In partnership with Penang Tourism
Think of Penang, and its UNESCO World Heritage site of George Town no doubt comes to mind. But as of 15 September 2021, Penang Hill became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, drawing attention to the scenic wonders that lie beyond the island’s Heritage Core. Sitting six kilometres west of the state capital and 830 meters above sea level, the beloved hill resort in Air Itam is the third green lung in Malaysia to win the designation, after Tasik Chini in 2009 and Banjaran Crocker in 2014.
At 12,481 hectares, Penang Hill is one of the world’s smallest Biosphere Reserves. But what makes it a winner are its four different ecosystems: marine, coastal, lake and forest, which sit in an unbroken line from the hill to the sea. As a result, many rare and endemic flora and fauna call the hill home, such as the Sunda pangolin, the Malayan flying lemur, the flying civet, the dusky leaf langur, the leopard cat and many more.
A long and colourful history
Also called Bukit Bendera by locals – meaning “flag hill” – Penang Hill was Peninsular Malaysia’ first colonial hill station. It’s easy to see why: it’s about five degrees Celsius cooler than the rest of Penang, offering a respite from the tropical heat.
Penang Hill was also known as Flagstaff Hill during colonial times – a reference to the flagstaff that sat outside Bel Retiro, the residence of the former Governor of Penang, Francis Light, in 1789. Comprising Western Hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill, Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill, Penang Hill is the state’s last tropical rainforest. As such, the flora and fauna here have been under governmental protection for the last six decades.
A perfect daytrip for nature-lovers
Interstate travel is once again possible, and if you’re thinking of visiting Penang Hill, be sure to devote a whole day to your expedition. If you fancy a long walk, try one of the multiple hiking trails up to the peak. You can refuel with a snack at Kopi Hutan in Monkey Cup Garden. The highest café in Penang dishes out good coffee and delicious cakes. For a substantial alfresco dining experience with stunning views, pay a visit to David Brown Restaurant on top of Strawberry Hill for British fare such as steaks, roasts and pies. They can even arrange transport if you’re too full to trek afterwards!
Part of the ticketed rainforest discovery centre The Habitat, Langur Way Canopy Walk offers a less rugged, but just as beautiful brush with nature. Walking along the world’s longest double-span, stressed-ribbon bridge, you’ll experience the rainforest in all its splendour as well as views of the state of Kedah – perfect for a spot of forest bathing. The canopy walk is tree-friendly in that there aren’t any steel cables rigged to the trees. Instead, spacious and sturdy platforms give you a safe, unobstructed view of the 130-million-year-old jungle canopy. Best of all, it’s wheelchair- and stroller-friendly for all members of the family.
For more stunning views, there’s the highest public viewing point at Penang Hill. The Curtis Crest Treetop Walk is another one of The Habitat’s beautiful features, with views of Kedah’s Peak and, on a clear day, even the island of Langkawi. If you go at night, the treetop walk is well-lit and the lights in and around George Town are breathtaking. You might even encounter some gentle nocturnal animals stepping out for the night.
Other activities on Penang Hill
Not into sweating your way to the top? Penang Hill Funicular Train connects the hill base to the peak, and has the distinction of traversing the steepest tunnel in the world. Choose a fast-lane ticket to beat the queues and board the very first train at 6:30am to catch stunning sunrise views at the peak.
Couples looking for a bit of romance can head to the 80m fence at the open-air observation deck near the Penang Hill Food enter. Instagrammers will also love the stunning architecture of Penang Hill. It used to be a gathering point for expats in colonial times, and has some of the state’s best historical architecture. In addition to the 50 bungalows that fuse colonial, Asian and modern architecture, there are also must-visit sights like the Heritage Post Box, which was put in 1837, the 32-pounder cannon and a gorgeous Hindu temple.
Getting to Penang Hill
From George Town’s jetty A, take Bus 204 to Penang Hill Lower Station. Consider trekking your way up to the top along the 3.25km Heritage Trail. There are plenty of other, more circuitous and scenic trails to the top, though, with some photo ops along the way.
Alternatively, take a Rapid Penang bus from town, which has low fares. Penang Hill also has ample parking space if you’re planning to drive here. If you’re going to take a Grab or taxi ride over, note that Penang Hill Lower Station is the official drop-off point.
Want to learn more about Penang Hill? Visit the Penang Tourism website for full details.