Penang is tired of being known for its faded charm.
The Malaysian state wants to give Singaporeans new reasons to revisit beyond its street murals, Peranakan heritage and char kway teow.
Last month, it launched a new campaign, Experience Penang 2020, to promote newly minted attractions such as the world’s highest rope course, longest tube water slide and a zip line atop Penang Hill.
Tourism officials hope these new experiences will boost flagging visitor numbers from across the Causeway.
Along with China and Indonesia, Singapore has been one of Penang’s top three sources of tourists over the past five years.
But international air arrivals from Singapore fell sharply from about 154,000 in 2016 to 56,000 last year.
One reason, says Mr Yeoh Soon Hin, Penang’s state executive councillor for tourism, arts, culture and heritage, is that the historical city George Town is not new to most Singaporeans.
Its appeal has dimmed over the years as Singaporeans are looking farther afield for newer experiences.
But he is confident Penang, a 1½-hour flight or eight hours by road from Singapore, has enough to offer.
The trend in tourism is moving towards experiences, rather than just visiting, eating and taking pictures. People can immerse in the local way of life through a village homestay or by learning about traditional crafts.
MR YEOH SOON HIN, Penang’s state executive councillor for tourism, arts, culture and heritage, on the new offerings from the Malaysian state
“The trend in tourism is moving towards experiences, rather than just visiting, eating and taking pictures. People can immerse in the local way of life through a village homestay or by learning about traditional crafts,” he says.
Penang is also beefing up transport links to meet the increase of international visitors, which rose from 7.2 million in 2017 to 7.79 million last year.
Besides regional tourists, many are from farther afield such as the United States and Britain.
Penang International Airport will begin an expansion project in June next year to boost capacity from 6.5 million to 20 million annual passengers.
Penang Sentral, a public transport hub linking the train station, ferry pier and bus terminal, was opened at the end of last year. And a free shuttle bus service links markets, museums and attractions in central George Town.
“If people are bored with traditional travel experiences, we hope they will find something new and unique in Penang,” says Mr Yeoh.
The Sunday Times rounds up the state’s top five new attractions.
Five new thrills to try
1. Defy gravity
Cross a bridge, perch on a bench and glide across a zip line 65 storeys high, built along the outside of a skyscraper.
Penang’s tallest building, Komtar Tower, is home to shops, offices and rope obstacle course The Gravityz, which combines six obstacles along 90m of narrow ledges and platforms.
Children can take part too, as long as they are at least 1m tall and accompanied by an adult.
If you would rather walk on solid ground, head to the rainbow skywalk on level 68 where you can peer through clear-bottomed floors at the city below.
Admission: Entry to all six obstacles at The Gravityz costs $54.30 when you book at Klook.
2. Go back to nature
Immerse in nature atop Penang Hill, which has a slew of new ecotourism experiences at The Habitat.
The Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk is a 100m oval-shaped walkway that offers views of Kedah’s paddy fields and, on a clear day, even Langkawi in the north.
Meanwhile, Langur Way Canopy Walk, named after a family of dusky leaf langur monkeys that perched on the cables during the bridge’s construction, lets visitors get up close to 130-million-year-old virgin jungle canopy.
And the Flight of the Colugo Zip Line, which launched in December last year, is an adventure course comprising five zip lines, a rope bridge and abseiling from a tree.
The first and longest zip line, at 80m, is dubbed the honeymoon zip line as friends and couples can glide down in a pair.
Admission: Prices for the attractions vary. Park entry tickets, which allow access to the tree top and canopy walk, cost $15.49 for adults and $8.89 for children aged up to 12 when you book at Klook. A Flight of the Colugo Zip Line package costs RM160 (S$52.50) for adults and RM140 for children. Family packages are also available.
3. Live like a local
Want to escape Penang’s tourist crowds?
Online travel agency Lokalocal, established in 2016 and with more than 800 activities across Malaysia and Laos, features locally run alternative experiences.
Visit a farm and nutmeg factory on a day tour to Balik Pulau, a town about 45 minutes by road from George Town’s main tourist drag.
Or spend the night on Pulau Aman, a small island with about 300 inhabitants, where you can learn about fish cage farming and cooking prawn noodles and go kayaking.
You can also go for rattan-weaving, joss stick-making or wood-carving workshops, whip up hawker fare or dine at supper clubs hosted by locals.
Admission: Workshops range from RM90 to RM480 while overnight homestays range from RM312 to RM800.
4. Whizz down the world’s longest tube water slide
Wind your way through the forest canopies on a four-minute ride down the world’s longest tube water slide, which opened in Penang’s Escape theme park this year.
At 1,111m, it is almost double the length of the previous Guinness record holder – a 600m slide in a New Jersey theme park.
Other highlights in the park include a trapeze, a swinging platform that rotates 360 degrees, rope courses and the banana flip, a slide that launches you into the air so you can cartwheel, backflip or cannonball into the water.
Admission: Entry costs $43 for adults and $28.69 for children aged up to 12 when you book at Klook.
5. Make kueh while the sun shines
Learn to make treats such as bingka ubi (tapioca cake), ang ku kueh and ondeh ondeh at Kuih Culture, which houses a cafe and mural gallery and holds kueh-making classes.
The concept outlet, which opened in August last year, serves an assortment of local dishes such as Penang laksa and nasi lemak. Save room for a durian chendol for dessert.
Admission: A 50-minute gallery and workshop tour costs RM30 for adults and RM25 for children. Kueh cost RM1.30 to RM1.50 each.
Four places to stay
• Urban heritage hotel The Prestige (theprestige.my) was designed by Singapore architectural, interior design and branding firm Ministry of Design and features a modern Victorian style with a touch of green. Rooms start at about $121 on booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com and Hotels.com.
• Boutique hotel Loop on Leith (www.loophotelpenang.com) is located in the heart of George Town, just two minutes on foot from the iconic Blue Mansion. Connecting and family rooms are available with prices starting at about $40 on booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com and Hotels.com.
• Hompton by the Beach (homptonhotel.com) offers sea-view rooms and two-bedroom suites that come with a pantry and dining area. The rooftop bar overlooks the Strait of Malacca and a foodcourt across the street offers local dishes. Discounts are available during the school holidays with rooms starting at about $55 on booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com and Hotels.com.
• Spend the night in a safari tent or tented villa at the Boulder Valley glamping site (bouldervalleyglamping.com.my), about 45 minutes from George Town. Explore a nutmeg factory, tropical fruit farm, bee farm and durian farms which are all about 15 minutes away by car. Rates start at $117 on booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com and Hotels.com.
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