Penang and Langkawi may have several similarities, they are both large tropical Malaysian islands in the Andaman sea, but they are really quite different. While Penang is largely industrialised and is the second richest state of Malaysia, Langkawi is a rural island with less than a tenth of the population of Penang.
However, one thing that both islands have in common is a hill with panoramic views of the island that can be reached by funicular or cable car. We visited both, and here’s what we thought.
Located a 30 minute drive from downtown George Town, the entrance to the Penang Hill complex is hard to miss. The queue is relatively straight forward, though there may be a DJ and loud music playing close by while you wait, which is somewhat annoying.
Upon arriving at the top of the hill form the train, you’ll come across a couple of restaurants, a few ice cream vendors and a few other stalls selling souvenirs. The best panoramic views are from the viewing platform which has a lift down a couple of levels to a quiet area where you can wander around catching glimpses of butterflies.
Back on the main level there is inexplicably an owl museum, and further up beyond the obligatory signpost showing distances to international cities, there are more steps and the colourful Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan hindu temple and views of much less populated parts of the island.
It is possible to walk in both up and down to the hilltop complex, though it may take a while. We did not try doing this ourselves.
The return ride with the funicular costs RM30 or RM60 for the fast lane.
Zab says…the super speedy funicular train made for a fun ride, though the views weren’t that impressive until you got to the top. I’d recommend going on a weekday morning, and ideally not during school holidays as it gets very busy.
Sam says…the tackiness and crowds at the top of the hill spoiled the experience a little, though the views over George Town are quite lovely. Skip the owl museum and climb the extra few steps up to the hindu temple and check out the views north and west from behind it instead.
In the north west of Langkawi island is the Panorama Langkawi complex, the base of which seems a bit like a small Disneyland. Once you find the place to buy tickets for the cable car (we had to ask for directions as it was not obvious upon arrival), you are lead through a long, winding queue system. For part of this, you’ll be ushered into the so-called Sky Dome to see a ten minute, 3D film of…something. We managed to persuade the queue attendants to let us skip this and go ahead so we didn’t see it.
Once in the cable car, you’ll be whisked up to the middle station from where you have a nice view over the south coast of the island.
You can then get back on the cable car and go the few extra hundred meters to the top station from where you have the option of paying an additional RM5 to go onto the Sky Bridge.
There are two viewing platforms with fantastic views over the mountains and Thai islands of Koh Tarutao and Koh Lipe to the north and west.
The return ride on the cable car costs RM35 and RM75 for the express lane.
Zab says…the whole thing was well organised and the views on the way up were great! I can see the whole structure passing the test of time, both from an aesthetic and structural point of view, as it is well integrated with the landscape.
Sam says…when you arrive, go straight to the ticket counter and try to skip the Sky Done. Don’t bother paying to go onto the Sky Bridge itself once you’re up there, just enjoy the views of it from the main viewing platform, which is higher up anyway.
Which did we like better?
We actually agreed on this! Panorama Langkawi.
Zab says…while I really liked the funicular train at Penang Hill, the overall experience at Panorama Langkawi was more relaxing and the views were much better. The atmosphere at the top was very relaxed and calm, and I felt I had time to really enjoy the views, whereas at Penang Hill, it was very commercialised and frankly a tourist trap.
Sam says…the architecture and ride up at the Langkawi Panorama were more beautiful and impressive and the whole experience much less tacky than at Penang Hill. The Langkawi Panorama was much less busy than Penang Hill, so overall, I enjoyed it more. I also found the surrounding landscapes much more dramatic and photogenic.