I've visited Penang twice and intended trying both ways of getting up the hill.
First time I was on my own and fancied some exercise so I tried walking up the hill via the road that starts next to the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. This is not a walk for the faint-hearted, climbing 800m in about 5k means the average grade is about 1 in 6, and in places it's so steep you walk faster than the numerous mountain bikers are pedalling beside you. However, most of the road is sheltered by trees, which although it means you don't get a view other than the one from the top, you don't roast in the sun.
Once at the top, the view is great over the city and across to the mainland. There are various food outlets serving basic but tasty local grub, but beware there's no a/c in most if you've sweated your way up the hill on foot.
The other way is the train, which I wanted to try with the kids on our second visit. Unfortunately this was the Sunday of Malaysia Day weekend, and the queue at the bottom was horrendous so we gave up. My observation from the two visits is that the train should ideally run more frequently; it seems to be only once every 20 minutes or so, which is not enough to cope when demand is high, but it looks like a fun ride if you choose an off-peak time.
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