I’ve been to Penang island quite a few times but I had never gone up the Penang Hill before my recent road trip.
Even though I was born and bred in Malaysia.
However, I’ve redeemed myself; not only did I go up the Penang Hill, but I also explored The Habitat.
FUNICULAR TRAIN: The Tourist Way Up
If you’re not intending to hike up Penang Hill, which you certainly can, be sure to be at the main entrance as early in the morning as possible. Ideally 7 or 8 am.
Otherwise, you’ll just be in a long queue of people, especially if you go on a weekend.
It’s free to go up the Penang Hill by foot, but you need to pay RM12 (for Malaysians, more expensive for international tourists) to ride the train.
SIGHTS ON THE HILL
Whenever you go up a hill, you’ll see the horizon and whatever is below you.
Penang Hill shows you a mix of jungles; one made of trees and dirt while the other of steel and concrete.
On the hill itself, there are quite a lot of trees as well as human beings.
I can now understand why so-called eco-warriors are “ready to save Penang Hill“. They are concerned about the carrying capacity of the hill, rightly so. When I got there it wasn’t so bad but going back down I felt congested. I had to literally queue up about an hour for the train back down.
But at least my relatives and I spent a good 3 hours having breakfast at the cafe, visiting the temple and mosque, and exploring The Habitat before being agitated by the long queue out.
THE HABITAT: An attempt at proper ecotourism
Going into The Habitat was like discovering the secret door to Narnia.
But instead of using your faith, you need to use your money to get into The Habitat.
RM55 to be exact.
For most, it’s an exorbitant sum. I, too, felt like it was a burden to pay.
Why should I pay so much to explore nature that is meant to be free access for all?
But once I knew that it’s for their conservation effort, the burden vanished and I gladly hand out my money (or in this case my cousin’s credit card which I have paid back via bank transfer lol)
FYI – student price is RM35 which is so much cheaper! If you’re a student, please use your student card to the max!
2012 – Creative Quest wins bid on Penang Hill ecotourism project (RM3mil)
2016 – soft opening and phase 1 official launch
2017 – curtis crest tree top walk opens to public
2018 – phase 2 opens i.e. the langur way canopy walk which is likely to be the highest in Malaysia at 700m above sea level
Penang Hill is part of the network of tropical rainforest here in Malaysia that is gradually depleting, sadly.
But hopefully with such conservation efforts, the rainforests here will still be kept intact. I think most of us don’t know that the tropical rainforests here are one of the oldest, estimated at around 130 million years old. They are smaller in size but older than the Amazon Rainforest!
The Habitat sits on the fringe of the Penang Hill virgin jungle reserve area. This means that some parts of Penang Hill are a virgin jungle i.e. untouched by logging activities. The other similar pristine rainforest I’ve been to is the Royal Belum forest reserve and it was the best rainforest I’ve EVER been to.
I could smell the sweet musky smell of the forest while walking even just the first 100 metres along The Habitat. It was suddenly quieter and much more peaceful than the other (free) part of Penang Hill.
It’s just sad that the public part is not as well-kept as The Habitat because of lack of funds.
And it’s sad that while there was greenery at the public area, it has indeed been developed quite a bit. There were more open spaces than trees, let’s put it that way.
I feel SO happy whenever I see a water dispenser because your girl needs to hydrate every hour!
And I’m SO thankful that there were several water dispensers along the route of The Habitat. I forgot to take a picture of it but it’s definitely in my vlog!
There were a couple of Giant Swings that one (or preferably a couple) could sit on and bask in the beauty of the forest. You could see tall trees and the blue sky above, and you could hear birds chirping and insects buzzing. It was a clear sunny day when I went (blessed be to God) and I almost didn’t want to leave!
Curtin Crest Treetop Walk
If you have a fear of heights, don’t climb up!
But thankfully, I don’t so I got to see the view from this oval-ish shaped treetop walk.
From this point of view, I could see more trees and I realised that actually, Penang Hill is still quite dense.
I also saw the governor’s house which was basically a mansion. It was just in the middle of the thick forest.
I don’t know who lives there now but it must be very nice to live in the middle of the forest in such luxury.
MY THOUGHTS ON ECOTOURISM
There are usually two camps on this idea; either you
(a) agree that it’s helpful for conservation, or
(b) are skeptical that it’s not effective and only promotes greenwashing
I’ve had the opportunity to work on an ecotourism project in one of my previous companies and that certainly changed my perspective.
While such projects always begin with good intentions to protect wildlife and limit carrying capacity into protected areas, the execution of it might be a bit tricky.
For one, it needs the cooperation of various stakeholders to put the enforcement in place and ensure that the rules on paper are adhered to on-site.
From my experience, I thought that the government and relevant bodies were still unsure about how to handle ecotourism so I believe more education and awareness around this topic is needed.
It would be awesome if the government could take this – conservation and ecotourism – more seriously so that the public could still experience and connect with the natural environment without spending a hell lot of money.
We are already poor as a nation.
We don’t need this natural resource to be taken away from us either.
But at the same time, the public also needs to be educated on the ethics of being in the forest. Even just going on a hike, I’ve witnessed irresponsible acts by people like littering everywhere and being very loud.
So yes, I do appreciate the efforts of ecotourism and I wish that it could be the main form of tourism in general. I also think that with such efforts, they need to come hand-in-hand with public education and enforcement.
Even if you don’t particularly like the forest, you could still educate people about this and just take the general idea and teachings into everyday practice in your urban city life.