How to have an easy jungle experience at this new eco-tourism site in Penang, Malaysia.
Upon entering The Habitat, I was immediately engulfed in deafeningly peaceful rainforest sounds. The Habitat is nestled right in Penang Hill, yet the difference upon entering the area is so stark. I pulled on my jacket here. Being higher in altitude and surrounded by lush greens meant a dip in temperatures. I breathed in hard, letting the refreshingly cool air fill my lungs.
This was my second visit here. The first was just the day before, but thunderstorms cut our visit short as the park had to close for safety reasons. We sought shelter at one of the rest points and had to be “rescued” by a park ranger. Good thing we had another day here.
The entirety of The Habitat is about a two-hour leisurely walk – and I mean very leisurely – along paved trails.
The Habitat is an eco-tourism facility perched on the fringes of a 130-million-year-old rainforest. The project was initiated by long-time Penang hill residents and nature lovers, the Cockrell family, who wanted to conserve the natural rainforest. From what I can see, they’ve done a damn good job at it. A lot of thought and care for the surrounding nature has been put into building this facility.
Being there, I realize how little I knew about the rainforests of the world.
Take full advantage of the free guided tours that happen every half an hour or so. At the time of our visits, the park was near empty, which pretty much meant a private tour.
The tours are given by very knowledgeable rangers and it will most certainly add a layer of educational experience to the visit. The eagle-eyed guides can also point out lots of flora and fauna that you might otherwise miss.
Animals to spot here include the delightfully adorable Dusky Leaf Langurs, Giant Black Squirrels, Colugos, the endemic Highland Vampire Crab, Penang Geckos, amongst many others.
I was most excited to see Dusky Leaf Langurs and they showed up. They are delightfully adorable. We spotted two different families of languirs, with playful babies jumping from branch to branch. There was also a lone male feeding on young leaves very close to us. The languirs here are not terrified by human presence. As long as you observe from a safe distance, they pay you no mind.
I could honestly watch these little reverse pandas, mini Einsteins all day long.
We also spotted a Giant Black Squirrel during the guided tour. There were a couple of squirrel nests nearby, and the ranger explained that the squirrels build a lot of nests to confuse predators and keep their babies safe. A sleeping colugo was also spotted.
If you like the non-furry friends, there were lots of interesting insects and large spiders (and tarantulas) all over the reserve.
OF COURSE… bear in mind you’re not at a zoo. This is a rainforest area where the animals are wild. Manage your expectations on what you can see. It makes me so mad every time I read an awry review about not seeing animals when in a natural, wild environment. We were here longer than most. We spotted a lot of creatures.
A View above the Rest
The Langur Way Canopy Walk is a concrete bridge spanning approximately 230m in length. At the time of visit, some parts of the bridge were closed off. The bridge hangs across the canopy and you get some nice views of the rainforest treetops and in a distance, the Andaman sea.
According to Habitat, the bridge was built in a tree-friendly way without rigging any steel cables directly onto the trees. Though concrete, if enough people walk on it you can feel it swaying a little – I thought that was quite cool.
The literal peak of the visit would be at the Curtis Crest Treetop Walk, which shoots up to 13m. Hovering over the rainforest canopy, this is a platform that serves as the highest public viewing point. You get a 360 degree views of Penang island from up here.
Sunset & Night Walk
If you purchased the sunset ticket, then you want to make your way to the treetop walk at around 7pm to catch the spectacular sunset – weather and cloud permitting.
A guided night walk will follow after the sunset. It lasted about 30 minutes, and ended with us exiting the park. We walked in pitch darkness and were given lantern lights. Interesting walk as we spotted the night critters, namely tarantulas and huge spiders. I did wish it lasted just a little bit longer.
Personally I thought they would do best as a nature park, but they’ve included ‘highlights’ to attract a larger consumer base I suppose. There are a couple Giant Swings hung atop large trees – no doubt to serve the social media community. The swings are also built in a tree-friendly way. Littered all over the enclosure are little rest areas which also served as educational booths. They do ziplining and ‘tree climbing’ experiences for those seeking to be more… active? I’m not sure.
To get to The Habitat, you have to get up to Penang Hill first from Bukit Bendera. Two ways to do this:
Apparently there are easily marked trails to hike to Penang Hill from Bukit Bendera. We didn’t do this option. It should be a moderately tough hike since it’s a steep uphill climb to Penang Hill. Landslides are common as well, so practice caution if taking this option.
Take the Funucular Monorail.
Ticket prices: RM15 for one way, RM30 for return.
The easier way up, albeit more expensive, would be by Funucular monorail. This zipped us up to the top of Penang Hill in less than 10 minutes.
There are local and tourist prices, the latter being significantly more expensive. There are also fast passes available – I believe they were double the prices of regular tickets. I didn’t think they were necessary. A fast pass only meant you get to board first. With our regular tickets we could get on the monorails with no issues.
Reaching The Habitat
From Penang Hill, there’s a shuttle to take you right to the Habitat entrance. This wasn’t clearly marked so we completely missed it the first time round there.
We followed the map of Penang Hill given to us, which was not accurate to the entrance at all. Needless to say, we got lost along the way. We went up a path that led to a dilapidated house and got chased away by some angry men.
“Where’s the habitat?!” we shouted.
Yikes, ok bye see you never.
We later found out the actual entrance (according to the map) was shut down because of a landslide.
Anyway. TLDR; just look for the free shuttle. It will be located in the area where “Owl Café” is.
A Standard day ticket costs RM47, while a Sunset and night walk ticket costs RM66.
You definitely do not need both tickets. The entirety of the park can be covered within 2 hours.
We purchased the two tickets online not knowing any better. You absolutely do not need to (and should not) purchase the tickets online. No added benefit to purchasing the tickets online. Prices are the same. There are no ticket flexibility such as refund or a change of ticket dates.
Purchasing the tickets online was also a very clumsy process. All you get is an invoice to your mailbox with no further instructions. Save this offline – we couldn’t get data up on the hill and they were strangely protective of their wifi system. After a few unnecessary exchanges, they eventually checked up our names on their system and we’re finally granted access.
There was a thunderstorm on the day of our Sunset Walk visit – yet another reason to not purchase the tickets online. We were given raincheck tickets. It used to be valid for six months, now it’s only to a month. It’s still nice of them to provide a raincheck ticket, since rainforest is as rainforest do, and weather is not in their control.
We attempted to change our day tickets with the raincheck tickets but with not much success. Everything seems set in stone once you’ve made a purchase. Mildly disappointing considering how much the tickets were and how unhelpful the information was on their website. The staff were friendly, but couldn’t help us much except to direct us to their hotline to contact a manager – who were “off working hours” already at that point of time.
SOOO. TLDR; just don’t buy the tickets online.
As much as I enjoyed my visit to The Habitat and appreciated the conservation efforts, they’ve got a lot of visitor logistical kinks to sort out still. Considering the prices they’re charging per visitor, there needs to be better communication, clearer signs, and in my case, more helpful responses to ticketing issues rather than just an “oh well too bad” type answers. Their website while professional looking is clumsy. It seemed more focused on a pretty face and fancy wording that more useful visitor information.
Regular or Sunset tickets?
If you’re into sunsets, of course go for the sunset option. Though it states a 5.30pm entrance, you can actually arrive earlier than that (you should) and walk a round of The Habitat. Those with standard day tickets can roam about The Habitat all day long from 9am, but have to leave by 7pm.
Is The Habitat Worth it?
Despite the logistical kinks that The Habitat still needs to work out – for sure. Though it’s located within the easily accessible Penang Hill, it feels like a whole different world. It’s a nice respite from city life and it’s always good to support conservation efforts.