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Difficulty

Hard

Duration

3h 19min

Distance

5.1km

Elevation

689m

Penang Hill Hike: Time to Get Your Steps In

Take a break from admiring George Town’s colonial architecture and feasting on tasty street eats. Point your feet at that big hill in the distance and let’s go on a climb!

It’s a tough sweaty hike but once you’ve reached the top of Penang Hill the sublime panoramic views over Penang Island are well worth it.

The peak was once home to Peninsular Malaysia’s oldest colonial hill station founded in 1787 and is now home to a buzzing tourist village with hotels, restaurants, ice creams and lots of happy tourists enjoying the fresh air.

Planning Your Own Walk – Penang Hill Hike Itinerary

Penang Hill, or Bukit Gantung as it’s known in Malay, isn’t just a solitary peak it’s the collective name given to a whole hilly area in the middle of Penang Island.

The highest point is Western Hill at 833 meters. Most Penang Hill hiking trails will however take you to the built-up touristy viewpoints (multiple) around Flagstaff Hill, also known as Bukit Bendera, which stands at 783 metres.

It was Flagstaff Hill that we were heading to. The first question was which of the trails would we be taking to get there…

Choosing your Penang Hill Hiking Route

The Heritage Trail

This is supposedly the “easy route” to the top of Penang Hill. It’s a 5km-ish out-and-back hike which will take most in the region of 3.5 hours to complete.

The route is the most direct, following the path of the funicular train from the lower station at Air Itam to the top. This route involves a lot of steep steps. But there are plenty of rest stops, the views are superb and there is great camaraderie amongst climbers.

Spoiler: This is the route we ended up opting for and we had no regrets.

See the route here.

Bat Cave Temple Route

The second half of this route follows the exact same path as the Heritage Trail. The two also share a starting point at the Lower Station.

But the first half of the Bat Cave Trail avoids many of the steps by looping to a natural cave with a small temple dedicated to the Chinese Deity Kuan Yin and home to some resident bats.

If I’d known about this option in advance I think I would’ve chosen it for our descent.

See the route here.

The Moon Gate Trail

The Moon Gate trail is a little bit more “offroad” than the Heritage Trail with a combination of dirt trails and concrete steps taking you from the Bukit Gantung Cemetery up to the peak. It’s about a kilometre longer than the Heritage Trail but not as steep.

The name is derived from the “moon gate”, a circular wooden gate at the start that was once the grand entrance to Penang opium magnate Cheah Chen Eok’s mansion.

See the route here.

The Jeep Track Trail

The Jeep Track starts at Penang Botanical Gardens and follows the tarmac road used by residents of Penang Hill to reach the top. This route starts fairly steep but gets more gentle after the first kilometre. This is likely the most gentle of all the hiking trails.

See the route here. 

The Bukit Gantung Trail

Starting at Rifle Range Flats or Bukit Gantung Cemetery, the Bukit Gantung Trail is the longest of the popular routes to the top of Penang Hill and probably feels like the most off-road hike of the lot. For the most part, it follows dirt trails.

See the route here.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Penang Hill Hiking Trails. Several hiking trails like the Rifle Range Trail and the Bukit Cendana Trail look pretty interesting.

The entire range of hills is crisscrossed by routes galore and you can mix and match routes to create a pick-your-own adventure. You could go up by one and return by the other. It’s really up to you. Whichever route you take, just remember one thing, bring water.

Route Description: My Penang Hill Hike Experience 

Penang Hill via the Heritage Trail

Penang is a great place, Georgetown is one of my favourite spots in Southeast Asia. In my previous life, I spent 3 months building my first ever website.

I’ve fond memories of wandering its streets on the hunt for tasty street food to gobble down.

But until today I’d never climbed Penang Hill itself, the big jungle-covered lump that overlooks the city. I’m not sure why I’d never tackled it before, probably because I was sweaty enough already from wandering around town at sea level.

Well, today I’m back in Georgetown with Sara, my girlfriend and hiking partner. We have one goal, climb Penang Hill and survive to tell you lovely readers all about it. Join me!

The start of the Penang Hill climbThe start will look like this. Although sadly I won’t be standing there looking awkward. Maybe. But unlikely.

Starting the Penang Hill Climb

Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera as it’s known in Malay, offers a genuinely challenging hike. It’s a leg day with bells on, so my advice is to bring more water than you think you’ll need. Trust me, you’ll need it.

We decided to tackle the iconic Heritage Trail, which begins in Air Itam just to the left of the entrance to the Lower Station of the cable car. So, head over there to start your adventure.

Oh, what’s that? You didn’t know there was a cable car! Yep, one that can whisk you up to the top in just five minutes. So why aren’t we taking that? Well, because this is a hiking blog!

Let Leg Day Begin

If you’ve resisted the urge to take the easy route via the funicular train, you’ll quickly find that the climb ahead is steep.

To put it in perspective, you’ll be ascending just under 800m over a distance of around 2.5km.

We chose the Heritage Trail as it was supposedly one of the easier climbs up Penang Hill. But if this was the easy one, I’ll wait until after my double leg transplant to tackle the others.

Steps Galore

The path consists mainly of steps, steps, and more steps.

I later discovered that you can bypass a significant portion of the steps by starting the route via a dirt trail near Bats Cave Temple, which reconnects with the Heritage Trail midway through the climb.

I wasn’t a.ware of this at the time, but it could be a good option if you have fragile knees.

Traditional Chinese architecture and lanternsA lovely combination of old and new.

Impressive Views

One nice thing about the climb starting so steeply is that the views kick in quickly too. Within minutes of setting off you start getting a reward for your hard work.

Turning we were able to see the city skyline mixed in with the more traditional Chinese architecture and lanterns. It was nice.

There are also a few classic photo opportunities to have your picture in front of a few landmarks that let everyone know you are climbing a big old hill. An opportunity I of course didn’t waste.

Mike in front of Penang Hill landmarkExhibit A

Laluan Warisan, Se jak 1890, Bukit Bendera signExhibit B

Trailing the Train

After these spectacular photo ops, the gradient gets even more fierce.

The steps just kept coming and there wasn’t much to do but keep on stepping. One foot after enough.

The trail followed the route of the funicular train for most of the way. If you are struggling this might be a little like torture but I loved seeing the little cable cars zoom up the slope.

We made sure to give each one a cheesy wave just to see who would wave back.

Views of George Town and the funicular trainScenic views of George Town and the funicular train.

Steps to Penang HillJeremy Vine would love Penang Hill.

Take a Rest, Save Your Knees

While the gradient is a killer. Luckily much of the Penang Hill hike is covered by viney trees giving you a little shade from the melty brain Malaysian sun. There is also a handy handrail for a little extra support.

I’m a well-seasoned hiking man but I’m not one to scoff at a handrail. If it’s there I’ll use it. Remember the old HikerHero motto “Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.”

There are also multiple rest stops as you climb. Lovely shaded areas. Use them. Rest up. Hydrate. Carry on.

Rest stop on a Penang Hill hikeHere’s me going for the well-known starfish on a bench pose everyone knows and loves.

The Middle Station

As we made our way up the hill I spotted something in the distance that looked like the peak. I turned around excitedly to let Sara know we were almost there.

The joy lasted for less than a minute as a quick check of the Alltrails app told us this was the Middle Station. Which as the name may suggest is just about halfway up!

Nevermind. This a great spot to soak in some uninhibited views of Penang Island below and a nice taster for what an eye feast we were going to get at the Upper Station.

We also continued our game of waving at the cable cars, we took turns and competed to see how many wavebacks we could get. It turns out quite a lot. Everyone was just having a good day.

The Middle Station

Up to Claremont Station

From the Middle Station, the hiking trail is a long straight line up hundreds of steps up past Claremont Station and then to Viaduct Station. Your legs are gonna burn.

We were seriously feeling the heat by now and made sure to stop often to drink water. These little stops also gave us pause to chat with others on the trail. It seemed like a nice international crowd today with lots of locals, a friendly gang of Germans and even some other fellow Brits.

All the while we climbed the funicular train track ducked in and out of view.

Claremont StationTwo sweat bags trying to hitch a lift on the cable car.

Getting Close to the Top

A lot of sweating later and we thankfully started to see signs for the Top Station. The end of our Penang Hill climb was almost within sight!

I can’t recall exactly when it happened but around here the steps turned into more of a jungly scramble. Which was both unexpected and fun. It was nice to leave the steps behind for a few minutes at least.

This trail was very varied and kept it interesting the whole time.

Top, Middle and Lower station signsNot very imaginative with the station names here are they? Top, Middle and Lower.

Ice Cream Dreamland Ahoy!

We bumped into a fellow hiker on his descent and told us of the glory at the top. He spoke not just of the amazing views but of an entire floor that sells only ice cream and smoothies.

With a skip our step, buoyed by the prospect of this ice cream wonderland we almost ran the last hundred metres to the top.  

The Skydeck

We eventually arrived at the summit of Penang Hill dripping in sweat and ready for our victory ice cream.

The top was jammers. Busy with happy-looking locals and tourists. All snapping away at the view below. 

What was instantly obvious was that 90% of those at the top of Penang Hill caught the cable car as we were the only sweaty-looking messes up there. Everyone else looked like they’d just stepped off a five-minute air-conditioned train ride. Which they had!

Mike strolling over to the sky deck to take in the viewsStrolling over to the sky deck to take in the views.

Penang Hill Attractions

We took obligatory selfies in front of the stunning view of Penang Island far below and wandered around a bit soaking in the atmosphere.

There’s a whole host of stuff you can do at the top, there are hotels, restaurants, a mosque and even a toy museum. It’s a whole tourist village up there.

If we’d had time I would’ve liked to check the The Habitat Eco Discovery Centre at Curtis Crest which had a very cool-looking tree-top canopy walk but alas the clock was against us.

We were also very tempted to get a photo taken with a big snake or have a couple’s caricature painted but the line in front of both was just a little bit too long. Next time!

We made do with our giant victory ice creams which were every bit as good as we dreamed and set off on our descent. 

The Penang Hill Descent

As we set off back down Penang Hill my phone told me it was 37°C which isn’t ideal for any type of hiking. Especially not climbing nearly 800 metres elevation worth of steps.

Fortunately, we were heading downward, the path was noticeably quieter than earlier but I did not envy the few hikers we met coming up past us.

Within an hour or so we’d made it back to the start, grabbed another ice cream from the entrance and shot off for a street food tour in George Town to reload on all the calories we’d lost getting our hike on. 

Final Thoughts: Penang Hill is Absolutely Brill! 

Do people still say brill?! Well, I do. And Penang Hill is absolutely brill.

Now this isn’t a get-back-to-nature hike purists will love. You aren’t going to be losing yourself and communing with the forest spirits. Penang Hill is relatively built up and it’s swarming with tourists hungry to feast their eyes on those views.

If you want solitude, head elsewhere. If you want one hell of a climb with sublime vistas, and tasty ice cream as a reward then Penang Hill is going to tick all the right boxes.

These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by Hike Hero.
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.

This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.

This reflects the Hike Hero difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.