We went to Penang, Malaysia for slow travel so we could focus on our businesses. But we did take the time to see some must-do sites in Penang including Penang Hill and Penang Hill Funicular, Batu Ferringhi beach and Fort Cornwallis.
In terms of an awesome investment of time, two out of three ain’t bad!
This post is about Penang Hill and the Penang Hill Funicular. Which is awesome.
What is Penang Hill
Penang Hill (Malay name: Bukit Bendera) is actually a group of peaks looming over George Town on Penang about 9 km (5.6 mi) west the old town.
Coming from our flat on Gurney Road it was a 20 minute Grab ride that cost RM 8, or about $2 US.
But Bukit Bendrera literally means Flag Hill or Flagstaff Hill. And that’s the ‘hill’ we are really talking about.
Because that’s the ‘hill’ (I would call it a mountain, but that’s just me!) that is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway from its base station at Hill Railway Station Road!
This funicular railway system is the only one of its kind in Malaysia.
Over the course of about 4 minutes it transports tourists to the top of Penang Hill for amazing views over George Town.
Round trip adult tickets cost RM 30 ($7.30 US). A Fast Lane round trip ticket that allows you to skip the queue costs RM 80 ($19.20 US).
Funiculars are cool because they literally start with fun!
The Funicular Queue
We had read that there can be massive queues for the Penang Hill funicular – a notion supported by the fact that they sell fast lane tickets at nearly triple the price of a standard ticket.
But we had the good fortune to visit on an afternoon during Ramadan. Since the Penang Hill experience is hot and a requires quite a bit of walking it’s not a popular day for those in the sawm between suhur and iftar. And so the crowd was smaller than it would have been otherwise.
Also, the day we went had started cloudy and rainy then only cleared up around 1pm, which seemed to further suppress the crowds when we arrived around 2pm.
So we were able to purchase a standard ticket and walk through the long empty stanchions and be on a funicular within 15 minutes of arriving at the station.
If the queue had gone as far back as the stanchions did we would have invested in the Fast Lane ticket for sure!
The Funicular Ride
As the name promises, the Penang Hill funicular ride is fun!
It takes about 4 to 5 minutes to climb up up up the hill the through jungle, across bridges and through a tunnel.
We were lucky that it was not a super-crowded day on Penang Hill, so we sprinted up to the front of the funicular so we could watch the entire climb through the front window!
Here is that entire ride sped up to take only a minute:
It’s a very cool experience.
The View from Penang Hill
The top of Penang Hill has walking paths with a variety of cafes, restaurants and attractions. You can also pay to do some zipline or canopy walk adventures by hopping in a waiting jeep or tuk tuk.
At the top you can understand why the British developed this peak during the colonial period: the temperatures were much cooler at the top and the humidity seemed to be 20% lower than it had been at the base.
But the real point of Penang Hill is the view!
And as luck would have it, Penny, the Penang Cat (OK, I just made that up! And I’m not sure that’s even a cat anyway) is happy to show you what you are looking at!
Anyway, the real-life view from Penang Hill is spectacular. Photos and videos can’t do it justice.
After taking in the view for a while we walked around Penang Hill and found a cannon atop a long set of stairs.
I thought it was weird because Penang Hill is NOT a defensive position. And the cannon would be out of range of the water anyway.
Turns out it was used for signaling incoming ships that dates back to the late 1700s!
From the viewpoint and location of the cannon on top of Penang Hill, ships coming towards Penang shores can be seen clearly. See a ship? Fire the cannon to let people in George Town know it’s coming.
And a mosque, which brings a touch of Islamic architecture to the otherwise colonial-style buildings on the Hill.
There is also a Hindu temple on the hill but it was under construction when we were there so we didn’t bother taking a photo of the tarp and scaffolding covering it.
After that we walked to some of the animal exhibits, but they were a bit sad and depressing so we skipped participating in them.
Food and Drink on Penang Hill
There are two basic food options on Penang Hill: upscale and downscale.
On the upscale side is David Brown’s, a British colonial Restaurant and Tea Terrace
On the downscale side there is Cliff Cafe with hawker stalls.
We had lunch before we ascended so we didn’t try either.
The Funicular Down
The funicular ride down was less fun than the ride up.
Once again the queues were tiny so we were able to get on the next funicular departing the peak.
But our funicular kept stopping at random spots for up to a few minutes at a time. In the end it took over 20 minutes for the ride down.
Bottom Line – Penang Hill and Penang Hill Funicular
We loved our Penang Hill and Penang Hill Funicular experience.
It has some adventure, some history, some refreshments and best of all the most amazing, brilliant views on the island.