Western Hill

Facts

Elevation: 833 m (2,733 ft) Prominence: 833 m
Ribu category: Google MarkerSpesial Province: Peninsular Malaysia
Google Earth: kml Other names:  
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Bagging It!

Western Hill is the highest point of the island of Penang (Pulau Pinang). Many visitors visit nearby Penang Hill, which was once a favourite colonial retreat, is easily accessible and features temples, restaurants, souvenir stalls, an owl museum and a pitcher plant garden. There is actually a funicular railway which starts at Air Itam and takes you almost all of the way to the top. The highest point of the Penang Hill area is Bukit Bendera (‘flag / flagstaff hill’) at around 735m.

Western Hill is about 4 kilometres along Summit Road but sees almost no visitors, however, because since the 1960s the summit has a private military radar station with radar domes on it. You can get close to it but ‘bagging’ the summit is not currently possible. However, an exploration of the island’s highest forests is a great day out.

In addition to approaching from the easy, touristy Penang Hill side, there is another route up (or down) which forms the toughest trek on the island and is a real hike. It starts in the north-west of the island at Taman Rimba (Forest Park) at Teluk Bahang (the dam) – or you can use one of the alternative nearby starting points detailed below. From Teluk Bahang to Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) is over 11km in total and the trail is well marked with signs including distances to and from either end at each simple ‘Station’. It is therefore a significant hike, though, so set out early and allow 6-8 hours if you are doing a ‘traverse’. This trail leads up Bukit Laksamana (‘Admiral Hill’) which at around 750m is the second-highest significant peak on the island, and the views to the coast are pleasant.

From the Taman Rimba entrance (20m above sea level) which is easily seen from the main road, the trail leads through a car park and complex including a camping area, over a mini bridge and then up some cement steps. You then pass by Station 1 (53m), Station 3 (100m), Simpang/ Junction 8 (165m) after which the trail heads up to the left via some large rocks (280m) before reaching Simpang/ Junction 12 (375m) which is a very important junction where you meet the alternative trail up from Batu Ferringhi (see below). It should have taken you just over one hour to reach this point.

From Simpang 12, the trail basically follows a ridge up to the top of Bukit Laksamana. Much of this time you remain in the forest, but at Rain Gauge 14 (435m) the vegetation is much lower and you may be lucky to see Gunung Jerai in the distance. Beyond this point, the trail leads past Station 7 (450m) and Rain Gauge 13 (522m) and then the ridge becomes quite narrow and progressively steeper. There are ropes to help those in need.

After a total of 2.5 to 3 hours you should have reached Bukit Laksamana, which has a sign with 805m on it but based on GPS readings is not likely to be higher than around 750m. This is probably the best part of the entire hike, with views to Gunung Jerai, Teluk Bahang Reservoir, and the mysterious dome that is at the very top of Western Hill, some 1.6km away (as the crow flies). There are also a small number of pitcher plants in this area.

The true highest point of Bukit Laksamana lies a little further down a trail on the right beyond a small area that is obviously sometimes used for camping. This trail leads directly down to the Tropical Fruit Farm and this is a very good alternative route up (see below).

From Bukit Laksamana to Western Hill and Penang Hill, you need to continue straight (left not right) and head down into the valley that separates Bukit Laksamana from Western Hill. Surprisingly, although the trail initially leads steeply down, it then ascends again to another Rain Gauge (number 12, 748m) before properly descending into the valley. This descent is steep and there are roped sections over slippery boulders via Station 5 (685m). You may encounter a small number of leeches here.

After less than one hour from Laksamana, the col between it and Western Hill is reached. It is marked by yet another Rain Gauge (number 11, 540m). This is very approximately the half-way point on the hike. After the trail starts leading up again, more gently this time, it soon passes Station 4 (550m) and then finally Station 2 (775m). At this point is a rusty -no entry’ sign where there used to be a permissive path skirting under the base of Western Hill. This is now closed and although the large dome at the top of Western Hill (and therefore the true high-point of Pulau Pinang) is clearly visible just 200 metres away, you have to follow the trail sharply right as it detours down into a tiny valley with a small stream in it (720m).

This area seems prone to minor landslides so take real care on the final ascent from the stream up to the meeting point with the wide access road to Western Hill. This junction is Station 1 (755m). From here it feels like you are back in civilisation but it is still over 4 kilometres to the main area of shops and railway station on Penang Hill. For those wishing to get as close to the top of Western Hill as possible, take a left and follow the road for just 5 minutes until you reach the severely-worded warning signs (800m).

Back to Penang Hill along the access road should not take much more than an hour or 90 minutes, and you will soon be back in the land of restaurants and tourists on golf buggies! To avoid the queues waiting for the train back down, you might consider trekking down the Moniot Trail, the junction of which (700m) is clearly signposted well before the popular areas of Penang Hill.

If you do continue to the station and shops at Penang Hill and are keen to seek out the highest top there (Bukit Bendera), it would appear that in 2018 the true high point of Penang Hill is now covered by a large circular forest walkway known as ‘The Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk’ in The Habitat complex. Views from the top are probably great in good weather and it is open for sunset. Prior to when this was opened in 2017, the high-point was just a small clearing with a little communications mast on it.

To get back down in the direct of George Town, simply join the queues for a ticket on the funicular railway back down to Air Itam. Note that queues are especially long during weekends but if necessary you can pay extra (RM45) for a ‘Fastlane’ ticket to jump the queues.

Alternative starting points for the traverse via Bukit Laksamana:

Batu Ferringhi

The trail begins at Chin Farm opposite Bayview Beach Hotel. Allow about 90 minutes to reach the junction (Simpang 12) with the Taman Rimba trail as detailed above. Note there are aqueducts from the colonial era near the starting point which many local hikers regard as worth visiting.

Tropical Fruit Farm

Several kilometres south of Taman Rimba is the closest access point to Bukit Laksamana. The great advantage of this trailhead is that it is at about 200m above sea level whereas the others are close to zero. The disadvantages are that it takes longer to get to from most parts of the island and is less well-used and therefore more likely to be overgrown. Look for a road sign reading FT006/043/59 and follow the cement path before following the water pipes up the hillside via Rain Gauges 23 and 22. From this starting point, most hikers can be at the top of Bukit Laksamana in about 2 hours.

Bagging information by Dan Quinn (December 2018)

Practicalities

Getting there Penang has an international airport making this one of the most accessible hikes described on Gunung Bagging.
Accommodation A vast array of options across the island.
Permits Not required but ideally go with a group rather than alone.
Water sources Available at the stream (720m) near Western Hill but best take plenty of bottled water with you.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall Average precipitation (rain/snow) in Penang, Malaysia

Location

2 thoughts on “Western Hill

  1. Northern Malaysia is a pretty good bet at this time of year (December) when much of Indonesia is very wet. That said, you’ll still probably see rain, but there’s less difference between wet and dry seasons here than compared to Java for example.

    I decided to do the traverse from Teluk Bahang to Penang Hill alone, as I had a flight to catch back to Jakarta at 1655. Started at around 7am (still almost dark) and slowly made my way through the forest. These paths are well-marked and easy to follow, but you are still likely to have a small number of obstacles such as recently fallen trees.

    Laksamana turned out to be the highlight, with good views from the summit sign, flag and cement marker. It was a bit showery but good nonetheless. It took me 2 and a half hours to make it this far. On Google Maps, it looks as though the highest point of Laksamana could be in forest on the Tropical Fruit Farm trail so anyone keen on being very sure of bagging the high-point of Laksamana might want to start there instead of Taman Rimba.

    I didn’t stop for snacks or anything – just continued down into the valley separating Laksamana from Western Hill. I was dreading this, with reports making it sound like a really tough section. Well, it’s certainly steep, with some slippery rocks and roped sections, but you be at the rain gauge at the col in about 30 minutes from Bukit Laksamana.

    I was back up on the other side, on the access road to Western Hill in about 4 hours total from Teluk Bahang. Quite pleased after reading reports of a full day being required. For the sane – perhaps. If you want to stop for food and things like that then yes it could take an extra hour or two.

    A motorcyclist sped past me, the rider looking a little surprised to see me emerging from the forest. Despite this being a weekend, I was probably the only hiker doing the traverse that day. I wandered up the access road for 5 minutes to the worryingly graphic warning signs. No chance of bagging Western Hill in daylight and pretty risky at any time given how seriously they take security of the installations up there.

    Another hour and I was on Penang Hill, being laughed at by normal tourists on the back of golf buggies being ferried from one end of the hill to another. They obviously had no idea I had trekked for 5 hours though the jungle – all they saw was a white guy covered in mud and sweat staggering along the road on Penang Hill!

    I had visited Penang Hill 5 years ago and had found what I took to be the highest point of Bukit Bendera – a small clearing with a mast. Nothing much. Anyway, it is much changed in 2018 with an elevated walkway. Didn’t bother to visit it but it would probably be great at sunset.

    I found a relatively secluded spot just off the road to changed my clothes inbetween the times when a golf buggy arrived with Malaysians getting off to take selfies at an old red postbox! The queues for the train back down to Air Itam were already building up so I paid the expensive RM45 for a fastlane ticket and was down in no time. Taxi from Air Itam was RM50 and then it was back to Jakarta….

    In all, the trek took me 5 and a bit hours, but sensible folk should allow 6-8 to include rests. But for those keen on trekking and then catching a flight out the same afternoon it is definitely possible as long as you get trekking no later than 7am.

  2. Just received the following comment from a keen American hiker who was up here.

    “I have been to Western Hill. There is a radar station on the close hill and a military base on the second one. It is hard to know how much of the original land is there since there was so much construction. I also couldn’t tell if I was in any off limits area since it was 2 am. Perhaps it is best done at that hour. The stray dogs were vicious on the way down, and the maps on my phone were wildly inaccurate for my attempted shortcuts. My coworkers thought I was insane.”

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