Penang Botanical Gardens.
The Malaysian island of Penang is one of my favorite travel destinations. The historic heart is Georgetown and this is the best place to stay and to enjoy the night life. Outside of the city, though, there are plenty of places to visit.
One place I always visit, and one of the best day-trips from Georgetown, is the Penang Botanical Gardens.
It is around twenty minutes by bus and only ten minutes by taxi. The trip takes you from the bustling city to a relaxing walk in well maintained parkland, filled with fascinating tropical plants.
You can meet a few Macaque monkeys, too...
The main walk circles the entire gardens and takes you to all the important locations.
Walking non-stop it is about thirty minutes round at a leisurely pace. Most visitors will stop at various attractions like the bromeliad house, cactus garden or waterfall so it will take a good deal longer.
In the center is parkland with neatly mowed grass and clumps of trees of all kinds. These include huge hardwood trees like tamarinds and also palm trees like the striking, red-stemmed lipstick palm.
Okay for Young Children or Seniors?
The gardens are built on a slope, essentially the side of a ridge. It is a moderately steep climb from the entrance of the gardens to the top of the park.
Young children may tire. Most adults, even quite elderly people, will cope because the path loops round the ridge and maintains a gentle slope, that is not too stressful.
The Electric Visitor Bus
If you think it might be too much of a walk for any reason, there are little buses which will take you at a slow and pleasant pace around the gardens.
You can just see one in the picture above.
Plants the Garden is Most Proud of
One of the great things about walking around a Botanical Gardens is that trees, shrubs and sometimes even herbs are reliably named.
So you can be sure that when you look at a rubber tree, an ironwood, a tamarind, or a coffee bush that it really is what it says that it is.
The Cannonball tree is very rare and rather unusual. The trunk is thick and covered with a tangle of stems that bare masses of very beautiful flowers.
The name comes from the spherical, cannonball-like buds.
The woman in the picture above gives an idea of the scale. These are striking trees.
Bromeliads are striking plants and the showier species are familiar to gardeners all over the world.
They are not native to SE Asia but many bromiliads are well adapted to rainforest conditions.
Many species in the Penang Botanical Gardens are epiphytes, that is they live on trees rather than in soil.
Above you can see where they are grown. You will see plenty of these plants on trees or in clusters in undergrowth as you walk around.
The cactus garden is small but there are plenty of fine (generally huge) specimens to admire.
The flower of the cactus pictured was about fifteen feet (5 meters) tall.That is tall even for a member of the Agave cactus family!
Other Plant Collections
You will find other plant houses and gardens dotted around the park.
- Water Lilies
There is also a formal garden.
A fast flowing stream runs right through the middle of the gardens and there are a series of waterfalls.
At the top of the ridge, some of the cascades are truly spectacular and have been an attraction for two hundred years, as you can see from the painting above.
Lower down, there are gentler falls where children play.
Much Longer Walks
You can take various hikes from the gardens to the heights of Penang Hill which is a large park in its own right several kilometers away.
You should be properly prepared for a walk through a tropical jungle.
Mosquitoes are not a problem in the botanical gardens, for example, but they will be found in numbers in the shade of the forest.
It is not a good idea to go on your own, in case you fall and cannot walk. You might encounter snakes, giant centipedes and scorpions so always be on the look out away the city and its crowds.
Other Creatures you Might See
A Little History
The gardens can trace their origins back to 1794. A young botanist from London established a small spice garden for the East India Company not long after Georgetown was established.
A taxi works out at around 25 ringgits (about 8 dollars) from Georgetown. Taxis are easy to come by in the high season. Always ask what the journey will cost first, though. Meters are not much used!
The bus route is the number 10. Buses are not as regular as they might be, however. When I visited last, they were only running at 45 minute intervals.
You can work out all your bus travel destinations here:
You could look into the travel passes, too, which are very inexpensive. A seven day bus pass is 30 ringgits!