Surrounded by spices with the aromatic sense all around you, that is how you will feel here at the Tropical Spice Garden. With around 500 plant species, it is an award-winning tropical garden, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. The phrase ‘Spice Up Your Life’ comes alive in this garden.
Located in Teluk Bahang district in front of the beach, it is a little bit secluded and calm. To be exact, it is slightly north from Batu Ferringhi. Should you are not driving, you can take a taxi or bus (rapid Penang) number 101 and 102 from Georgetown to here. You may check the Rapid Penang bus route for details. The entrance fee to this garden is RM29 per person Malaysian or Non-Malaysian. It opens daily from 9 AM to 6 PM. You need at least around 2 hours here, so better to come in the morning!
Divided into 6 main landscapes, the garden is marked with several numbers along the trails. This comes with an audio guide which will be given to you at the entrance. It comes in various languages such as English, Malay, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and German. When you arrive at a marked place, press the number and it will explain what are you seeing around you. The garden is filled with information about tropical spices, flowers, and plants that are crucial for trade and ecosystem of a rainforest. It is where nature meets culture.
The walk across this garden is accompanied with sounds of birds chirping and crickets stridulating, the native langur monkeys will sometimes pass by you and jumping from tree to trees, with some reptiles rushing into the ponds and forest. Some of the common plants around your house can be seen here and you can take your time learning about the name and function. The spices commonly used in Asia like cinnamon, clove, cardamom, star anise, ground cumin and the rest can be seen here. It is in original texture before it is processed, different to what we always see in the market.
Apart from that, the curcuma or turmeric, ginger, galangal and others thrive here. This garden gives so many pieces of information about the origins and how common it is used in Asian dishes. One plant that will catch your attention is lemongrass. Here, you can learn that lemongrass and citronella are two different types of plants serving a different purpose. One in cooking and another one acts as a repellant.
All of this information is explained in the audio guide as if you are taking a complete course of tropical plants. Also mentioned here is how kaffir lime and Basil becomes significant herbs in Thai food. On top of that, they also explained the difference of Thai basil with sweet basil. Information on the benefits of all these spices, such as turmeric, tamarind which is widely used in India and Southeast Asia is also available. The best part of this experience is you can see, touch, smell and learn at the same time.
One part of the garden offers you the facts and uses of Gaharu or known in English as Agarwood. This wood is used mostly in prayers as incense by Buddhist and Hindu as well as Malay. The tree is enormous and the wood itself cost a lot. You will be able to learn about how it is grown in the wild and plantation.
Another section of the garden provides you with a brief history of spice trade around South East Asia during pre and mid colonial times. The trades have started between the kingdoms in Southeast Asia with India, the Arab world and China long before European step foot in this region. It is explained here the history of trade routes from India to Penang to Maluku islands in Indonesia. The war between two colonial power, Dutch and English at this time was due to the spice trade region, especially the Nutmeg. For those who love colonial history, it is a perfect place to spend some time listening to the audio while examining the spices and nutmeg at this part of the garden.
Among the various types of bamboo plants here are benches where you can sit, relax in peace and tranquility. With the sounds of small streams and green landscape, it is a perfect place to sip a tea, which provides by the garden for free. At the top of the hill is the view of the garden and part of Teluk Bahang district. On top of that, there are playgrounds for children to spend their energy. The unique wooden houses built around this area resemble the typical Malaysian village. The experience to walk around here with the green scenery and information provides by Tropical Spice Garden makes it worth the fee.
In some parts of the day, the cooking class will be conducted in the garden kitchen which is also a culinary school. They open it for visitors to learn and try to cook Asian cuisine, mainly Malaysian and Thai. The students will assist and cook with the participants. Here you can learn how to use the spices you see in the garden. It is a fantastic fun experience for those who want to learn about spices and Asian dishes. You may check the schedule of the cooking school from their website.
Before exiting the garden, the souvenir shop will greet you. Apart from the typical keychains, they sell tea leaves, spices, mixed herbs and ready-made paste for you to buy and try it on your cooking. On top of that, the shop also provides books on Penang heritage and cooking recipes for sale. Should you want to dine in here in the garden and try some good Asian cuisine yourselves, the impressive spice cafe of Tree Monkey is located nearby. If not, the island of Penang itself is known as food heaven should you prefer to explore your food choices.
Things To Note
- If you prefer to have live guided tours, the fee is RM45 and it is only done 3 times a day starts a 9 AM. Every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, they will hold a Night Walks where you can experience nocturnal flora and fauna. For more details, you can click on their website.
- They also conduct some educational nature activities together with few NGOs such as the Penang Langur Project. Other than that, weddings and corporate events are offered here. Learn more about it here.
- Citronelle oil will be sprayed all over your exposed skin to repel the mosquitoes away. As Southeast Asia climate is tropical, hence the humidity attracts mosquitoes and other insects.