Our final day in Penang had arrived and so we had an early start to pack and check out of our hotel. The hotel had been great, although I had been eaten alive with mosquitos while in the room and so was feeling very itchy as we wandered just down the road to check out Macallum hawker stalls. There were loads, a lot of which had similar stuff that we had already tried and so we opted for Seven Stars Restoran – an Indian diner selling roti cenai and aloo poori. They were both tasty and nice and light in preparation for our hike. After breakfast we wandered back to the hotel and ordered a taxi to take us to the botanic gardens, the starting point for the hike up Penang hill. Getting taxis everywhere was something I hadn’t really anticipated in Penang but unfortunately unless you have a lot of time to wait on buses then it’s your only option, especially for us who had 2 days to cram in the highlights of the island.
We arrived at the moongate, a steep concrete path with yellow lines painted across and our friendly taxi driver who was the same one we had had for every journey said this was the way. From reading a couple of blogs I had ascertained that there were a few different routes up but this was the main one and the best signposted so we opted for it. It was daunting to say the least standing at the bottom and looking up at the steep vertical hill that rose ahead of you and winded around the corner. In my head I assumed the start would be the worst and then it would flatten out but alas, this was not to be and the vertical ascent continued. With the humidity and heat we were sweating like crazy, to the point my t-shirt changed all over to a much darker shade of green (super sexy, I know!). We stopped regularly to try and counteract the fluids we were losing with water but by 1.2km my dad looked like he was about to keel over and so we admitted defeat. The trail here is steep beyond anything I have climbed previously, including munros and other Asian mountains and coupled with the heat completely defeated us. We traipsed back down passing a group of older local men who greeted us good morning. At the bottom a lady took pity on us and called us a cab and as we were waiting the same Malaysian guys we had passed on our way down were also coming back, clearly they had also been defeated!
We got the cab to take us around to the Funicular railway and within less than 5 minutes had zoomed to the top on the modern train that was put in a few years ago. The climate at the top of the hill was starkly different to that at the bottom with 0 humidity and a good 5 degrees cooler making it a lovely place to wander around taking in the views of the island and down to Georgetown. It was slightly cloudier than we would have liked with restricted the views slightly, but you could still just see the edge of peninsular Malaysia through the cloudy haze. There was a short 15 minute trail from one side of the hill station through to the opposite end and given our failure on the earlier hike we decided to opt for this easier version which was thankfully pretty much entirely flat. We saw loads of wildlife as we were wandering through including a troop of playful silver-leaf monkeys which just have the most adorable faces, I could have sat and watched them all day, as well as some massive trees and darting squirrels. The other thing I noticed was the different locations used in the filming of Indian Summers; a recent channel 4 tv series that although was based in Shimla in India was filmed on Penang hill. Both were British colonial hill stations and as we wandered past some of the mansions on the trail it took me right back to watching the love and violence of British India. For anyone who hasn’t seen it I would definitely recommend a watch. As we reached the end of the trail we arrived at the Monkey Cup café which offered us a tour of their pitcher plant garden or a cold drink. Neither appealed but once we learned we could have a free lift back to the start of the trail by visited their garden we despondently agreed and wandered around with a less than enthusiastic guide who informed us the name and origin of about 20 different species of pitcher plants – who even knew there were so many?!? Pitcher plants in themselves are very cool, they attract insects in by holding water in their pitcher and then once the insect is inside the blood thirsty plant shuts its lid and the insect perishes in the water mixture which also contains the plants special poison to help disintegrate and digest the insect. However, after you have seen a few the thrill is over and I became more interested in watching this cute little gecko scurry about. Funnily enough just as we tried to leave the garden the lift we were getting back had just left and so we had to sit for 15 minutes in their garden while they tried to get us to buy a drink, before heading back to the funicular and back down the hill.
We jumped in a taxi back to town and asked the driver to drop us at a Hawker centre, all that walking had definitely built up an appetite. The hawker centre we arrived at was just next to a mall and more touristy than the ones we were used to so prices were slightly inflated in comparison but the quality of the food was not diminished. We opted for Nasi Lemak (it was a help yourself idea and so the stall owner helped us pick out, chicken, okra, veg, Chinese pork, dried fish and 3 curry sauces to go with the rice), a glutinous rice parcel filled with pork, mushrooms and egg and an oyster omelette. All of the dishes were fab as usual and we even used the bathrooms before leaving and making our way back to the hotel through the streets of Georgetown, getting lost a couple of times along the way and taking in our last viewing of the beautiful old buildings randomly perched.
When we got back to the hotel we had a cool drink while waiting for our taxi and then headed back to the airport for our next flight – to Bangkok. It was another Air Asia flight however, the seamless check-in we had experienced in Singapore was not replicated here with a queue snaking around the entire check-in section of the airport with at least 200 people waiting. Of course, certain races are better at queueing than others and the Chinese had some difficulty in understanding that they could not just make their own line considerably further forward than everyone else. After eventually checking our luggage we headed through security to a pretty tiny airport before boarding our flight on time! The 1 hour 55 flight was seamless with us even indulging in some airline food of chicken rice and chicken and basil leaf stir fry with rice, both of which were really surprisingly tasty. After the food I slept for the rest of the flight and arrived into Bangkok Don Mueang Airport feeling refreshed. We had to wait in a super long queue for a taxi after collecting our bags and the guy we ended up with was a massive chancer. It said all around the taxi queue, that the fare would be by metre with an extra 50 for the driver and any tolls. This guy wouldn’t put the metre on without some serious negotiation – trying to charge us 600 bhat when it only came to 250 with all the extras and the metre. His service could do with some improving too after he spat out the window on a number of locations, talked and texted on his phone throughout and tried to drop us at the wrong hotel. Thankfully as soon as we arrived at our hotel – Tints of Blue a welcome calm descended with the staff being really friendly and our rooms being pretty spectacular. A nice hot shower to wash away all of the lingering sweat was just the most perfect end to the day.