An Evening at the Peak of the Pearl – Penang Hill

Penang Hill is the oldest British Hill station in Southeast Asia dating back to the late 1700s. Although referred to as just the Penang Hill, it actually comprises of a series of hills with the highest peak standing at 833m (2.732 ft) above sea level. The last I went up was with my family on my first overseas trip by air, almost 30 years ago! Frankly, I don’t remember anything about that visit anymore hence I decided to make a trip there this round, given the upgrading and redevelopment works in recent years.

From Pulau Tikus, based on instructions given by hotel staff, we were supposed to take the public bus 101 to Komtar Terminal in Georgetown then transfer to bus 204 to Air Itam that will bring us to the base of Penang Hill. However, somehow we lost our bearings & missed the Komtar stop, so it took us about 1.5 hours, before we could finally reach the lower Station to take the funicular train up to the hill. Fortunately, the queue to buy funicular train tickets wasn’t horribly long on a Saturday late afternoon. After about half an hour, we were at the peak of Penang!

View along the 1,996m funicular track from Lower to Upper Station

View along the funicular ride from Lower to Upper Station which took about 5 min

The current funicular train in use is already the 4th generation system that started operating on 24 April 2011. In case you don’t already know, the funicular train service has a long history and boasts a number of records. It started operations in October 1923, with the longest funicular track in Asia at 1,996m from Lower to Upper Station. In addition, its funicular tunnel (the “before entering & after exiting state” as seen in top left & bottom right photos in above collage) is the steepest tunnel track in the world, at 79m (258ft) long & 3m (10ft) wide with a steepness of 27.9 degrees. Indeed, for those prone to ear blocks when moving to higher altitudes, you will be able to feel some pain & ear block as you ride in the train.

After checking out views at the crowded Sky Walk officially opened on 8 February 2015 (bottom left photo in above collage), we decided to check out the religious & historical attractions first, namely the oldest government bungalow since 1803 (Convalescent Bungalow), the Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Hindu Temple & the Hill Mosque.

Penang Hill attractions

Although many said that it will be cooler in Penang Hill compared to the rest of Penang due to its height, we didn’t feel much difference because it was just too hot (you can tell from the over-exposed photos :P)! Hence we decided to take the suggested nature walks on the map. Hopefully more shady spots in the forest & also to check out the flora & fauna there! Here are some photos of our nature walk discovery for your viewing pleasure. 🙂

Penang Hill nature 1

Penang Hill nature 2

Finally saw the squirrel (top pic) & giant spider (bottom pic)!

See if you can spot the squirrel (top pic) & giant spider (bottom pic)!

Heritage Postbox

There are 4 nature trails in all, about 1.3km long in total, & I think we completed all 4 trails as it was a straight & relatively flat path all the way. Indeed, it was cooler walking in the forest with tall shady trees providing some shade. We weren’t so fortunate to spot the unique fauna as highlighted on the website (Dusky Leaf Monkey, Black Giant Squirrel & Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo) but we did spot the speedy squirrel & giant spider (above collage), as well as some monkeys jumping to & fro the tall trees & big-sized dogs.

We found something interesting towards the end of our nature walk – the first & only Monkey Cup Sanctuary in Malaysia with a Kopi Hutan (Kopi means “coffee” in Malay & Hutan means “forest”, so it means “coffee in the forest”) amidst the tranquil rainforest. The sanctuary was closed when we browsed the place around 7pm but the friendly owners invited us to sit down for a cup of freshly brewed Penang white coffee at the cafe next to it. Since we badly needed a drink to hydrate ourselves in such weather, & the outdoor forest cafe looks entralling, we ordered a pot of Lavender Tea (decaf) to share.

The Monkey Cup Sanctuary signboard (top) with our pot of soothing Lavender tea in Kopi Hutan (bottom)

The Monkey Cup Sanctuary signboard (top) with our pot of soothing Lavender tea in Kopi Hutan (bottom)

At first, I had some reservations over ordering Lavender tea (MYR8/ S$2.70, refillable) because based on my last experience drinking such tea from Japan, it felt like drinking aromatherapy oil. But this pot from Kopi Hutan was very nice & soothing! We enjoyed it so much while sitting in such a relaxed cafe that we asked for refill & they gladly did so for us. There was free shuttle service (in the owner’s van) to send us back to the Upper Station after we were done. But before leaving, the uncle enthusiastically showed us some species of the Monkey Cup (also known as tropical pitcher plants). It is a genus of carnivorous plants with over 100 species altogether. Pardon me for being an idiot in this field but this was the first time I heard of carnivorous plants so I thought it was very interesting.

Monkey Cup species

Along the short drive back to Upper Station, the uncle continued to tell us more about the Monkey Cup as well as the cafe. Apparently the cafe is open daily till 6.30pm only, but if customers are still coming in, they will just extend the operation hours. That’s nice isn’t it? 😉 I had originally wanted to check out the sunset view atop the hill, but he commented it’s very hard to catch the sunset unless you go deep into the forest towards Tiger Hill/ Western Hill. He suggested for us to admire the night view of Penang instead before going back to the city. So we heeded his advice & found some nice spots for the best views, see some photos below. 🙂

Looks like love locks are in every tourist destination in the world, & Penang Hill isn't spared :P

Looks like love locks are in every tourist destination in the world, & Penang Hill isn’t spared 😛

View from the main viewing deck

View from the main viewing deck

View from the Sky Walk

View from the Sky Walk

There were many people, both tourists & locals, fighting for the best spot to take selfies, panoramic shots & what-nots of the night view of Georgetown atop Penang Hill. Luckily we still managed to grab quite a number of nice shots of the scenery. As it was past 8pm & we were feeling hungry, we decided to call it a day & joined the long queue to take the funicular train down the hill. I shall end this post with a photo of the Lower Station at night. Enjoyable 3-hours spent at the top of Penang for us! 😀

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