I WAS surfing for a special vacation with my wife in Penang to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
We were both born and bred here, but instead of going to far-off places, we wanted to explore more of our home state. My wife asked me to surprise her for this trip.
The onus then was on me to avoid taking her on a holiday at a run-of-the-mill hotel or resort.
That was how I stumbled upon Fig Tree Hill Resort in Sungai Ara during my Internet research.
I was a bit sceptical at first, but I decided to give the resort a try even though there were unhappy reviews about the difficulty of getting Internet access there.
The price was also on the steep side but I took the risk.
Fast forward to the day of our vacation, and we and a few other guests met our guide at our gathering point at SPICE Centre in Bayan Lepas.
We then drove up a narrow passage up to the hill resort.
When we arrived, we were impressed. The resort had only six villas, and each had a fully equipped kitchen.
Our stay came with complimentary breakfast, while for the other meals, we had a choice of cooking our own steamboat or firing up the private barbecue pit.
The peace and beauty of the natural surrounding here more than made up for the lack of Internet connection.
Our getaway had me thinking: Penang does have a lot to offer in terms of eco- tourism.
Recently, I met businessman Eric Chong and his wife Kim and was taken on a tour of their orchard and eco-lodge in Balik Pulau. Just 20 minutes away from Balik Pulau town, their 16-acre orchard called Green Acres was chemical-free and beautiful.
Eric and Kim showed me the wonders of sustainable farming and the benefits of eating chemical-free vegetables and fruits.
The couple offer farm stays in lodges with a spring dipping pool.
There are many other little-known attractions in Balik Pulau.
There is a goat farm in Sungai Pinang where visitors get to enjoy fresh goat’s milk and even ice cream made from it on top of having a fun time feeding the goats.
There is also a nutmeg factory in Pulau Betong plus horse-riding and roller skating activities.
At a farm in Sungai Rusa, visitors can feed animals and buy organic vegetables while there is an organic durian farm near the Titi Kerawang waterfall.
On the mainland, there are more rustic destinations tucked away in villages.
In January, Penang was named by CNN Travel as one of the 17 best places to visit in 2017.
Recently, Gurney Drive made it to the 13th spot on the list of ‘25 best streets for tourists to visit around the world before you die’ by a popular Australian travel website.
But I will admit that such listings have yet to factor in Penang’s eco-tourism appeal.
Our little gems off the beaten track are not capable of drawing millions of ringgit.
But while they do not create the same hype as the heritage enclave or the beaches, they make me see that despite having travelled to many countries, I still find that nothing beats Penang.