The International Steam Pages

Penang's Top Ten Walks - Air Itam to Paya Terubong

This is one of my 'Top Ten Walks' in Penang, click here for the full list. This is a Grade 3 walk. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.

This is a summary of the original report which appears elsewhere on these pages - Cheng Kon Sze Revisited, part of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index.

Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.

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. 

From here it is just a short distance to the next junction, yours is the minor path to the left but there is a sign on the rock. You have done most of the initial climbing and it is a pleasant shady path until you come out with a view of the dam.

The dam inevitably looks down on George Town in the distance:

There is a short cut here taking the road from the dam which leads to the transmission masts up on Bukit Penara but your route goes along the side of the dam until you take the trail on the left which would lead to Balik Pulau. At the six way junction at the col go up the laterite track on the left behind the electricity substation which soon turns into a very pleasant trail heading up the ridge which divides the Air Itam Dam catchment area from the fruit farms. On the occasion of our visit Balik Pulau was getting a soaking. You can see the Bukit Penara masts on the skyline and just after leaving the cultivated area, turn left at the Y junction.

The path drops to a small stream which must feed into the dam and then climbs gently; on our visit it looked as if it had recently been tidied and was in good condition. When you come out on the road to the masts you will be right opposite a signposted path to Cheng Kon Sze (1200 Steps Temple). There are still has a few steps to climb and came out above it. There is a small rock cave temple here (apparently Chau Yuen Tong according to the entrance gate to the main temple, that looks like Tua Pek Kong yet again to me) and we you have to drop down a mere 200 or so steps to the main temple.

It's just another 100 year old Chinese temple but the location is sublime.

Go down to the temple car park and if you want go down every one of the 1200 (or more) granite steps if your knees can stand it. Alternatively take the road west for this panoramic view:

Don't follow the road to the signposted Gotama Buddhist Monk Forestry Hermitage (it's a dead end these days), instead take the left fork down.

Some way down you will come to this hut and soon you will be crossing and recrossing the steps. The trail finishes at the United Hokkien Cemetries in Paya Terubong.

Take a 201 or (better) a 502 bus back to Komtar, the bus stop is someway on the left going towards Air Itam.

If you are doing this walk in reverse, then the motor bike trail up has multiple options most of which will lead to dead ends. Best use the steps! The path up to the cave temple behind Cheng Kon Sze needs a little finding and the path across the road to the masts should be obvious if minor.

Nanshan Highlands


 ____ = Concrete Road

 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy 'Off piste'

 ____ = Seriously 'Off piste'

(Not all paths are shown, there are many more
which are seasonal or just go to houses.)

Click here for information on the maps.


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson