Maxwell Hill – Taiping, Malaysia

By P Chong                               Wed. 24 Mar. 2010

Taiping Town as viewed from Maxwell Hill

I remember Maxwell Hill well – a holiday & adventure of a place, where greenery prevails & fauna & flora flourish, where streams flow & waterfalls cascading upon the slopes, where the twists & turns in the ascent or descent, whether you are trekking or in a jeep, never fail to delight & surprise you with sights of wonder & beauty & absolute serenity. Talk of an eco-destination, this natural hill resort provides the best there is right at the door step of Taiping.

If you are thinking of a quiet honeymoon, a quick getaway, an affordable weekend romantic retreat, a simple rest & recreation, or even a day trip to get away from the heat & humility of the tropical lowlands, Maxwell Hill is your answer.

No other towns or cities in Malaysia can boast of a hill retreat in such close proximity & accessibility. It is the wettest part of Malaysia and located approximately 9 km from Taiping Town.

Maxwell Hill, now known as Bukit Larut, next to Penang Hill, is Malaysia’s oldest and smallest hill resort. Maxwell Hill stands 1,035m above sea level, and is accessible only by government-owned four-wheel-drive vehicles. A return journey up Maxwell Hill costs an economical RM4, meaning a mere RM2 takes you all the way up the lengthy and headache-inducing hill road. The road twists & turns with a total of 72 bends through lush green tropical rainforests, and you can hear the sound of birds & monkeys with the air becoming gradually cooler as the jeep climbs higher.

Along the way you should see clusters of hikers conquering Maxwell Hill, a feat that takes approximately two to three hours. I have had my fair share of trekking up the hill, taking short cuts upon steep slopes in a more direct ascent. You’ve got to exercise a lot of caution for often you literally have to cling on to only tree roots for support. This is real jungle trekking. There are many jungle trails and one of the popular one is the Gunung Hijau Trail. This trail leads you to the peak of Gunung Hijau at 1,449 m above sea level, where you’ll find the best panoramic view of Taiping Town.

Maxwell Hill was named after William Edward Maxwell, who was appointed Assistant Resident of Perak in 1875. At that time, the British was looking for a hill retreat away from the tropical heat for its senior officers & wives, a place similar to Simla in India. After much searching, Maxwell discovered that there’s a hill right on his doorstep.  The journey from foot to peak is 13 kilometres, making it suitable for the purpose intended. Hence Maxwell Hill was born.

Steps were immediately taken to develop Maxwell Hill as it was then known. By the 1870’s, among the visitors included famous names like Isabella Bird and Ambrose Rathborne. In those days, the visitors have a choice of walking, taking a pony, or being carried on a “mountain chair”. It wasn’t until the mid 1940’s that the road was widened and made suitable for vehicles. That was during World War II, when Taiping was declared the administrative center for Perak and Indonesia by the occupying Japanese forces, the Japanese official made Maxwell Hill his residency. He forced the prisoners of war to build the road up the hill. Although the road was only opened in 1948, three years after the Japanese surrender, much of it was built through the sweat, blood and lives of ragged prisoners of war.

Bungalow or Cottage

The cottages on Maxwell Hill all carry their own personalities and names. Today most of these names have been localised & renamed, among them: The Hut (now Cendana), The Cottage, Treacher (Tempinis), Watson’s Rest House (Beringin), The Federal Bungalows (Sri Angkasa), Speedy’s Chalet (Rumah Rehat Gunung Hijau), The Nest and The Box. Sad to say, many of these bungalows are in various stages of deterioration, a real shame from their former glory.

Midway to the top is the Tea Garden House that was once part of the tea-estate. The view at this point is magnificent and features the entire Taiping town as well as the Lake Gardens. Also visible are the suburbs of Aulong and Simpang and the 19km stretch of Taiping – Port Weld road & the first railway line in Malaysia linking Taiping with Port Weld, no longer operational.

Apart from the Telecommunication Tower on Gunung Hijau where the Cottage stands, there hasn’t been much development on Maxwell Hill, apart from the recent interest in tulip cultivation.

Maxwell Hill is 290 km from the city of Kuala Lumpur. After arriving in Taiping town, go towards Taiping Lake Garden and follow the turning to Jalan Air Terjun towards the foot of the hill. From the foot of the hill, the journey up to the summit in just half an hour is by government Land Rover.

Taiping, once the capital of Perak, is credited with many firsts. As mentioned, the first to have a public Lake Gardens & the first railway, it is also the first in having a high-walled security prison, the oldest golf course and a museum – all the infrastructures that could be built on for the tourist industry. Yet, with such advantages nothing is capitalised on & even the North South Highway bypasses Taiping, cutting it off & setting it to its “sleeping hollow” fate. What about greater exposure & tourist promotion to bring life back to Taiping?