The International Steam Pages

Taiping Weekend - Faded Glory
Maxwell Hill

Just as when I lived in Penang in the 1970s, I rarely feel the need to go to the mainland but a visit to reportedly unspoiled Taiping was overdue. We had a most enjoyable visit to northern Thailand with John Baker from Bangkok in January 2016 and he was keen to visit too. So it was that we took the brand new ETS (Electric Train Service) from Butterworth for a 3 night stay in early March 2016 staying on the edge of town for the usual reasons of economy, however, the Beverly Hotel had the inestimable benefit of an attached food court whereas the hotels in the Lake Gardens area such as the Flemington with better ambience were some distance from similar establishments. Our timing was right, Rapid Kamunting buses had just launched themselves and for a month were free to ride, one route (10B) ran past our hotel to Kamunting, another (20A and 20B) offered journeys round the 'heritage trail'. The visit was voted a success by Yuehong and we did plan to go back and have a more detailed look the next time around but it has yet to happen..

Click here for the Penang Hills and Trails index.

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Of all Malaysia's hill resorts, only Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut these days) remains undeveloped or unscarred by intrusive commercial farming. In fact, arguably it is going backwards as the bungalows have been 'under renovation' for as long as anyone can remember, the cafe is closed and the only access is by foot or by a Land Rover service. The phrase 'systematic neglect' could have been created for it. John had hoped to stay up the hill, but obviously that's not a possibility at the moment unless you bring a tent and your own food... A notice at the foot claims it as the 'first and oldest in Malaysia' being founded in 1870 (Wikipedia says 1885), but most people would consider that crown belongs to Penang Hill which was inhabited long before that.

We chose to hike up on the recommendation of Nathan Karim who is an annual visitor to Penang from the UK and who always tries to squeeze in a day here. There is no separate path, but unlike Penang's modern Jeep Road, this road is more gently graded to suit the vehicles when it was laid down in the 1940s and with just 2 or 3 Land Rovers sweeping past now and again, it's an extremely pleasant route to follow. There are kilometre posts along the way to encourage you, John had brought his backpack as he had hope to overnight, of course, it wasn't very long before he worked out that it was best left in a safe place and recovered on the way down... 

It was the dry season, but there's still plenty of water on the hill, official advice is not to drink from streams but this leaf had been set up as a convenient drinking fountain. Soon we were high enough up to see the tops of some of the foothills.

The kilometres were coming up at about every 22 minutes, scarcely high speed stuff, this gentleman felt the need to indulge in additional exercises, Yuehong and I were just happy when we came to a hut where we could take a break. It was obviously going to be another long day in the forest.

That's Taiping below and there's not a single high rise building to be seen. Up here the shirts were stained with sweat that was pouring off us.

For the most part we were hemmed in by the trees but now and again we could see out.

Half way, 4 km to go, but what's that Bukit Caulfield? If I tell you that John was going far better than we were, you can work out for yourself how we were feeling.

The Tea Garden notice was supposed to tell us how high we were, but it didn't any longer. The building was 'under renovation', inside there was a furniture inventory dated 2013 but the whole place was wide open to the elements and the monkeys in the trees opposite too no doubt, what a waste of the Malaysian tax payers' money. It's in far worse condition that the pictures imply, the roof leaks and parts of the floor were lifting. Give it a couple of years and it will be a start all over again job.

John's a great one for a 'splash' but this time he was inhibited by his proximity to a public road.

The next kilometre stone had taken a direct hit from a Land Rover or falling tree while there were signs of erosion problems to come, especially (but nor here) where hikers had been cutting corners.

We got a rest every time the Land Rovers came past, mostly the occupants were in dire need of a hike such as we were doing and the next stone too was in trouble.

TM (Telekom Malaysia) have a presence here and are allowed up and down no doubt 'for inspection' especially at weekends. Penang Hill has a '84' too and it's falling down, this one looks good for a few more years, the number refers to the bend, it's that sort of road.

Note the spring in Yuehong's step, not far to go now! Well, yes and no, because this is final stone and it's not got a zero on it. There's just one problem and that is that it's in the middle of nowhere!

It was at least a further 500 metres before we started to see the bungalows. The general rule seems to be not to look too closely however pretty they look from a distance.

4 hours into the hike and this was journey's end for us and the Land Rovers at 1036 metres asl. The road continues some way up to some transmission masts and that will be one for another day after a ride up.

We finally found John asleep in a park, he'd got bored waiting for us. So off we trudged back down past some particularly fine tree ferns watching the lazy punters as they passed by.

By late afternoon, there was still no sign of the usual rain, in fact for the most part it wasn't even cloudy. We were a bit short of water and an invitation to take tea with a group of regular hikers was eagerly accepted.

It's a myth that it's quicker for older people to go down hills compared to up, the knees simply won't allow it and again it was the best part of 4 hours. Fortunately a Rapid Kamunting Heritage Trail bus turned up at just the right time.

It's a nice walk if you are into this kind of thing, it made for a nice change from Penang where similar walks are off tarmac but often have fallen trees to climb over. I think overall we were more charmed by Taiping itself.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson