Up And At 'Em

06 Nov 2006

Georgetown, Penang

The smart way to do Penang Hill is to catch the mini train to the top, then hike the jungle trails back down to the botanic gardens. Still smarting from my defeat in the Cameron Highlands, that's not how I did it.

Even getting there was an adventure. Over here, if someone tells you "Bus X goes to Y", they mean that "bus X goes to somewhere roughly in the same suburb as Y, and no bus goes closer". This counts double if the person is a bus driver. It's easily a two kilometre hike from the "bus stop[1]" to the botanic garden, and that's if you know the way.

The scowling man in the bakery was very helpful, though, leaving his store to point us in the right direction. Perhaps he was glad of the respite; the girls' school across the road had just closed for the day and the shop had been full for a while.

The paths are largely unmarked, and mercilessly steep. The jeep track, while less acrobatically challenging, is much more psychologically damaging than the narrow jungle trails that we quickly switched to.

From there, of course, we got hopelessly lost[3], ended up on something called Viaduct road, and only made it to the top by hiking along several kilometres of very boring flat road. We arrived too exhausted to do anything more than glance at the (apparently very important) temple.

There's a hotel with a restaurant at the top. We sought it out, having exhausted our 1.5L of water and become very sick of dried salted chickpeas. The food was nothing special, but the restaurant did feature a number of "peaceful" pit vipers living in the vines directly above our heads. Signs pointed out that we viewed them at our own risk - as if we had any choice. Staff also pointed out a 15-centimetre centipede which made a break for my bag, although they were at pains to explain that, presumably in contrast to the pit vipers, you can't die from a centipede bite.

The hotel apparently also has scorpions, but I didn't see any. I did find a cat, which looked scared.

The "train" back down was absolutely packed, and moved agonisingly slowly. From the bottom, though, there was only two non-functioning bus stops and a crazy man between us and the fridge full of Chang[2] back at the hostel.

fn1. More accurately described as a 'bus open doors'.

fn2. This stuff is very bad for keyboards. I spilt a single drop on the keyboard last night, and had to pull it apart. Always going to happen.

fn3. Fans of "Backup Plan" will be interested to hear that I had neither phone, map, nor GPS for this trip.