A fascinating fusion of the East and West, Penang embraces modernity while retaining its traditions and old world charm. These are reflected in its harmonious multiracial populace and well-preserved heritage buildings which led to George Town being accorded a listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site recently.
Long regarded as the food capital of Malaysia, Penang also entices visitors with its beautiful coasts and scrumptious cuisines.
Penang (Pulau Pinang in Malay) is located on the north-western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It comprises the Penang island and a strip on the mainland named Province Wellesley (Seberang Perai) which are linked by the Penang Bridge, the third longest in the world.
Captain Francis Light in 1786 acquired the island of Penang from the local sultan in exchange for protection. He later established a town and named it “Georgetown” after King George IV of England.
The Island measures a modest 285 sq. km. and is inhabited by slightly over a million people who hail from a diverse mix of cultures and religions.
It owes much of its fame to its fine beaches which are ideal for all types of water sports. Along its beaches, resorts of international standards have sprouted up offering full facilities for rest and recreation.
Blessed with such a great variety of food that it is often said that Penangites don’t eat to live; they live to eat. Hawkers stalls offering diverse selection of local fare are in abundance everywhere you go. Nasi Kandar, Satay (skewered marinated meat pieces), Laksa (noodles in spicy sour soup), Hainanese Chicken Rice, Popiah and Rojak are just some of Penang’s sumptuous treats you can’t afford to miss.
Penang, like the rest of Malaysia, has an equatorial climate. This means temperatures of between about 22°C/72°F (night) and 30°C/86°F (day), between 70% and 90% humidity, and an annual total rainfall of about 2400mm. The driest months are usually January and February. The wettest period is usually from September to November with August also being quite wet; frequent thunderstorms can be expected in these months.
Georgetown — the capital of Penang; a favorite spot for tourists as it has many attractive pre-Second World War houses and shophouses, as well as 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (it was inscribed as one of the Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca together with the city of Melaka).
Batu Ferringhi — on the north coast with white sandy beaches, luxurious hotels & restaurants, a favorite spot for both locals & tourists
Bayan Lepas — Penang’s main electronic manufacturing area and location of its international airport. Georgetown’s satellite town.
Balik Pulau — literally “Back of The Island” in Malay; a small town nestled among Malay villages, fruit orchards, and padi fields.
Teluk Bahang — a quiet little fishing village at the northwestern tip of the island
Tanjung Bungah — situated between Georgetown & Batu Ferringhi, used to be a fishing village but now is a resort area with large hotels built along the beach.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN PENANG ISLAND
Kek Lok Si Temple
Built in 1890 on a hill slope, it is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.
It consists of a maze of gardens, courts and passages and the seven tier “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas“.
The 30 metre pagoda is a mixture of Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture. The octagonal base is Chinese, the middle tier is Thai and the spiral dome Burmese. Furthermore, a mini-funicular train (RM4) connects to the summit of the hill featuring a giant 36.5m high statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
Georgetown, the capital of Penang, is a beautiful city that blends the old and the new. It has its own Chinatown and Little India. The architecture of the city manifests its cultural diversity and is an amalgam of British, Thai, Burmese, and Chinese architecture.
Penang has many hill stations such as the Western Hill, Tiger Hill and Strawberry Hill that offer breathtaking panoramic views of Georgetown. The dusk view from Flagstaff Hill is an unforgettable experience. A vigorous walk along the delightful trails and a funicular ride on the train are other interesting things to do here.
The “Pure Cloud Temple”, popularly known as snake temple due to the large number of snakes that stay here. Venomous pit vipers and other poisonous snake coil harmlessly around the altars, incenses, nooks and corners of the temple.
This brick-and-mortar fort was first built using bakau wood in 1786 by the British under Captain Francis Light at the site where they first landed. The fort was upgraded in 1793 to its current state. Located by the sea at the Esplanade (Padang Kota Lama in Malay), the fort has a small lighthouse, a chapel, and a gunpowder bunker within its walls. Several old cannons (including one that is believed by some locals to have magical ‘fertility’ powers) can still be found at the fort. There are also small displays of artefacts recovered from archaeological digs inside the fort. This well-preserved historical site is open to the public from 9AM to 6:30PM on Mondays to Saturdays. Admission costs RM3.00 (adult) and RM1.00 (children).
Next to Fort Cornwallis is the Esplanade, a popular waterfront promenade which stretches from the hawker stalls at one end to the clock tower at the other. Central in the Esplanade is the Padang, a huge square of town green. Standing proudly beside is the City Hall, a stately colonial building which is a fine example of British palladian architecture featuring magnificent Corinthian columns and huge windows. It was once the seat of local government.
This tropical butterfly farm in Teluk Bahang is so famous that it was visited by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife when they came to Penang for a private holiday in 2008. A live museum with winged beauties fluttering about as well as a breeding research centre, the farm is an eco-tourism gem indeed.
Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple
The Buddhist temple with Thai architectural style features a fabulous gold-plated reclining Buddha, the third largest in the world and the niches behind the statue house urns containing the ashes of devotees.
Erected in 1897, this tower marks the historic center of Georgetown, and was erected, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The bridge is known to be the longest in Asia and third longest in the world. It connects Penang Island with the Peninsular mainland.
Sri Mariamman Temple
The Hindu temple has fabulous sculptures of gods and goddesses over its entrance and on its façade and highly ornate interior with a priceless statue of Lord Subramaniam embellished with gold, silver, diamonds and emeralds.
Penang Bird Park
The Bird Park houses 200 species of birds from around the world and be viewed from specially designed aviaries.Man-made islands with landscaped gardens and ornamented plants decorates the park.
Beaches of Penang
Penang is known for its wonderful beaches. Some of the most popular beaches in Penang are Tanjung Bunga, Batu Ferringhi, and Teluk Bahang.
One of Penang’s most popular destinations (in fact, it’s the second most popular destination after George Town), Batu Ferringhi consists of a long stretch of soft, white sandy beach along a winding road named Jalan Batu Ferringhi, filled with a host of accommodation and dining options. Its night market is quite legendary, while its waters are popular spots for a range of water sports activities such as parasailing and windsurfing.
Taking its name from the Portuguese word for ‘Foreigners’ Rock’, Batu Ferringhi’s appeal remains unchanged throughout the years, continuing to draw in huge crowds without fail each year.
This enclave boasts a rich living history that spans over two centuries. Popular with heritage enthusiasts, international conservationists, tourists and locals, Little India features a thriving and vibrant collection of historic attractions, places of worship, shops, restaurants, florists, barbers, astrologers, millers, money changers, fruit sellers and herb dealers.
Penang Museum and Art Gallery, Lebuh Farquhar
Located at Lebuh Farquhar, the Penang Museum and Art Gallery is one of the most popular attractions in Malaysia. The building which houses the museum was built in 1821 and was formerly the Penang Free School. It showcases old photographs, maps, charts, historical relics, paintings of early Penang, all of which provide an insight to Penang’s history.
Opens: 9:00am to 5:00pm daily except Fridays
Admission: RM1 for adults 50 sen for children
Tel: +6 04 263 1942
Shopping in Penang is great fun. There are number of shopping avenues from modern air-conditioned complexes to quaint old shops where you can get rare antiques and collectibles. Colourful open-air bazaars, and the night markets or pasar malam are a must visit at Penang.
The main shopping areas are concentrated in Julan Penang, Lebuh Campbell, Lebuh Kapitan Kling, Lebuh Chulia, and Lebuh Panti.
Penang is an antique lover’s paradise. Here, one can find a myriad collection of goods ranging from exotic curios, jewellery, souvenirs, clothing, fabric like batik, pewters, vases, ashtrays, baskets, mats, and other handicrafts to the latest electronic gadgets.
THINGS TO DO IN PENANG
• Take a walking tour of historic downtown Georgetown.
• Visit the Penang Museum.
• Take the ferry across to the mainland.
• Visit the Snake Temple.
• Take the Tramway up Penang Hill.
• Hit the Beach!
• Visit the Tourist Belt Resorts and Hotels.
• Hike up Penang Hill.
• Take the Island Round Trip.
• Butterfly Farm.
• The Gurney Drive Stroll.
• Visit Kek Lok Si (Temple of Supreme Bliss).
• Visit the Forestry Reserve.
• Visit the Botanic Gardens.
• Penang Bird Park.
• Batik Factory.
• Trip to Langkawi Island.
• Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Siamese Temple.
• Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple.
• Take a Trishaw Ride.
• Eat Penang Road Ice Kacang.
• Tour the Tourist Belt Night Market.
• Enjoy the View from Komtar.
• Shopping for Penang Pewter.
• Sample the fruits at the Tropical Fruit Farm.
• Visit the Tropical Spice Garden.
By Air: Penang is easily accessible by air with daily flights from major capitals of the region. It is directly connected with Singapore, Bangkok, Hadyai, Phuket, Maden, Xiamen, and Chennai, operated by Malaysian Airlines. The Bayan Lepas International Airport is located about 20 km from the city center.
By Road: The opening of the Penang Bridge linking Penang Island to the Peninsular mainland has facilitated driving to Penang.
By Rail: You can take a train from Butter worth to Kuala Lumpur and from Butter worth you can take a ferry to Penang.
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