Reinvigorating the Local Tourism Scene With the World’s Longest Zip Coaster

By Joel Teh

November 2022 FEATURE
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The zip coaster makes childhood fantasies of flying a reality.

“WHEN LIFE GIVES you lemons, you make lemonade,” Sim offers up the trite expression when talking about the curveball Covid-19 had dealt to the tourism industry. Sim Choo Kheng is the founder of Sim Leisure Group which owns and operates ESCAPE Penang, a theme park nestled within Teluk Bahang’s sprawling forests.

Since Penang Monthly’s feature on the enterprise with regard to sustainable tourism two years ago (see Penang Monthly September 2020), ESCAPE Penang has added two new crowd pullers to its repertoire – a water slide and a zip coaster. Both of these have separately won standing Guinness World Records for the longest of their kind in the world, attracting adrenaline junkies from all over.

The 1.1km zip coaster is a nerve-racking ride that fuses the free-flying sensation of a zip line with ups, downs and turns on a steel track attached to tree lines. Meandering through the tops of lush trees and green foliage, it gives riders the ultimate thrill of flying over a stunning landscape.

“The ride takes almost six minutes and includes fast-slow moments. Just when you reach the peak of the mountain and think that you can enjoy the view, it descends suddenly and speedily,” says Sim. He tells us that he was driven by a desire to make his childhood dreams a reality. Zipping through tropical rainforests as well as a host of other water- and gravity-themed games in ESCAPE park allow riders to experience that to the fullest.

 Sim says that in creating the zip coaster, efforts were made to conserve the natural environment surrounding the park.

 “Our priority was obviously to prevent any form of damage to the nature within and around ESCAPE Penang. We are committed to preserving the beautiful natural environment that is also a main draw for visitors. We had the same considerations when we built the world’s longest slide,” affirms Sim.

 Without any inkling as to when the lockdown would end, the construction of the zip coaster, which began in 2020, continued until almost reaching the peak of the hill in 2021 and cinched the title of the longest zip coaster in the world when it was finished. Due to the complexity of the geological structure on which it is built, its construction relied on labour-intensive methods instead of more advanced technology.

 Pravin Patel, the adjudicator of the Guinness World Records who attended the official launch of the zip coaster, says that the zip coaster was assessed through a few criteria: it has to be a permanent structure placed in a public place, the zip trail must be one continuous route and the construction process has to adhere to the health and safety regulations of the Malaysian government. 

ESCAPE Penang has won two Guinness World Records. (Photo taken on 12 May 2022).

Thoughts on the Penang Travel Scene

Having been in the industry for over 30 years now, Sim has a firm understanding of the travel and leisure preferences of millennials and Gen-Zs. For one, he says, they tend to prefer memorable experiences over cursory glances.

“Young people these days are digitally enabled. Where the older generations prefer to travel in comfort, youngsters prefer experiential travel and to try new things.”

When asked about his view on the tourism landscape in Penang today, Sim expresses the need for Penang’s tourism players and the state government to align their visions. “Many of us have been pushing for improvements to the transportation infrastructure. Until today, there aren’t many direct flights from overseas to the Penang International Airport and the sole road to Batu Feringghi is still a nightmare to drive at night. I think we can attract more travellers to Penang by addressing these issues.”

A firm believer in providing quality services, Sim reiterates that having high-end facilities to provide world-class experiences is the way to go when it comes to attracting high-yield tourists and making Penang tourism eco-friendly and sustainable.

Riders taking the chair lift to the attraction.

Sim envisions expanding ESCAPE Theme Park into a larger travel destination with more outdoor activities such as camping. Sticking with the “back to nature” concept, which is especially popular among families and large groups of friends, he is working on adding a resort that provides day trips with unique features.

Sim’s “Low Tech, High Fun” approach keeps costs relatively low; this provides leisure for the masses and not just a privileged few. This has attracted the attention of Lagenda Properties, a property developer in Malaysia, who signed a 10-year partnership with ESCAPE earlier this year to design and construct more recreational parks and green spaces in its existing and future townships to increase leisure areas and family-friendly zones.

Apart from that, Sim has plans to extend his brand to the Cameron Highlands and even internationally. “If you want to succeed, you need to have a global mindset. Don’t just seek to be the best in Malaysia but set your sights on being a champion for Penang across the globe. Malaysia has always brought in international brands; we need to start exporting local products if we wish to be at the top of the world’s food-chain.”

Joel Teh

is a creative writer, singer and activist. He is fascinated by memes, books, folklore music and food.