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Penang War Museum: Former British Military Fort Turned Museum With Tunnels & Barracks For History Buffs

Penang War Museum

The Penang War Museum is known for many things. Filled with so much history, the museum is recognised for its wartime artefacts, interactive experience, and haunted reputation as Bukit Hantu, which means ‘Ghost Hill’.

So, if you’re a history buff looking to explore a museum that has lots to offer, then pay a visit to the Penang War Museum.

Former British military fort turned museum

former british military fort
The communications center within the fort
Image credit: On Penang

Before the site became the Penang War Museum, a former British military fort – called Batu Maung Fort – stood in its stead. Built in the 1930s, the historical site bore a significant role during World War II.

The 320-degree panoramic view from the structure became an advantage in defending the Straits of Malacca during the Japanese occupation.

Initially, this strategy seemed well-off. Even so, it eventually failed due to several factors: underestimating Japanese forces, inadequate defense measures, tactical problems, and misaligned leadership.

The Japanese, on the other hand, succeeded with their strategy of attacking by land through the Malayan Peninsula, forcing the British army to retaliate. With poor adaptability, the Japanese won and fully invaded Penang by January 1942.

abandoned before it was restored
An empty aircraft pit and some of the tunnels for ammunition
Image credit: Ex Utopia

After the Japanese surrendered and POWs were liberated in 1945, the fort was abandoned for quite some time. However, due to its historical significance, restoration plans were set in motion to educate the public and serve as a tourist attraction.

a museum todayImage credit: Penang War Museum via Facebook

The Penang War Museum officially opened in 2002 after massive restoration work.

Today, the museum is one of the most sought after attractions in Penang due to its rich history and educational exhibits.

unexplored tunnel
An unexplored tunnel at the museum (inhabited by bats)
Image credit: Ex Utopia

Being a historical site surrounded by death and harsh treatment, it’s no surprise that Penang War Museum is considered as one of the most haunted places in Malaysia and in Asia.

Video credit: AmysCrypt via YouTube

Many believe that the ghosts of the tortured soldiers remain, lurking in the museum. Some also think that the ghost of Japanese executioner Tadashi Suzuki is present.

If you’re a thrill seeker who’s up for some ghost hunting on the side, then visiting this museum might be worth your while.

Wartime artefacts, underground tunnels & barracks

wartime artefacts
An anti-aircraft firing pit used by British soldiers and a bullet-riddled wall in one of the barracks
Image adapted from: myPenang, myPenang

Like your usual historical museums, this museum boasts a collection of authentic wartime artefacts such as weapons, uniforms, and military equipment that were used during the war.

guillotine stand
Remains of the guillotine stand that the Japanese used on the British soldiers
Image credit: myPenang

The guillotine stand was one of the ways that civilians and prisoners of war suffered under Japanese rule. POWs were forced into overcrowded prisons with insufficient food and no medical care. In addition to the harsh treatment, they had to do forced labor, which led to 12,000 of them falling to their deaths.

With its dark history, it’s believed that this particular spot is where most paranormal activity occurs.

Overall, these artefacts are a great way to learn about the history of Penang, colonial strategies, and how the Japanese invasion affected the Malays.

underground tunnels and barracks

Aside from the artefacts, some of the most popular aspects of the museum are the underground tunnels and soldier barracks. Used for military purposes, the tunnels lead to different parts of the fort, from ammunition storage to their communication area.

This gives visitors a chance to walk through various areas used during the war, including the soldiers’ living quarters.

climbing down tunnels
Image credit: Penang War Museum via Facebook

While you’re welcome to climb down the tunnels, it’s advisable to do it while guides are present for safety reasons.

take a photo in the tunnels
Image adapted from: Penang War Museum, Penang War Museum via Facebook

If it’s your first time crawling through the tunnel, feel free to take a fun photo or two.

Penang War Museum for history buffs

The Penang War Museum is a lot more than just an attraction. It offers an immersive way of learning and showcases interesting artefacts to learn more about Malaysia’s wartime past.

Whether you’re a local or tourist, the museum is definitely worth checking out when you visit the island of Penang.

Admission fee: RM22/adult & RM12/child for Malaysians | RM38/adult & RM20/child for standard tickets
Address: Penang War Museum, Jalan Batu Maung, 11960 Batu Maung, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 9am-6pm, Daily
Contact: 016-421 3606 | Penang War Museum’s Facebook | Instagram

For more things to do in Penang, check out our guide to Penang.

Cover image adapted from: Penang War Museum via Facebook, On Penang