Penang Hill – Then & Now

Penang Hill

Located in Air Itam and about 6 kilometres from Georgetown, Penang Hill is one of the must-visit places in Penang, being the oldest hill station in Malaysia. Riding in the funicular train to the top of Penang Hill is one of the main reasons why you should visit Penang Hill – apart from the luscious trees surrounding the hills and its relaxing atmosphere that helps take your mind off the busy roads of Penang.

History of Penang Hill

Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera in Bahasa Malaysia, consists of 5 hills – Halliburton’s Hill, Strawberry Hill, Government Hill, Fern Hill and Mount Hagier. At the height of 830 metres above sea level, Penang Hill was first known as Signal Hill before it is called Flagstaff Hill and later known as Penang Hill. The Bahasa Malaysia version however, is still called Bukit Bendera which is translated as “Flagstaff Hill”. This is most probably because the name is more easily remembered by the locals.

Francis Light plotted a horse track to the peak of Penang Hill in 1788 and founded Penang Hill, a year after the British arrived in Penang. Francis Light later gave part of the place to his friend, David Brown where Brown planted strawberries at what we now know as Strawberry Hill.

Governor's Bungalow
Governor’s Bungalow

The Governor’s bungalow was the first bungalow built on Penang Hill back in 1790’s and was later renovated in 1870. Other bungalows were only built after the funicular railway was opened in 1920’s. Only British people are allowed to live at the peak of Penang Hill.

Before Malaysia’s Independence, nobody is allowed to own a bungalow on Penang Hill except the British. If you take the funicular train there is an interchange station halfway to the hill top where you will pass the first tunnel. Bungalows from this level to the bottom of the hill can be owned by non-British people whilst bungalows from that level to the top of the hill are only for British citizens.

Pavillion on top of Penang Hill
Pavillion on top of Penang Hill

Today, there are no new bungalows allowed to be built on Penang Hill. Buyers are only allowed to buy old bungalows.

History of the Cannon on Penang Hill

On top of Penang Hill, there is a cannon, located somewhere nearby the Governor’s bungalow.

Back in 1770’s, the East Indian Company which was based in Madras made over 70 cannons throughout a course of time and out of the 70 cannons, 5 were deemed the best. These 5 cannons were separated and brought to different locations, which are Madras, England, Singapore, Fort Cornwallis and Penang Hill. The cannon on Penang Hill was dated 1796.

The cannon on Penang Hill was used for signaling incoming ships – hence the name Signal Hill. From the viewpoint and location of the cannon on top of Penang Hill, ships coming towards Penang shores can be seen clearly. The cannon will send a blast to signal if the incoming ships are friendly or enemy. If the ship is friendly, a blast will be made and a government flag will be raised. If it is an enemy ship, a blast will be made and enemy flag will be raised before further actions are taken. This is also the reason why Penang Hill was also named as Flagstaff Hill.

Penang Hill Funicular Train

Riding the funicular train
Riding the funicular train
The dooly
The dooly

Currently, the only way to go up to the top of Penang Hill is by funicular train. However, before the funicular railway was built, the only way up the hill was by foot, horseback or dooly (sedan chair). The dooly is carried by servants on their shoulders – four people needed to carry the dooly. The road from the bottom of the hill to the top is about 6 kilometres which takes about 2 hours by foot. The wealthy often preferred travelling up the Penang Hill by dooly.

This is the third generation funicular train
This is the third generation funicular train

The first and second generation funicular train was a failure and the trains were abandoned. The third generation train was first used in 1924 where the train takes 30 minutes to get from the bottom to the top of the hill and is separated into 2 sections. The funicular train used now is the fourth generation train which only takes up to 4 minutes to run from the bottom to the top and can accommodate 100 people at one time.

David Brown Restaurant

David Brown Restaurant
David Brown Restaurant

The David Brown Restaurant is located at Strawberry Hill where Francis Light’s friend David Brown first planted his strawberries many many centuries ago. The restaurant serves English style food. It has a relaxing ambience, suitable for sipping tea a-la Queen of England with your close friends.

View from David Brown Restaurant at sunset
View from David Brown Restaurant at sunset
View from David Brown Restaurant at night
View from David Brown Restaurant at night

One of the nice things about this restaurant is that it overlooks Penang Bridge in the distance. It has the nicest setting for a marriage proposal. If you plan to propose, why not bring your lady to this restaurant in the evening when the sun is about to set and have an early dinner with her whilst enjoying the orange and red-streaked sky. Once the sun has set behind the horizon, both of you can enjoy the view of lights twinkling in the distance that is Penang. Then, you may get down on your knees, open that Cartier ring box and ask her to marry you. After she says yes, you can sweep her off her feet and dance to the slow music playing in the restaurant by the fish pond. Let the moon and the stars witness the story of your love as you dance close in each other’s embrace.

Romantic isn’t it?


Penang Hill is one of the must-go places if you ever visit Penang. Either to explore the history of Penang Hill by yourself, to try the funicular train or to enjoy the ambience of the hilltop, you will not be disappointed of this place.

Thank you Gaya Travel and Tourism Penang for this FAM Trip.

Written by 

LizzaBella is a part-time traveler, amateur photographer and videographer and writer. Connect with LizzaBella through her social medias today!

17 thoughts on “Penang Hill – Then & Now

  1. Any chance of hiking Penang Hill next time around? 😉

  2. Surprisingly I’ve never been to Penang Hill but yes babe David Brown Restaurant sure looks great with the view

  3. its been so long since i visited this place. now i couldnt really remember what does it have there until i read your nice post 🙂

  4. I have never been to Penang Hill yet! WIll definitely try to visit this place when i make a trip to Penang!

  5. after read your entry..Penang Hill is one of the must-go places if I visit Penang

  6. the david brown restaurant actually have very nice view…we went there last month but not sure if the food is good though..

  7. I was also very pleasantly surprised with the transformation Penang Hill went through… it is lovely…and I had not been there for a very long while….

  8. Many many years never been to this hill. Enjoyed the view there very much.
    Time to revisit! 😉

  9. actually i want to see more before and after pictures but great story.

  10. Aliza sara says:

    I remember being there! I love the view from the hill. Breathtaking!

  11. Penang Hill has improved a lot compared to last time. But its sad that sometime there are not many tourists.

  12. I love the night view at Penang Hill. Great place to have a romantic dinner.

  13. Wow I’m still never been to Penang hill, btw their night view really nice leh, hope can go there one day 😀

  14. I only been to Penang Hill once, and that also very long time already, time for a revisit perhaps 🙂

  15. my hometown! but it has been a while since i went there.. used to hike up all the way when younger.

  16. tiap kali ke sini je ramai umat beratur. so until now tak naik naik lagi tempat ni

  17. Toby Darling says:

    Thank-you so much for the fascinating information. I was keen to find out more about the old British cannon up there. Your article answered all my questions and also taught me a lot more about this fascinating place.

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