Long-tailed macaques, spiny hill turtles and lesser mouse-deer are just some of the creatures you might see while roaming around The Habitat, a unique rainforest experience within easy reach of Penang’s capital, George Town – one of the most fascinating cities you could hope to visit with teens.
The Habitat sits on the fringe of the Penang Hill virgin jungle reserve area, thought to be part of Malaysia’s 130-million-year-old prehistoric rainforests. It’s a great place to get outdoors with kids, accessed by funicular railway and with a meandering 1.6km nature trail dotted with look-outs complete with kids’ activities such as seedling-planting. There’s also a canopy walk, a circular treetop walkway with wonderful views down over George Town, and a five-line zipwire. Penang Hill itself – once a British hill station – also boasts a somewhat bizarre array of family-friendly attractions, from an owl museum to wandering clowns.
'Don’t miss a deep-fried ice cream – stinky durian flavour if you’re feeling brave –
at the Clan Jetties (old Chinese water villages with stilted houses, part of the Penang Heritage Trail) or a chicken-floss bun from a local bakery. Even a cup of tea can be a occasion here –stop at a street -food vendor in Little India to watch the elaborate preparation and pouring of Teh Tarik, an Indian milk tea so sweet it will jangle your teeth.'
The Habitat is the place for a green interlude from Malaysia’s most colourful and compelling city. George Town is a great place to explore with teens, who love the street art, the shabby-chic colonial buildings, the friendly mix of religions (this is a place where Hindu, Buddhist and Christian places of workship rub shoulders in colourful disarray – you can freely wander around and into many of them), the civet-poo coffee and the speakeasy-style hidden bars and karaoke joints.
The food in Penang, too, is excellent, whether it’s classic Malaysian aromatic mutton soup or teow chew braised duck at the charming Areca Hotel (also the best place to stay wtih kids in Penang, with family rooms and a kids’ play area in the lobby) or the Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine accompanied by a pineapple and mint frappé and followed by a French toast dessert at the cosy Mews Café. And don’t miss a deep-fried ice cream – stinky durian flavour if you’re feeling brave – at the Clan Jetties (old Chinese water villages with stilted houses, part of the Penang Heritage Trail) or a chicken-floss bun from a local bakery. Even a cup of tea can be a occasion here – stop at a street -food vendor in Little India to watch the elaborate preparation and pouring of Teh Tarik, an Indian milk tea so sweet it will jangle your teeth.
Other George Town sights and activities we enjoyed together included The Top, a mall and entertainment tower that had lots of gruesome Halloween decor and activities during our visit, as well as being home to ride-on dinosaurs and The Gravityz, an extreme-sports platform taking you round the outside of the peak of the building undertaking challenges including a zipwire and a balance platform. Since our visit, it’s also been announced that Penang’s ESCAPE theme park, half an hour from George Town, is to have the world’s longest water-slide.
And no trip to this area would be complete without a visit to Bukit Merah Orangutan Sanctuary in Perak state an hour from George Town (Asian Overland Services transfers are the easiest way to get there). Here, a boat-trip takes you out across a lake to an island where these majestic, incredibly intelligent creatures live in their natural habitat – albeit in large, separate enclosures to stop any factional fighting. Human contact is limited (we were the only visitors there at the time) and the conservation efforts are targetted at releasing inhabitants back into the wild as soon as possible.
Read more about family holidays in Malaysia.
For a full-on rainforest experience including a visit to an Orang Asil community, see our feature on Taman Negara about eight hours from Penang.
For more information on Penang and tours, contact Penang Global Tourism.
BA flies to the Malay capital Kuala Lumpur.
Bukit Merah Orangutan Sanctuary