Jungle Gyms

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You need to take exercise on a regular basis if you stay in Penang for any length of time. Not only is the food delicious and fattening, but the constant challenge of living in one of the hottest and most humid climates in the world demands that you keep reasonably fit. But how can you exercise for nothing? The old-established clubs, the Penang Swimming Club and the Penang Sports Club, have great premises and facilities with membership fees to match. Gyms and boot camps also cost money, though not as much. Several hotels, notably the newly renamed Rainbow Paradise in Tanjong Bunga and the Hard Rock in Batu Ferringhi, offer memberships which include sports facilities, but at RM 400 and RM 750 a year, they may be considered good value but not exactly free. If you live in a condo, you will most likely have a swimming pool and a gym at hand, but if you rent or own a house here, you will have to search around for essential exercise opportunities.

My first stop was the Penang Youth Park in Jesselton which nestles under the shadow of Penang Hill. You approach it via a one way road which forks right off Lembok Jesselton. Keep going on the road and don’t turn off into the Al Khamsa Endurance Club by mistake. The word “endurance” frightened me, bringing to mind the thought of long lasting physical torture inflicted by a sadistic exercise trainer. But all is well – the endurance refers to horse riding. Phew!

The Youth Park itself is delightful, shady and empty at midday, cool and bustling by late afternoon. I found a real jungle gym with slightly rusty exercise beds lying under a light dusting of leaves. It was certainly free but I don’t think it had enjoyed a customer in quite a while. Nor was it easy to imagine how one might use the equipment. Much more attractive, and far more frequently used, was the gym “avenue”, a series of brightly coloured exercise machines, in which one can tone abs, stretch gluts and firm biceps. Although the machines don’t have the choice of weights, or the sophisticated counter balances that gym-based machines would, they are fabulous and free.

Leaving the Youth Park on the one way road, you come quite quickly to the Botanical Gardens, another favourite exercise spot. You can take several laps of the Gardens in the early morning or at dusk, either running or jogging. It’s much too hot in the middle of the day unless you stick exclusively to the jungle paths which are very beautiful. You could also start an ascent of Penang Hill from the Moon Gate just beside the Park. But this is a serious undertaking, not suitable for weekend warriors. There is a club which regularly climbs Penang Hill every Monday morning and it is said to be an invigorating start to the week. If that is the case, then my fear is that anything undertaken on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday might be something of an anti-climax.

Just beyond Teluk Bahang on the coast road is the Penang National Park, which comprises two and a half thousand hectares of both forest and wetlands. Although it’s the smallest national park in the world, it’s nevertheless a little gem. Open every day between 8 am and 6 pm, it offers wonderful opportunities for hiking and trekking. You have to register at the entrance to the park and say whether or not you will be spending the night in the park under canvas but entrance is totally free.

Once inside you can hike to Monkey Beach or as far as the Lighthouse which used to illuminate the northernmost tip of Penang. But if you want a pleasant amble with the soft sounds of the surf as an accompaniment, then there is nothing better the boardwalk. It’s deeply shaded so it’s cool at even at midday. There are tables and benches set along the coast for reading, chatting or just chilling out. Next to one of them, some ropes and tyres have been hung out over the waves. I met Courtney swinging on one of them. She teaches yoga to divers in Thailand. Apparently the breathing of yoga is one of the best preparations for the breathing that divers need to practise. As she swung back and forth in sync with the sea, she reminded me that one of the most important results of exercise is that, because you breathe more deeply while you are doing it, the body becomes suffused with oxygen which brings remarkable health benefits. You can even practise deep breathing without taking exercise. Now there’s a novel idea!

Source: The Expat March 2012 
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