Introducing Penang

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An island off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia, Penang is blessed with a multicultural history that's led to a fascinating fusion of East and West. Claimed by the British East India Company in 1786, the island's city center of Georgetown—listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is filled with colonial architecture, temples, and museums. The island has also attracted many Chinese immigrants, who now make up the majority of the population. On Penang you'll find an exciting mix of jungle, coast, farmland, and fishing villages, along with the country's largest Buddhist temple.

Nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is famous for its soft sandy beaches and is fondly regarded as the food capital of Malaysia. Some of the most interesting sites of Penang include the sandy beaches of Tanjung Bungah, the landscape from the summit of Penang Hill and the vipers in the Snake Temple. The quaint nooks and crannies of Georgetown and the Tropical Spice Garden – the only spice garden in South East Asia – as well as Penang’s many flea markets, pasar malams’, KOMTAR and modern shopping malls also merit a visit.

Way up the west coast, 370km from KL and 170km from the Thai border, PENANG is a confusing amalgam of state and island. Mainland roads and the rail line converge at unattractive Butterworth, jumping-off point for the brief ferry ride over to Pulau Pinang, Britain’s first toehold on the Malay Peninsula. The island’s lively “capital”, Georgetown, sports a fascinating blend of colonial, Indian, Malay and – especially – immigrant Chinese culture. Along with Melaka and Singapore, Georgetown is also considered a centre for Peranakan heritage, the Chinese-Malay melange frequently known as “Straits Chinese” or “Baba-Nyonya”, though – aside from some food and a splendid mansion – there’s little evidence of this. What does survive, however, are spectacular Chinese temples and guildhalls, built by merchants and clan societies to display their wealth, alongside a whole central quarter of shophouses, many being thoughtfully restored after they helped the city become a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Georgetown is likely to be your base on Pulau Pinang, and three days would be enough to cover its main sights. A day or two extra spent touring the rest of the island – all 285 square kilometres of it – will turn up minor beach resorts, a coastal national park where you might see nesting turtles, a couple of unusual temples, plus plenty of renowned food stalls.

If you’re headed towards Thailand, you can catch direct ferries from Pulau Pinang to Langkawi, and change there for cross-border boats to Satun.

Read more Penang travel guide at here.

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