Maggieomx says "your gonna get it"...
After seeing your photos, and hearing your tales of your day trip to Taiping Zoo, Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut) and Bukit Merah we decided to add Maxwell Hill to our already intended day trip from Penang to Bukit Merah. Maggieomx was meeting up with us in Penang, and was joining us for the day.
We booked a car and driver through Ocean Jupiter (we've always found them to be reliable, and we knew you too had used them), we emailed in advance to schedule our day, date and time, and they very quickly replied warmly welcoming us back to Penang and Ocean Jupiter, and offering a good rate for the day!
Maggieomx met us for breakfast at Nasi Kandar Pokok Ketapang (on Jl Hutton), where we gorged ourselves before trudging back to our hotel to meet up with our driver. We were earlier than our intended 9am pick-up however to our pleasant surprise, our driver was already waiting outside the doors of the Hotel Mingood. It was a great surprise when we walked up to the car and saw Danny would be our driver, as he had taken us on our day trip to Taiping last year. We knew him to be friendly, knowledgeable, open, speaks good English, and to be a very safe driver! (As an aside, we’d highly recommend anyone to both use Ocean Jupiter if they need a car and driver, and can say that Danny is great (though we have never had a bad driver from OJ.))
We settled down in the car for the drive to Taiping, and on to Maxwell Hill. Our itinerary was such that we would visit the Commonwealth Allied War Graves Commission Cemetery in Taiping (we had been before, Maggieomx had not, and like us, she enjoys the serenity and beauty of cemeteries), followed by our trip up Maxwell Hill, then on to Bukit Merah to see the Orang Utans and visit the Wildlife Park. Danny was excited too as he had not yet been up Maxwell Hill, so was going to join us for our trip up the hill.
We knew from your stories, lilandnorm, that we could not drive up the hill, rather we would have to take a Government Jeep up the hill. We had hopped on the Internet immediately after returning home from hearing about your trip up Maxwell Hill to research and learn more.
We visited the War Cemetery, it was as beautiful, and heartbreaking as we remembered. They were replacing the grass in some sections, and the other sections were (as with all Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries) beautifully kept. When we arrived the workmen weeding the grass and graves took a break to allow us to wander the Cemetery in peace.
The Cemetery has two separate entrances, with a section on either side of the road. Christian graves are on the South East side of the road, Muslim and Gurkha graves on the opposite side. The Stone of Remembrance stands in the Muslim and Gurkha Section.
We paid our silent respects to Australian, British, Gurkha and Royal Malay Regiment troops lost in War (12 casualties from 1914-1918, and over 850 casualties from 1939-1945). We were saddened that over 500 of these men remain unidentified, and wondered how their families felt, not knowing after all these years.
From here the excitement built as we headed to the base of Maxwell Hill (now known as Bukit Larut). We waited in the car while Danny went in to enquire about the ride up the hill. He came back and said the next trip up was not until 12noon (roughly an hour later), the fee was RM6 per person, and we would have 2 hours up the hill before our return journey. At this stage Maggieomx was starting to get suspicious of the trip. It seems she has a fear of heights, or rather the drops associated with them. Seeing the open backed trucks with the bench seats along each side did nothing to allay her fears.
As we had time to kill, Danny suggested we visit the Burmese Pool. We agreed and headed back up the road we had already traversed, then took a short walk to an area of the river, a watering hole, with shallow rapids, a natural pool area, and surrounded by rocks well placed to lay out a picnic lunch (had we had one). We paddled our feet in the icy cold water - lovely and refreshing. We watched a few locals as they played around and had a swim. All too soon we had to dry off our feet as it was time to head up Maxwell Hill.
Now, lilandnorm, did you forget to mention something when you told us about your wonderful trip up Maxwell Hill? Yes, you told us about the beautiful cool weather, you told us about the wonderful views, the beauty of nature up the hill… But you seriously neglected to warn us about the drive up there.
We piled in to the back of the Government Jeep. Danny took the front seat with the driver as he wanted to learn all he could about Maxwell Hill so he could help out future travellers journeying with him. Maggieomx, Subbi, Lise, a Malay couple, and three other young guys squeezed in to the back, along with a huge gas bottle.
We started up the hill, the Jeep speeding up, the breeze blowing through our hair, this was going to be fun!!! Or not!!!!!!! It seems our driver believed he was a race car driver extraordinaire in a past life. As his concrete foot weighed down on the accelerator, the breeze became a gale. We got higher and higher, the road got steeper and steeper, and the bends got tighter and tighter. Did this stop our driver? Did it slow him down in concern for the safety and wellbeing of his charges? No, absolutely not. We roared around hairpin bends, a sheer drop on one side, a cliff wall on the other, the road no wider than the Jeep itself.
Part way up we slowed, “hurrah” we thought, he’s going to take it at a more sedate pace. But no, he was simply dropping off the gas bottle - which we will note he banged down onto the ground (we held our breaths waiting for the boom), and rolled into place for someone else’s future use.
Our driver then climbed back into the cabin, and lead foot back on the accelerator, we had thought the previous 10 minutes were bad, we had seen nothing yet. The half hour journey felt like it took days, we truly feared for our lives, and in fact each of us were seriously wondering how we were going to get back down without hopping in to another Government Jeep.
We do wish, lilandnorm, that you had warned us to take out life insurance prior to our trip, that we should have had something to calm our nerves before we took our lives into our hands and hopped in the back of the Jeep. Thrill seekers would truly love the ride! We, however, are not thrill seekers. Maggieomx with her fear of heights (not to mention a bad back that did not fare well at all), Lise with her motion sickness as the vehicle was flung around each corner at speed, and Sabrina who has conquered a fear of heights, conquered a fear of snakes, conquered a fear of birds, but wasn’t aware she had a fear of flying jeeps!
We did arrive safely at the 10km mark (thank goodness we weren’t going all the way to the top). We climbed slowly out of the back of the Jeep, flexing our fingers to try to get out the stiffness caused by holding on for dear life! Danny pops his head around, surprised to see our ghost white faces - he had a great chat with the driver. Learned that he has been driving this road for 20 years!!! Ahhh, that explained the confidence, and perhaps the fact that we were alive, on solid ground, and surrounded by what can only be described as a beautiful landscape.
The clime had indeed cooled. There was a light misting in between the trees. The clouds that had filled the sky overhead earlier in the day had disappeared, allowing us a beautiful view of Taiping Town. They say on a clear day you can see as far as Penang - we could see as far as the distant clouds. It amazed us at the size of sprawling Taiping and Kamunting.
There is not a lot to see at the top of Maxwell Hill (now Bukit Larut), particularly on a weekday when the coffee shop is not open (we believe it opens on the weekend). That said, the scenery is truly beautiful and you can easily sit back gazing at the view, the frolicking monkeys in the distance, the surrounding forest. There is a small, somewhat rickety, bridge you can wander over (we were very proud of Maggieomx who walked across the bridge, not once, but twice!!! Something she tells us her daughters will not believe, we have video evidence). There is a viewing tower that we didn’t climb as we weren’t sure if all the loose planks of wood at its base were because it was falling down or because it was being repaired (a risk we didn’t want to take). The playground was sadly falling in to disrepair - of the swings only two were still fully attached to their chains. The wildlife however clearly enjoys playing in the playground as evidenced by their footprints, the ripped up grass, and their poo.
Our hour and a half (two hours less the time for the drive up) passed quickly. Then it was time to get back, reluctantly, into the Jeep to go back down. Our hearts started beating faster, we broke out into a light sweat, we said our prayers (and we’re not even religious)… We had a different driver, who received a stern talking to from Maggieomx - something along the lines of “you’ll get it if you don’t drive more slowly” (well, perhaps a bit more diplomatic than that). Maggieomx settled herself on the floor of the Jeep tray for the trip down (much to the delight of our travel companions) as this way she could support her back better (this is the reason she gave) and she couldn’t see the terrifying drops on one side of the road (this we know as the real reason).
We admit, this driver was more sedate, and careful (comparatively) - we learned when we reached the bottom that he had only been doing the job 2 months. We’ll be interested to see how he drives in 2 years!
We enjoyed Maxwell Hill… We’re not really sure, though, if we would voluntarily hop in those Jeeps for the drive up again. Our recommendation to those who consider it, if you have a strong constitution, no fear, and perhaps a touch of bravado, go for it! For those who have bad backs, motion sickness, dislike roller coasters, have a fear of heights (or drops)… Perhaps wait to see if they will be doing the cable car that is being spoken of (and argued about)…..
We shall enlighten you all on our experiences at Bukit Merah in another posting :o)
Lise & Sabrina