For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

Penang and Ipoh’s natural trail

The breadth of natural wonders in Malaysia is vast, and if you want some one-in-a-lifetime experiences in Penang and Ipoh, writes Andrew Sepie.

Halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang you will find the intriguing city of Ipoh, and the truly enthralling Lost World Of Tambun is worth a trip to Ipoh in-and-of itself. This is billed as ‘Malaysia’s premiere action and adventure family holiday destination’ and it certainly lives up to that description. Nestled in lush tropical jungle with natural hot springs, there is a geyser that shoots hot water up to 12 meters into the air and 400-million-year-old limestone hills. There are 88 attractions within 10 different parks, and 123 species of animals to see. If you want some extended time at Lost World, you’re in luck, as the complex has a hotel. You can also pitch a tent and go glamping, or rent one of their floating villas, which are seriously cool; but, a day-visit will also do nicely.

Rabbits in the Lost World, Ipoh
Rabbits in the Lost World, Ipoh. Photo: Andrew Sepie

The Lost World theme park

The Lost World theme park attractions are immensely joy-making, with a sublime waterpark and the longest man-made river in Asia, at 660 metres; although, it is undeniably the animals that are simply magical. Malaysia is termed a ‘megadiverse’ country, which means it has many of the world’s animal species and many of these are endemic. At the more sedate end of the activities, there is a petting zoo that includes the most beautiful bounty of bunnies, a very friendly racoon, and many more. Other magnificent animals that you cannot pet include the Monocled Cobra, a King Cobra, various other snakes, meerkats, the very small Fennec Fox, and a very cute Red-Footed Turtle. The variety of exceptionally enthralling spiders are a must, and features the Curly Hair, Skeleton Leg, and Mexican Red Leg tarantulas. You will immediately notice the attitude of the guides, and this is a standout feature of your visit. The guides are also the animal ‘keepers’.

Giraffe feeding at The Lost World in Ipoh.
Giraffe feeding at The Lost World in Ipoh. Photo: Andrew Sepie

They treat the animals like family and know the names of each one – yes, they are all named. Before you think that this might be part of the ‘show’, it isn’t. The animals respond to their names and the bond between animals and guides is obvious. The Lost World Of Tambun is also home to the world’s largest rodent: the Capybara, which can weigh up to 60kg.

Capybara at Lost World. Photo: Andrew Sepie

Capybaras may be classed as a rodent, but they are exceptionally adorable and these you can feed, along with zebras, giraffes, and a whole host of other animals, including Juwita, the 29-year-old hippopotamus, and her son Jaguh. There are just too many to mention, but it would be safe to say that you will not find such a cross-section of species at any other place in the world.

Penang’s Botanic gardens

Nature is plentiful in Malaysia and the next stop is a little over two hours away in Penang. You need to set aside some time for a leisurely walk around Taman Botani Pulau Pinang, which is Penang’s Botanic gardens and around 15 minutes from George Town. It is, as you would expect, well curated, there are some beautiful water features, and an orchid enclosure. The travel tip is to mind when you go: mid-day is to be avoided, as the heat can be overbearing, so pick a morning or evening. If you do end up there in the middle of the day, you will that the gardens are devoid of locals, and that is the reason why!

Botanic Gardens, Penang. Photo: Andrew Sepie

However, for a truly breath-taking experience, the destination is Penang Hill, where you will find The Habitat. Not far from George Town, ‘Penang Hill’ was established in 1793 and is actually several hills, with the highest being Western Hill at 833 metres above sea level. To get up the ‘hill’, you take the funicular railway, which is the only one of its kind in Malaysia and (fun geek-fact) consists of 540 pulleys. There are many adventures to be had, including the Flight of the Colugo zipline and having your portrait drawn by some very talented street artists, but it is the rainforest that will take your breath away.

Penang Hill. Photo: Andrew Sepie

Langur Way Canopy walk

Much of Malaysia is covered in rainforest, having one of highest coverages in the world. At Penang Hill, you can take the Langur Way Canopy Walk: the world’s longest two-span stressed ribbon bridge, and the only one that takes you though a pristine rainforest. Considering that Malaysia has over 15,000 species of plants, you can probably imagine how much you will see on the walk, and how many times you will need to look again! If you are lucky, you will spot a Flying Lemur. Ironically, this is not actually a lemur, nor can it fly, but it does glide from tree-to-tree and can even carry its young whilst doing so. There are a lot of other animals to spot, including the Lesser Mousedeer. This is the world’s smallest hoofed animal at under half-a-metre tall, and so, so adorable.  On the Langur Way Canopy walk, you look over the balustrade of the walkway into what seems like layer, upon, layer, over layer, atop layer of lush, beautiful flora. Another bonus is that being a rainforest, it is a few degrees cooler than the streets of Penang!

Langur way canopy walk, Penang. Photo: Supplied

Another essential stop for those who love our animal friends is the Penang Butterfly Farm. As you would probably guess, there are butterflies, and more than you could possibly imagine ever existed in so many different colours, shapes, and sizes! You walk through the enclosure as these butterflies flutter around you, and they are simply entrancing. It is like a sense of peace just washes over you and time stands still. Over the years, the complex expanded beyond beautiful butterflies, with all manner of other critters to marvel at. In one part, you see some sensational spiders, such as the Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula (very large, with rose-coloured hairs), an Oriental Water Dragon, a Giant Asian Toad, and a curious scorpion. Worry not, unlike the butterflies, these are not free-roaming

A butterfly at the Penang butterfly farm
A butterfly at the Penang butterfly farm. Photo: Andrew Sepie

One adorable creature you do not want to miss is the Pacman Frog, named so because it does indeed look like Pacman – yellowy-orange, and almost perfectly round. You will find this enthralling place around 48 minutes’ drive out of central George Town, and it is unquestionably a must-do attraction.

Pacman frog in Penang
Pacman frog in Penang. Photo: Andrew Sepie

Where to stay in Penang

There are many places to stay in Penang and some, as you would expect, better than others. All the history, culture, nature, and animals will leave you feeling like you have a lived a week in a day, so somewhere relaxing is essential. You would have no doubt heard of the Shangri-La hotels. The group was started in 1971 by a Malaysian and their hotels never disappoint. Is there some magical formula at play here? That is anybody’s guess, but they just seem to get everything ‘right’, in every hotel they own, in every place. Penang’s Shangri-la Rasa Sayang was the first ever hotel in the Shangri-la group and certainly lives up the description of a ‘tropical retreat where holidays come to life’.

Penang’s Shangri-la Rasa Sayang
Penang’s Shangri-la Rasa Sayang. Photo: Supplied

This is probably why they have a swath of guests who return each-and-every year. Unsurprisingly, Rasa Sayang has scooped a bunch of awards for the hotel, dining at their five restaurants, and on it goes. All the ‘relax me’ facilities you could wish for are there, including quite an advanced gym and a par three golf course, nestled in a 30-acre landscaped garden with private villas and treatment rooms. The danger is that you may literally just want to stay in the hotel for your entire trip!

Also read: Penang and Ipoh rich culture and history