Hui hikes up Penang Hill trails

ash be nimble online sportswear brand founder hui mathews hikes penang hillash be nimble fans in Penang, this post is for you, and the 1 million people living in KL who are actually from Penang 🙂 if you’re from Penang and never hiked up the Hill, you should! 🙂

I’ve always wanted to do the trails up to Penang Hill ever since I got into trail running. It makes the road trip up north worth it, and you end up burning up everything you’ve just stuffed yourself with (or about to). Penang is not just about the food, to have a 700m+ hill easily accessible is not to be missed! With Uber and GrabTaxi in abundance, getting to and fro the trails are easy and very affordable!

This is what I love about Malaysia, in every single state we have access to some of the most beautiful, lush and adventure-filled jungles and mountains! I hope this will inspire you to appreciate whats in your backyard – that you don’t have to go too far to find adventure, a beautiful experience with nature, and discover what your body can do in the process!

Earlier this year when we went to Penang with baby Asha we took a rather ‘tame’ trail and hiked up to the Aqueducts around Batu Feringghi area. Very cool and unusual terrain and views, very educational reading and learning about the aqueduct construction & usage too!

Earlier this year April 2017 we hiked to the Aqueducts via Chin Farm waterfall with baby in tow

These aqueducts are still in use and are quite an engineering marvel. Theres a fair bit of tarmac for this hike.

Taking a break and letting Asha out of her carrier. For details on the hike we used this blog post

This trip I really wanted to tackle the leading lady, the star attraction of Penang.

Penang Hill Trails Stats

Distance: 6km

Elevation: 780m

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes – fast paced hiking + running on flats

Difficulty Level: 7/10 – no scrambling and the trails are well-worn, but the elevation is very harsh and it just goes upppppppp – to take it easier you can hike slowly and allocate 3-4 hours

The Penang Hill Heritage Forrest Challenge 2017 is a 14km race held along some parts of the route we took, you may see some of their signs left behind.

Our Penang Hill Adventure

Husband and I had a rare baby-free weekend over the Merdeka weekend, so we decided to head up to Penang as there was also a wedding to attend. Sunday morning, after a late breakfast at Love Lane (to refuel after a fun wedding after party with ended up at China House), we got an Uber around 10am which cost us just under RM10 and less than 20 minutes to get to the Moongate entrance, along the road leading to the Penang Botanical Garden.

ash be nimble blog on hiking penang hill via moongate
10:25AM Moongate entrance

Trivia: The Moon Gate is a heritage gateway along Jalan Kebun Bunga, on the way to the Penang Botanic Gardens. It is the gateway to the 19th Century country house of Cheah Chen Eok, the famous millionaire best remembered for building the Queen Victoria Memorial Clocktower at the Esplanade to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the monarch. The remains of his bungalow is just a few yards up the path. Not much is known of Moongate and the bungalow but there was an article in The Star about it in 2005.

First Junction: We walked up the flight of stairs and went to our right, and immediately entered the trails that we first saw. It was immediately a 30 degree climb from the get go! Lots of natural cut steps amongst the roots. Glad it was rather dry otherwise it would have been slippery.

ash be nimble blog post on climbing penang hill
10:28AM Hit the trails

 In 5 minutes we got to our first fork but we met a lady coming downhill and checked with her, she confirmed that both ended up at the same area. So I guess we learnt that if in doubt, take the steeper way and keep going UP. In a few minutes we came to a small bridge crossing a waterfall, called the Half Hill Bridge – but don’t be fooled darling you are no where near half way up the hill

ash be nimble blog post on climbing penang hill
10:34AM: Half Hill Bridge marker stone just before you hit the waterfall
ash be nimble blog post on climbing penang hill
10:36AM precarious but solidly built bridge overlooking steep ravine
ash be nimble blog post on climbing penang hill
10:36AM Crossing that waterfall – I think its clean to drink as its a water catchment – so if you forgot to bring any water now might be your last chance to hydrate 😉

After that its a lot of solid hiking, constantly going up hill. I was sweating more than usual and felt a bit weak, probably thanks to the lack of sleep, too much dancing at China House & a lot of happy, bubbly, chilled beverages the night before. We took a short break and some selfies and I felt like I had sweated out most of last night’s shenanigans and assam laksa. We finally got to a section of trees that thinned out for us to see the view on the left overlooking the ocean.

ash be nimble blog post on hiking penang hill
11:03AM Majestic trees allow a bit of sunlight through – but for the most part its very shaded & dense

I’m feeling more confident and warmed up now and we start to run a bit more. We soon hit our first encounter with the tarmac portion of the road going up Penang Hill from the Botanical Gardens route. Some old derelict structures – which I’m glad we weren’t hiking close to dusk as it would have looked creepy! From my rusty mandarin I could make out that the sign was a list of people who had donated to what I assume was a recreational resting area. Ok, confirming not a graveyard or something else creepy of the likes. How sad if you saw your money go to waste just like that. Perhaps it was once a look out point on the trails.

ash be nimble blog on hiking penang hill
11:03AM First views of Penang Bridge & the sea! Not bad to see so much within 30 minutes from when we first set out
ash be nimble blog post on hiking up penang hill
11:11AM We emerge from the trails onto a bend in the road up Penang Hill and see this derelict rest area with a VIEW!
ash be nimble blog on hiking penang hill
11:11AM the other portion of the abandoned creepy structures


From here we entered the trails almost immediately again on the left after the last abandoned building, and are greeted with a wide grassy dirt road with some bamboo groves on the left. We relish the opportunity to take some wider strides and not be bent over hiking. It doesn’t last long.

Thank God this section doesn’t last long, but it takes a bit of the wind out of our sails. We stop to admire the mountain bike tracks as we struggle to even climb up on all fours. It reminds us to pay attention to see if any are angling downwards towards us. What thrill & suicide-seekers!

We plod on. It only gets steeper. At this point, apart from the lady at the start, a couple we encountered before the first views and some European middle-aged men hiking up this last steep bit, we have not encountered anyone else. We soon bump into a bunch of serious-looking hikers with large backpacks whom we learn are training for an expedition. It was a relief to bump into people, to know that you’re not in the wild all alone, as adventurous as we are, its nice to know we’re on the right track.

ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:27AM 1 hour since we started our hike and only our 4 encounter of people on the trails
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:28AM A lot more climbing and it feels like we’re nearing the top! 
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:30AM We hit the tarmac again and we turn to the left (just because it seemed like the right thing to do) – I had to take a photo with this tree to give you a sense of how HUGE its roots are. Probably 100+ years old!
ash be nimble blog post - hiking up penang hill
11:31AM We now start jogging along the cement / tar road which goes under what we discover is the tram ride down from the peak of Penang Hill 
A wonderful idea crosses my mind to look for the tram station so that we can just go ‘SWOOSH’ and get back down hill instead of attempting to run all the way back down. But first, the husband insist on exploring this area as we see a few exotic looking colonial-era bungalows lurking amongst the foliage.
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
This was one of the more well-kept ones. We saw at least 3 in our short jog around the area. 
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:35AM We just follow the grey road around. We see signs for a Bethel House of Prayer, and Chinese writing that indicate a Temple nearby also. Small road sign indicates we are on Viaduct Road West (took a photo in case we ever have the chance to google map it and drive up! 🙂 
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:38AM Finally, the view! Perfect day for a hike and glad it was clear enough to make out the Penang Bridge in the distance!
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes up penang hill
11:47AM We back track to where we first hit the road, finally figure out the confusing signage to take the small pathway beside a bungalow to head up to the tram station
ash be nimble online sportswear brand ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes penang hill
11:55AM Yes, we’ve been climbing very steep uphill stairs and cement roads for at leat 15 minutes, which stretches into feeling like an eternity. Anyway this sign is for you, to confirm that you’re on the right track if you ever do this path 🙂 
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes Penang Hill
11:58AM Stop and smell the … African Tulips? Next photo shows you what they look like. 
ash be nimble founder hui mathews hikes penang hill
The ground was literally covered with them in some parts. The air was suddenly much cooler, the foliage more dense, and I could make a out a few abandoned huts and structures around the place amongst the narrow windy paths – almost felt like parts of Cameron Highlands. This last stretch is quite tough and after that view and exhilaration we thought we had conquered most of the hard bits but this last bit required a big push!
At noon, on the dot, we got up to The Habitat, and I was quite taken aback with the sudden throng of touristy activity, the hundreds of people milling around the man-made structures; the garish stalls selling photo opps and cheap trinkets, the buggy cars offering rides around the roads at the top, compared the raw tranquility and lonesome adventure we were just enjoying a second ago in the jungle trails.
We quickly beelined for the queue to get the tram down, worried about potentially long lines – the urban gogetter in us suddenly stepping up in place of the free-spirited trail adventurer that was just bumping around in the trails without a map or plan a minute ago.
Without much drama we got on the tram were transported down to the base of Bukit Bendera – a different point to where we started. It was nice not to have to back track! It did feel like quite an adventure figuring everything out on our own.
Our tram ride down made us realise quite how much we had climbed – imagine 780m worth of ascent – that’s twice around the stadium! Notable achievements on this trail include: no arguments (we usually quarrel over something stupid during most of our trail races together), no injuries and getting back safe & sound all before 1pm! Now with all that space in our stomachs, time to hunt for more ways to fill it …
ash be nimble online sportswear brand founder hui mathews hikes Penang Hill
12:31PM RM1 for a bloody well-deserved cup of dine-in icy sugar cane!

Getting There & Back

Entry Via: Moongate, just before you reach Penang Botanical Gardens

Directions for Uber / Grab: Penang Botanical Gardens, about RM10 from Love Lane

Exit Via: Penang Hill Tram Station, Bukit Bendera

The view is stunning from the top as you get a good lookout over Penang town, the bridge and the ocean. The bonus is that RM5 short cut back down using the tram, which helps you appreciate how steep you’ve climbed!

If traffic is congested, walk about 400m downhill, past the chinese temples and out to the end of the road where the sugar cane stalls are to get picked up

What to Wear / Bring

Shoes with good grip – if it rains there will be some muddy, slippery and steep sections. I had my Altra Superior 2.0’s with me so it was a comfortable grip over steep clay-packed areas and kept my feet well supported despite the constant uphill. As long as your shoes have good grip you are ok! 🙂

A good 1L of water – it gets hot real fast!

Your IC if you plan to take the tram down, its RM5 for Malaysians, one-way

If you have space in your bag, 1 spare top to change before getting into the tram 🙂

I wore my Limited Edition Merdeka Fox Tank from ash be nimble and Christina Running Skort in Tribal grey with hidden inner pockets where I kept a small stash of cash, wet wipes and a bottle of water, allowing me to run free! You don’t really need high socks or long sleeves as the paths are quite clear. Shop my new tank collection here.

Other Tips

The top of Penang Hill at The Habitat look out point can get very crowded – we went on a Sunday morning September 3, 2017 – so be prepared for a long queue to get onto the tram if it is earlier in the morning or on a public holiday!



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