Exploring Penang: Stunning viewpoints, Dusky-Leaf monkeys, Penang Hill, walking the street art trail and of course, feasting on local food.
After having spent a great couple days in Kuala Lumpur, we headed north for a couple of nights in Penang. We’d both been to Penang many times before, but were keen to revisit some of our favourite places and find some new ones. Arriving in the evening, our first stop was our old favourite Red Garden Food Paradise.
Penang is famous for its food and the Red Garden is a great place to see and taste a range of pretty cheap Malaysian foods like Char Kway Teow, Wan Tan Mee, Hokkien Mee, before cooling down with a Cendol for dessert. As well as the Malay specialties on offer, there were plenty of other cuisines available like Chinese, Indian and Japanese too.
We started early on Saturday with only one full day to explore Penang. Food aside, Penang always seemed to underwhelm us in our Tour Leading days and we were keen to see if and how it had changed.
Our first stop was the botanical gardens. Being a weekend it was busy with locals, but great to see so many families out exercising. Our main reason for visiting the park was to look for the Dusky Leaf Monkey also known by two other names due to their appearance, the Spectacled Langur, or Spectacled Leaf Monkey. We think you can ‘see’ why! Haha. We’d heard the gardens were the best place to see the monkeys and it didn’t take too long to find them. A group of four were moving between the trees near the entrance.
We had hoped to see some of the gardens bird life, but being early on a weekend meant the sheer volume of people made it almost impossible. After a brief recce, we found little more than a Striated Heron and decided to move on to Penang Hill.
The botanical gardens are located at the base of Penang Hill. There are numerous trails you can take from the gardens to the top of the hill. We opted against the busy main trail and instead headed up the Rifle Trail from the Moon Gate.
Now we could tell you that because we’d both been to the top of Penang Hill before we decided to explore some of the other viewpoints, but that wouldn’t quite be true. The reality was that after 40 minutes or so, we met a very friendly local who told us about a short cut with nice views. There must have been a bit of a misunderstanding because after another hour and a half we seemed to be heading further and further away from our intended peak. Already past lunch time and with only a few hours left to explore Penang we had given up hope of summiting and decided to cut our losses and just make do with the viewpoint approaching on our current track. Upon reaching this obscure viewpoint we suddenly realised his ‘short cut’ wasn’t actually to the top at all, but to this little-known viewpoint. It turned out to be well worth it and offered quite different views compared to our previous climbs. In fact, we actually preferred these views and best of all, there wasn’t another person in sight. Gotta love a local tip helping us get ‘a little off track!’
Over the course of our few hours on the hill, we saw plenty more Dusky Leaf Monkeys, coming across 4 separate groups. As well as being very quiet, they were also less habituated than the group we saw in the park and preferred to keep their distance, high in the trees.
A public bus ride took us back Georgetown and after a quick feed at the Jetty Food Court, we set off on the Street Art Trail. We were particularly keen to see London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic’s commissioned street art which was painted in 2012, a couple of years after we finished our SE Asia tour leading stints.
There was plenty of other artists work on show as well as Ernest Zacharevic’s. With pieces like Louis Gan’s ‘Brother and Sister on Swing’, Julia Volchkova’s ‘The Indian Boatman’ and a collaborative piece called ‘Old Soy Milk Stall’ being some of our other favourites.
We really enjoyed the street art, if for nothing else, its interactive backdrops. A good way to build up the appetite before gorging at Red Garden again.
Another thing we love about Penang and Malaysia as a whole, is that regardless of belief, race or religion (with Islam Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism being the main four) all seem to co-exist peacefully. In fact, we read ‘freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Constitution’ and, that alongside Islamic holy days, Chinese New Year, Christmas and Deepavali are national holidays’ despite Islam being the federal religion. And that harmonious coexistence of religions, beliefs and traditions has resulted in some very diverse architecture. It only takes a short walk through the streets of Penang to find numerous examples of this.
We were really happy to re-visit Penang 10 years since our last visit and found, unlike our re-visit to Melaka, Penang for us, was actually much more enjoyable this time around. We left in the early hours for our flight over to Malaysian Borneo to explore the wildlife of Bako National Park in Sabah and the Kinabatangan River in Sarawak.