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Travel & Holiday

Tots take Penang

Kid-friendly attractions made it an enjoyable trip for everyone, despite the absence of a maid
The Straits Times - September 20, 2011
By: Jane Ng
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Tots take Penang The reporter's children - Jason, five, and Shannon, two - enjoying the ride down Penang Hill on the funicular train. -- PHOTO: JANE NG

Monkeys and parasailers - for a weary mum on a holiday break with kids to entertain and without a maid, thank goodness for them.

Those were my thoughts as my five-year-old son Jason stood with eyes glued to the full-height windows in our hotel room and exclaimed: 'Hey, I saw a man flying! And some monkeys swinging from tree to tree.'

We were not at a circus, but might as well have been, staying at the Holiday Inn Hotel at Penang's Batu Ferringhi beach.

From the comfort of the hotel room, Jason and two-year-old Shannon were kept occupied reporting the goings-on they saw from our seaview room.

For that, my husband and I were grateful to the tourists who chose to parasail at the beach at RM55 (S$22) a trip. Their colourful parachutes made for many minutes of entertainment for the kids, as did the antics of the hotel's resident monkeys - all five of them complete with a baby.

We took a short holiday to Penang recently sans maid or extended family. Yes, it was a challenge to keep the kids occupied all the time, even with the distracting action from monkeys and parasailers.

But I had done my research and knew there were many kid-friendly places to visit in Penang.

So the next morning, we headed to the 833m- high Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera.

We set off in our Avis-rented Proton Wira equipped with our own GPS and arrived at the foot of Penang Hill in Air Itam near Georgetown with little trouble after about 40 minutes.

The funicular train that took us up the steep hill was reopened in May after being closed for upgrading for 10 months. If part of the upgrading was to make it speedier, then it was a pity, for the entire ride took at most 10 minutes whizzing past the jungle, a tunnel and apparently some villages which I was unable to spot.

Still, the children enjoyed the ride, which cost RM30 (adults) and RM15 (children). For the best views, head for the first or last cabin. The ones in between offered just a dizzy view of the dense jungle zooming past.

On the hill, we were treated to a panoramic view of the city and the sea that surrounded it.

The kids paid scant attention to the Hindu temple and mosque at the top, but enjoyed the playground there.

There was also an aviary at Bellevue Hotel near the summit. Bird-lover Shannon was excited to see the colourful macaws, hornbills and parrots. Entry to the little bird park costs RM5 (adults) and RM3 (children over three).

We chose the first cabin in the train as we were going down the hill, and at the high speed it travelled, even the teenagers in the cabin with us squealed in delight alongside my kids.

No trip to Penang is complete without a visit to the famous Kek Lok Si, or Buddhist Temple of Supreme Bliss, a friend in Penang had told me. So off we went and it was a temple unlike any we have visited, just for the things we could do there.

We skipped the narrow steps leading up the hill with shops selling knick-knacks and souvenirs, and chose to drive up instead.

The kids fed turtles, sat in the golden glass lift and had ice cream, all within the temple grounds.

At a pond ironically called Liberation Pond, what looked like hundreds of turtles were mounted on top of one another as the children fed them spinach leaves. We rounded off our day with ice cream before going back to the hotel for a dip in the pool.

The next day, we went to Penang Youth Park, or Taman Perbandaran. Think of an expanded version of Jacob Ballas Children's Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with a wading pool, fountains and a huge playground with kiddy rides, and free parking thrown in. There were even outdoor showers so the kids could clean up after changing out of their swim gear. We could have stayed there for longer if not for the fact that we had a last destination in mind - the Penang Butterfly Farm.

At RM27 (adults) and RM15 (children age four to 12), we had inadvertently saved the best for last when we entered a huge netted area filled with thousands of butterflies. Yes, they flew near me and landed prettily on leaves and branches, so I had no problems getting that perfect shot.

Holding out his palm, my husband managed to coax one to land on his finger for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, my city-bred kids got up close and personal with a 10cm-long caterpillar. Shannon had no qualms stroking the creature, while Jason hesitated before touching it with his fingertip. Me? I had no inclination to touch one, so I gave the excuse that I had to take pictures for the family.

The kids were also introduced to the scorpion, called Mr S, by the guide.

Jason wanted to buy a butterfly postcard as a keepsake but they were sold out. He cheered up when I told him I would turn the photos in my camera into postcards for him.

Back in the hotel and after a swim, we headed out for dinner and went shopping at Batu Ferringhi night market on the way to the touristy Long Beach hawker centre, a 10-minute walk away.

We drove to a more well-ventilated Viva Local Food Haven on the last night. Both food places had the savoury Penang char kway teow which Jason wolfed down, and wonton noodle soup which Shannon daintily picked at but finished a decent portion of. My husband and I had our fill of Penang laksa, carrot cake and claypot chicken rice.

It was tiring travelling with the kids as they needed to be watched over or entertained almost all the time, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

My husband, who said the best part of the trip for him was navigating our rented wheels through the winding mountainous road leading to Batu Ferringhi, may have a different story to tell.

I lamented to him that with just two full days in Penang, excluding the days we arrived and left, we did not get to visit the Penang Toy Museum, the bird park at Butterworth or explore the seafront streets of Gurney Drive.

But Jason cheered: 'So we have to come back again!'


  • Order pre-booked meals for them: We travelled on budget airline Air Asia which did not serve meals, but I pre-ordered food - chicken rice, pancakes, pizza - when booking. The children looked forward to it and it kept them occupied during the 1-hour, 20-minute flight.
  • Plan your travelling to suit the children's routine: Our 11.25am flight coincided with Shannon's nap. She slept after an early lunch until we arrived at 12.45pm, when she awoke refreshed.
  • Bring sweets to ease ear pressure, and books and toys to entertain. Jason, who was awake throughout the flight, experienced altitude pressure; sucking on a lollipop and taking sips of water helped ease the discomfort.
  • Rent a car: We managed to cover four places in two full days because we rented a car and could travel at our convenience. And we could dump our paraphernalia like swimgear in it when not in use. Even with driving, the sights were about 30 minutes to an hour's drive from our hotel on average.
  • Prioritise the destinations and be prepared to drop those you do not have time for: We did not visit as many places as we would have liked. So for example, when we were left with one last afternoon for exploration, we picked the butterfly farm over the toy museum.



Wildlife amid luxury