Years ago, my only concept of Penang Hill was one of those restaurants that my family and our good old friends sampled at the 5th level of Shangri La Plaza Mall back home. I was completely clueless of Penang back then, more so about the entire Malaysia. I never thought I could bring myself and my family on top of the real Penang Hill one day. It wasn’t really a big deal climbing the Penang Hill via its 73 Million Ringgit newly renovated funicular train however, that Saturday morning when we went up there was one of our best in Penang! We were overwhelmed.
Penang Hill at 6:45AM, Saturday, 31 March 2012.
A little while later…
The memories of our little family trips to Antipolo, Tagaytay and Baguio Cities in the Philippines during my wonder years resurfaced as I was stunned at the breathtaking view 833 meters above sea level. Penang Hill has an absolutely cooler climate than its lowlands in this tropical Malaysian State. With its 16 to 21 degree Celsius weather, it’s enough for any tourists, locals and expats to be enticed to go up once in a while.
I arrived in Penang, Malaysia some 20 months ago and have been working as a medical lecturer since then. I immediately learned that Penang Hill was closed for much needed renovation of its system and track and replacement of its 87-year-old coaches. The wait for it to be fully operational again took almost a year but Tina, Gabby and I didn’t try to experience the ride and the hill itself last April 2011. Tina felt and still believed that 30 ringgit per pax round trip fare on the train up to Penang Hill wasn’t cheap (current rates for Non-Malaysians and Malaysian tourists are noted at the end of this post). I constantly tell her, family bonding is always memorable and priceless.
“Gelo, Huwag kayong aalis ng Penang nang hindi nagpupunta sa Penang Hill, ang ganda!” (“Gelo, Don’t leave Penang unless you have gone to Penang Hill, it’s beautiful!”) …These were the words directly told to me by one of the colleagues who already resigned from our work last year and went back home to the Philippines with his entire family. He was definitely right. Penang Hill is really something. It’s one of the must-visit sites when traveling to Penang, Malaysia.
The game plan: I initially thought of reserving an overnight accomodation in a 3-bed-family-room at Bellevue Hotel (which has a rate of RM242 nett or USD 79.45 inclusive of breakfast), the hotel located exactly in Bukit Bendera or Penang Hill boasts of its simple aviary and garden, that offers great views of breathtaking sunset and sunrise. The suggestion was vetoed by my ever loving and practical wife. I easily accepted, supported and succumbed to her decision, despite the fact that I already communicated with the hotel staff via emails, because I felt her excitement and her want to experience Penang Hill too with our family. That was enough for me.
The second best option I had in mind which I brought up to Tina and my mom was to go up to Penang Hill on the first trip of funicular train at exactly 6:30 in the morning, so we could reach the summit at still dusk and witness the daybreak after. I was silently jumping for joy when they both agreed to prepare, wake up and be at the ticketing area prior to the first trip!
I laid her all the possibilities and means on how we could get there at few minutes before 6:30AM. We all thought taking a pre-arranged cab from our place in Butterworth, Penang at 5:30AM and head directly to Bukit Bendera was the finest choice over taking the bus-ferry-bus-route. And we’re grateful that we’re not wrong.
We left our place in Butterworth before 5:30AM and arrived in Bukit Bendera when the gates were still closed. We waited for several minutes until it officially opened at around 6:15AM. Have I told you that punctuality freely flows in our bloodstream? haha!
After purchasing our round trip tickets for the 6:30AM first funicular trip for the day, we finally saw that blue-air conditioned Swiss made coach! She was so gorgeous!
And the fingers in two hands are more than the volume of passengers on that trip, there were only 2 passengers and 2 train staff plus the four of us. We occupied the first cabin next to the train captain to get the greatest view of the ascent, I think it’s a must if one gets a chance (The train can be filled with 80 passengers when some would ride it standing). The smooth inclined ride via the 2,220 meter track length was definitely exciting!
There’s no way but to go up!
After more or less 5 minutes (there were no stops during our ride that morning), we arrived at the summit.
The passage through the white tunnel is a sign that passengers need to alight few seconds after.
It was still darkness when we arrived in Penang Hill. We strolled and I tried to find a best spot to capture the stillness of the dawn. My mom first saw a concrete stairs guarded by an opened wooden gate; we didn’t read its signage that it’s the David Brown’s English Restaurant and Tea House at the Strawberry Hill (yes, the signage reads Strawberry Hill!). No one was there yet, so we went in. Tina and Gabby followed.
My wife began taking photos and videos using her ipod and mobile phone. I further went up the concrete stairs until I reached the restaurant and garden proper of David Brown’s.
I didn’t expect we would experience how colorful Penang Hill is.
These are the viewing telescopes located in front of the huge signage of Bukit Bendera at the foot of David Brown’s Restaurant.
The flora and foliage of Penang Hill that we found in David Brown’s English Garden and Restaurant
If you must know, the five petaled brilliant red Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis or to us Filipinos, gumamela, is the National flower of Malaysia.
This is David Brown’s Restaurant and English Garden at Penang Hill. I just wished we were not tresspassing as there were no people when we went here. We didn’t touch anything but only took photos however, tons of it.
Gabby : “Daddy, piktyuran mo ako!” (“Daddy, take my pictures!”)
Me : “OK!”
Then the kid ran a few meters away from us then ran forward and took a jump on air. He attempted for a “jump shot” several times and his mom and his grandmother and I we’re all giggling because Gabby’s too chubby to float higher on air.
It was almost 8:30AM and the sun was already up so we left that part of Penang Hill and went on to explore the others. We needed to take a bladder break and we’re glad to see a few steps down the David Brown’s Restaurant a simple tandas or toilet that’s well kept and clean with tissues and liquid soap.
After another stroll, we found a swing.
The swing is located at the facade of the newly opened, The Owl Museum at Penang Hill. It’s an owl-swing actually! hehe!
Before we headed to to the museum, we needed to chow down first. Good thing that the newly built museum has multi-leveled eateries, drink, desserts and souvenir stations where one gets to fill his/her tummy with the best view in Penang.
To me, one has never been to Malaysia when he/she has not yet tasted the country’s National dish or staple food…
After our simple breakfast, we trooped down the stairs and went to the very first museum in Southeast Asia that pays tribute to and promotes awareness about that nocturnal bird, THE OWL MUSEUM in PENANG HILL. To our surprise, we were greeted by two staff at its entrace who informed us with a smile, that the fees were waived for the reason that they just opened few days back. How lucky can we get? Indeed, best things in life are free!
What to see in The Owl Museum? Over a thousand Owl-inspired arts and crafts as masterpieces of creative artists from different parts of the globe.
I liked this paper-cut-out-chandelier; it made me think if it’s owl-inspired too. Perhaps, patterned after the eyes of the owl? Is it? It must be.
The museum is made of a thousand and counting collection of owl in various materials-metals, wood, paper, plastic, porcelain, semi-precious stones and a lot more that came from different countries, however, Tina found out from one of the staff that they’ve yet to acquire something made from the Philippines. There are also paintings and other art works that are owl-inspired. Here are some of those that caught my eyes…
For coffee lovers like Tina and me…
I like this for obvious reasons…
I perceived this owl-metallic art as a knight in shining feather, hehe!
Even the tiniest of the stuffs are oh-so-charming…
Their colors are vivid and bright, the details are eye-candy!
United Colors of Benetton, Owl edition?
One display window has these owls from London, England with title, “Nature’s Gift”. These figurines are made of feathers, straws, twigs, bark and seeds.
Pardon my shadow, these were “flown” from Paris, France…
Owls made of metallic materials and crystals are very interesting too…
Even the flower pot is owl-inspired. This museum is really “owl-some!”
Ladies would be delighted with these owl-themed accessories. I asked Tina to mimic how fashion-celebrity-bloggers whom we’ve met in our HKDL trip recently do it on their sites, hehe!
I could have bought a few if these were fridge magnets but they are rings for the girls who are edgy.
Now, children, meet The Royal Owl…
I swear, it’s really called The Royal Owl! It does look regal!
There’s this corner so called The Artist’s Station where one can sit for photo-op like what Gabby did…
But this one’s for real : When Gabby saw a chalk and board (he even asked his grandmother to request for an extra chalk from the staff), his world stopped for several minutes as nothing else mattered but finishing his own masterpiece!
Then our seemingly like never-ending photo-ops continued! We’re picture-addicts apparently!
We had fun inside The Owl Museum. Moving on, we walked our way to the other attractions in Penang Hill.
OK, now, kids, say “Taman Kanak-Kanak!”
Taman Kanak-kanak in Bahasa Melayu (Malaysian language) simply means Children’s Playground (apparently on the photo, right? hehe!). Most communities in Penang (I don’t know in other Malaysian states) have this colorful playground even at 833 meters above sea level! Penang Hill even have its own POS or Postal Office at the hill itself. Impressive, isn’t it?
What’s even more amazing is the presence of PEACE among the diversities here. Imagine this : Masjid Bukit Bendera (Penang Hill Mosque) lies a stone throw away from the Murugan Temple (Hindu Temple); they’re almost located side-by-side and the only structure in between these two different religious shrines is this Taman Kanak-kanak. There’s no obvious tension, neither conflicts between them.
Ladies and gentlemen, this was one of the 87-year-old coaches that used to run up the hills of Bukit Bendera..
And then the time came for us to bid goodbye to Penang Hill. It was a memorable weekend morning!
Tina recorded a video of our descent using her Samsung mobile…CLICK THIS!
I believe the best time to go up to this tourist spot is either daybreak like what we did or a few hours just before sunset. It becomes too crowded on a weekend, particularly hours past 8AM. Whether Penang Hill is a great tourist spot in this side of Malaysia or not, I know perception of beauty is so subjective but in my humble opinion, anything that’s breakthtaking is beautiful!
After that morning in Penang Hill, I think my family and I look at Penang in more different light. And I have to take back my statement mentioned earlier, it is a big deal to go to Penang Hill. It’s a must-visit place when you’re in this side of Malaysia! :D
Directions to get to Penang Hill -One can take his car directly to Bukit Bendera or preferrably take a 45-minute bus ride from George Town, Penang via Rapid Penang Bus # 204 and hop off the gates of Penang Hill funicular station or take a taxi cab from any areas in George Town which will be more costly of course. One may also take a 3-hour trek from the foot of the hill at Penang Botanical Garden or drive/ride a 4×4.
Round trip funicular fare for Non-Malaysian tourists : 30 ringgit or RM30 (USD 9.78 or PhP 421) and RM15 for children aged seven to 12. For Malaysians, the fare for a round trip ticket is RM8 per adult and RM4 per child aged between three and 12. Senior citizens and students will enjoy cheaper fares at RM4 per person. Train Schedule : 6:30AM to 9PM daily unless notified.
The Owl Museum, Open Daily 9AM-6PM. Admission Rates : RM10 per entry, RM 5 for Senior Citizen, FREE Entry for Children below 12 years old (as mentioned, we had no entrance fees because according to the staff at its gate, they just opened few days prior to our visit).