Long regarded as the food capital of Malaysia, Penang also entices visitors with its beautiful coasts and scrumptious cuisines.
The Betul Nut Tale: Before Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, was known to the world as a beautiful, exotic holiday destination, she was Pulau Pinang – a virgin paradise that got her name from the abundance of betel nut palms scattered across her soft, sandy beaches.
Literally translated, Pulau Pinang means the “Isle of the Betel Nut” in Malay – Malaysia's national language. Steeped in history, “Penang” was born when charismatic English captain Francis Light persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to cede Pulau Pinang to the British East India Company.
In 1786, Light landed on what is known as the scenic Esplanade today. Local folklore tells of how he fired gold coins into the surrounding jungle to induce his men to clear the area. Fourteen years later, the Sultan of Kedah further ceded a strip of land on the mainland across the channel to a very persuasive Light. The state of Penang then comprised of an island originally named Prince of Wales Island, after George V, and the strip on the mainland which was christened Province Wellesley, after the Governor of India. The former was later named George Town, after King George III.
In 1832, Penang formed part of the Straits Settlement with Malacca and Singapore. The Penang maritime port was among the busiest in the region, attracting rich merchants involved in the lucrative trade of tea, spices, porcelain and cloth. Settlers and fortune-seekers from the all over called Penang home and it was from this interesting mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Siamese (to name a few) cultures that Penang became a melting pot for hybrid communities – the most famous being the Baba Nyonya, Jawi Peranakan and Eurasians.
For more than a century, the major trading post remained under British colonial rule until 1957, when Malaysia gained independence. George Town was accorded city status by Queen Elizabeth II on January 1, 1957, thereby becoming the first town in the Federation of Malay – after Singapore – to become a city.
Although she is Malaysia's electric and electronic manufacturing hub, Penang has successfully retained her old world charm. As recognition of her rich heritage, George Town, together with Malacca, was listed as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008.
What to do in Penang
In Penang , the journey never ends and the excitement never stops. There is so much to do here, we'd recommend at least a two-week stay to really experience the culture and all that this beautiful paradise has to offer. Live like a local and see what laid back Penangites love to indulge in - travel in trishaws and shop at the many quaint night markets. Be adventurous and explore! Though there are definitely more than 10 interesting things to do in Penang, here's our Top 10 picks of “must-dos” when visiting the Pearl of the Orient.
Here is the list of most famous spots in Penang
- Batu Ferringhi
- Tanjung Bungah
- Gurney Drive
- George Town
- Bayan Lepas
- Seberang Perai
The Streets of George Town
Experience the unique charms of Straits eclectic architecture and sights from our colonial past that has earned George Town a place in Unesco’s heritage site listing. Here, every clanhouse and building represents a page of Penang’s colourful history and every street corner has a tale to tell.
Better still, join the guided walking tours organised by Penang Heritage Trust (from RM50/person) or do with ‘green wheels’ – via a bicycle or trishaw package tour by Metro Bike www.metrobike.com.my (from RM88/person).
Penang famous hawker fare
Penangites love to eat – that is a fact. And as the saying goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do! Penang street food encompasses Chinese, Malay and Indian “fast food” all served in a matter of minutes! Eating by the roadside stalls and coffee shops is an experience second to none as you watch locals of all races indulge in their favourite past time – food!
At 821m above sea level, Penang Hill visitors will be privy to some of the grandest colonial mansions (which are now restaurants and guests houses) while enjoying the cool, refreshing air and panoramic views of the island. Take a short 30-minute cable car ride up Penang Hill from the funicular station in Air Itam or trek up the hill via the Botanic Gardens – a three-hour hike through lush foliage of the rainforest.
Places of worship
Grand churches, elaborate Buddhist and Indian temples and magnificent mosques are all part and parcel of the local culture. Be it the St George’s Church (built in 1816), Kapitan Keling Mosque, Kek Lok Si Temple, Snake Temple (yes, there are live snakes inside!) or Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the different races often converge at these places of worship to practice their faith and it is indeed, a sight to be hold.
National Park (Muka Head)
While Penang’s National Park in Pantai Acheh may be the smallest in the country, it is by no means less impressive. Eco-attractions like the pristine Pantai Kerachut beach and meromictic lake (a body of sea water and fresh water that do not mix) provide the perfect spot for picnics and fishing, swimming and trekking. Boat rides can also be arranged or those who want to visit the nearby islands. Also, do look out for the old lighthouse which was built in 1883 – it is still operational and visitors are welcome!
The Weld Quay Clan Jetties
The clan jetties perched on the backwaters of George Town are home to five main Chinese clans – Lim, Chew, Tan, Lee and Yeoh. Today, the young ones, who no longer depend on the sea for a living, have moved out of the settlement while their elders continue to enjoy the wooden jetties’ laidback lifestyle. These humble, rickety jetties are a living heritage that serves as a reminder of the island’s stature as an important maritime port and the pioneer Chinese immigrants who came to seek their fortune here more than a century ago.
Flea markets, pasar malam and modern shopping malls
From the Lorong Kulit and Rope Walk flea markets to the Campbell Street, and Little India traditional shopping areas and modern shopping malls like Gurney Plaza and Queensbay (just to name a few), Penang is a shopper’s paradise. Even if shopping is not your thing, do spare a few hours browsing (especially at the local antique shops and handicraft centres) because it’ll be worth your while! Bargaining is a skill that is best honed in Penang where the traders are quite a friendly lot.
Batu Ferringhi Beach
With its sandy shores and vast open sea, Batu Ferringhi offers an amazing respite from the hustle and bustle of town. Check into any one of the resorts in Batu Ferringhi Beach that line the stretch and spend your afternoon soaking in the soothing sound of lapping waves and bright sunny rays of this tropical paradise. At night, the popular tourist belt comes to life as traders hawk their wares while eateries bring out their best menus to satiate even the most discerning of palates. The Batu Ferringhi night market offers some eye-catching knick-knacks including wood carvings, silver jewellery, crockery and display items.
Upper Penang Road and Chulia Street
For those who love to drink and party, the Upper Penang Road party hotspot in George Town comes alive when the sun descends on the horizon. Here, you will find pubs, karaoke lounges and clubs with live bands where the drinks keep flowing and the beat keeps thumping! At nearby Chulia Street, backpackers chill and bond in little budget motels, coffee shops and watering holes that serve relatively cheap(er) beer and drinks.
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.
Information and image courtesy of www.tourismpenang.net.my