Come for the food, stay for the great hiking in Penang

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 16 Jul 2016

A photo stop while climbing Penang Hill.

Our group, comprising hikers from different walks of life, decided to explore the hiking and food trails of Penang.

After many hours on the highway from Kuala Lumpur, our first stop in Penang state was at Sungai Bakap. We had read a blog touting traditional Hakka food in a pre-war shop, but sad to say, the food left much to be desired.

However, we were absolutely thrilled to arrive in George Town by ferry – it had been many years since any of us had been on it.

Then we drove straight to a “lodge” with pretty basic rooms (no TV) and shared toilets. But our main needs were for a carpark, and windows – to dry out our hiking gear.

After checking in, we decided to explore the Komtar area on foot since getting parking would be akin to finding gold. We wanted to visit Penang’s best cendol stall near Chowrasta market, but there was a queue of 20 people. So we decided to patronise the “second best” stall just next to it. Cendol does not fail to please on a hot day!

By then, all thoughts of hiking Bukit Jambul had totally evaporated. We hotfooted it back to our rooms as the heat was unbearable.

Jelly legs

Next day, we began at the crack of dawn to search for sustenance before our hike up Penang Hill. We drove around and finally found one coffee shop that was open.

The writer (in yellow) and her friends begin the hike up to Penang Hill at the famous Moongate.
The writer (in yellow) and her friends begin the hike up to Penang Hill at the famous Moongate.

We parked at the Botanic Gardens, took the obligatory photos at the famous Moongate, and then began the arduous uphill slog. However, the trail was clear and at steeper parts, steps had been made in the root-entwined soil.

We KL folks had heard tales that free coffee and Chinese tea were available at Station 5 (courtesy of kind hiking volunteers) but we had arrived too early to get any. However, Station 5 did have a well-maintained outdoor gym and even some weight machines. I wonder how they managed to haul the equipment up there!

The trek took a more scenic turn and we saw many different types of flowers and mushrooms along the way. As we got higher, the cool weather and leafy trees certainly helped to keep fatigue at bay.

At Station 84, there was a hot debate whether we should take the road up for the final ascent or the more scenic Moniot trail. We decided that beauty was more important than efficiency.

We walked near the famous Penang Hill funicular railway track and passed many quaint bungalows with pretty manicured gardens. And then we got to the top. It had taken us two and a half hours to hike all the way up.

After a short rest and photo opportunities, we took the train down. We were so thankful that we took that option as our jelly-like legs may not have survived the downhill walk. And besides, the ride in the new train brought back nice memories of the rickety old train from days of yore.

We took a taxi back to the Botanic Gardens and then rushed for a carbo fix. We were too hungry to search for “the best” nasi kandar restaurant and stopped at the first one we spotted, only to discover that certainly not all nasi kandar are created equal in Penang.

Great sea views

On Day 3, we went to explore the Muka Head lighthouse at Penang National Park, in the north-west corner of the island. Parking is available at the open space just next to the park entrance where all visitors must register themselves for safety purposes. You can also book a boat ride here for your return journey.

It was a pleasant and easy walk on a wooden boardwalk for one and a half hours to reach Monkey Beach. We took a break with some cold beers we had brought along and discovered we were the only “monkeys” on that beach.

From there, we hiked for an hour to the lighthouse. The walk up was not too difficult but the effects of drinking beer earlier had kicked in and we felt dehydrated.

Penang National Park near Muka Head has nice beaches and forests. Photo: Filepic
Penang National Park near Muka Head has nice beaches and forests. Filepic

The trail had natural steps from tree roots but plenty of obstruction from fallen trees. It was poorly maintained and the strangely posh marble markers along the way looked out of place in the jungle.

Penang National Park was the place where the controversial “nudist camp” incident happened back in 2014. This was when the Penang state government offered to take over management of the park from the federal National Park Advisory Council.

Even with the thick foliage, we felt hot and humid as we climbed up to the Muka Head lighthouse, but once there we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the sea.

We returned to Monkey Beach. This time we had more hydrating coconut juice while waiting for the boat to pick us up. It was a speedy ride back to the jetty. We were so glad that we took the boat as the afternoon sun was blazing and walking would have been a struggle.

We drove back to George Town via the long Balik Pulau route which is peppered by durian farms and stalls all the way. We had quite a fruity feast!

We ended the trip with some touristy stuff. At Chew Jetty it was amazing to see stilt houses over the sea. There was also the (nowadays) compulsory visit to see the city’s street art and murals.

To mark our final night, we had drinks at Antarabangsa, an eclectic bar in Lorong Stewart, with a mix of backpackers and locals drinking. The owner is a friendly chap and his pet dog rules the kingdom by occasionally sniffing at the customers!

After we visited three Buddhist temples on Burma Road, our last chance to eat Penang hawker food was at Pulau Tikus. It was an absolutely delightful trip that combined our passions for hiking and eating with some sightseeing thrown in.

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