With the right dose of history and culture, Penang plays host to a variety of attractions ranging from beaches and historical architecture to cultural hotspots and a smorgasbord of cuisine. Located on the northern sector of the island, Penang Hill – one of Malaysia’s oldest hill resorts – is a hillside retreat comprising Western Hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill, Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill. It is not as popular as Genting Highlands or Cameron Highlands but it is one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions.
Six kilometres away from the city centre, Penang Hill – also known as Bukit Bendera – is the perfect way to escape the heat and humidity of Georgetown. Standing apart from the lowlands due to its hilly and forested areas, it is a popular holiday retreat due to its nippy climate. Towering 821-metres above Penang’s capital, this chilly hill station boasts temperatures that are generally about five degrees cooler than at sea level.
Penang Hill History
Penang Hill was discovered by Francis Light when he commissioned the area to be cleared in order to grow strawberries. Yet the hillside – originally known as Strawberry Hill – was never fully developed due to the fact that it was difficult to carve out the forest area.
At the foot of the hill is the Penang Hill Railway – a Swiss-built funicular. The most convenient way to get to the apex, this railway system – built in 1897 – starts out from Air Itam. One of the world’s oldest funicular systems, it features a 2,007-metre long track that ascends the hill at a crawling 30-minute pace. The journey takes you past various bungalows originally built for British officials and other wealthy citizens, luxuriant greenery and occasional macaques; passengers have to change trains midway. The hill’s oldest bungalow, ‘Bel Retiro’, is the holiday residence of the Governor of Penang and the queue for the carriages is quite long especially on weekends and public holidays.
Alternatively, there is a five-kilometer road up the hill that is accessible only to the vehicles of hillside residents. This jeep trail is a popular off-road motorcycle track and hiking route – it starts out from the quarry at the entry of the Penang Botanic Gardens.