I had a leisurely start to the day… rain delayed play so after a relaxed breakfast…
I caught the bus across town to Penang Hill. Georgetown buses appear to be far more reliable than Ipoh’s and they have air conditioning.
Originally known locally as Strawberry Hill, as a result of Captain Francis Light, the founder of the colony plotting a horse track from the Penang Botanic Gardens waterfall up to the top of the hill in order to grow strawberries, there’s not a strawberry to be spotted.
Penang Hill is actually a collection of hills and was soon recognised by the British as a pleasant place to escape the stifling heat of Georgetown.
Like Da Lat, in Vietnam, it came to be a convalescent area with bungalows built to aid recovery or act as hospices for those who were too ill to return to Europe.
One of the earliest buildings on Strawberry Hill was a house built by David Brown on land given by Francis Light. The house however burnt down and it was rebuilt in the 19th century, and it was being used as a restaurant as of 2012.
The post office was first opened in 1894, and a hotel, the Crag Hotel, owned by the Sarkies Brothers (of Raffles fame) was established in 1895 and closed in World War II. The building later became a boarding school The International School of Penang from 1955 till 1977 when it was abandoned.
To reach the heights of the steep hill a funicular railway was opened in 1924, leading to increased building on the slopes of the hill.
Today it serves residents and workers as well as tourists heading up the hill to explore.
The views from the top and particularly from The Habitat, an ecological park that offers zipwiring through the trees and walkways through the branches are, utterly incredible.
On a clear day, the view of the Straits of Malacca and the Penang Bridge would be incredible. As it was, I found peering through the cloud above the forest to be very atmospheric.
This is not the original forest. As well as having a craving for strawberries, the British settlers were in the habit of clearing trees that were not pleasing to their eye.
It appears they weren’t logging them, as in the case of the beautiful kauri trees in New Zealand, they just didn’t like the look of them.
More ecological vandalism.
Significant efforts have clearly been made to reforest the Hill.
From here, after a ride back down the funicular, I ended up riding a couple more funicular lifts, rather than trains, in order to visit the Kek Lok Si Temple, a Buddhist place of worship.
I’d spotted this from the bus. It was hard to miss the giant bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy standing on the hillside.
Standing at 30 metres tall, she was one of the more recent additions to what is actually a complex, rather than one temple, in 2002.
The prayer halls and pagodas were built between 1890 and 1930 up the side of the hillside and a series of lifts and golf carts transport visitors between the different levels of the temple.
In 1930, the seven storey main pagoda of the temple or the Pagoda of “Ban Po Thar”, the Ten Thousand Buddhas, a 30 metres high structure, was completed.
The pagoda combines a Chinese octagonal base with a middle tier of Thai design, and a Burmese crown (spiral dome), reflecting the ethnic and religious diversity in the country.
The complex and its gardens are a beautiful and peaceful place to wander.
The views across the grounds and out to the city are stunning.
So far, I have found that Georgetown offers everything: views of the sea, a chance to climb the hillsides and walk through the forests, streetart, amazing food, some very novel museums – I haven’t mentioned Wonderfood yet, have I? – it’s a fabulous place to visit.
The funicular costs 30MYR for a roundtrip ticket from Penang Hill Lower Station, a wander around The Habitat costs 55MYR while tickets for a return trip through the Kek Lok Si Temple comes in at 16MYR.