First, let me say that I rarely go hiking. When it’s hot all the time, I just really don’t feel like sweating outdoors. And the journey to the top can truly be terrible sometimes. But most of the time, the views are completely worth it.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be one of those hikes.
The Airbnb I stayed at in Penang was on the 12th floor (technically 13th) of a condo. To attempt to work off some of the super unhealthy foods I was stuffing myself with, I’d walk up the stairs back home.
One day, I came through the door panting after such a climb to find my host, Teresa, in the living room.
“I just walked up the stairs,” I said by way of explaining for my red-faced and breathless state.
Immediately, she took it to mean that I like hiking (no idea why) and said that we should go hike Penang Hill.
“Okay but my physical level is really bad,” I warned her. “Especially if it’s climbing up steps. The last time I climbed a hill, I thought I was going to die.”
“Don’t worry, I’m slow too,” she said. “And we’ll do the route without the steps.”
So on a Sunday morning, bright and early at 7 am, we (along with her sister’s family) set off on the “gentler” route.
Penang Hill has an interesting history. It was originally a retreat during the British settlement. It’s the oldest British hill station in Southeast Asia, dating back to the late 1700’s. The peak stands 833m high.
The trail started off easily enough… just a gentle uphill through the farm.
We even saw some chickens and turkeys!
But soon, the grade increased and it got harder and harder. It wasn’t long before her sister’s family (who does this hike weekly) left us in the dust. Teresa and I slowly soldiered on.
It was good that we started early, as it wasn’t yet hot and too humid. The trail has plenty of tree cover.
But still, when we finally reached the halfway point (some couple of hours later), I was sweating profusely. It had gotten really humid, but the difficulty level isn’t too terrible, I’d say. As long as you have the stamina to keep on walking uphill, it’s not terrible. There are even some level parts that acted as a break. I walked slow and didn’t need to stop for breaks. Teresa and I were even able to chat the entire way.
“Ready for the hard part now? The second half is shorter, but tougher,” Teresa’s brother in law said.
While the first half is a steady incline on paved road the entire way up, the second half is a mix of jungle trail, steps, and paved uphill road. This made it a more fun and entertaining climb. But I’d agree it’s a lot more challenging. There were also some parts without shade cover that was just awful. I had to stop and catch my breath a few times in order to recoup the energy to continue on.
We were beginning to see a bit of a view.
The jungle portion was awesome! You walk through a dirt jungle trail with steps carved into the jungle floor. Sometimes, the tangles of tree roots acted as steps. And there were some parts where the steps are so high that you have to use the help of a rope to pull yourself up.
This half also has a lot more stairs, which are always the worst for me.
We did see some nice plants on the way.
I loved these bright pink pointy plants. Anyone know what they are?
And we took a rest at a spot where you can see the trolley coming down the tracks.
After the long rest, we continued on. I was now completely drenched in sweat and felt like a stinky, sticky mess.
Just when I thought I was to the point of “is there an end to this??“, we heard faint voices. The blessed sound of the trolley bells and of people’s chatter were the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard at this moment.
We were finally close to the top. Just a short stretch up some steps. And we arrived at the building on top of the hill. It was just about 10 am on the dot. The hike up took 3 hours.
When we finally sweated and huffed and puffed our way to the top, we were treated to the most glorious sight I’ve ever seen.
No not that.
An entire stall of delectable frozen treats and fresh juices! I was even more ecstatic to see mango ice on the menu. I had already finished my bottle of water long ago, and at this stage, I would have GLADY forked over 50rm for a sweet ice cold bowl.
Thankfully, a huge bowl of mango ice was very reasonably priced at just 10rm. And hikers get a 2rm discount so it was only 8rm (or slightly under US $2).
It was just what I needed. I scarfed the entire bowl down all by myself.
Best reward ever. If you ever decide to hike Penang Hill, and want to collapse in the middle of it, just remember that THIS is your reward at the end.
But seriously, the views were crap that day. The haze has rolled in and the little bit of view from earlier had disappeared. After we wolfed down our frozen treats, we spent a little bit of time walking around the top of Penang Hill. But it was pointless. There was nothing to be seen.
No matter, I felt immensely satisfied with the bowl of mango ice I just had.
We did see a huge millipede though.
No, seriously. It was GIANT.
Sorry for the gross photos, but with crap views like that, the milipede was the most interesting sight.
We went down the hill on the trolley, which was super fun. The funicular has an average steepness of 27.9 degree, and is the steepest tunnel track in the world! I’d say this is a must-ride even if you want to hike up.
My tip: Go for the first very car and stand at the front. You get the very best view going down!
As we neared ground level, we broke through the fog layer and you can see the city below.
My friends Ray and Carmela made an awesome video of the trolley ride down! You can see just how far we hiked. The track has a total distance of 1.99km, which makes it the longest funicular track in Asia.
They also saw dusty leaf monkeys playing near the viewing platform! But I didn’t see any on that day. A couple of months later, I did go back up (on the trolley!) to look for the monkeys and saw a group in the jungle.
Oh and check out the awesome view when the day is good. You can see the Penang Bridge clearly.
Hikes are always like this, aren’t they. You feel like you’re suffering while doing it (especially with that humidity!), but it always feels so good when you reach the top. Especially if mango ice can be your reward. :)
Penang Hill is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Penang. They say that you can’t say you’ve been to Penang unless you’ve been up the hill (I guess like you can’t say you ate Penang food unless you had char kuey teow). I think it’s worth a visit (ride the funicular at least!), but try to go on a clearer day. I also hear sunrise and sunset are gorgeous on top of the hill. And that it’s even pretty at night to see the city all lit up below.
Tips and things to know:
- Difficulty: I didn’t think it was as hard as pure steps, but this has its own challenges, like the jungle section. Some of the jungle steps were really high, so you need to be able to climb them.
- Start early! You’ll be grateful it isn’t too hot then. We started at 7 am and I reached the top at 10. It was already very hot!
- Spray on and bring mosquito repellent. I forgot to do so and got bitten pretty badly.
- Bring plenty of water. A small bottle isn’t enough.
- Bring money for the awesome food court at the top! For the frozen treats, hikers get 2rm discount on items.
- Bring a small towel if you have one. You’ll need it for the sweat.
- Bring an extra change of clothes (the top at least). I was drenched in head-to-toe sweat by the time I got to the top. DRENCHED. It felt super gross to sit there in stinky damp clothes. Teresa and her family were smart enough to bring a change of clothes (and apparently forgot to warn me to do so too)!
- Other things to do on the top: There are a few nature walks, as well as a paid tree canopy walk called The Habitat (which I really want to do next time). Try to spot some of the super cute dusty leaf monkeys!
- Trolley price: 5rm for Malaysians and 15rm for foreigners (each way).
- How to get there: Uber is your best bet!
What was your last hike?