A trip to Penang is all about exploring nature and trying out eateries, so having a centrally-located base will guarantee ease of movement, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan

THE lowest point of our hike up Penang Hill is when we reach the top. It is noon on a long weekend and just as we walk the last few steps to get to the hill, we are inundated by noise from local tourists who brandish their selfie sticks.

The area is crowded. There are love locks not unlike those in Paris’ Pont des Arts and photograph booth operators overcharging customers for a picture of the beautiful scenery. It is, for the lack of better description, tacky and commercialised.

As the four of us sit on the lower floor of the food court, scooping air batu campur and Penang laksa after a three-hour long hike, we realise that we’re not the tourist tribe. We’re the hiking tribe.

Forgive my harsh judgement but anyone who have hiked up Penang Hill, and walked up its quiet and cooling paths to get there would be hammered by unpleasant noise and crowd at the end of their journey.

This view from atop Penang Hill is worth every minute of the hike. Pictures by AHMAD SHUKOR MD SAAD and courtesy of THE WEMBLEY PENANG

TRAVEL NORTH

The last time my husband and I were in Penang, we stayed at Ferringhi Beach and hiked Monkey Beach, which is part of Penang’s National Park. This time, we stay in George Town so we hike up Penang Hill.

Our journey starts at Moon Gate near the Penang Botanical Garden, about RM10 Uber ride away from our hotel, The Wembley in Magazine Road. There are four of us and the hike, which begins with steep steps made of soil, is rather challenging. Unlike nature trail, you can’t slow down because you need to keep climbing.

The journey to the top is about five kilometres and after 35 minutes of normal stair-climbing pace, you will reach Rest Stop 5, a landing with some plastic chairs and well-worn exercise equipment. Many locals hike up here for morning exercise and then head down back to Moon Gate.

The nature trail going up to Penang Hill

Next is another hour of nature trail that goes up and down until you reach the Jeep Road, an asphalt stretch that motor vehicles use to go up the hill. From there, it’s another 2.5km walk up on extremely steep roads with sharp curves.

I’m more a road runner than a hiker and my husband’s the opposite but doing both, we find out, makes us better at our favourite discipline.

As someone who loves road running, I find this challenging, in a good way. I can do my hill runs from one point to the next, a good way to push my heart rate up and recover. With good company, this walk is interesting although you need to stop from time to time to catch your breath, no thanks to the elevation.

BASE CAMP

Where you stay in Penang determines your ease of movement. Stay too far out like Ferringhi Beach or Balik Pulau and it will feel rather isolated, especially because some of the island’s best eateries are in Georgetown .

I pick The Wembley Penang because its central location means there is always Uber cars around in case I want to go anywhere. It’s also walking distance to my favourite food joints, like the Ais Tingkap cendol stall in Lebuh Tamil or Hameediyah in Lebuh Campbell.

The main draw of the hotel is its central location, which also makes it quite busy everyday. There’s always hustle and bustle at the lobby or groups checking in, checking out or friends waiting for hotel guests.

But once you get to the room, it’s relatively quiet for a hotel in the centre of the city. The executive deluxe room is well-furnished with a wide space between the bed and the wall-mounted TV set.

Normal hotel facilities apply here but the bathroom is spacious for a city hotel. There’s a bathtub and a separate rain shower. The wardrobe comes with sliding doors to help save space.

Service is prompt and attentive. I requested for an extra prayer mat before we leave for dinner and it is delivered by the time we get back.

DINING OPTION

The Spacious executive deluxe room

Because we hike early in the morning, we are the first to step into Wembley Café for breakfast. The selection size is average but the food is delicious. I like the Japanese selection it offers — soba, miso soup and chawan mushi.

The congee — both plain and fish - are nice too because they have a lot of condiments. The pastries are warm and fluffy, and the waffle is made-to-order.

On Sunday morning, the day we are checking out, breakfast is served at its function rooms. I ask the staff why, and they say because of high occupancy and because of the tendency for guests to come down for breakfast closer to the end of the slot, moving the breakfast venue helps ease congestion.

Having been in long breakfast queues myself, waiting for guests to finish their meals, I find the gesture to be kind and thoughtful.

For other meals throughout the day, the hotel is a short Uber ride away to Little India, where Tajuddin Hussain, which serves excellent nasi kandar with ayam bawang, is located.

As a Penangite friend says: “Line Clear is only for tourists. Penang people eat in Tajuddin Hussain.”

There’s also nasi dalca Rahim nearby that opens for dinner and almost always has no seat available, you’d have to wait a while. Several chapati stalls nearby, we are told, also serve this delicious meal.

You can also go to the Gurney area easily with the ride-sharing app service if shopping is more your cup of tea or if you want to walk along the promenade. Otherwise, a stroll away from the hotel is Penang Road with its eateries and Chowrasta market for some shopping.

There’s never enough time or tummy space to explore Penang over a weekend but thankfully, there’s Penang Hill where you can earn your meals.

THE WEMBLEY

The Wembley

The Wembley: 183, Jalan Magazine, 10300, Pulau Pinang

TEL: 04-2598000

WEBSITE: www.stgiles.com/hotels/malaysia/penang/

STAY: 415 rooms inclusive of suites

EAT: The Wembley Cafe serves a good selection of breakfast. There’s lobby lounge for live football matches if you are a fan.

GO: For breakfast, walk to Transfer Road for roti canai and toast topped with two half-boiled eggs. For lunch, have nasi kandar at Tajuddin Hussain, which is about RM3 away by Uber to Little India.

For tea, Edgecumbe Road Pasembur at Kompleks Makanan Persiaran Gurney gives you the best pasembur on a plate. For dinner, nasi dalca Rahim is simple and oh-so-delicious.

If you still have stomach space (which I seriously doubt), there are chapati stalls in Little India and Nasi Kandar Beratur at Masjid Kapitan Keling that starts at 11pm.

The next morning, get an Uber early and head to Pulau Tikus to hike Penang Hill and burn the calories.

HIGHS

Central location to get to anywhere in the island, with easy access of Uber, taxis and buses. Within walking distance to Penang Road and Chowrasta Market.

LOWS

Lobby area can be noisy and the main road leading to the hotel can be congested.

Guests need to buy their WiFi connection.