Catching Some Air in Penang

Merle and Mathilda find some love on Penang Hill.

Merle and Mathilda find some love on Penang Hill.

Besides the cultural virtues of Penang, nature is a big player here. Most of the upper hills of the island remain undeveloped and home to a wide variety of wildlife, including A LOT of monkeys.

On one of our last nights in Penang, we were graced with the presence of an entire troupe of spectacled langurs, or dusky leaf monkeys. Some laden with babies strapped across their tummies, they nimbly traversed electrical wires over a major road to get to a grove of trees. Dinner for them is leaves. We see the ubiquitous macaques all the time, but not the elusive dusky leaf. What a great way to cap our time here. Mathilda exclaimed, “Mommy! This is good!”


Macaques are actually the most widely distributed nonhuman primate in the world. From the parks, beaches, Botanic Gardens, to even our apartment complex, macaques are everywhere in Penang.

We have a stare down with a macaque on our way out of Miami Green.

We have a stare down with a macaque on our way out of Miami Green.

Mathilda passes a monkey at Penang's Youth Park.

Mathilda passes a monkey at Penang’s Youth Park.

Penang’s Youth Park is favorite monkey hangout. We humans loved this expansive, gorgeous, multiuse gem at the foot of jungle-ized hills. The kids clamored around the huge playground, sampled the funny exercise equipment (like in Vietnam), splash pools, and even found a skate park. Chris saw a monkey actually slide down one of its ramps.

Another outdoor favorite of mine was the Penang Botanic Gardens. I am still thinking about this place and is one outing I wish we could do one more time. Set in a lush, green bowl surrounded by thick tropical forests, the Botanic Gardens are one of Penang’s greatest assets. Not only serving as a green lung for the area, it is a stunning repository of hundreds of plant species, while providing a breathtaking space for locals and tourists to gather, excercise, and simply let nature fill one’s mind and soul. Established by the British over one hundred years ago, the Botanic Gardens have a more wild, less developed, mountainous feel than its sister park in Kuala Lumpur. Its well designed pathways were lined with dozens of different types of trees, all tastefully labeled. The kids enjoyed reading each sign and got to see some very special trees, including a vast mahogany and a cannonball tree bursting with stunning blooms (below).

Running legs, Penang Botanic Gardens.

Running legs, Penang Botanic Gardens.

Dancing with props.

Dancing with props.


Taking the funicular up to the top of Penang Hill was another nice chance to get outside and breathe some fresh air. There were a lot of things to do up there, but I think Merle and Mathilda’s favorite was posing with some cute birds.

Every Tuesday, we would head over to the outdoor night market in Tanjung Bungah. Highlights include awesome shaved ice balls, freshly pressed sugar cane juice, radiant fruits and vegetables, and food vendors that are extremely serious about good cooking.

It was at this market that I bought Mathilda a hijab, the head scarf worn by local Malay women. Inspired by her new apparel, Mathilda revealed some lovely dance moves later at the apartment.

One of our last mornings in Penang was spent at Monkey Beach, which is around the coast from us in the national park. The monkeys must have been sleeping and the water was not very appealing, but the rockin’ swing brought a lot of smiles.

A special thanks goes to our new friends, Amy, Cris, Siena, and Ryan, an American expat family living just down the street from us who I connected with on Tripadvisor. It meant so much to me that she opened up her life and home to us knowing we would be here for only a short time. Our kids all had a ball playing together on several occasions, and we sincerely hope to see them again someday.


Since we are approaching the final weeks of our trip, naturally our minds have begun to make a shift. We have almost come full circle, and I feel one foot stepping out already. As I look ahead, beyond our trip, my heart floats a bit away from where we are at the moment. Penang has been fulfilling in many ways, but we are ready to move on.



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