Hike: Bukit Penara, the Center of Penang

Bukit Penara is an easy Two and a half hour hike you can do on a busy weekend. Standing at 561 meters above sea level, this unassuming and trapezoidal looking hill has a checkered history which has shaped many events in Penang. Not only that, if an “X” is drawn across Penang’s map,Bukit Penara comes almost at the middle of this “X” making it the geometric center of the island.

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Bukit Penara view from Bukit Relau,

It was the strategic base of the Malayan Communist Party in Penang, but the days of Malayan communism have all but faded. What remains is the farms and historic temples which dot the hillside. Its on Bukit Penara’s slopes that what is reputably the largest Buddhist temple in Penang, Kek Lok Si stands majestically with the imposing Kuan Yin statue watching over Air Itam. Today, due to its strategic location,it is the site of three communications towers which can be seen clearly from Air Itam,Balik Pulau and Penang Hill.

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Ayer Itam to Bukit Relau Trail Map.

There are many paths up to Bukit Penara but in this blog post we will be looking at the one which starts near the Kek Lok Si Temple. The trail up to Bukit Penara starts at the same place where the Tiger Hill trail starts from and only parts off after reaching the Air Itam Dam . This post assumes thay you already know your way up to the Air Itam Dam. If you don’t please refer to my older blogpost  Ayer Itam to Tiger hill to get the directions (https://rexymizrah.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/ayer-itam-to-tiger-hill/).Reaching Air Itam Dam you will be able to see a panoramic view of the dam,and the hills beyond. The taller hills to your right constitute the Penang Hills complex while on the left beyond the dam,you see a small,densely forested hill. This is Bukit Penara.
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Bukit Penara, visible across the other side of the dam.

Take the straight path which goes to the right,in the direction of  Bukit Penara. As you do so,you will be walking across the dam to the other side where there is a carpark. At the other side walk up to the carpark and within two minutes you will see a junction with a road on the left winding up the hillslope and another to the right circumventing the dam. The road which goes left leads you up Bukit Penara but we will be using this only on our descent (You always have the option of walking this way up too.)

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An Interesting find near the Air Itam Dam.

Take the right path and continue along it for about 13-15 minutes before you hit another junction where you will be able to see a small well kept motorbike path on your right winding its way through the dense forest. Take this turning and continue up along the cement road for 15 minutes before you come to a Chinese temple.Continue heading straight ahead after the temple and within 2 minutes you should come to a small rest shed. Take a short rest here. At the shed the path branches out in 4 different directions. The one in front of you leads you down to Balik Pulau, the one on your right leads you up to a Chinese Temple,the one behind you leads you back the way you came and the one on your left which might be a bit overgrown leads you up along an old farmer’s trail to Bukit Penara. Take the left turning and make your way through the dense undergrowth.

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Path through the farm.

While it may be overgrown, patches of cement on the ground tell you that you are going along the right path. Continue along this path and you will come to a small farm. Here the path is easier to follow. Always keep to the path which circumvents the farm at the edge of the forest. You will be able to see how the farms keep expanding and are already at the edge of the Bukit Penara Forest reserve. Let us hope no further encroachments happen.20141206_105106
Cleared land right up to the edge of the Forest Reserve.How long before the Forest Reserve itself is encroached?

The trail takes you at the edge of the forest and you will be able to see a spectacular view of Penang’s Southwestern Coast  and parts of Balik Pulau.

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A beautiful view along the way.

In another 12 minutes you will see that the path enters the forest again. Keep following the path and stop when you come to a Forestry signboard highlighting the Do’s and Don’t’s inside a Forest Reserve. This place is overgrown with young ginger shrubs,but look carefully and you will be able to see two paths winding off from this point, one winds off to your right going in an upward direction following the forest fringe, while the straight path goes deeper into the forest. Follow the straight path.
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At this signboard take the straight path.

The straight path is a jungle trail which connects up to the Bukit Penara service road. Continue along this trail for the next 9-10 minutes and you will hit the Bukit Penara Service Road. At this point you will see a path across the road which leads to the 150 year old Cheng Yee Chan Temple while the service road winds its way up to the Bukit Penara Peak.

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Junction to Cheng Yee Chan Temple.

Follow the road up and within the next 12-15 minutes you should be at the top of Bukit Penara.
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Communications towers atop Bukit Penara.

As you wind your way up you will be able to see three communications towers. You’ll know that you reached the peak when the road ends at the TM Bukit Penara Station. Do not enter the Communications Stations unless you have permission to do so.

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TM Station at Bukit Penara Peak.

On your way down you have two options, either to follow the earlier mentioned route or the easier walk down along the Bukit Penara Service Road. The walk down along the Service Road will take about 30 minutes before joining up to the Air Itam Dam carpark. For those who have’nt been to the Cheng Yee Chan temple,seeing this old temple is worth the visit. Just take the earlier mentioned turning and within 6 to 7 minutes you would be at the temple. Shavua Tov!

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Cheng Yee Chan Temple.