Melissa Cheah picks out some top destinations for walking in the state of Penang.
Unbeknownst to many who plan their trips to the island for its stunning beaches, amazing array of hawker delights and excellent shopping opportunities – all of which are immensely compelling reasons to visit – the abundant hiking trails are a lesser-advertised Penang attraction.
There are trails that are accessible from various locations around the island; each unique in its own way and some more challenging than others. This entry is for budding hikers, hiking enthusiasts, and nature lovers who’d like to get some exercise while taking in fresh air and lush greenery.
1. Bukit Jambul
This straightforward trail is an excellent starting point for beginners or for those who’d like to ease back into hiking. It should take maiden hikers approximately 30 minutes to reach the summit and half that time for moderately fit hikers.
Moss-covered rocks, tar-surfaced roads and cobblestone paths are accompaniments on your way uphill. The trail is equipped with toilet facilities, sturdy handrails and several exercise equipment facilities.
Once you’ve arrived at the crowning point, take in the breathtaking panoramic view of the Penang Bridge and Bayan Lepas, Penang’s industrial zone at the viewing platform at the hilltop. There are also plenty of shelters and benches where you can rest to replenish your strength.
2. Youth Park
Penang’s Youth Park is located at Jalan Utama, just before the junction to Jalan Kebun Bunga. Parking spaces are aplenty at the front entrance of the park.
The climb will lead you through a copious number of trees before opening out to a barren hillside with incredible views of Penang and Georgetown. You’d find it difficult not to whip out your smartphone (or camera) for a photo opportunity.
Oddly-shaped rocks in every shade of brown imaginable, thickets of green foliage and a clear, azure sky are the perfect combination for peace and calm after a hectic week at work.
For the more adventurous, you can opt to continue around the side of the rocky plateau, taking a left and finding yourself at Rest Stop Three, where there’ll be tables and chairs for you to catch a breath and stay hydrated.
3. Penang Hill
For thosewho are not in the know, the recently renovated railway train isn’t the only way to scale Penang Hill; you can actually walk your way to the top of Penang’s iconic landmark. The trail snakes through the jungle and you can arrive at the top of the hill on various routes.
Most choose to begin at Moongate, the circular stone gateway along Jalan Kebun Bunga, which was formerly the entrance to the grounds of the 19th century country house of Cheah Chen Eok, the famous millionaire.
Best known for building the Queen Victoria Memorial clock tower at the Esplanade to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee, Eok’s gateway it is now a recognisable passageway to adventure for hiking devotees.
You’ll take on plenty of cement steps and hear the crackling of dried leaves all the way on the upward slopes. The incline isn’t too steep, although the grounds can get slightly slippery and rather muddy during the rainy season.
If your energy level has been sapped from the fairly demanding hike, you can catch a ride down on the Funicular Train and arrive at the foothill in less than 10 minutes.
4. Teluk Bahang
The route up the National Park at Teluk Bahang is one for thrill seekers. The trail is a good 10-11 kilometers for a full loop, and is not recommended for beginners.
Located just beyond the Butterfly Farm on the way to Balik Pulau, Taman Rimba was established by the Penang State Forestry Department in 1974. Within its vast 32 hectares, there are natural bathing pools, picnic tables set up for use, a camp site, a small forestry museum and hawker stalls near the entrance.
There is the Simpoh Gajah Trail and the Ridge Top Trail, the longest and most challenging circular trail. The other two circular trails are the Monkey Cup Trail and the Charcoal Kiln Trail. Expect steep descents, tiny streams, wooded valleys and thick trees on your track.
The unobstructed vista over the forest of Teluk Bahang is yours to savour once you’ve reached the pinnacle.
5. Gertak Sanggul
If a criss-cross trail dotted with huts and a plethora of orchards seems like the kind of hiking adventure you’d like to experience, this is the track you should look out for. The hiking route is remarkably straightforward.
You’ll be sure to come across a forest of rubber trees at various stages and navigate through the outskirts of banana and pineapple plantations. Along the expedition, you might need to stand aside to let the occasional motorbike, mountain bike and hiker pass.
Hiking visits to this trail is best planned to catch the glorious rising or setting of the sun, complemented by the unperturbed view of the sea and glimpses of the tranquil beach directly below.
For hikers who’d like to steal a peek into the Arcadian lifestyle of a fisherman, you will reach a point where the trail descends steeply towards Pulau Betong. The hike shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes till you see a temple on the main road.
Walk for another 15 minutes along the road to reach the village centre. Kampung Pulau Betong is a little village on the southwest of Penang. Take a stopover at the local market and pick from a wide variety of fishes or seafood options, which you can have cooked at the nearby restaurant, with an open air seating area next to the water.
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