Penang – Round a Garden, Up a Hill and Through a Cemetery
Bus timetables are hard to come by in Georgetown. So armed only with the knowledge from Google map that Bus #10 runs every 45 minutes to the Botanical Gardens, I turn up with book and breakfast in tow, in anticipation of a long wait.
- Start of Day: The Jetty Bus Stop, Georgetown
- Cost of Day Out: Cheap (£)
Having found out that buses start running at 06:00, the genius in me extrapolates that the 3rd bus of the day may depart at around 07:30. And fortunately it does ! The sunrise from the bus along Gurney Drive reminds me how early it still is. But that’s ideal, as I have a hill to climb today.
Catching the bus does have its advantages. I get dropped off by the entrance, unlike the Sunday joggers who are parked nose to tail all the way down the long road leading up to the  Botanical Garden. There are a lot of cars. Perhaps the gardens are not going to be as idyllic as I was hoping for.
As predicted, the park is teeming with joggers, walkers, tai chi practicioners and presser uppers. I circle the lake anti clockwise, against the flow of the jogging fraternity. I manage to spot an Angsana tree, which I first come across in Taiping (link to Taiping blog) 2 days ago.
But the tree that gets my attention is the one with red, sticky, bee attracting, poppy looking flowers. Unfortunately it’s not labelled. But others are, and so I spend some time getting to know some new species.
Now it’s time for my physical exertion of the day. My climb up  Penang Hill starts at the jeep track to the left of the Botanical Gardens entrance. It’s a very steep climb most of the way up. But in return, about 20 minutes into the walk , I’m rewarded by my first glimpse of Georgetown through the trees.
When there are no views to be enjoyed, I am busy admiring the lush forest of ferns and trees around me. These forests host many local primates. I am reminded that they are creatures of the wild, as I get warned off, not too gently, to mind my own monkey business.
The thick tropical trees provide plenty of shade from the overhead sun. And there’s a welcome breeze too. Unlike the Botanical Gardens, there are far fewer people around. I say hello to some casual walkers, nod and smile at the serious trekkers, and silently applaud the super fit cyclists zigzagging up hill.
About 2 hours later, the first signs of civilisation emerge.
- A  house named Grace (1927) with pretty gardens
- A once elegant but now  abandoned house named Edgecumbe
- A sign informing me that I’ve just trekked up 5 kms to the top
- And a track that takes me away from the tarmac road, towards Penang Hill
I’m intrigued by the large bungalows on the top of the hill. I find an article relating to another bungalow that explains how Penang Hill transformed from a lookout post to a place to escape the heat and to recuperate. However, the sound of loud music drifting down forewarns me that this is no longer the case at the top.
In amongst the commercial desire to feed and entertain those who flock to Penang Hill, I still manage to spot opportunities to enjoy nature at little cost. There are groups providing free nature walks. The view as I walk towards the funicular station is free of charge, as is the  Skywalk next to it. The Panaromic and Tree Canopy Walks incur a charge.
I intend to take the funicular down to Ayer Itam, which is the town at the base of Penang Hill. I think I made the right choice in climbing up and taking the train down. I would have had to zigzag downhill to prevent my legs from running away from under me.
I hop onto the funicular in an orderly queue. In 10 quick minutes, I’m down the hill. Despite being in a very crowded carriage, I manage to get some shots of the view zipping past me.
Waiting patiently by the funicular station is the No 204 bus that will deposit me at the Protestant Cemetery. It’s a slow crawl out of Ayer Itam due to the stalls and Chinese New Year shoppers spilling out onto the road. But consequently, I get to leisurely observe temples, and road side cobblers and road signs reminding me of colonial rule.
My stop is along Jalan Penang, the first and longest road on this island. It sounds so unoriginal when I compare it to its other names in the local dialects such as, Titi Papan (Plank Bridge), the Rickshaw Nailing License office (at Komtar) and the grim sounding Hanging People Street (at Odeon Cinema).
The  Protestant Cemetery (a.k.a as Northam Road cemetery) (1786) is round the corner. Naturally, its history is linked very much to Francis Light’s arrival in Penang. I find the comprehensive guide to the residents of the cemetery helpful and really interesting.
Whilst having a much needed gin and tonic with fresh lime at the  Olive Kitchen & Bar, I discover that
- Francis Light never declared his marriage to the Catholic Martina Rozells.
- That the man buried next to Light, James Scott, was his right hand man. An influential man and with friends in high places, he expropriates much of Light’s estate from Light’s widow.
- 8 years after arriving in Penang, Sir Francis Light dies of malaria, an epidemic exacerbated by the clearing of the forests by the British.
Perhaps I’d better had more quinine laced tonic in the next gin.
Handy Things to Know
- Take Bus #10 for the Botanical Garden
- Take Bus #204 for Penang Hill
- Bus # 103, 204, 502 drops off near the Protestant Cemetery
- Bus stops are marked on Google map and have bus numbers and bus frequency.
- Buses generally run from 06:00 to about 23:00 and require exact change. Bus drivers do not carry cash.
- Naturewalks@penanghill (Facebook Page) – provide free guided walks at 09:30, 10:30 and 11:30 on weekends, public and school holidays. Their stall is in the courtyard at the top of Penang Hill.
- Penang Funicular – timetable and rates. Malaysian citizens get a discounted fare.