8 Wheelchair-Accessible Places & Activities To Do in Penang

Find out wheelchair-friendly activities and places for you and your loved ones to visit in Penang, including hotels and rental options.

by Calvyn Ee

If you’re caring for someone who is a wheelchair user, you would know the difficulties of helping your loved one get around from point A to B. You may have dealt with uneven pedestrian walkways, potholes along zebra crossings on the streets, or a lack of wheelchair ramps. The inability to move around freely is a very frustrating experience many disabled persons go through.

Wheelchair-Accessible Places Penang

Being there to help your loved one move around, whether it may be allowing them to move on their own while you stay close by, or you or another loved one helps to move them on their wheelchair, is the best way to help them navigate. Part of the caregiving regimen also involves making sure that they receive the care they need from healthcare providers. This may involve physiotherapy sessions or medical appointments to check on their health.

There may be instances where you might need to do some travelling with your loved one. It may be for work, for their healthcare needs, or it might just be a holiday to take them around popular attractions and take in the sights and sounds of the local culture. Being mindful of their needs is key to helping them feel good about themselves in spite of their disability, but the challenges of less-than-friendly facilities for PWDs make for a steep hill to overcome

The Importance of Wheelchair Accessibility

Based on the United Nations’ (UN) provisions, accessibility refers to the “provision of flexible facilities and environments, either virtual or physical, to accommodate each user’s needs and preferences.” The inclusion of people with disabilities (PWDs) necessitates the acknowledgment and removal of barriers that prevent them from participating in daily activities. This inclusion entails:

  • Nondiscrimination towards persons with disabilities
  • Better access to available amenities and facilities
  • Reasonable accommodations to enable PWDs to use available amenities and facilities
  • Overcoming prevailing stigmas and stereotypes about disabilities

For wheelchair users, a wheelchair serves as an important assistive device that allows them to move, whether by their own efforts or with the help of a caregiver. Not only is it important to their mobility, but it also affords them the opportunity to be semi-independent to the best of their abilities.

Current urban development plans accommodate more the needs of normal, healthy persons than that of the disabled. A lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure makes it almost impossible for wheelchair users to navigate the urban landscape on their own without assistance from a caregiver. The lack of public awareness of the importance of accessibility options also leads to persisting stigmas toward the disabled community.

It, therefore, becomes important for you and your family members to be caregivers to loved ones who are wheelchair users. Assisting them with daily tasks and moving around, as well as being there for them all the time, is a good way to show them your affection despite their disability.

Wheelchair Accessible Attractions in Penang

Penang Hill

Just 9km from George Town, Penang Hill is the perfect place to be to catch beautiful vistas of the island. Penang Hill happens to be a hill resort that consists of a few peaks; it is also known as Bukit Bendera among locals. The highest point of the area is located at Western Hill, being 833 meters – or 2,733 ft – above sea level. You can reach the top of the hill is accessible via the popular funicular railway from the base station at Jalan Bukit Bendera, Air Itam.

Among the various attractions you can find there, besides the great views, includes being able to see various species of flora and fauna within the area; visiting the state’s oldest building, the Convalescent Bungalow, which was built in 1804; cultural locations; and many more.

Penang Hill is accommodating to wheelchair users. You simply need to notify their information customer when you arrive, and their customer service team will help your loved one to board and depart from the funicular. They also provide wheelchairs for those who need one. PWDs also get to ride the funicular railway for free.

The Habitat, Penang

The Habitat is found in Penang Hill’s virgin jungle reserve area and serves as an important location for ecotourism, biodiversity conservation research and education. All profits generated by The Habitat’s commercial operations are used by the non-profit Habitat Foundation as part of its mission to pursue further conservation and research activities.

The Habitat offers scenic walks through beautiful gardens of nature. One such nature trail can be found not too far from the Top Station of Penang Hill’s funicular railway. The path allows you to admire the “romance and magnificent spectacle of Penang Hill.” The park is, for the most part, accessible for wheelchair users. All of the trails are flat-tracked, allowing wheelchairs to move with little difficulty. The Habitat also has two wheelchairs available for emergencies.

However, they do make it known that some attractions, such as the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk, are not suitable for wheelchair users. Its management also recommends that a caregiver be present at all times to accompany wheelchair users in the park. One plus point, however, is that individuals with an OKU card are allowed to visit the park for free.

Penang Botanic Gardens

The Penang Botanic Gardens, often known as the Waterfall Gardens, were founded by the British in 1884 on the site of a former granite quarry. It is located in a deep valley at the base of 366-foot-tall hills surrounded by evergreen tropical rain forests. The gardens serve as a bountiful green lung to the state’s metropolitan areas.

The gardens are a great place for those who enjoy seeing a large variety of flowers, trees and other greens, being the home of a plant nursery that cultivates all these species. You can also buy or rent plants from the gardens at decent prices, as well as arrange for guided educational tours around the area.

Currently, the Penang Botanic Gardens do not have conducive facilities for PWDs. As it is located in a hilly area, PWDs should only visit the gardens with a caretaker to look after them. Only a few areas are suitable for wheelchair users, such as the paths around the gardens, so caution is advised.

Kek Lok Si Temple

Built in 1891, the Kek Lok Si Temple is one of the largest temple complexes in Southeast Asia. It has a rich cultural history dating back so many years, featuring hundreds of exquisitely carved sculptures, detailed murals and rich paintings, as well as numerous images of the Buddha – all of which are dotted around the temple’s compound. The temple is home to all these well-preserved treasures of Buddhist civilization.

The temple also serves as a centre of Chinese culture and Buddhist teachings. The temple occasionally holds various events throughout the year to share the spiritual teachings and knowledge of Buddhism to adherents.

For better accessibility, take your car (or direct the taxi/Grab driver) to the highest-level car park, where you can find the most convenient access points for wheelchair users. Other than that, navigating the temple grounds is relatively safe – though it is not advisable to roam around alone.

Penang State Museum and Art Gallery

Originally the home of the Penang Free School set up in 1816, the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery have been set up on the site of the former school since 1964. The building was converted into a museum at the suggestion of former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj since Penang did not have a dedicated museum building at the time.

The museum serves as a repository of historical items and artefacts, as well as a centre of education on both Penang and Malaysia’s history and culture. The art gallery, on the other hand, exhibits “a comprehensive collection devoted to modern and contemporary art” which includes creative works from 1965 till today. For those who wish to immerse themselves in local culture and appreciate the lessons of our local history, the museum and art gallery are great places for learning.

Both the state museum and art gallery are fairly wheelchair-friendly. The main entrance has a wheelchair ramp that is not too steep, so it should be easy to move your loved one into the complex. Do note, however, that the main museum building is currently closed for restoration works; the semi-permanent exhibition is located along Jalan Macalister.

Entopia Butterfly Farm

Entopia Butterfly Farm

Photo credit: entopia.com

A dedicated building that houses a large variety of butterflies, reptiles and invertebrates, the Entopia Butterfly Farm consists of two major sections. Natureland is an outdoor vivarium, providing a space that recreates the natural conditions of the many species that inhabit it. It is considered one of the largest butterfly gardens in Malaysia, having “approximately 15,000 free-flying butterflies” every day. It is also home to more than 200 species of plants, all surrounded by numerous nature-inspired features.

Meanwhile, the Cocoon is an indoor learning centre that is dedicated to spreading awareness on the invertebrate world with a number of educational exhibits and displays. It is a combination of a walk-through experience, as well as fun hands-on learning activities that anyone can participate in.

The complex itself is said to be wheelchair-friendly, according to TripAdvisor reviews by visitors. Some of the paths, such as the ones along the flight garden and indoor exhibits, were designed to be wheelchair friendly. There are also wheelchairs available for rent as well.

Khoo Kongsi

The Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, colloquially referred to as Khoo Kongsi, is the clan house of one of the most distinctive Chinese clan associations in the country. Khoo Kongsi made up one of the “Five Big Clans” which, together, formed the “backbone of the Hokkien community” in 19th century Penang. The building itself, a former British-owned bungalow, was purchased in 1850 after years of investments made in order to set up the clan house.

The original clan house was actually demolished and rebuilt from the ground up and underwent a second reconstruction operation after a major fire in 1901. Visitors will be able to take a glimpse into Penang’s Hokkien culture in the complex’s construction, from its artistic and cultural motifs to the intricate timberwork of the roof truss, and the religious customs and beliefs of the Hokkien community.

Because of the origins of the building, wheelchair accessibility may be limited in many places. For your loved one’s safety, consider taking an outdoor stroll instead of exploring the building. Alternatively, you can contact Khoo Kongsi’s management team and find out if they offer special tour arrangements for PWDs.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Chayamangkalaram)

Wat Chayamangkalaram is a Thai temple famous for the large gold-plated Reclining Buddha statue in the main temple hall with a length of 33 metres, making it the third longest reclining Buddha statue in the world. The temple complex was built on a 2-hectare piece of land donated to the local Buddhist community by Queen Victoria herself, as part of a goodwill gesture to Siam. The statue is the centrepiece of the temple and even serves as a columbarium for the dearly departed.

The temple is located just opposite another temple, the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple. Much like Khoo Kongsi, wheelchair accessibility may not be the best, so be careful if you decide to pay a visit to the temple.

Wheelchair Accessible Hotels

A number of hotels do provide accessibility options that make the stay a pleasant one. Whether it might be easy-to-access ramps or facilities to accommodate the needs of PWDs, these hotels are just a few that deliver excellent care for their less-than-able clients. These include:

  • G Hotel, Gurney
  • Hotel Sentral Georgetown
  • Sunway Hotel Seberang Prai
  • Armenian Street Heritage Hotel

Private lodgings registered with Airbnb and other similar services are also good, affordable alternatives. However, at the time of writing this article, only a few Airbnb listings provide minimal accessibility options; for the most part, “accessibility” is usually in reference to available parking spaces. You can always contact the owners of these listings and ask about accessibility.

Renting a Wheelchair in Penang

Some attractions, such as Penang Hill, provide free wheelchairs by request. You will need to inform the location’s customer service team to get your hands on one. If you need to rent a wheelchair for yourself or your loved one, there are a few places in Penang where you can rent one. Some of these may have been mentioned in the earlier sections. Alpro Pharmacy, a nationwide pharmacy chain, offers wheelchair rentals at relatively competitive prices.

The Eden Handicap Centre is also able to provide wheelchair rentals for those who need them. The Eden Handicap Centre is a non-profit charity organisation that helps PWDs in Penang lead “independent and self-sufficient lives.”

If you have a wheelchair of your own but are looking for a reliable transport service that caters to wheelchair users, Rapid Penang has a Rapid Mobility service that provides excellent disabled-friendly transportation services using their modified vans. These vans come equipped with hydraulic lifts to move your loved one into the van with little difficulty. You can contact them by consulting the info on their website.

Getting Help from a Medical Escort

Caring for your loved one who uses a wheelchair at home can be especially tricky when it comes to moving them around the house. Going out with them, especially when you are on holiday, presents a whole other set of challenges. Whether it is helping them to manoeuvre along city streets or transferring them into a taxi, doing it alone can be very difficult and physically demanding. If you are using a wheelchair, doing everything yourself can be tough.

In times like these, hiring a medical escort might be your best option to help shoulder the load during your trip. A medical escort provides you with an additional helping hand. Besides accompanying your loved one to medical appointments or important functions, a medical escort can also accompany you and your loved one for sightseeing, or to help with daily needs such as toileting and medication monitoring.

With a medical escort tagging along, you will have greater peace of mind in attending to your loved one’s everyday needs and providing them with a better quality of life. 

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References

Ali Wazani, I., Mohamad, D., & Jaafar, M. (2021). ACCESSIBILITY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF URBAN AREA: CASE STUDY OF GEORGE TOWN, PENANG. Planning Malaysia, 19(19). https://doi.org/10.21837/pm.v19i19.1059 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Disability and Health Inclusion Strategies. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability-strategies.html 

FMT. (2022). Advocating disability inclusion in Malaysia. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2022/07/06/advocating-disability-inclusion-in-malaysia/ 

Kek Lok Si Temple. (n.d.). About. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://kekloksitemple.com/?page_id=5 

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://www.khookongsi.com.my/history/ 

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. (n.d.). Introduction of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi Penang. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://www.khookongsi.com.my/history/introduction-of-leong-san-tong-khoo-kongsi-penang/ 

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. (n.d.). The Origin and Establishment. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://www.khookongsi.com.my/history/the-origin-and-establishment/ 

nidirect Government Services. (n.d.). Access to everyday services. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/access-everyday-services 

Penang Botanic Gardens. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://botanicalgardens.penang.gov.my/index.php/en/pengenalan/sejarah 

Penang Free Sheet. (n.d.). A Tale of Three Temples – The Temples of Pulau Tikus. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://web.archive.org/web/20190323061150/https://penangfreesheet.my/to-do-to-visit/a-tale-of-three-temples-the-temples-of-pulau-tikus/ 

Penang Hill. (n.d.). Explore Penang Hill. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://www.penanghill.gov.my/index.php/en/attractions 

Penang Hill. (n.d.). Facilities and Services. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 fromhttps://www.penanghill.gov.my/index.php/en/facilities-services 

The Habitat Penang Hill. (n.d.). Our Story. Retrieved 3rd August 2022 from https://thehabitat.my/story.php 

United Nations. (n.d.). Toolkit on Disability for Africa – Accessibility. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/disability/Toolkit/Accessibility.pdf 

United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (n.d.). Accessibility for the Disabled – A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/designm/intro.htm 

World Health Organization. (2010). Fact sheet on wheelchairs. Retrieved 2nd August 2022 from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/205041/B4616.pdf?seq 

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About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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