The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - Cheng Kon Sze (Cheng Ji Chan) Revisited
Air Itam to Paya Terubong, slightly the long way around

This is part of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang. Click here for the index. This is a Grade 3 walk. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.

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

I have previously described our visit to the Cheng Kon Sze (Cheng Ji Chan) and as we set out we hoped to find another way up to it.

We started out at Air Itam (502, 201, 203 or 204 bus, the 502 being by far the best option as it is the most direct service). The first aim of the day was to confirm the alternative route given in the 'Selected Trails' book to Air Itam Dam avoiding virtually all of the main road up. We were earlier than usual and this meant that we were close to getting the optimal shot of Kek Lok Si:

Actually the route was exactly as described, the motor bike trail goes up just to the left of the road behind Yuehong - the sign reads "KWARN INN SAHN POW YIN SIAN TSI(P)". There was a hell of a racket going on which seemed to be the result of some Malaysian Chinese imitating their brainless mainland counterparts. It looks like another eyesore in the jungle is coming up.

The division points in the trail were obvious. The covered awning leads to the dam and next to it is a small temple, it's yet another to Tua Pek Kong. The people here assured us that the next one up (Lean Wah Tong about 40 minutes away) was bigger and better and we marked it down for another day.

From here it was just a short distance to the next junction, ours was the minor path but there is a sign on the rock. We had done most of the climbing and it was a pleasant shady path. The two previous right hand turns  lead up towards the main hill as we confirmed later.

This was our view of the dam, behind is the Bukit Penara range which we were looking to investigate, to the right is the col on the trail between Air Itam and Balik Pulau which was our fall back objective. The dam is about to celebrate a big birthday, we'll be back hopefully to see if anyone in the PBA / MPPP has realised this.

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

There is a road from the dam which leads to the transmission masts up on Bukit Penara but that did not appeal (but see our third visit to this area). Instead we went looking for a good forest trail. I reckoned the most likely place to find it would be from the small temple above the road circling the lake, but I was wrong. However, we did find a Thai 'jungle monk' from Songkhla who had learned his English in a monastery from someone coming from Langkawi. The temple appears to be rather older than the dam although it was restored after the dam was built (Shui Ba Da Ba Gong referring to the dam) 


We branched left on the trail which would lead to Balik Pulau (which we had come along in the opposite direction previously) and made it to the six way junction at the col just as a rain shower started. One choice was to turn right with a temple some way ahead and maybe a route to Tiger Hill, Sungai Pinang and Titi Krawang. However, remembering my original intention we went up the laterite track on the left behind the electricity substation. It was muddy at first but soon turned into a very pleasant trail heading up the ridge which divides the Air Itam Dam catchment area from the fruit farms. It was obviously as well that Balik Pulau was not today's destination. We could see the masts above us and just after we left the cultivated area, we were faced with a Y junction. From long experience I rather fancied the one on the left, that on the right looked as if it was heading for the masts which could wait for another day.

The path dropped to a small stream which must have fed into the dam and then climbed gently; indeed It looked as if it had recently been tidied and was in good condition. Just how good a choice it had been was apparent when we came out on the road to the masts and found ourselves right opposite a signposted path to our hoped for destination. We still has a few steps to climb and came out above Cheng Kon Sze. There was 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 than had to drop down a mere 200 or so steps to the main temple.

The lady caretaker grunted hello (she has no English or Mandarin to speak of) and we spent a pleasant half hour relaxing and preparing for the inevitable descent. Having failed to find the motorbike trail which comes all the way up we decided it would be easier to find it in the opposite direction. We took the road west from below the temple. Inevitably we got another version of 'the view':

We also got to see the less attractive side of the continuing rape of the Paya Terubong valley. We didn't follow the road to the signposted Gotama Buddhist Monk Forestry Hermitage, leaving that for another day. Instead we took the left fork down.

There was much wild ginger growing here and just one opportunity to sample that most sweetest of durians, the one that is damaged and cannot be sold.

Some way down we finally came to points we recognised. Firstly a shed where coming up we had turned right instead of going straight ahead (behind Yuehong) and then a Y junction where we tried both branches and where Yuehong indicates the correct way. Having said that, we had passed several more junctions on our way down and it would not be an easy route to find. Boring they may be but using the 1200 steps is a 100% guarantee of success.

It had been a hot day, we had got through over 4 litres of water and when we emerged from the cemetery we took a bus one stop on up the valley to the durian stalls to enjoy a few 'legit' fruits. As always seems to happen our leisurely pace had seen us out at the right time to make our way directly to dinner. Nobody in our regular eating stalls has yet had the bad manners to complain about our extremely sweaty smell and dirty clothes. Perhaps they're just used to that now. Yuehong was feeling very tired but two water melon juices and a Hokkien Mee revived her enough to trudge up the hill to Seaview Garden afterwards.

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