Penang Hill, Penang, Malaysia

We decided to go a little further afield whilst staying in Penang and to the west of Georgetown, our base for our visit, is Penang hill. The hill was mentioned in all the guidebooks we read so we got our guest house to book us a taxi and off we went. Once you arrive at the base station where the taxi dropped us off, to get to the top of the hill you take the funicular railway. It's fun but is quite nerve-rackingly steep and you seem very exposed on the hill as it climbs up to the top. We went mid-week and reasonably early but it was still insanely busy at the ticket booths, I can't imagine what it's like on a weekend or a public holiday so probably best to avoid those times if you can. To ease the queueing a little you can pay more for a fast lane ticket at the ticket counters, once you get to the front of that queue! This means you can then skip the next queues for the train both on the way  up and on the return journey down. It also means you get priority boarding so you can grab a seat too if you wish as it gets very full with the majority of people having to stand for the journey up and down.

A very hazy view from the top

Penang hill was first cleared by Captain Light, the founder of the British colony at Penang, originally to grow strawberries, and at that time it was known as Strawberry Hill. A trail to the top from the Botanic Gardens with access via foot, horse or sedan chair was subsequently opened but it wasn't until 1923 that a Swiss built funicular railway was installed making it much easier to access. Unfortunately we probably chose the worst day weather wise on our brief Penang trip to go up the hill as although it was another dry, warm day it was very hazy so the views from the top were not great. You can see in my photo above that this was sadly about as good as it got on that day. Luckily there are information boards up there to tell you what you should be able to see or actually can see if you go up on a good day.

Heading up to the top

The top of the hill is 821 metres above Georgetown so on a clear day would give great views, as well as this aspect there are some food stalls, a couple of restaurants, souvenir stalls and other attractions some of which were a little quirky, including an owl museum (we didn't visit it). At the time I thought it included actual live owls (😂) but it seems it's just various models etc. of the birds. Having now discovered that I'm reminded of the cat museum in Kuching that we visited whilst living in Singapore, the only other part of Malaysia I'd been to before our visit to Penang, have you been? Is it similarly quirky? I have to admit I wasn't overly blown away by what was at the top when you first exit the railway but maybe I was just a bit disappointed because of the lack of any decent views that day.

Away from the initial tourist traps though and there was a little more to the hill than first met the eye. As you walk further you'll find a Hindu temple (the photo below was taken in its grounds) which is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang. Similarly there is the Penang Hill mosque (Masjid Bukit Bendera) the only mosque on the hill. There is also an old colonial bungalow (one of many dotted throughout the hill) dating from 1803, originally built for the Governor of Penang it is still used by the Government. The bungalow is therefore out of bounds to the general public but you can go up to the gateway which in itself is almost like a small property. If you fancy a walk there are several trails you can follow around the hill, one taking you to the Botanic Gardens and others to other points of interest. Although we like walking on this day we chose not to do any of them. Have you done any of the walks? Are they good?

In the grounds of the Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan or Penang Hill Hindu temple

Penang hill actually has more attractions to offer the visitor than I imagined. However I don't think I'd personally rush back anytime soon. The crowds at the entrance, though to be fair once we got up the hill and past the entrance area they did dissipate out very quickly, were surprising and the attractions there didn't really entice me. Perhaps if I returned on a clear day I'd have a better experience and maybe if we did one of the many walks I'd take a different view. Have you been? What was your experience like?


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