Apparently the coolest place to visit in Penang is Penang Hill. Literally. With an elevation of 833m above sea level, Penang Hill is one of the oldest colonial hill stations. It was established by the British during their time in Malaysia. Explored in the late 18th century, a horse trail was cut by the Waterfall Gardens to the summit of the hilly spine of Penang, allowing the British to escape from the chaos of George Town to the cooler climate on the hill. The earliest mode of transport to the hill was via horses, or a system called ‘doolies’, where masters were carried up the hill on special sedan chairs. Carried by four porters by transferring the load onto their shoulders, the trip up the hill could take at least a few hours!
The Penang Hill Funicular Railway was the second mode of transport established for access to the summit. The first railway was constructed in 1901 and completed in 1905 but was rendered useless, due to technical faults. A second railway was commissioned in 1909, and works for the second line started in 1914 with a budget of 1.5 million Straits Dollars. On 1st January 1924, the 2,007m long funicular railway was officially opened by then Governor of Straits Settlement, Sir L.N.Guillemard. It’s a steep ride to the top of the hill, but its quick, taking only 7 minutes or so.
Situated on one part of the hill is Monkey Cup – a special garden dedicated to the monkey cup and other such carnivorous plants. A monkey cup is so named because monkeys drink rainwater out of them. Its carnivorous due to the fact that the plant contains a syrup which attracts prey, and then the lid closes in to trap it. There are about 120 species of monkey cup, so we have only had a glimpse of a few today.
Penang hill also houses the Owl Museum, home to all sorts of different owls – ceramic, glass, wooden, plastic – you name it, it’s here. All shapes and sizes. For RM10 and not being an owl fanatic myself, I would have to say it was overpriced. It’s just as well we got our value out of the day by walking around the hill exploring.
There are numerous bungalows dotting the hillside – some ghosts of their former selves, some still inhabitated. It’s quite eerie to look at the shells of some of these buildings and imagine the past. The bungalows were built by Europeans and some rich Chinese tycoons. It was mainly British Officers that made their homes on Penang Hill, often seeking convalescence from the malaria plagues lowlands. Some of the bungalows have faired better than others and still quite beautifully along the hill.
Heading back to town and seeing as this afternoon is ever so slightly cooler than yesterday, we decide to chance visiting a few of the spots we missed yesterday. So we jump in a cab and head to the Khoo Kongsi Temple. I am so glad to get a second opportunity to come and see this building because it is stunning beyond words. It glitters with extravagance – colourful lanterns, gold bas relief and stone insets tell stories of all sorts
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (Khoo Kongsi for short) is one of the most distinctive Chinese clan associations in Malaysia, with the clans lineage going back 650 years! And although there is a network of clan buildings, it is the magnificent clan house that you need to see.
Even The Alley is open this time. The Alley is a little café that has become popular for its churros. I’ve not eaten them before because I consider them as deep fried sticks of fat. But I’m on holidays, so I figure I’ll use the opportunity to test the theory. My small serve, which consists of 4 sticks and costs RM6 (approx. $2) comes with salted caramel dipping sauce. The first bite tells me my theory was right so I’m not quite sure what everyone raves about, but I’m glad to have been able to find out for myself. Plus the place was airconditioned to let Mum cool down a bit before our next bit of walking.
After the churros we catch the CAT bus for a stop or so until we come to Fort Cornwallis. There’s not much to see, but it was built by the British East India Company in the late 1700s and it has never been engaged in battle.
Running behind the fort and along for a bit is the Esplanade. When Francis Lights boys arrived here, rumour has it that Francis fired gold coins into the bush to incentivise the locals to clear it.
For dinner tonight, we decide to head to Thirty Six, which is Penang’s only revolving rooftop restaurant. It also happens to be owned by the same restaurant people that run Beach Blanket Babylon. They have a buffet (not another one!) of local Penang dishes and the best view in town. The food is pretty good, but the winner has to be the icecream!
It’s been a long day and an absolute killer on the feet – hope I can walk tomorrow!