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Hiking and cycling to the Cheng Kon Sze (Ching Ji Chan)


The Cheng Kon Sze (name of the deity) is a 140 years old temple on the eastern slopes of Bukit Penara hidden in a ravine. This old temple is also known by the Hokkien Chinese as Cheng Ji Chan or Cheng Yee Chan.

Cheng Kon Sze temple

The temple is busy during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

The translation of Ching Jee Chan is literally translated as Temple of One Thousand Two Hundred Steps with Cheng Kon Sze as the main deity. The temple should not to be confused with another temple in Air Itam: Tua Pek Kong, usually referred to as having one thousand steps.

The temple is accessible in two ways: hiking and cycling.

The road up to Cheng Kon Sze
The road (for cycling) up to the Ching Ji Chan

The hike starts at the main road connecting Paya Terubong and Air Itam close to the United Hokkien cemetery. Look for the Shell petrol station. Next to it there are two entrances next to each other. Take the right one and follow the trail up. After 10 minutes you'll see a water tank. There is a small trail on your left (steps), the main road will join later the steps so if you miss the steps here, there's nothing to worry.

Paya Terubong to Cheng Kon Sze
The steps from Paya Terubong to the temple

It will take about an hour to climb all the way up to the temple. There are several junctions but as long as you are on the steps, you're on the right trail. Once you read the main road (which leads to your right to the Kek Lok Si and your left to a Buddhist monastery (and a dead end), you will also see the entry of the complex.

Paya Terubung to Cheng Kon Sze
Announcement for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the only time when the temple is busy

From the road, the remaining climb is only 10 minutes.

Cycling

If you want to cycle to the temple, your journey starts at the Kek Lok Si. Cycle up to the second archway, go inside and turn immediately right. Pass the temple and continue. You will cycle in front of the Kuan Yin statue but officially you won't be able to visit the statue from here.

Spectacular view from just below the Cheng Kon Sze to Penang

Spectacular view from just below the temple towards George Town

At this moment the slope is very steep. Once you pass the temple, it's gets slightly less steep but you won't be able to take it easy. The road markers will direct you further up.

Cycling up won't go much faster as hiking up (I've done both, hiking is easier). The road isn't too bad though full of holes and cracks. Some parts are steeper than others but all in all it's ok to cycle. You can cycle all the way up to the temple.

Little rock shrine above Cheng Kon Sze
The shrine in the rocks above the Ching Ji Chan temple

There is no other way off the hill than taking the same way back. It's a difficult way back though so make sure your breaks are in perfect condition. As there is probably little or no one else on the road, you have it all for yourself.

Hiking from Cheng Kon Sze to Air Itam Dam

In case you don't want to take the same way back, here is an alternative (this is neither the main road to the Kek Lok Si nor the steps to Paya Terubong)

Above the temple, stairs lead to a small shrine in the rocks. From here you can hike (you can't take the bike to this shrine) across the hill. Again, there are no spectacular views here but a small path leads to the other side of the hill. It ends on an asphalt road.

From Cheng Kon Sze to Air Itam Dam
The path from Cheng Kon Sze connects to the asphalt road which
leads to the telecom towers (left) and Air Itam Dam (right).

Go left and you walk uphill to 3 telecommunication towers but again, no views. it's a dead end road. So you have to walk on the asphalt road back. The road leads to the Air Itam Dam.

Take a rest here and follow the trail down to the Kek Lok Si temple and Air Itam.

Air Itam Dam and reservoir

Hiking Air Itam Dam to Air Itam/Kek Lok Si

Cross the dam to the other side and keep right. You'll see a small playground and a blue gate. The path follows a pipeline. After a couple of minutes walking you will reach a junction with a rock on your left giving the direction to Air Itam Dam. Keep right and go down.

About 10 minutes later you will see a small temple on your left and a junction. To the left is a road leading to another beautiful temple. To the right leads steeply down to the parking area of Kek Lok Si temple.

Hiking to Air Itam Dam
If you come from the dam, this is the last part going down.

Cycling to and fro the temple should be done in about one and a half hour. It's not a difficult hike and you certainly do not need a guide as on the way up to the temple there are many markers.

Kwarn Inn Sahn Pow Yin Sian Psi (P) gate, start and finish for the hike to the Air Itam Dam
Kwarn Inn Sahn Pow Yin Sian Psi (P) gate, start and finish for the hike to the Air Itam Dam

Should you decide to hike up to the temple from the main road and back, take about 3-4 hours. The hike starting at Kek Lok Si to Cheng Kon Sze, cross the hill to the telecom towers, Air Itam and back to the Kek Lok Si parking area takes about 2-3 hours.

Maps of the trails from Kek Lok Si to Cheng Kon Sze and Air Itam Dam and from Paya Terubong

Map Kek Lok Si to Cheng Kon Sze and Air Itam Dam

Map Paya Terubong to Cheng Kon Sze

Map is taken and modified from: Nature Trails of Penang Island,
Malaysian Nature Society, Penang Branch, Currently Out of Print.

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