Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Head for the Hills, Penang April 1st 2012

Penang Hill, Sunday Afternoon...

Head for the hills, that's the thing to do on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. Penang Hill is on the map as a tourist spot, so there should be a bus that stops there, and indeed there is according to the bus information section. Bus 204 is the one and soon rolls up to the bus stand along Jalan Penang, just past Chulia Street. Just 2 RM, it's not that far, about 4 miles looking at the map. Heading for the hills might be a nice idea, but when everyone else has the same thoughts then that can only lead to one thing - chaos! Yep, traffic everywhere. Bus inches along, through the western suburbs into a district called Air Itam, past mosques and Chinese temples. Of course, being Sunday, religious gatherings all adding to the gridlock. A major north to south highway intersects here, so it's another stream of  traffic vying for limited road space at the exit points. Who would think a relatively small place can generate so much traffic!

Bus pulls up to a complex, a tourist gateway to the hills, more of a mountain actually. I had visions of hiking up this hill, but seeing how steep it is, I hastily retracted those thoughts and anyway there isn't a path from here according to a chap at the gate entrance. To hike the hill, I need to go to the botanical gardens, 5 km away by taxi and start there. Not today, that's for sure, since the bus had taken 1 hour 20 just to here I'm running out of time. So it's the train then, which is of course a more expensive option, but requiring the least effort. The complex really is just the ticket office, with some souvenir stands around the edge. Quite a queue for tickets, but eventually I hand over my 30 RM, about 6.20 and is valid for a two-way ride.

They call it a funicular train, enough room for about 20 passengers and situated at a 45 degree angle on the hillside. It's a fast ride up, just 3 minutes to the top, not even enough time to be sick as the angle gets even steeper!. Amazing scenery, slightly scary as the woman gasp - in awe, or in fright, I'm not entirely sure! Stepping off the train and it's noticeably less humid, but still quite hot. But the view of Georgetown, and the surrounding hills is breathtaking. An awesome sight to behold as tourist cameras capture the scenery - around 3000 feet above the city. The place is likened to a hill station with bungalows and structures dotted around. A mosque on the plateau, a very picturesque place for prayers, and of course that much closer to god than most. A food court, serving mostly Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, just one booth with Western gunk. The prices are surprisingly good for a tourist trap. A coffee is about 50p, and a meal about £1.50. There is a restaurant, British inspired, British inspired prices too. A coffee is £2.50 and a meal, well let's just say the place was largely empty at lunchtime!

Over the plateau and there is a tarmac road, single track leading down to the botanic gardens I would suspect. A 10 minute stroll along here reveals some interesting sights. A red squirrel with a yellow tipped tail, big colourful butterflies flitting around, giant ants and many a varied jungle plant life. On the way back up, a snake looks at me for 3 seconds and it's gone. Just a small, thin snake about 1/4 metre in length, good to see though, if only very briefly.

Back at the top, by the mosque is a hotel, The Bellevue. Mixed reviews about the place on the website Tripadvisor. They have a small aviary, about a dozen caged birds, parrots from what I could see on the outside. I'm not inclined to pay to see a few caged birds so it's off to check out this hotel. Needs a lick of paint that's for sure. Going through to the restaurant on invitation, and it's clear to see why some visitors can put up with inadequacies. The restaurant is fronted with an amazing 180 degree panoramic view of  the island - shame the place is empty then.

It's easy to spend a few hours up here, cooling breezes, sunshine and good food. This is one tourist spot I don't mind being trapped in. Back down by train again, and it's quite a dramatic scene as the town below nears, although I suspect visual illusions may be causing the woman to gasp again. Bus back to KOMTAR, about 40 minutes this time, and another 2RM. Starbucks at 1st Avenue then.

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