5 reasons Penang is a great place to take a three-year-old child

My destination choice since I had my son has been a lot more conservative than when I was travelling in my twenties and childless thirties. Pre-child, my strategy was pretty much only to avoid war zones; but now that my precious son is coming along for the trip, I see things differently. So while there are some parts of Asia that I’ve visited before that I wouldn’t take him to until he’s older, I’m happy to report that Penang is a great place to take a three-year-old – a very safe and happy destination for a small child (and anyone else too!).

5 reasons Penang is a great destination for young children

5 reasons Penang is a great place to take a three-year-old child

1. Health and safety is all fine for kids in Penang

I get more anxious about travelling in general these days, feeling the weight of parental responsibility. Gone are the days when I can sit back in a white-knuckled taxi ride (I’m thinking of racing along Egytpian roads in the middle of the night with no headlights on and no streetlights, for example) and, while terrified, at least felt that if I died there I’d have no regrets because I was travelling and doing what I love.

That theory doesn’t work when your three-year-old is on your lap. And so when we were first talking about going to Penang, I wanted to feel that it was safer than other Asian countries I’d visited. And it is. I’ve written about getting up the courage to cross the road without freaking out and that was the hairiest part of it. Okay, the bus rides between George Town and the tourist district in Batu Ferringhi, partly along narrow winding roads right on the coast, the kind where you feel it would be easy to slip to your death down the cliff, were also a bit hairy; my friend who’d grown up in Penang even warned me about it. But in reality, I felt safe. Penang is also largely free of the issues of hygiene and food poisoning that other Asian countries might have.

2. Warm weather and hitting the pool and beach in Penang

Anyone who has a small child (and even a not-so-small one) will probably know that if a swimming pool is part of the scene, you can keep your child busy for hours. (Hmm, as I type this I wonder: is this only true of kids who grow up in warm climates like Australia where swimming is very much a regular part of life?). Penang’s weather is usually pretty spot on for spending some time at the pool or the beach and we certainly did plenty of both in between all our sightseeing excursions and wanderings.

Kek Lok Si temple - 5 reasons Penang is a great place to take a three-year-old child

Exploring Kek Lok Si temple, Penang – such a fascinating place to take kids!

3. Keeping kids interested: Sightseeing in Penang

My son is a pretty keen traveller in general, I admit, so in most cases a place just has to be new and slightly different for him to be interested. But just the same, I feel like plenty of the places we visited in Penang are the kind that lots of small kids would enjoy.

  • The Penang Butterfly Farm, for example, is a gorgeous garden full of secret paths – and lots and lots of butterflies. They also have some great displays of other insects and interesting creatures. My son definitely enjoyed it.
  • We also visited the Tropical Fruit Farm – you’re driven up a hill to the main fruit orchards and then taken on a tour – it’s probably the case that most of the information given on this tour is not exactly fascinating for small kids, but you’re outside and moving and exploring different plants, and then comes the extra-good bit at the end when you can indulge at the fruit buffet and have a fresh fruit juice of your choice. What child doesn’t love fruit? Mine sure does and we spent ages there going back for seconds and thirds! (If I’m totally honest, even fourths.)
  • Temples are all over Penang and there are plenty that are colourful and vibrant enough to keep a young child intrigued, especially if, like my son, they’ve never seen a temple before. Oddly enough one of my son’s favourite parts was taking his shoes off every time we went to enter a new temple.
  • The Penang Botanic Gardens were a great morning out as well – there’s a small train-like vehicle to give you a ride around, there are monkeys hanging around (every child loves monkeys right?) and not far away we found this amazing facility of outdoor splash pools – and as we were there on a work/school day my son and his friend didn’t have to share with anyone!
  • If you ask my son, the best part of Penang was the cool street art found on various walls around George Town. He still talks about it and wears his Penang street art t-shirt with great pride. It’s worth getting a decent map and figuring out a walk to take in as many as possible of these works of art. They’re fun and playful and easy for kids to love.

4. Eating in Penang for young children

I was curious about how my son would go with eating in Penang. Back home, his favourite food is Japanese, so he is definitely a fan of rice and noodles, but in Penang I expected that the spice level might be a problem. And it often was – even if I asked the seller whether or not there was any chilli or spice in a meal, the answer wasn’t always correct – perhaps to them it was so mild it wasn’t worth mentioning, but my son rejected anything spicy, and I suspect a lot of three-year-olds are the same (I’m waiting for the day when he will finally love spicy food!). Having said that, there were still heaps of options and when we found noodle dishes without any spicyness he really went to town. And the fresh juices – he was in heaven with them!

5. Exploring the shopping centres of Penang with kids

I felt like it was cheating a little bit to head to the modern western-style shopping centres while in Penang, because I’m always trying to stick to the local culture; but then I realised they really were just another kind of local culture and not only that, they were a great distraction for the kids! We were there just prior to Chinese New Year so riding the escalators was a perfect way to admire all the amazing decorations and lanterns they had up. One day – I think it was the only day it rained enough to disturb our plans – we even went to the top of one of the shopping centres and found a children’s play area which my son and his friend completely loved.

 

It’s hard to be sure without putting words in his mouth but I’m pretty sure my son thinks Penang was the best trip he’s had so far. So much fun stuff to do! Have you been to Penang? 

 

Comments

  1. Penang has been on my list and this only makes me want to go more!

  2. Great post, Amanda! I like the idea of safe travel for myself and the sights you mention fit my tastes too!

  3. You have inspired me. But is it a good place to take a 2yo, 4yo and a 5yo?!?!?
    I have only just discovered your blog through the Rewind and I am so glad I have. We were big travellers BC (before children) but sadly the only places we’ve ventured with the kids have been within Aus. We’d love to go o/s with them. I’ll be following your blog 🙂

    • Michaela, apart from the fact that travelling everywhere with *three* kids is a bit more logistically tricky, I would say Penang is definitely a great place to take them! You kind of get the exotic feel without too much of the risk, and it’s warm, and fun and interesting for the kids, but also really interesting for the adults and you’ll feel like you’re “really” travelling (as you long as you don’t stay in one of the big touristy resorts – well in my opinion anyway). Actually my friends rented an apartment which would be a great option. The public transport (bus system) is great. Anyway, thanks for your comment and glad you found me!

  4. OMG Amanda – you are giving me seriously itchy feet. Looks like an awesome place to take the kids xx

  5. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences. We are planning a trip with our 26 month old next year when she will be 3 and this sounds like a great place to keep in mind…

  6. I was sent this blog by a work colleague Suzannah and I’m so glad! We leave for penang in four days with our son who will be 3 in a few weeks. You have given us lots of great ideas of things to do and now we are looking forward to our holiday even more! Thank you

    • So glad to hear that Eli! You will love it. If you are looking for the indoor playground it’s in the Gurney Plaza mall! Handy for the odd rainy day. Have a brilliant trip – I wish I could go back now too!

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