Three garden trails that lead to 11 “garden rooms” take visitors through more than 500 tropical plant species – from Malaysia and the world. The sensory walk can become an olfactory overload in the very best sense: ginger flowers, clove, jasmine, cinnamon, heliconias, wild orchids, rare palms, bamboo – all set off by cascading waterfalls, streams and pools.
Located on the shores of Teluk Bahang, the garden opened in 2003 and has become a local and tourist draw. You can hire a guide to take you through the gardens, your best educational bet.
Colorful pit vipers are a favorite sighting
Creatures also crawl among the plants – a favorite spotting is the Wager’s pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri), named for a 19th century German naturalist. The viper grows to four feet long, and is crimson-spotted in youth, but in maturity burnishes with blue and yellow stripes and green or yellow background – depending on gender.
Locals treat the viper with great respect, being the symbol of the deity Chor Soo Kong. These vipers fill the nearby Snake Temple in Penang – seemingly having slithered into the temple grounds of their own volition, say locals.
The gardens also hosts a cooking school where you’ll learn to expertly create such dishes as Poh Piah, Satay, Roti Jala, Briyani, Chicken Tikka and Vindaloo – all in the original
Malay, Nyonya and Indian cuisine styles. Garden weddings and children’s parties can also be booked, along with corporate team building events.
Dining alfresco, overlooking the Andaman Sea
Just up the hill from the gardens is the Tree Monkey Restaurant with a soothing view of the Andaman Sea. Try the Tom Yum Martini with lemongrass and chili to put you in exactly the right mood for delicious local dishes. The Tree Monkey's website is down, but feel free to email for more information. Address: Lone Craig Villa | Jalan Telok Bahang, Batu Ferringhi, Penang Island.
An adjacent gift shop sells packaged spices, spa products, crafts, books, and aromatherapy products – all locally produced and sourced. The shop is a nice break from other souvenir-packed shopping areas.
The Tree Monkey is open from 9 a.m. to later in the evening.
The Tropical Spice Garden is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily with the last admission at 5:15 p.m. Admission fees are $5 for adults and $3.25 for children. Children under four are admitted free.
Malaysia Airlines offers direct flights from LAX to Kuala Lumpur. Also, consider visiting Malaysia as part of a multi-country stop. Flights into Kuala Lumpur are fairly inexpensive from the nearby countries of Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
Getting into Kuala Lumpur from the international airport is easy with the high-speed rail, KLIA Ekspres. The trip to central Kuala Lumpur takes 28 minutes with trains leaving every 15 to 20 minutes. Tickets are about $12.
Kula Lumpur’s hop on and hop off buses are a great way to see the city. They run from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Cost: $12.50 for one day; $21 for two days.
Peruse Malaysia’s official tourism site for more information on the country.