Whenever Hayato Endo, the Japanese aikido master and consular officer at the center of Tan Twan Eng's WW IIera novel The Gift of Rain, needs cardio (and a break from the stresses of international espionage), he hikes up Penang Hill. He forgoes the funicular because he wants "to feel the climb." Follow his three-hour tropical trudge from the Penang Botanic Gardens past British colonial mansions to the 2,723-ft. (833 m) summit, and every aching muscle in you will feel it too. The reward is a breathtaking view of Georgetown and the piratical Strait of Malacca. At the outdoor coffee shack 30 minutes below the peak, ask resting Chinese or Tamil retirees how often they make the climb. Should caffeine fail to boost you to the top, their answer will be the kick in the butt you've needed.
By Tim Kindseth