Timothy Tye
Penang Botanical Gardens Waterfall

Penang Botanic Gardens WaterfallPenang Botanic Gardens Waterfall (24 April, 2005)

Botanical Gardens waterfall (GPS: 5.4406, 100.28221) used to be one of the most famous waterfalls in Malaysia. And yet today not many people - even those in Penang - know about it, or have visited it. To visit this waterfall, one has to seek approval from the Penang Water Authority (Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang) .

I first learned about the Penang Waterfall through the colonial watercolours hanging in the Penang State Museum. I often heard of the Penang Waterfall through the "older generation" within my family. Aunties and older brothers would speak of the waterfall within the Botanical Gardens, and how much the young generation missed out in having their access to the waterfall cut off.

The entire height of the Botanic Gardens WaterfallThe entire height of the Botanic Gardens Waterfall (24 April, 2005)

Cascades of the Botanic Gardens WaterfallClose-up view of the cascades of the Penang Botanic Gardens waterfall (24 April, 2005)

Indeed, to them the botanical gardens should rightfully be known as the Waterfall Gardens, and the road leading up to it is Waterfall Road, or Jalan Air Terjun, not the present-day Jalan Kebun Bunga. However, somewhere in time, there was a shift in emphasis from the waterfall to the gardens. This shift was made physically apparent when Jalan Kebun Bunga was built, and Jalan Air Terjun, which forms an intersection with Gottlieb Road and Ayer Rajah Road, was eventually forgotten.

The "somewhere in time" was in the sixties or early seventies, when the Penang waterfall was closed off to the public as a safety measure. It was done during the Confrontation between the newly independent Malaysia and Indonesia. However, though the turbulent episode is now a page in history, the waterfall has never again been open to the public. Hence, entire generations of Penangites have grown up not knowing the existence of this fall or to appreciate it being there.

It must have been an awesome sight. Early visitors to Penang Island described it as one of the key attractions of the island, including Ibrahim Munshi, son of the well-known Abdullah Munshi, who described it in his journal, the Kisah Pelayaran. Indeed, the waterfall was an important source of water for ships calling at Penang port in the early part of the 19th century. In 1805, an aquaduct was erected to channel water for the fall via Pulau Tikus to a reservoir near Leith Street Ghaut and Hutton Lane respectively. The quality of the water, filtered through the aged rocks of Penang Hill, was very high, and was described by the early sailors as "sweet".

Pool below the Botanic Gardens WaterfallPool below the Botanic Gardens Waterfall (24 April, 2005)

Botanic Gardens Waterfall's two main branchesBotanic Gardens Waterfall's two main branches (24 April, 2005)

That it happens to be within the water catchment area vital to the supply needs of the island has resulted in the Penang Waterfall being closed to the public. In actual fact, only a small proportion of Penang water supply comes from this particular source - only 10-15% of the population is lucky enough to get their water from here, while much of the island gets its water supply comes from Sungai Muda, on the border of Penang and Kedah.

The quality of this water supply has long been recognised. In 1804, the first water treatment plant in Malaysia was set up here, to supply to the needs of 10,000 people in Penang. The oval-shaped reservoir of the Penang Waterfall was constructed in the gardens in 1892 by British engineer J. MacRitchie (the same municipal engineer who in 1894 lend his name to the MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore). It was reconstructed in 1950.

Bridge over Botanic Gardens WaterfallBridge over Botanic Gardens Waterfall (24 April, 2005)

In around 1910, after the Penang Botanical Gardens were established, the water authorities considered enlarging the reservoir by blocking access to the garden and flooding the valley. Thankfully that plan was not carried out, and the gardens were saved.

The visit to the Waterfall today, organised by the Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society, as attended mostly by members of AsiaExplorers. The tour was conducted by Dr Liew of the society. In addition to the waterfall, we were also given a tour of the gardens, but I shall leave the description of the gardens to another time.

The Botanical Gardens Waterfall gushes down towards the river belowThe Botanical Gardens Waterfall gushes down towards the river below (24 April, 2005)

To reach the waterfall, we first entered the water treatment plant of the Penang Water Authority (PBA). To do that, Dr Liew has to present an authorisation letter from the PBA. We were shown how raw water was made ready for consumption. Then we climbed the steps to visit the waterfall. By the look at the steps, they must have been placed there at least a hundred years ago, and probably more.

Before we reached the waterfall, we could hear it from a distance. And we could see the Sungai Air Terjun that runs off it on our left. Finally we saw the famous waterfall, and it was indeed a sight to behold. Below it was the famous bridge that appears in so many old paintings.

Sungai Air TerjunSungai Air Terjun (24 April, 2005)

The Waterfall consisted of three main falls, each time emptying into a pool. On the third fall, it separates into two parts that joins back to form a Y. According to Dr Liew, during the wet season, the two sections of the fall merge to form a single cascade of water. The height of all the falls total about four hundred feet.

We spent the next twenty minutes or so shooting the falls to our hearts' content. I find it difficult to properly represent the fall on photograph. Since it is so huge, it appears like a small stream of water when photographed in whole. To better appreciate the gushing water, I showed sections of the fall.


27 January, 2008: my wife and I joined members of the Penang Heritage Trust to re-visit the Penang Botanic Gardens.

Botanic Gardens Waterfall, PenangBotanic Gardens Waterfall, Penang (27 January, 2008)

Botanic Gardens Waterfall torrentsBotanic Gardens Waterfall torrents (27 January, 2008)

Misty waters, Botanic Gardens WaterfallMisty waters, Botanic Gardens Waterfall (27 January, 2008)

Penang Hokkien Section

This section is in Penang Hokkien and is part of Learn Penang Hokkien. Go to Penang Hokkien Made Easy for a quick lesson on how to read the new writing system. Refer to the Penang Hokkien Dictionary for words that you are not sure.

Ang3mor3 Hua3 Hnui2-eh3 Chooi1chiang2 ti1 Lan1lang2-eh3 wa33

Ang3mor3 Hua3 Hnui2-eh3 Chooi1chiang2 teng1tau4 si1 cit1-leh3 cin3cnia1 chut1mia2 eh3 chooi1chiang2. Ta3pi1 tha1na1 cin3 ce33 lang2 mm3bat1 khee3 cit1-leh1 chooi1chiang2 eng3goay3 Pin3 Sniah2-eh3 chooi1say3kuan1 boh3 hor3 jip1.

Ku3ca4-eh3 si2, Pin3 Sniah2 yong3 eh3 chooi4 si3 cit1-peng2 lai2 eh2. Tha1na1 ba3lu1 kiam4 goay3 15 pak1saen1 Pinang Su3-eh3 lang2 tharn3 ie1lang2-eh3 chooi1 tua3 cit1-peng2.

For more reading material in Penang Hokkien, go to Reading Material in Penang Hokkien. View also the Penang Hokkien Video Guides for video readings in Penang Hokkien.

Botanic Gardens Reservoir

Located at the bottom of the Botanic Gardens Waterfall is the Botanic Gardens Reservoir, operated by the Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang (PBA). This is where the water of the waterfall is filtered and cleansed before it is channeled to the public.

Botanic Gardens ReservoirBotanic Gardens Reservoir (27 January, 2008)

Filtration pond, Botanic Gardens ReservoirFiltration pond, Botanic Gardens Reservoir (27 January, 2008)

The filtration pond ghautThe filtration pond ghaut (27 January, 2008)

Botanic Gardens ReservoirCrystal-clear waters of the Botanic Gardens Reservoir (27 January, 2008)

Botanical Gardens WaterfallThe steps leading to the Penang Botanical Gardens Waterfall (24 April, 2005)

Getting there

You need to apply with the Penang Water Authority to get access to the Botanic Gardens Waterfall. Check with Friends of the Botanic Gardens Society to find out whether they have a visit to the waterfalls coming up.

Tim & Chooi Yoke at the Botanic Gardens WaterfallTim & Chooi Yoke at the Botanic Gardens Waterfall (27 January, 2008)

Location of the Botanic Gardens Waterfall on the map

List of Waterfalls in Penang and Waterfalls in Malaysia

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