I’ve been to Penang island quite a few times but I had never gone up Penang Hill before this road trip in September 2019. Even though I was born and bred in Malaysia. Disgraceful!
However, I’ve redeemed myself; not only did I go up Penang Hill, but I also explored The Habitat.
The Tourist Way Up Via The Funicular Train
If you’re not intending to hike up Penang Hill, 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.
It’s free to go up Penang Hill on foot, but you need to pay RM12 (for Malaysians, more expensive for international tourists) to ride the train.
Ecotourism at The Habitat for Conservation
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, of course).
FYI – the 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 treetop walk opens to the 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
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. It’s owned and operated by Flagstaff Holdings Sdn Bhd. They seem to be doing a good job at conserving part of the forest reserve.
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.
Did you know? Virgin tropical rainforests in Malaysia are one of the oldest in the world. Although smaller in size, they are estimated at 130 million years old, which is older than the Amazon Rainforest!
Walking through The Habitat, I could smell the sweet musky smell of the forest. It was suddenly quieter and much more peaceful than the other (free) parts of Penang Hill.
It’s just sad that the public part is not as well-kept as The Habitat due to lack of funds.
And it’s sad that while there was greenery in 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 in my vlog!
There were a couple of Giant Swings that one (or a couple) could sit on and bask in the beauty of the forest. Instantly, you’re dwarfed by the tall trees and the blue sky above. You could also hear birds chirping and insects buzzing. It was a clear sunny day when I went (alhamdulillah) and I almost didn’t want to leave!
Curtin Crest Treetop Walk
If you have a fear of heights, don’t climb up!
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 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 ecotourism is helpful for conservation, or
(b) are skeptical that ecotourism is not effective and only promotes greenwashing
I’d had the opportunity to work on an ecotourism project with an environmental consulting company and that shaped my current opinion on ecotourism.
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.
Education on Ecotourism
It would be awesome if the government could take conservation and ecotourism more seriously so that the people could still experience and connect with the natural environment without spending a hell lot of money.
Malaysia is quite economically poor.
Its residents don’t need natural resources to be taken away from them either.
But at the same time, the people also need to be educated on the ethics of being in the forest. Even just going on a hike, I’ve witnessed irresponsible acts like littering and being very loud.
Overall, I do appreciate the efforts of ecotourism and I wish that it could be the main form of tourism. I also think that with such efforts, they need to come hand-in-hand with public education and enforcement.