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The Superlatives of Penang Island

Esther 0

Last updated on 20th September 2019

Kok Lok Si Temple

The Largest Buddhist Temple in Southeast Asia

Kek Lok Si, also known as the “Temple of Happiness”, is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia and certainly one of the most famous in Penang. It is located in Air Itam, a suburb of Penang, whose hills are called “He San” (crane hills) by the locals. At this elevated position the temple can be seen from miles away. Also the size of the buildings makes the place a magical temptation. Since the day I arrived in George Town I knew I had to go and see this place.

The main attraction is certainly the impressive seven-storey Rama VI pagoda. Its structure shall symbolize the harmony between different types of Buddhism by uniting different styles: an octagonal lower section in Chinese style, a Thai central section and a Burmese lace.  A steep staircase leads up to the top of the pagoda. On every floor I reached I discovered another one leading further upstairs – until the top. There I was rewarded with a fantastic view over Penang.

Another impressive sight is the 30.2 metre high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. Unfortunately when I was there the statue was under repair and closed for the public.

To go to Kek Lok Si I took the public bus: number 203 and 204 go there. The entrance for the temple is free but for the pagoda there is a small fee of 2 MYR.  Another little fee applies for the funicular that takes visitors up the hill to the statue.

I started on a rather cloudy day but soon it became better and I could enjoy the view. I could see I was not far from Penang Hill. And when the sun began to brighten the afternoon, I decided to seize the opportunity and visit Penang Hill. It’s within walking distance.

Penang Hill

The Steepest Tunnel-Track Funicular in the World

With nearly 1996m it is also the longest of its kind in Asia. But honestly, I did not notice as it took less than 5 min to take me uphill. From there I had undoubtedly the best view over Penang Island in the world! Flying objects are out of competition. Unfortunately the funicular costs 30 MYR for foreigners.

Once up the hill there is an endless number and variety of activities.  My favourite were the nature walks and cave walks. The most tempting and exciting might be the so called “Habitat”: a walkway through the treetops. Unfortunately they ask for 75 MYR. I skipped it. But I could see it from different points on the hill and found it empty. They have not sold a single ticket that day.

However, unique wildlife and exquisite flora can be admired from the hiking trails and in the botanical garden. Penang Hill offers a fabulous panoramic view over the town from the restaurant and from the platforms. I took the chance and accepted the offer to make a video with help of a drone, it’s in the right sidebar.

But there is more: a temple and a mosque, a Love (Lock) Walk, a Little Village, Dinosaurs, Owl-and Photo Museum and …and …and. It would be easy to spend the entire day up there without getting bored. Funny: The taxi driver, who took me back home, told me he has never been up the hill. And he lived his entire life in George Town; I guess he was around 60 years old.

Penang National Park

The Smallest National Park in the World

Bus number 101 takes about one hour to go to Penangs northwest corner. The best time to visit the park is when it is not raining. When I arrived one random Wednesday pouring rain started the moment I put my name on the list for visiting, and I could not do better than going back and try another day. Following  Thursday it was better, sunny and dry, and I had a great day out for jungle trekking and beach bumming.

There are two tracks that can be chosen for hiking. One leads to Turtle Beach, the other one to Monkey Beach and the lighthouse. When I was there the path to monkey beach was closed due to a landslide; also the connecting path between the two routes was closed. So the choice was hiking to the Turtle Beach.

I was quite early and I was greeted at the entrance by some monkeys scanning all visitors for food. I was not prepared for this and faster than I could understand what happend one monkey jumped onto my backpack, fiddled one of my yellow bananas out of the side pocket and jumped off again. Thief!

The hiking to the Turtle Beach took me about 1,5h. I went through dense jungle-like forest, up and down a hill of considerable height. As it was 30°C and humid, I was sweating, but finally awarded with a wonderful beach. It is called Turtle Beach because turtles come here to lay their eggs. This happens exclusively at night, so there is a campsite nearby where people can stay over. A small turtle sanctuary at the beach has some baby turtles on display.

Just next to turtle beach is the meromictic lake: a lake that has salty and fresh water in separate layers which do not mix. Nothing much to see but knowing there are not many of those lakes in the world makes it special.

When I returned back to the park entrance I still had time and decided to walk the path towards Monkey Beach until I reach the path-blocking landslide. Obviously the event had happened some many months ago, I suspect it was 2017, and since then nothing had been done on this path. Bridges where rusty to holiness and boardwalks broken to pieces.

Apart from that, the path is actually very nice as it leads along the coastline and passes here and there sweet little beaches, and a big one which hosts the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies.

When I reached the landslide it turned out not to be too bad and I could pass. I reached Monkey Beach after a total of 2h hike. The monkeys were already gone but I had seen some shy ones in the forest during the hike.

Instead of monkeys a lot of people where at the beach. As the path was blocked people came with boats to spend some time swimming and sunbathing. It had some food stands and shops. Good for me as I had no water left, and I was quite tired. I had walked 10km in 5h, and had mastered some elevation. But I did not have to walk back! With some help of a local I got a lift on one of the boats back to the park entrance for only 10MYR.

What a great day out!  I had seen all parts of the National Park, except the lighthouse, and with just 30min more it would have been possible to go there too. I think this is the only National Park that can be hiked through during the course of just one day. Entrance is free! I loved it.

Back to George Town City

Next destination: Langkawi

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