Visiting Penang War Museum with Kids

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Visiting Penang War Museum with KidsVisiting Penang War Museum with Kids

Ghosts, bombs and paintball — welcome to the Penang War Museum. Near the southern tip of Penang Island is where you’ll find this scruffy, fairly recent attraction. I’ll use the term “museum” here loosely. It’s more of a historic site: a once-abandoned WWII fortress that’s had 60 years of neglect and jungle cleared away.

Rough as that may sound, if you’re in Penang with kids and want to show them a slice of the island’s history, this might be a place you want to consider. The views on this place are mixed, but we found value in our visit. My recommendation comes with a few caveats, which will become clear below.

Visiting Penang War Museum with KidsForgotten in the Jungle

After the war for over half a century, the locals left this place to rot in the jungle. Many consider it to be haunted. You see, this spot was an Allies fortification in World War II, guarded by British, Malay and Sikh soldiers. When the island fell to the Japanese, the barracks became a prison for those who once guarded it. Many were tortured and killed here. To add to the locations inhospitableness, there are still mines and leftover ordinance on the property.

Visiting Penang War Museum with Kids

Reborn as historical site

Some enterprising local guy cleared the area of brush and unexploded ordinance and turned the old fortress/POW camp into a historical site. He makes his money here in other ways, too, with paintball and “haunted house” attractions after dark. I can imagine how spooky this area would be in the wee hours. There are empty barracks and kitchens (above). Also, there are a few gruesome images placed here and there of what a few of the Japanese soldiers did to some of the inmates (I shielded the kids’ eyes). Information is in English, Malay and Japanese.

Visiting Penang War Museum with KidsVisiting Penang War Museum with KidsThere are all sorts of old guns and bombs around, some real (and disarmed), some recreated, such as that dynamite vest you see our boy wearing on the left. The big anti-aircraft cannons had beehives inside them now. There are also lots of underground bunkers, hidden tunnels and ventilation shafts to crawl through. I’d bring a flashlight if I were you, and definitely some bug spray, as the place had lots of mosquitoes on the day we went.

Not the easiest to access

This is not the easiest place to reach without your own car. Sure, there are several routes by bus. Unfortunately, they drop you off at the base of the road and you have at least a 20-minute uphill walk to get to the entrance (the fortress is at the top of a hill). Our friends at Sailing Totem tried the bus route and it took them far longer than they expected.

I recommend visiting this place if you’re in Penang, but only for those with an interest in World War II or history in general. We are not war buffs really, but our kids still identify as Japanese. They have Japanese ancestry and were raised in Tokyo, so Keiko and I feel that it is important to expose them to places like this.

If you have a smart device but no car, I’d advise using the Grab (MyTeksi) app. This lets you contact cab drivers, who will bid on picking you up. We’ve had a good experience using it. Just make sure that you call them (the app provides their cellphone number) beforehand and confirm details such as time and location. The price is set, so no negotiation needed.