Hiking Straight Up Penang Hill

Yesterday we managed to stick with one of my 6 goals for the next 6 months! Instead of another lazy Saturday, we fueled up with some bacon (hello pork I missed you) and drove to Penang Hill. After getting lost several times, we eventually made it to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens and the jeep track. While most people opt to take the funicular up the side of the hill, we decided to hike up the jeep track since we both love hiking.

However, this is no leisurely stroll up the hillside. The jeep track goes straight up the hill, often at an angle of 25 to 30 degrees. It is a brutal 5.1km (3.2 miles) uphill climb made even more brutal by the extreme heat and humidity of the jungle. When I first arrived in Penang, Peter brought me to this same track. I complained the entire way and lasted only 1km! This time I was determined to suck it up and make it to the top.

We started our trek at 4:45pm and were in the company of plenty other hikers and even an occasional biker. This one old guy was biking straight up the hill like a boss with music blasting out of speakers. I was so impressed.

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At the 1.5km mark, we stopped at a flat rest area with picnic tables and lots of monkeys! They were grouped in little families of momma, baby, and teenager and were pretty darn adorable. I was wary of them, especially when the teenager came up to us and basically begged for food, using puppy dog eyes while glancing at my camera bag. Thankfully he left us alone and we continued our slow trudge up the mountainside.

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By the time we reached the first opening in the jungle, we were completely drenched in sweat. My hair, shirt and shorts were completely soaked through as if I was swimming, not hiking. The combination of humidity and physical exertion was extraordinary. At this point I was wiping my brow every 5 minutes to prevent blindness from the rush of sweat into my eyes. With each turn of the jeep track I hoped for some flat terrain, but instead was consistently greeted with more steep inclines. I was afraid my poor calves and legs would not be able to take it anymore. But there was no turning back now. I had to make it to the top, even if I would curse the entire way there!

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The final ascent to the top was brutal and included a wicket set of stone stairs. Not cool. But we powered through and breathlessly emerged at the top an hour and half after we started. We found ourselves surrounded by happy Muslim families strolling around the flat top road. I seriously doubt that they made the hike because they looked too happy! We made our way as fast as our legs could carry us (aka as slow as molasses) into the lodge across the street where there were food and drink stalls. We bought fresh fruit juices, bottles of water and some noodles and sat down to enjoy our feast. There is nothing better than fresh juice after a sweaty hike. We then walked down a small street to an uncrowded picnic area that overlooked the entire island.

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We could see all of Georgetown and the stretch of ocean that separates Penang from the mainland. To the far right we could even see our apartment building sandwiched between a small hill and island. Although it was a hazy day, the view was still impressive. Pollution has recently been very bad in Malaysia but I welcomed the protection from the hot sun. If the sun was out I probably would have melted.

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A little after 7pm we realized that we needed to get down the hill PRONTO before the sun went down. Although the jeep track is paved, there are no street lamps. That would just be silly. With the light already fading, we booked it down the hill as fast as our shaking legs would take us.

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I was exhausted and my legs were aching something fierce but I was determined to get off that dang hill. Somehow we found the energy and the humor to walk/run down the steep slope. On the way up I saw lots of people walking backwards down the hill so I decided to try it myself. Peter said that Asians are experts at conserving time and energy so walking backwards must be the way to go. Well they were right! Walking backwards was easy on my legs and a great relief for my trembling calves. We must have looked absolutely ridiculous stomping backwards but we didn’t care as long as we were moving quickly!

At 8pm sharp we ran into the now dark parking lot, wobbly from exertion and extra sweaty. We did it!!! We actually descended in 1/4th of the time it took us to ascend. Success!!

Today my calves are so sore that I can barely walk but I am glad I finally conquered Penang Hill. I loved getting away from the city and seeing another side of Penang. So far these goals are going well and I can’t wait to see what we do next! 

One thought on “Hiking Straight Up Penang Hill

  1. What an incredible view! At least they make the punishing hike worth it in the end. Way to keep at it, I’m not sure I would have made it all the way to the top.

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