Visiting Penang in Malaysia with your family? Penang offers a wide range of family friendly attractions. Better still - a visit to most of these places will set you back less than $US10. Here are ten of the best things to do with children in Penang.
1. Have a picnic at the Penang Youth Park
Set in a well maintained grassy parkland filled with huge ancient trees covered in staghorns and jungle paths, the Penang Youth Park or Taman Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (Penang Municipal Park) is paradise for families. Children will love the huge shady playgrounds with enough equipment that even on a busy Saturday there are free swings, and the wading pools fed by spring water. When they're bored with slides (and its hard to imagine how; our children have contests when we visit the park to see if we can actually ride on each of the slides at least once) there's a wide variety of exercise equipment, gradual walking trails to explore , bridges to race across and trees that are just asking to be climbed. For older children there is a large soccer field, skating rink, giant chess set, archery shooting range and a BMX/skate park. Walking around the park you'll discover a wide variety of wildlife - huge monitor lizards, small hopping birds, millipedes, vibrant green snakes and two separate species of monkeys. During the afternoon the monkey's will often be found wandering the park in search of food that visitors have left behind. They've become very adept at opening the bins in search of food. The monkeys are generally timid and won't attack young children unless the children have food in their hands. Keep an eye on your packs and don't let your kids walk around eating.
COST: Entry to the Youth Park is free, as is parking. The only money you'll need to spend in on your picnic supplies. There's a shop inside the park selling a limited selection of cold drinks and snacks, but there's plenty of picnic areas dotted throughout the park if you want to bring your own.
GETTING THERE: If you're coming from Batu Ferringhi there's no direct bus unfortunately. You can take a taxi (RM20-30) or catch the Rapid Penang 102 bus and ask our driver to let you off at the closest point to the Youth Park. This will be the corner of Jalan Utama and Jalan Gottlieb. Walk to the right towards the Botanical Gardens for 500m and you will see the entrance to the Taman Perbandaran Pulau Pinang through the carpark (the park is only signed in Bahasa at this entry point so remember the name Taman Perbandaran). If you go past the Indian temple you've walked too far. If your coming from Georgetown either catch the Rapid Penang 102 and get off at the aforementioned stop or catch the nr. 7 Botanical Gardens bus at the bus station near Komtar.
2. Penang Butterfly Farm
A short drive from Batu Ferringhi is the Penang Butterfly Farm - home to 120 species of tropical butterflies, as well a wide variety of insects, reptiles, fishes and plants. Of all the butterfly parks in Malaysia, this is our favourite due to the wide range of fauna and great information displays. In the early mornings, the plants and paths are covered in colourful butterflies. If you wear bright clothes its quite likely that you will be too! The 11am and 3pm insect and reptile show are a great way to see many of the native species of insects and reptiles up close. Children will love learning about camouflage and trying to spot the hidden insects. For those brave enough you can even hold some of the stick insects. Even if butterflies aren't your thing, the wide variety of scorpions, lizards and giant spiders (most alive!) from around Asia will delight and fascinate. Keep an eye out for the giant concrete beetle near the exit! The Penang Butterfly Farm is open Monday - Friday from 9.00AM - 5.30PM ( last entry at 5.00PM ). On weekends and public holidays opening hours are 9.00AM - 6.00PM ( last entry at 5.30PM ). A small shop onsite sells snacks and drinks, as well as a wide variety of inexpensive tourist souvenirs. The park is very popular with tourists and locals so its best to avoid Sundays and public holidays.
GETTING THERE: You can catch a taxi, but its much cheaper to catch the bus. The Butterfly Farm is located along Rapid Penang 101 route.
COST: Adult RM20.00, children (4 - 12 years old) RM10.00
3. Feed the liberated turtles at Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si, or the Buddist Temple of Supreme Bliss, is built on a side of the hill in Air Itam, an outer suburb of Georgetown. Normally temples are one of the last places that people would think to visit with children. But Kek Lok Si actually has a lot to offer families. As well as wonderfully colourful buildings and giant statues of animals and Gods that will help families learn more about Buddhism, Kek Lok Si has turtles and fish to feed, golden glass elevators that look like they?ve come straight out of Willy Wonka?s Chocolate Factory, ice creams for sale, a giant bell to ring and gorgeous flower gardens to explore.
COST: Entry to Kek Lok Si is free. Feeding the turtles will cost RM1 per bunch of greens, while fish food costs RM2 per bag. Riding the magnificent glass elevators costs RM4 for a return trip per adult, with children under 6 free. The many snack shops might set you back a few additional ringett for ice cream or chips, but provided you can avoid the souvenir stores a visit to Kek Lok Si should set you back less than US8.
GETTING THERE: Depending on your location, you can take Rapid Penang Bus201, 203, 204, 206, 306 and U502. Check the Rapid Penang Bus Route for details, map and time table. If you're coming from Batu Ferringhi you'll need to catch a bus to Georgetown and change buses.
4. Build sandcastles at the many quiet beaches
Batu Ferringhi might be one of the longest and most popular beaches for visitors to Penang to visit, however the over-development and touts trying to sell you a ride on one of the many horses, jet skis, quad bikes or parasails do detract from the beauty of the beach itself. Penang has a lot of smaller beaches that are perhaps more beautiful because they are quiet and under developed. Most have clean sand, rocks to explore and over hanging trees to provide plenty of shade.
COST: RM1-3 per adult, children under 5 are usually free but it can depend on your bus driver
GETTING THERE: Getting to the various beaches of Penang is easy, as is finding one. Just hop on any Rapid Penang 101 or 102 bus heading in any direction and get off as soon as you see one that takes your fancy. Heading east from Batu Ferringhi are Miami Beach and Shamrock Beach - both lovely options that also have food vendors during the afternoons and on weekends. The vendors are sometimes open during the day but its hard to predict so take your own food and drinks. Heading west past Batu Ferringhi, the beach opposite the Spice Gardens has beautiful sand and a small store for cold drinks. Further west you'll find many beautiful beaches, including those within the Penang National Park.
5. Catch the Penang ferry over to the mainland
The Penang Ferry began its operations in 1920, making it the oldest ferry service in Malaysia. The brightly coloured rainbow ferries work non-stop between the mainland city of Butterworth and Penang island between 5.30am - 1am, ferrying both passengers and vehicles. A ride on the ferry takes 15-20 minutes each way. Only some ferries take foot passengers so you might have to wait at the Pier for up to 30 minutes but there are plenty of nearby places to buy snacks and watching the ferries leave every five minutes will keep your children entertained. Once at Butterworth you need to hop off to buy your return ticket but if you're quick you can just catch the same ferry straight back to Penang. Weekends and peak hour (8-9am or 5-6 pm) are best avoided but the rest of the time you should be able to find a great seat on the upper decks to enjoy the view. Even if you don't have time to ride the ferry, its worth visiting the Pier to watch the rainbow ferries at work and gaze with awe at the giant cruise ships that are usually docked nearby.
GETTING THERE: The ferry terminal is located next to the Pier in Georgetown where most bus routes terminate. If you're coming from Batu Ferringhi catch the 101 or 103 to the Pier and walk through the ferry's undercover walkway on the left of the bus station.
COST: Fees are RM7 per car return. For passengers a return journey is RM1.20 for adults and RM0.60 for children over 5. Children under 5 are free when riding with a paying adult.
6. Walk through the tree tops at the Penang National Park
Set in the north-western corner of Penang is the beautiful Penang National Park. Given how close it is to the developed areas of Penang, the variety of plant and animal wildlife is amazing. Monkey's, giant swimming monitor lizards, bright darting birds and even the odd snake. Walking trails take visitors to Monkey Beach, the Muka Head lighthouse, a turtle hatchery and the meromictic lake. Many of the trails are long, but there are a number of lovely beaches, picnic spots and small suspension bridges within a short 5-20 minute walk. The first beach, with its shady picnic spots right over the sand is even accessible for prams and wheelchairs. Be sure to bring water, hats and plenty of mosquito repellant as even in the middle of the day the mozzies are quite fierce.
For the adventurous, the canopy walk is a great outing with kids. The trail to reach it takes 30 minutes and is an easy walk, although children under 3 might need some help with some of the steps. Monkey Beach is a fantastic outing although it's long. Near the Parks main entrance you can hire or share a boat to Monkey Beach or one of the other beaches too far inside the park for little legs to reach. Its worth noting that the prices the tour operators charge here are much cheaper than the ones being quoted in Batu Ferringhi and Georgetown. If you do want to try walking to one of the further beaches you can arrange a preset time and fee for the boat operators to bring you back.
The Interpretation Centre at the main entrance has wonderful facilities and binoculars on offer at their view deck to check out your surroundings before commencing your walk. There's also a mini-market selling snacks and drinks. Neither the park or any of the nearby restaurants take VISA/Mastercard/Amex so you need to bring sufficient cash with you. At this point in time there's no ATM in the nearby town of Teluk Bahang either.
GETTING THERE: The Rapid Penang 101and 103 buses terminate outside the Park's front entrance at Teluk Bahang so getting there is simple as catching the bus right to the end of its route.
COST: Entry to the park itself is free although you do need to register for a permit at the parks main office (open between 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m). The Interpretation Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m and admission is free. The canopy walk is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m Tuesday - Saturaday. If weather conditions are poor the canopy walk will close. Tickets for the canopy walk need to be purchased at the parks main office before entering the park. Ticket prices are RM4 per adult and RM1 per child.
7. Fly the coup at the Penang Bird Park
The Penang Bird Park is located in Butterworth and has over 300 species of birds from all over the world, of which more than 150 species are from Malaysia. Its less impressive than the KL Bird Park but still a very great attraction and an very enjoyable day out with kids if you happen to be in Butterworth. The 11am and 3pm bird shows are definitely worth catching to see some of the larger species of hornbills and eagles up close. Watch out for the roaming emu - he's friendly but if you come across him unware he'll give you a shock. The two large crocodiles in their small enclosure also seem far too interested in small children that stray to close to their less than sturdy looking fence. The park is open 9am-7pm seven days a week.
GETTING THERE: The Penang Bird Park is best reached by car or taxi. If you're driving, directions and a map can be found on the parks website. To reach the park by bus you need to catch a bus or ferry to the main bus station in Butterworth and then catch another bus.
COST: RM20 for adults and RM10 for children under 10.
8. Toys galore at the Toy Museum
Located in front of the Copthorne Orchid Hotel in Tanjung Bunga is the envy of every child, past and present: The Penang Toy Museum. Some claim its the largest personal collection of toys in the world. We're inclined to believe them.
Imagine a small house filled with a floor to ceiling maze of toys. Whatever image you have in your mind, triple it. This personal collection of toys is amazing and covers figurines from every genre that have been released in in the last 50 years. From Star Wars to superheroes to Barbie and Pixar... they're all here.
Even adults will love finding their childhood favourites hidden amongst the collections. The Toy Museum is open from 9am-9pm seven days a week.
GETTING THERE: The Toy Museum is right on the main road to Georgetown. The Rapid Penang 101, 102 and 103 buses stop at the toy museum. Just tell your driver where you want to go and he'll let you out right in front.
COST: RM10 for adults and RM6 for children.
9. Pirates and battles: Fort Cornwallis & War Museum
If history and playing pretend pirates are more your thing, Fort Cornwallis in Georgetown is a great day out with kids. The cannons, artillery bunker and jail will be the highlight for your children. Unless you count the small ice cream store and playground right outside the fort.
There's not a lot of shade at Fort Cornwallis so go early and take hats.
Fort Cornwallis is open from 9am - 6.30pm daily. If you are interested in war history, its well worth the drive out to the War Museum on the far southern tip of Penang. Learning about history as you climb the hillside facility and exploring the tunnels is fascinating, if a little hard on the legs.
GETTING THERE: Fort Cornwallis is on the edge of Central Georgetown on Jalan T. S. S. Barakbah off Lebuh Light.
COST: Entry is RM3 for adults, RM2 for children (although they generally don't charge for children under 5 years).
10. Zoom down the giant slides at Adventure Zone
Located at the Golden Sands Hotel in Batu Ferringhi, a visit to Adventure Zone isn't the cheapest outing in Penang but it's worth every cent. Even adults will have an amazing time playing here on the giant slides, large enough to make most adults pause.
As well as three speed slides, the well maintained jungle gym and toddler areas are fantastic. Everyone must wear socks. Long sleeves are required for the speed slides.
GETTING THERE: Adventure Zone is part of the Golden Sands Hotel located right on the beach as you first enter Batu Ferringhi. The Rapid Penang 101 bus has a stop right outside.
COST: RM22 per child for a 2 hour block on weekdays. RM33 per child for a 2 hour block on weekends. Free entry for parents of paying children.