still be impressed by the cannonball trees, whose trunks are festooned with huge round fruits.
One of the highlights is a short loop trail to the waterlily pond—although there were none flowering at the time of our visit, regardless, as you wander into the jungle of towering trees, you really feel as though you are leaving the city far behind and get a real sense of Malaysia’s natural environment. Take a moment, park yourself on a bench and keep an eye out for monitor lizards in the pond, brightly coloured birds and butterflies, and the occasional monkeys swinging high up in the canopy.
If you’re feeling supper energetic, follow another path that takes you to the summit of Penang Hill, but be prepared, it’s a decent hike for several hours up up uphill. If walking doesn’t appeal, or you’re simply short on time, golf buggies can zip you around the park, stopping at the various gardens for ten ringgit per person (three ringgit for kids). Note the booth selling tickets close to the entrance is for this service, and not an entry fee for the garden, as we assumed—they happily took our money for nothing (doh!) as the park is free to enter.
A small shop in the gardens sells gifts, drinks and snacks. For more substantial food, try you luck at the Waterfall Cafe, a small hawker centre next to the car park outside the main gates, but very little was available when we visited. You can bring your own picnic into the gardens too, although beware of the monkeys: they are shameless thieves, so make sure food is hidden away in bags while you are walking around, in case they catch you unawares.
If your visit to Penang coincides with the last weekend of the month, check the LFSS (Last Friday Saturday Sunday) Penang Facebook page, who offer regular monthly free guided tours of the Botanical Gardens—prior registration required. It can get very hot during the middle of the day, so it’s best to visit when it’s overcast, or else in the morning or at dusk, which is when most locals come to exercise or simply sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
The number 10 bus to the Botanic Gardens leaves every hour from Weld Quay, via Lebuh Chulia Street and Lebuh Burma, alternatively the gardens are a stop on Penang’s Hop-on Hop-off tourist bus route. A Grab car from town will set you back around 10-15 ringgit.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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