Appealing Lifestyles on Offer in Seberang Perai

By Syafiqah Nazurah Mukhtar

May 2022 FEATURE
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Sunset-watching at Kuala Muda, Penaga.
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A CONURBATION IS an extended urban region where several towns, cities and urban areas have merged through physical expansion and population growth. Penang, a polycentric city where most of the development had been centred in George Town and Butterworth, is the biggest conurbation in northern Peninsular Malaysia. Penang’s sprawl has crossed the state boundary, into Kedah and Perak, according to Khazanah Research Institute[1].

Seberang Perai has also become more urbanised. In the last few years, Batu Kawan, once a backwater village, has undergone rapid development, following the construction of the second Penang Bridge which connects it to the Island, the establishment of the Batu Kawan Industrial Park, as well as huge commercial zones that have anchored businesses like IKEA and high-branded boutiques in Design Village.

As housing prices on the Island continue skyrocketing, young people, especially, have been moving to Seberang Perai to enjoy a more affordable lifestyle. Peri-urban areas in Seberang Perai offer a more peaceful environment with less traffic congestion and noise, and a range of facilities and amenities. Here are four aspects that sum up why life in Seberang Perai may be more appealing than on the Island:

Accessibility and Traffic

The whole of Seberang Perai can be reached within an acceptable commute time.[2] The western part of Seberang Perai, being more urbanised, is linked by a comprehensive road network that connects the mainland with the Island through the first and second Penang bridges, as well as with the neighbouring states of Kedah and Perak. This is appealing to people who have to travel between these places.

Unlike on the Penang Island where parking in malls can cost quite a bit, most supermarkets on the mainland provide parking spaces for free, for instance, at Sunshine, Mydin and Lotus at Kepala Batas.

Read also: A Time to Thrive: Promoting and Sustaining Rural Community Tourism

That said, traffic conditions are not always smooth in Seberang Perai, and many of the more urbanised areas such as Seberang Jaya and Bukit Mertajam are frequently congested. Many residents in Seberang Perai commute to the Island for work over the first Penang Bridge; this creates a bottleneck situation. Traffic is exacerbated on rainy days or when there are accidents. This becomes a very tiring and draining routine for people who live in Seberang Perai and have to commute daily to the Island.

Fortunately, many projects are in the pipeline to improve Penang's transportation system. In the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), the mainland will be better connected to the Island with the planned development of a third link connecting Bagan Ajam with Gurney and a George Town-Butterworth LRT near the first bridge.[3]

Cheaper Housing Options

On top of its population growth, economic growth has attracted talents and a robust workforce to Penang, raising demand for housing. This has led to a sharp increase in land prices. Housing prices may differ by the area, but houses on the Island typically cost more. In a report by Khazanah Research Institute which looked at housing affordability in Penang in 2016, Penang fell under the severely unaffordable category.[4]

Nevertheless, housing developments built in Seberang Perai often offer cheaper alternatives, especially landed properties. As a result, middle-income households, especially young families, are increasingly choosing to settle in Seberang Perai, despite having to spend most of their time on the road commuting to the Island and a fair amount on transportation costs.

Activities

Even though modern development has started to encroach into the more rural areas, Seberang Perai still retains much more of its rural characteristics than the Island. Seberang Perai Utara, where the British-Siamese boundary was once located, for example, has a treasure trove of heritage monuments, and the Guar Kepah Archaeology Gallery.

A temporary archaeological gallery in Guar Kepah was established in 2017 and will be fully upgraded in 2025.[5]

Seberang Perai is also known for its agro- and eco-tourism attractions, such as Taman Robina Eco Park, Kampung Agong, Kebun Nipah and Pasar Bisik Kuala Muda. Furthermore, Mengkuang Dam and several hills in Bukit Mertajam are popular hiking spots, though due to it being mostly flat land, Seberang Perai has limited options compared to the Island in terms of hiking.

There are only several hotels available in Seberang Perai – most of them homestays – but it allows Seberang Perai to play up its uniqueness by providing a different experience in accommodation that matches well with the local vibe, rather than replicating what Penang already has on the Island. In fact, the Seberang Perai City Council is tapping into the city’s wealth of archaeological relics and historical remains to boost its tourism activities.

Delicacies

Street food on Penang Island is world renowned. Seberang Perai too has its own distinct, albeit unassuming and underrated specialties, most notably the availability of options for Malay food. Seberang Perai Utara is famous for its Malay nasi campur at Kepala Batas, steamboat at downtown Bertam Perdana, mee udang at Teluk Air Tawar, and thirsty visitors can guzzle ice-cold nira nipah inside the farm at Penaga.

Kampung Kota Aur is one of the agro- and eco-tourism destinations in Seberang Perai. It was a case study for the Urban SDG Knowledge Platform, from 2017-2020.[6]

During the month of Ramadan, Teluk Ipil in Nibong Tebal turns into a paradise for boiled mussels. Eaten with peanut gravy, this is mandatory fare for Muslims breaking fast in this area. A dizzying display of fresh shellfish and seafood delicacies brings throngs of hungry locals to the humble stalls along the Kerian Valley from Teluk Ipil, Ban Pecah, Bagan Tiang, and Kuala Kurai near Nibong Tebal where they happily break their fast.[7]

When it comes to fresh ingredients, Seberang Perai supplies local-grown vegetables that are easily obtained to Pasar Tani Tasek Gelugor (the largest pasar tani in Penang), and fresh-caught fish and seafood at Pasar Bisik Kuala Muda, as well as to other smaller fish markets or stalls along the streets.

“Living here in Seberang Perai, I notice that my diet has become more based on locally available ingredients. Traditional Malay side dishes like pucuk paku, pucuk peria pantai and pucuk ubi can be easily found along the streets in the morning,” says Dasimah, a resident in Seberang Perai. I, myself have fallen in love with the local food, spurring my exploration of the traditional Malay delicacies that Seberang Perai has to offer.

However, we cannot have the best of both worlds in one place. Seberang Perai is quite limited when it comes to access to imported ingredients, especially outside Butterworth, Bukit Mertajam and Batu Kawan.

People living in Bukit Mertajam might be able to get ingredients such as salmon, baby spinach or kale in AEON Jusco Alma, but the options are still rather limited compared to the Island. Batu Kawan does not even yet have a place for groceries; it is still a new township. However, as more international companies set up operations there and as the township grows, grocery stores carrying imported groceries are likely to open in the near future.

Read also: A Time to Thrive: Promoting and Sustaining Rural Community Tourism

From these four aspects, we get a sense of what the peri-urban life of a Seberang Perai-an is like. Hopefully, as more areas in Seberang Perai are developed, the traditional and rural way of life can continue to exist – in harmony with progress.

Footnotes:

[1] Khazanah Research Institute (2019). Rethinking Housing: between State, Market and Society: A Special Report for the Formulation of the National Housing Policy (2018-2025). http://www.krinstitute.org/assets/contentMS/img/template/editor/Rethinking Housing (Full Report)- EN Version.pdf

[2] Khazanah Research Institute (2019). Rethinking Housing: between State, Market and Society: A Special Report for the Formulation of the National Housing Policy (2018-2025). http://www.krinstitute.org/assets/contentMS/img/template/editor/Rethinking Housing (Full Report)- EN Version.pdf

[3] PTMP https://pgmasterplan.penang.gov.my/en/

[4] Khazanah Research Institute (2019). Rethinking Housing: between State, Market and Society: A Special Report for the Formulation of the National Housing Policy (2018-2025). http://www.krinstitute.org/assets/contentMS/img/template/editor/Rethinking Housing (Full Report)- EN Version.pdf

[5] https://www.utusan.com.my/berita/2022/03/galeri-warisan-arkeologi-guar-kepah-bernilai-rm10-juta-bakal-dibuka-2025/

[6]

[7] https://www.buletinmutiara.com/teluk-ipil-syurga-kerang-rebus-di-bulan-ramadan/

Syafiqah Nazurah Mukhtar

is an urban studies researcher who also loves to decorate homes and spaces.


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