Until last year, I kind of despised visiting Penang Hill. Why? The development on the top is simply ridiculous. Instead of emphasizing the natural habitat of Penang’s oldest remaining rainforest, developers have steamrolled concrete paths everywhere, preferring to offer lame selfie opportunity spots rather than provide an immersion in what matters most: nature.
Luckily for visitors, in year 2017 not all is lost. The backside of the hill has seen very interesting developments as of late: you will find them at the Habitat. Following an old drainage path built by the British Colonizers in the 19th century, Penang’s latest eco-park offers a walk along some of the island’s oldest rainforest – a staggering 130-millions-year old.
As I write, the park is seeing the completion of its latest attractions – a bridge over the forested valley below, and a series of zip lines – and it still costs only 20RM per adult per day. This means that your ticket will guarantee multiple entries for the whole day of purchase, from 9.30 am to 6 pm.
The Habitat is not just a guided walk conducted by professional local guides who will give you great insight on the local flora and fauna – indeed the park hosts giant black squirrels, colugos, dusky leaf monkeys and other small jungle critters. There are quite a few reasons why you should go there now, but I’ll tell you the 5 perks I like the most.
1The Giant Swings
Face it: everyone loves swings. And even more, if they are giant, wooden, and overlooking a beautiful patch of rainforest that rolls down green hillslopes. Did I mention the sea, shimmering away on the clearest days, and views that stretch as far as Kedah?
If you have thought long about where to go on your next special date, one of the Habitat’s two giant swings may as well be the perfect place. Just remember that monkeys will keep an eye on you from the canopy all around.
2Flora and Fauna at your Fingertips
The beauty of taking a stroll at The Habitat is to be close to nature. Truth be told, you won’t see scores of animals here, but the flowers and trees are plentiful enough to make many stops along the 1.2-kilometer pathway. The guide who’ll accompany you will be great in pointing out all the special characteristics of trees, insects, and flowers along the way. Any visit will be a real chance to dive deeper into a part of Penang that, unfortunately, many visitors forget in favor of boutique hotels and cafés.
3The Views are Really Not Bad Up Here…
Yes, Penang Hill has great views almost from anywhere you look. But with all the food outlets, people moving about, buggy carts speeding up and down, and the hordes of selfie-stick-toting tourists traversing the paths, you’ll have to compete elbowing your way across the view deck. Since the Habitat is on the opposite side of the hill from George Town, over the Botanical Gardens, it offers much more rewarding views. When I visited last, the outline of Gunung Jerai in Kedah soared out of the blue like a phantom peak. And, of course, there were no tourists wielding no selfie-stick in my face. Priceless, isn’t it?
4A Tree Top Walk that’s Unique in All of Penang
Another perk that sets The Habitat apart from other Penang parks is the new Tree Top Walk, named Curtis Crest. This circular ring soars over the park’s canopy, granting unparalleled views on both sides of Penang hill. Whether you prefer seeing a slice of George Town elongating into the Straits Sea, or take a peek at the plains of Kedah dominated by Gunung Jerai, you can just walk, and walk on… keep enjoying the views from Penang’s highest man-made platform.
5Great Food in a New Café overlooking the Rainforest
The latest addition to The Habitat is a brand new café tucked behind their souvenir shop, and right before the path that leads you back out to the top of Penang Hill. The ambience is great: a stylish noir décor overlooking a hill slope, filled with trees teeming with birds and monkeys. There’s an attractive rooftop area to be completed soon, where a bar with lounge chairs will be a perfect spot for sundowners looking out over one of the island’s greenest corners. And don’t forget the food and drinks: besides mean brews and cappuccinos, the forte here are the ciabatta sandwiches, bagels smeared with melted cheese and garnished with egg or chicken, and of course, the tangy curries. The Green Curry Chicken (19.9RM) goes down well and appeals to all tastes, while the Curry Capitan Chicken (19.9RM) is more zesty and punchy. Trust me: you won’t resist scooping up your bowl with the toasted bread it comes with.
A Very Good Tip for visitors
Remember two things: first and foremost, the jungle is at its best in the early morning, especially if you are a photographer. Try to come when The Habitat opens at 9.30 am to enjoy the park with more quiet – weekday mornings are particularly good.
Also, you may want to know that with a Malaysian MyKad, the funicular train that brings visitors up the hill only costs 3RM between 6 am and 9 am, or 7 pm to 11 pm. Early birds will catch a sweet deal – instead of shelling out 10RM for a roundtrip, or an exaggerated 30RM if you are a foreigner.