Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Penang Hill's elevated walkway

I read in the papers today that the new Penang Hill elevated walkway has finally been declared open officially by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng. Built at a cost of around RM1.5 million, the walkway connects the upper station of the funicular rail station to the refurbished food court. It took about 10 months for the project to finish but it seemed like two years to me!

When I was up at Penang Hill last month with a friend, we were commenting that this elevated walkway was preventing us from walking directly to the Tuanku Yahya Petra Road which was where we wanted to go as we wanted to look out to the city of George Town below. Instead, we were forced to take a long detour along the walkway to the open space outside the Penang Hill complex, and then double back along the road towards the upper station.

We did reach that vantage point eventually but along the way, we had to pause to take in many of the old and new attractions on the hill. But such is the lure of Penang Hill that I never get tired of looking at the same old attractions.

This is the lower station of the funicular rail service with its simple huge signboard proclaiming the year that the train service was launched. 

I remember that after the tracks were replaced and realigned in 2011 with funds from the Barisan Nasional federal government, they had openly claimed credit for the Penang Hill upgrade by erecting a signboard that proclaimed the project as "A National Front Ministry of Tourism Malaysian Government Project for the People of Penang" knowing fully well that the state was governed by the Pakatan Rakyat political party. I don't know when it was taken down; I hadn't really noticed it on my many trips up the hill. Only this time, I couldn't miss the red signboard that replaced it. Red sure has a way of attracting attention.

Ever since the four old red-and-white coaches were changed in that same year with two spanking new blue coaches, the trips to the upper station have become a breeze. While the old coaches were pulled by DC (direct current) motors, the new coaches are pulled by motors running on AC (alternate current). As a result, the 30-minute trips have now been shortened to a mere five minutes. That's how fast a one-way trip up or down the Penang Hill has become. Some people have commented that the faster trip has made the journey up the hill less meaningful as everything is a blur and it is more difficult to enjoy the slowly cooling atmosphere. Maybe so, but I do like the new coaches. They are much more comfortable and a thrill to ride, especially when the old middle station speeds by.

This is the new elevated walkway, about a month before its official opening but already in use by visitors to the top of the hill.

A sign of new attractions to come at the hill station: an audio tour of Penang Hill. When I visited, only these signs were visible as the audio equipment had not been installed yet.

Don't just simply look left as one walks along the elevated walkway. Remember to look on the right-hand side too or else one will miss the sight of old train pulley wheels. These were used when the old coaches were still in service. the new blue coaches are now running on new pulley wheels.

Soon enough, the Penang Hill Complex loomed before me. This complex houses the food court (which is called the Cliff Cafe) and the Owl Museum. I didn't visit the museum and I do remember some comments from people that have done so that it is not worth the while to go in as there are no owls there but only owl-themed handicraft. But I'd like to keep an open mind on this. Perhaps one day, I'll go in and see for myself whether the museum is worth spending some money on. 

But I did go into the food court. I just had to try the ais kachang there. People seems to be enjoying this treat there, and I wasn't disappointed. Big bowl of shaved ice, generous amount of toppings, large dollop of creamy ice cream.

Emerging from the Cliff Cafe food court into the open. This is a recreational space that used to have a playground. It's now like an amphitheatre for functions and activities. 

One of the original wooden coaches is still on display at one side of the open space. Another one can be seen at the Penang Museum in downtown Farquhar Street, George Town.

Another iconic attraction at Penang Hill....the old Penang Hill police station. I think the staff here are leading a very slow and pleasant life. What can go wrong here up on the hill that will require their intervention? 

Need to know your bearings? This signpost will set anybody in the right direction.

These electrical buggies will bring visitors along the Tuanku Yahya Petra road.

I visited the rooftop of the Cliff Cafe, seeing that quite a number of visitors to Penang Hill were doing so as well. This observation deck gives one a breath-taking view of the south-eastern part of the island but unfortunately on the day I was there, the haze was thick and obliterated my view.

Once at the observation deck, there is no missing this big LOVE signage. Yes, this is Penang's version of the love lock concept found elsewhere around the world.

This is a section of the padlocks found on the 80-foot stretch of fencing on the LOVE deck. Fancy yourself padlocking up your declaration of love and then throwing the key away permanently? Then do it here.

Other attractions at Penang Hill include the nature walks, the wide varieties of flora, the mosque and Indian temple, the Bellevue Hotel and the various colonial bungalows. It's well worth it for anyone to spend time - a whole day, maybe - at this old hill station, Malaysia's oldest hill station.

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