Penang Hill’s abandoned Crag Hotel

Crumbling, decaying away, or weathered over time – every abandoned building has its own story to tell. Undoubtedly intriguing, remains of old peculiar buildings are pieces of living history that can connect people to the past.

Perched atop Penang Hill are the remnants of Crag Hotel. Often shrouded by mist, the derelict hotel sits on an isolated part of the hill with little signs of its former glory. Even so, there is something eerily beautiful about the ruin, with a ghostly touch enough to fascinate people.

In this article, we take you through the Crag Hotel’s history and plans for redevelopments.

Ruins of a hotel with a long history

Crag Hotel - in forest
Image credit: @raymundyeoh

Beneath all the dust, The Crag Hotel has its fair share of stories. During the mid-1880s, a Scotsman and an employee of the East India Company Captain John W Kerr – built a bungalow on Penang Hill.

He named his grand residence The Crag.

Later on, four Armenian businessmen purchased The Crag bungalow to develop it into a hotel. Famously known as the Sarkies Brothers, they were the masterminds behind several established hotels throughout Southeast Asia, namely Eastern & Oriental Hotel (E&O) in Penang, Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and the Hotel Oranje in Indonesia.

Crag Hotel - old hotelImage credit: Wikimedia Commons

Crag Hotel was opened to guests in 1894, and operated for some time until the Japanese army took over the building during World War II.

Following the war, the building sat unoccupied for a decade. It was finally leased and converted into the International School of Penang, formerly known as Uplands School. The school opened in 1955, and was a primary boarding school with students and teachers living on its grounds.

Crag Hotel - uplands
Image adapted from: Penang Hill

In its heyday, the school functioned as a safe isolated space for parents to send their kids to during the Malayan Emergency, and was even visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1972.

However, Uplands School moved to a new home in 1977 and the former hotel site was left abandoned again.

Crag Hotel - abandoned
Image credit: @engsh8

Perfect, eerie backdrop for dramas

As with many old dilapidated structures, there have been whispers about the apparent hauntings of the hotel.

Crag Hotel - isolatedImage credit: @tik_tok

Rumours have it that a school girl had tragically ended her life in the building, with students claiming to have seen her ghost lingering around. Some curious adventure-seekers here insisted to have experienced supernatural incidences upon venturing the site too – though none of these tales have substantial evidence to suggest that they were true. 

Nevertheless, these spooky rumours have only added to the enigmatic personality of the abandoned hotel, piquing the public’s curiosity in the historic building’s remains.

Crag Hotel - corridor
Image credit: @tik_tok

Many filmmakers also saw a haunting beauty in the building’s remains. It was scouted as a location for Academy award-winning French film Indochine, which was released in 1992. Crag Hotel was featured as the opulent home of actress Catherine Deneuve’s character.

Crag Hotel - Indochine
Image credit: Sài Gòn Vi Vu

In 2015, Crag Hotel was again featured in another production, a 2015 BBC British colonial series called Indian Summers which starred Julie Walters and Nikesh Patel. The hotel was featured as the fictional Royal Simla Club in the series, with filmmakers calling the abandoned hotel an ideal “eerie but perfect” backdrop.

Crag Hotel - Indian SummersImage credit: Thirteen

For the first time in years, the main buildings of the Crag Hotel underwent some renovations, to suit the series’ filming direction. Still, certain parts of the hotel that were not needed for the series remained untouched, and is now on the verge of collapsing.

Crag Hotel - RSCImage credit: @tik_tok

Despite its mysterious allure, the abandoned Crag Hotel remains largely obscure to most travellers. Depending on who you ask, this place is avoided by many due to the creepy exterior of the ruins, the building’s weakened structure, and the presence of stray dogs in the area.

Crag Hotel - collaspingImage credit: @tik_tok

Plans to redevelop Crag Hotel

Over the decades, there have been various plans drafted to spruce up the disused Crag Hotel. 

It was reported in 2011 that the hotel was to be revamped into the first Aman Resorts luxury hotel in Malaysia, and the 24th in the world. The resort would house 20 villas, health and spa facilities, restaurants, poolsides, and a lounge bar.

However, there have been no progress from the reported redevelopment plan.

Crag Hotel - view
Image credit: @Michael Toussiant

Another restoration plan was announced in 2016 for the few colonial bungalows perched atop Penang Hill, including Crag Hotel, under the Penang Hill Special Area Plan (SAP). Aiming to elevate Penang’s status as a unique tourism destination, the hotel was to be reupholstered into a spa and therapeutic centre.

Nothing came out of this plan either. A revised SAP 2020 was eventually announced to convert Crag Hotel and the surrounding old bungalows on Penang Hill into boutique hotels and restaurants.

But this too remains under discussion, due to concerns regarding the hotel’s hard-to-access location on the hill and complex paperworks.

Crag Hotel - renovatedImage credit: @tik_tok

Ruins of a forgotten heritage building on Penang Hill

It is a pity to see a once regal hotel falling into shambles over time. With ambitious redevelopment plans constantly falling through, Crag Hotel stays untouched and slowly consumed by vegetation.

History may take its twists and turns along the years but for some buildings like the Crag Hotel, time seems to have come to a standstill, and only an outer shell of what used to be remains.

More abandoned and forgotten places in Malaysia here:

Cover image adapted from: @tik_tok, @jnynl & @tik_tok

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