The International Steam Pages
Penang's Top Ten Walks - Air Itam to Penang Hill via the Air Itam Dam
This is one of my 'Top Ten Walks' in Penang, click here for the full list. This is a Grade 3 walk with a lot of steep climbing.
There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.
Start from Air Itam (502, 201, 203 or 204 bus, the 502 being by far the best option as it is the most direct service). If you start early you can get close to getting the optimal shot of Kek Lok Si:
On the road up to the dam, take the motor bike trail going up just to the left of the road behind Yuehong - the sign reads "KWARN INN SAHN POW YIN SIAN TSI(P)". The division points in the trail are obvious. The covered awning leads to the dam and next to it is a small temple, it's yet another to Tua Pek Kong.
It's possible to continue under the awning - towards where the small path to Air Itam Dam leads off - and follow that road all the way up (to the Sitavana Vihara) but it's more interesting to take the steep trail to the right here to Tai Shang Lao Jun temple.
After visiting it, retrace your steps to where there is a welcoming stone near which are two paths to the left coming up (right coming down). Take the flatter one crossing the stream, just above a large concrete water tank. After that left (down) is a 'farm' so go up to the right which brings you to yet another concrete trail. Right is another 'farm', but left here leads quickly up to a further main junction which is the required road up to the Sitavana Vihara. Further up, you can get a view of the temple you have just left.
Although there were several junctions, the main route is pretty clear, the dogs will soon tell you if you make a mistake. When you get to the 3 way junction, take 'The Middle Way'
This will take you to the main building of the Sitavana Vihara. I have tried to give instructions for the tricky part that follows, but if anyone is here they will surely show you the way as they did us.
Basically, follow the contour path north beyond the Vihara, climbing a few steps before continuing on the flat below the second set (behind Yuehong where the guide is) - DO NOT climb these steps! Where the cultivated area ended, there was a good forest trail which later emerged at the bottom of an overgrown formerly cultivated area with a bungalow visible above. This section was in poor condition and very slippery.
DO NOT climb up to it, just stay at the bottom of the garden, it is slippery after it has rained, and return to the forest, where you will very soon emerge close to the Brothers' Bungalow (the path is behind Yuehong but not immediately apparent unless you look closely). The traverse from the Vihara is not long, 15 minutes will see you through but you have to be careful on this stretch as it is the least easy part of the whole route.
Just walk up the zig-zag road to the Summit Road where you will emerge near the entrance to the closed Canopy Walk feature.
Walk along the summit road to the Upper Station of the Penang Hill Railway and take a train down to the Lower Station. From here the 204 bus will return you to Komtar.
This walk can readily be done in reverse, it's easy enough to find the Brothers' Bungalow but do study the picture above so you can locate the traverse to the Sitavana Vihara, start at the pink sqyare.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson