Just an hour and 40 minutes by plane from Bangkok is Penang, also known as the pearl of the orient, it is one of the most touristic locations of Malaysia. Penang Island is one of the main components of Penang State. The island’s alluring charms and unique attributes alongside its multi-faceted cultures make it the perfect destination for all kinds of tourists from all over the world; from couples, to lone riders, to abundant families and friends. About 700.000 people inhabit Penang Island, of which 59% are Chinese, 32% are Malay, 7% are Indian and 2% are of other origins. This notable diversity within the citizens of the state resonates throughout the culture and ambiance that flourishes in every aspect of this oriental pearl that once again opens up its gates wide to the West once again.
The beautiful state of Penang is located at the intersection of Asia’s great kingdoms and Europe’s most powerful colonial empires throughout history. The island is approximately 285 square kilometers in size and is situated exactly on the northwest side of exotic Peninsular Malaysia. Penang has long served as the sole link between Asia’s two halves and as an extremely important outlet to the markets of Europe and the Middle East.
Penang embraces modernity while never forgetting to retain its traditions and old world charm creating a fascinating fusion of East and West. These are once again, strongly reflected in its harmonious multiracial populace and well-preserved heritage buildings. The easy going lifestyle of Penang is a result of the melting pot of cultures, religions and food. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town in particular, is a total fusion of Chinese, Malay, Indian and other races, evidence of which is apparent everywhere, from its fusion cuisine to the blend in architectural styles.
Penang offers activities of all sorts, and for everyone; from hanging around at the beach to walks alongside irreplaceable sights on the island. The fascinating culture is complemented by golden sun kissed beaches and serene deep blue seas. Penang’s abundant tropical atmosphere, and its palm-fringed beaches and unconventional fishing villages; its mountainous jungles and farms that are growing exotic produce such as nutmeg and durian are the icing to this very delicious cake. One would have to search really far and wide to find an island blessed with as many natural attractions as Penang; a truly tropical paradise that offers something for everyone, from historical tours to re-encounter the past and nature park enthusiasts to those just wanting to relax and disconnect on a warm, sandy, sun-drenched beach. The island offers numerous hotels and resorts that range from luxurious decadency such as the famous Eastern & Oriental Hotel to local bed and breakfast charm for a budget fit to the average traveler. Most of the accommodation options are located in and around the city of George Town and around the towns of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah, well connected beautiful places, that one enjoys to simply stroll around in them.
Another one of Penang’s heartwarming and palette pleasing appeals is its famous fusion gastronomy. Penang is especially known as the best place to enjoy wonderful local dishes; and it is rightfully seen as Malaysia’s food capital enticing travelers from all over the world not only with the alluring force of its marvelous beaches and historical impetus but also with its scrumptious, one-of-a-kind native delicacies.
Assam Laksa is one of the very famous Penang dishes. It is a spicy noodle soup with sour undertones that are ravishing to the taste buds; it is a poached mackerel that stews in the broth with tamarind, chilies, lemongrass and shrimp paste topped with a generous amount of rice vermicelli. Another famous must-try dish is Mee Goreng, thin yellow noodles fried with onions, garlic, shallots, and an option of either prawns or chicken, chili, cabbage, egg, and special pickles that give it an out of this world taste. Although this dish was once Chinese Chow Mein, it has evolved to an essential Malay dish that one cannot overlook while in Penang. The list of noodle dishes is endless. Nasi Lemak is a famous rice dish with lots of little side dishes to accompany the main substance; the rice which is cooked in coconut milk and placed on a banana leaf so the aroma of it penetrates the grains of rice. Roti Canai is a dish which descends from Indian cuisine; a flat bread which tends to have different shapes and which has a side dish of delicious curry sauce to dip in. The Roti, or flat bread is also known to be a sweet dish, enjoyed by the younger generation with sugar or a sweet syrup.
If there’s a more compact, convenient and exhilarating microcosm of the exotic east than Penang, our ears are open to the news since it is believed that there aren’t two like Penang. Such a wonderful place is yet to be found. Penang is irreplaceable, unlike anything on the face of this earth and definitely bucket list worth.
The history behind the island of Penang, has resulted in a culture and a way of living that is one of Malaysia’s most diverse, cosmopolitan and exciting for curious tourists from all over the world who are hungry to explore one of a kind places to gain inspiration, knowledge and a fresh approach to life. Its fascinating eventful history resonates in the diversity of the friendly inhabitants, clearly indicating the richness in culture and traditions. The culmination of it all is undoubtedly George Town, Penang’s main city and capital, it is an urban center that delivers the old-world Asia in spades; think of auto rickshaws pedaling past antique Chinese shop houses and the smell of spices and incense lightly perfuming the heavy tropical air with a captivating aroma.
Penang is one of the most industrialized states in Malaysia, however, its capital George Town has still wisely managed to retain much of its old world charms. George Town was the first town in the then Malaya to receive city status, by a royal charter approved by Queen Elizabeth II, just before the country finally achieved independence. For that reason, you often hear it being called the City of George Town, especially among the locals. George Town is located on a cape to the northeast of the island. The very tip of the cape is the site of the earliest British settlement, when the island was opened as the first British trading port at the end of the 18th century. Today a lasting reminder of British occupation stands there in the form of Fort Cornwallis, one of the must-sees in the island.
History shapes this state so much, that even the name “Penang” itself comes from the colonial days while under the British Empire until 1957. The pronunciation of the original Malay name of the island would be Pulau Pinang, but this name has almost been erased and it no longer applies since today even the locals still call it Penang while speaking in English.
The area within a radius of about a mile from Fort Cornwallis forms the famous old quarters of George Town, what today can be seen as the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area holds some of the oldest and most historically significant structures on Penang Island. In this zone one can find whitewashed colonial buildings alongside gleaming temples, exotic mosques, old churches, intricate alleys that will please wanderers and all the popular sites that most tourists come to visit during their stay.
Penang is a must-see destination. Its rich colonial history, its iconic cosmopolitan diversity, the tropical white sandy beaches with green palm trees, the chopstick licking spoon defeating cuisine, and the architectural decadence are a combination that make Penang an unforgettable visit. The place is a seething metropolis of cultural fusions. Penang is bustling with excitement, clean, laid back and for everyone who hasn’t visited yet; a diamond in the rough.