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The camaraderie among fellow hikers helps Loong Wai Ting make the climb

I FORCE myself to wake up with great difficulty. Sitting on the edge of the bed and rubbing my eyes, I can hear the sound of crashing waves in the distance.

Today, I am meeting my uncle, who is an avid hiker, for a hiking trip to Penang Hill at Air Itam, Penang.

The thought of leaving my luxurious room — on the seventh floor of Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La that is facing the Andaman Sea and with an unobstructed view of Batu Ferringhi — for a hike is a bit daunting.

But at 7am sharp, I reach the ticketing counter of Penang Hill to find Uncle Hin smiling broadly while waving two tickets. The plan is to hike up Penang Hill along a small hiking trail beside the Bat Caves’ Temple and take the funicular train for the return trip.

Comprising Western Hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill, Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill, the 821m Penang Hill known as Cheng Ki Sua (clean hill) is the last patch of tropical rainforest in Penang. The weather is pleasant most of the time and is five degrees cooler than in the city.

MORNING OF ADVENTURE

The fog is beginning to lift from the trail and I can see further along the path that we will be taking. The air smells fresh and I can see wooden houses at the foothills.

Home owners living near the foothills tend to their durian and mangosteen trees, and give us nonchalant looks as we pass them. Some of the friendlier ones greet us.


Our hike takes us through durian farms

The warmth extends to the hikers who exchange pleasant greetings with one another. When one of us is tired from all the walking, the rest of the hikers stop to ask if everything is all right. Some even offer us water and snacks.

“Once I nearly fainted from the hike, a hiker came over to share a piece of chocolate with me. It was a life-saver,” says Uncle Hin, as we sit down to catch our breath. We have barely covered a quarter of the hike and already our backs are soaked with sweat.

Five minutes later we’re back on our feet. This time the hike takes on a more tiring climb. Every muscle is protesting. My legs buckle from the taxing climb. In some parts of the hike, I go on all fours for balance.


The last 20 minutes of our hike is the most exhausting

As we slow down and take more rest in between, we watch the other hikers pass by. All of them flash us the universal sign for “good” by thumbing upwards. We return the same gesture with a smile.

Despite the hot and humid weather, Uncle Hin and I soldier on with little talk. We are conserving energy for the rest of the hike.

Later we come to an opening with a temple built on the hill slopes. The temple is dedicated to Di Zhang Wang Pu Sa, the Buddhist deity who guides spirits in the afterlife and brings them to salvation. I stay for a while to admire the beautiful architecture and the golden stupas of the temple.

With so much ground to cover, we quicken our pace to join the rest of the hikers. Two hours into our hike, we finally cross the Lower Station point, where hikers converge for a break. Stuffing the last banana into my mouth, I am glad I sneaked some snacks into my bag from the buffet counter.


To get to the top, we hike alongside the funicular train track.

While the first half of the hike is a steady climb on a well-trodden path, the second half is just awful. It’s a mix of jungle trail and steep uphill climb. Sometimes we go through a series of steps formed out of tree roots. There are also ropes tied to trees to ease the climb. I stop a number of times to catch my breath.

However, the worst of all are the stone steps that take us to the top of Penang Hill. But before that, we hike along the Viaduct Trail, where the train track rattles every time the funicular train passes above.

“Is there an end to this?” I ask myself as I glance up at the hill. Somewhere behind the canopy of trees, I catch glimpses of the Upper Station, our last stop. But it’s another 30 minutes of hike up a steep road.

I hear trucks on the road on the other side. This means that we’re somewhere in between Claremont and Moniot Road, which is only accessible by the workers and residents here.

We are closing in, just a short stretch up some steps. It’s almost 10am and we’ve been hiking for three hours. The sight of Astaka, the food court on the upper station, welcomes us with an assortment of fresh fruit juices and iced delights.


The rewarding view after our tiring hike

We eat mango ice with plenty of fresh, sweet mango cubes and condensed milk. Not satisfied, I order a tall glass of iced blended avocado with palm sugar. It is just what I need after all the hike.

DAY OF REST

After the tiring but satisfying hike, I make my way back to the hotel. It’s a 40-minute drive past winding, narrow cliff roads.

The resort is a bit far off from the city centre where the main attractions, bars, restaurants and shopping malls are in the heart of George Town. But don’t worry, the resort has a free shuttle service to transport guests.

Back at the hotel, I can’t wait to change into my swimsuit and jump into the two large swimming pools. As I walk towards the lobby, a friendly worker asks if I’d like a drink at the Cool Lounge before going up to my room.

I take up her offer and sit by the verandah overlooking the Splash Zone and swimming pool. I take my time to enjoy my drink and take in the picturesque scene. Multi-generational holidaymakers soak up the sun and children have a great time splashing in the pool.

The resort is crowded during the weekend, I feel very relaxed here. The professional workers, from the butlers to the housekeepers, truly make my stay a pleasant one.

Back in my room, to my surprise, housekeeping has placed two cuddly toys on my bed, even though I am not travelling with kids. It’s little surprises like this that makes my day.

A quick change later, I make my way to the pool. After a few laps, I go to Sigi’s Bar & Grill on the beach for a quick Italian meal.

Stuffed from my meal at Sigi’s, I burn off the calories by going to the Adventure Zone indoors. Here, there are three categories of amazing drop slides. For adrenaline junkies, try the blue slide. It is a 90-degree drop to a pool of plastic balls below.

For a wide selection of Western and Asian delights, I head to Garden Cafe. This is also where I breakfast daily. Make your own coffee at the machines. Go for the waffles and pancakes as they’re delicious and warm!

In its bid to reduce single plastic use, Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La offers water in glass bottles. The hotel is certainly winning my heart for doing its part for Mother Nature.

Pictures by Loong Wai Ting


FAST FACTS

GOLDEN SANDS RESORT BY SHANGRI-LA

Batu Feringgi Beach, Penang

TEL 04-886 1911

WEBSITE www.shangri-la.com/penang/goldensandsresort/about/

EMAIL [email protected]

STAY The resort consists of 387 guest rooms and suites. The Executive Suites feature separate sitting rooms and private wrap-around balconies with breathtaking ocean views.

Ideally situated for a family beach holiday, the resort is located on Penang’s world renowned Batu Feringgi Beach.

It features lush gardens and an extensive range of leisure facilities. A complimentary shuttle is available for guests wishing to visit George Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site 20 minutes’ away. The resort is 45 minutes’ drive from Penang International Airport.

EAT Garden Cafe serves reasonably priced Western and Asian delights. The weekly buffet here is known to be sumptuous. For hearty Italian meals, go to Sigi’s Bar and Grill near the beach. Catch up on the latest news at Lobby Lounge over freshly squeezed juice or coffee.

DO Splash in the pool or soak up the sun in lounge chairs facing the sea.

GO Take a ride to downtown for some shopping or cafe hopping.

HIGH Excellent service and comfortable stay.

LOW The resort can get very busy during long weekends and school holidays.

Promotion especially for locals

THE sister property of Golden Sands Resort By Shangri-La, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Penang has launched the Malaysian Residents Special Offer with a daily accumulative resort credit of RM100 nett for locals who book rooms from now until Dec 20 (subject to availability).

The offer is based on flexible rates available online at www.shangri-la.com. This promotion includes perks like daily buffet breakfast at Spice Market Cafe for two adults and two children (below 6 years old), 15 per cent discount on a la carte Chi, The Spa treatments, welcome drinks on arrival, scheduled shuttle bus service to and from George Town and WiFi throughout the resort.

The promotion is valid for both resorts

Penang Hill

EMAIL [email protected]

WEBSITE http://penanghill.gov.my

PAY From 6.30am — 9am, MyKad holders can purchase the train ticket at a discounted price. A single journey costs RM3 per person. A normal return ticket for a MyKad holder costs RM10 (adult), while children aged between 4 and 12 as well as students pay RM5.

Find the best hotel deals online and save with exclusives OYO coupons.

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