PENANG

The state of Penang on Malaysia’s north-west coast lies at the crossroad of Asia’s major civilizations and has sparked visitors’ imaginations for centuries. From awe-inspiring architecture, non-stop shopping, and mouth-watering cuisine, Penang is an authentic taste of the real Asia, where laid-back charm is woven into a tapestry of culture, heritage and natural beauty.
A perfect blend of East and West, Penang has accepted modernity gracefully while maintaining the heritage and tradition. This wonderful state in Malaysia is situated on the northwest coast of the Malaysian Peninsula and is one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. Penang is the second smallest state in the country with the capital of the state being George Town.
Penang has it all: rich history, fun beaches, beautiful resorts, diverse culture and delicious food. Every year, thousands of visitors come here to experience the unique cultural heritage and scenery. It is also a very cosmopolitan city, perhaps the second busiest in the country after Kuala Lumpur.
The island occupies an area of 285 square kilometres. The state also encompasses Province Wellesley (Seberang Perai), a strip on the mainland. The island is separated from the mainland by a channel three kilometres wide at the narrowest point. The Penang Bridge (13.5km) – completed in August 1985, Penang Second Bridge (24km) – completed in March 2014 as well as Ferry services link the island to the mainland.

HISTORY

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.

WHERE TO GO ?

Batu Ferringhi Beach

Batu Ferringhi, situated along the coastal road north-west of Georgetown and lined with a string of international- standard resorts, is the most popular beach in Penang. Soak in the sun or unwind on the beach while you enjoy a host of aquatic thrills from wind-surfing to canoeing. For a spine-tingling adventure, try parasailing to enjoy the view of the beach from the sky. As the sun sets, Batu Ferringhi comes alive with a carnival-like atmosphere with an open-air bazaar selling anything from ornate curios to enticing souvenir items. Watch local artisans demonstrate the intricate art of craft-making and batik- painting. Dubbed the Feringghi Walk, the bazaar offers shoppers a host of attractions.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Built in the 1880s, this famous indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in Georgetown was the residence of Cheong Fatt Tze, a prominent Chinese figure in the newly established Penang Straits Settlement during the 19th century. The mansion was built by master craftsmen brought in especially from China, who used their skills to fashion the mansion with 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. Rescued from the perils of development in the 1990s by a small group of Heritage preservationists led by Laurence Loh, the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion possesses splendid Chinese timber carvings, Gothic louvre windows, russet brick walls and porcelain cut & paste decorative shard works, art nouveau stained glass panels, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles and Scottish cast iron work.Its layout is based on feng-shui principles, and filled with rare a collection of sculptures, carvings, tapestries and other antiques. In 2000, the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion received the inaugural Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award, selected as the ‘Most Excellent Project’ in the Asia Pacific Rim following its RM7.6 milllion restoration works.

Kek Lok Si

Also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, and arguably one of the most famous in Penang. Located in Air Itam, the hills in that area (called “He San” or Crane Hill) have traditionally been regarded as geomantically significant, having all the right “feng shui” for a temple. In fact, they are extremely popular as a retreat for monks and Taoists striving for immortality. The temple’s construction began in 1893, inspired by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple at Pitt Street. The Manchu Emperor Guangxu approved of the project, bestowing a tablet and gift of 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras. Other Chinese rulers, such as His Majesty Emperor Kuang Xi and Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty, have been sufficiently impressed with the temple so as to have bestowed the temple with gifts. The best time to visit Kek Lok Si is during the Chinese New Year celebrations, when the temple is adorned with thousands of bright hanging lanterns. At other times, there is still much to see, with prayer halls, pagodas, bell towers and a tortoise pond topping the list. Its main draw is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas), completed in 1930. Boasting 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, its design symbolises the harmony between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, marrying a Chinese octagonal base with a middle tier of Thai design, topped by a Burmese crown. One can climb to the top of the pagoda via a steep flight of stairs and be rewarded with a great view of Penang. The 30.2m bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is yet another popular highlight

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis, named after the Governor-General in Bengal in the late 1700s, Charles Cornwallis, is one of the most interesting historical landmarks in Georgetown. It is located close to the Esplanade, next to the Victoria Memorial Clock. The fort’s walls, roughly 10 feet high, are laid out in a star-shape formation. A stroll along the perimeters takes roughly 10 minutes. Inside the fort, you can still see some of the original structures built over a century ago, including a chapel, prison cells, ammunitions storage area, a harbour light once used to signal incoming ships, the original flagstaff and several old bronze cannons, one of which is a Dutch cannon called the Seri Rambai, dated 1603. An interesting note about the Seri Rambai is that some locals believe that this particular cannon can have a positive effect on a woman’s fertility.

Gurney Drive

If Penang is the food capital of Malaysia, Gurney Drive is arguably the best of Penang on a plate. The popular seafront promenade exemplifies the colours and atmosphere of Penang – fun, lively and vibrant. Also known by its Malay name, “Persiaran Gurney”, Gurney Drive offers delightful street and high-end cuisine. Food courts and open-air hawker stalls pepper the seaside stretch, offering gastronomic delights well into the night. Local favourites such as Penang Laksa, Bak Kuk Teh (a herbal stew of pork ribs and meat), Oh Chien (fried oyster omelette), grilled squid, and nasi lemak make for mouth-watering meals. The New Gurney Drive Food Court has both a halal and non-halal section, and is open from 6pm. If you’re craving for something other than hawker food, try the piping hot dim sum at the Corner Club Restaurant. For weight watchers, the 24-hour Mr. Pot offers a selection of sandwiches and toast, all-day breakfast sets, healthy meals and oil-free dishes. Nearby, along Lorong Burma, is the island’s first Burmese temple. Built in 1803, the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple has striking golden rooftops, pagodas, a huge Boddhi tree and a wishing well. Nearby, the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Temple greets worshippers and visitors alike with its unique architecture: sharp-eaves, extravagant ceilings and images of Asian dragons. The temple was built in 1845, with a huge 108-foot long reclining Buddha within its walls, said to be the third largest Buddha statue in the world.

Penang War Museum

This Penang War Museum situated on Bukit Batu Maung was erected on the original defence complex built by British before World War II. It became a defence fort during the war. Today, it is a sprawling historical complex exhibiting many war paraphernalias, and shows historical timelines of events. This war museum is a dedication to those who have served and died, defending the country.

Penang National Park

It is the smallest national park in the country with a size of 2,562 hectares. It was gazetted in 2003 and is home to 46 species of birds such as the stork-billed kingfishers, white-breasted waterhens and great egrets. A 2000 expedition led by the Malaysian Nature Society recorded 417 flora and 143 fauna species. Before the area was designated as a national park, the locals knew it as Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve. Some of the activities carried out are fishing, swimming and hiking. The pure, sandy stretch of Pantai Kerachut is also a favourite nesting place of Green turtles from April to August, and the Olive Ridley from September to February. The turtle hatchery set up in Pantai Kerachut in 1995 is now managed by the State Fisheries Department along with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) and the Forestry Department. They also manage the upkeep of the park, which is in pristine conditions.
Some of the best hardwood trees can be found here, especially from the shorea species, such as Meranti and Merawan Baru. In fact, the area is the only known place in Penang where the red, paper-like barked Gelam trees grow. The bio-diversity of the park is also impressive, with 1,000 species of plants including five different species of the Bintangor tree. Besides this, the park is the only one in Malaysia that contains six different types of habitat a meromictic lake (a lake that occurs seasonally, where there is a distinct layering of waters), wetlands, mangroves, mudflats, coral reefs and turtle nesting beaches.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a stately mansion, refurbished to reflect bygone days of the Straits Chinese settlement in Penang.
This magnificent townhouse is the former residence and office of Chinese Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee. He was a 19th century Hakka tin-miner and secret society leader of Hai San. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is filled with more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles. The residence is unique and incorporates various Chinese architecture. The townhouse, built in the 1890s incorporates Chinese carved-wood panels, with English floor tiles and Scottish iron works. Take note that photography is not allowed within the mansion. Special permission has to be requested beforehand.

Tropical Spice Garden

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a stately mansion, refurbished to reflect bygone days of the Straits Chinese settlement in Penang.
This magnificent townhouse is the former residence and office of Chinese Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee. He was a 19th century Hakka tin-miner and secret society leader of Hai San. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is filled with more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles. The residence is unique and incorporates various Chinese architecture. The townhouse, built in the 1890s incorporates Chinese carved-wood panels, with English floor tiles and Scottish iron works. Take note that photography is not allowed within the mansion. Special permission has to be requested beforehand.

Kuan Yin Temple (Goddess of Mercy Temple)

The Kuan Yin Temple was built in the 1800s by early Chinese settlers of the Hokkien and Cantonese communities. The temple was originally named Kong Hock Keong temple (Cantonese-Hokkien Temple) and was once used not only for religious but also for social functions within the Chinese community. However, the temple lost some of its importance when the current Chinese Town Hall was constructed in the 1880s. The Goddess of Mercy Temple, or Kuan Yin Temple, is the first temple ever built in Georgetown, Penang, by Chinese settlers. The temple honours Kuan Yin, a devout Buddhist who was said to have attained the coveted state of Nirvana but had chosen instead to remain on earth in order to provide guidance and help to those who are themselves striving to reach Nirvana. The temple interior is usually filled with the scent of sandalwood incense, burnt by devotees who visit the temple to pray and seek guidance from Kuan Yin. The temple also honours Ma Chor Poh, the patron saint of seafarers, who was highly regarded by the Chinese settlers, many of whom had travelled great distances, crossing the seas from China to Penang. Enjoy the temple’s many beautiful features like the dragon-entwined pillars, carved from a type of green stone, which support the temple’s high roof. Also look for the statue of Kuan Yin, located in an inner chamber, which depicts a woman with 18 arms, who has a countenance which exudes inner peace and worldly contentment.

Khoo Kongsi

When the first immigrants from the Hokkien province of China arrived in Penang, one of the first things they set out to do was build one of the most magnificent clan houses in Penang. Work began on the clan house in the 1890’s which resulted in what was said to be a palace which rivalled that of the Emperor of China. As the story goes, this extravagance incurred the wrath of the Gods and on the first night of the clan house’s completion, an unexplainable fire broke out and burnt the house down! It wasn’t until 1902 that the current clan house began construction. One of five clan houses still standing in Georgetown, the Khoo Kongsi clan house takes on a remarkable resemblance to a mini clan village. One of the grandest clan houses in Penang, the Khoo Kongsi features tall thin columns supporting a gently sloping, red tiled roof, topped with carvings of dragons, phoenixes, mythical animals and various scenes from popular Chinese legends. The clan house also has a grand hall adorned with resplendent and intricate carvings and richly ornamented pillars which are said to have been crafted by master craftsmen from China. Other major Hokkien clan houses that can be found in Penang are the Cheah Kongsi, Yeah Kongsi, Lim Kongsi and Tan Kongsi.

Penang Botanic Gardens

100-year-old trees, forested hills and the giant water lilies of the Amazon River basin are just some of nature’s treasures awaiting visitors to the Penang Botanic Gardens. Also known as the Waterfall Gardens because of the cascading waterfalls nearby, the Gardens were originally established by the British in 1884 as a research centre studying the commercial viability of exquisite plants from different parts of the world. These days, the Gardens not only offer tranquillity from the urban rush, but also an education in botanical conservation. There are many walking tracks one can choose from, leading to plants like the Pinang Palm (Areca catechu, from which the island of Penang got its name), and wildlife such as long-tailed Macaques, Dusky Leaf Monkeys, Black Giant Squirrels and a myriad of insects and butterflies. A note if you’re planning on having a picnic: the monkeys aren’t exactly coy about wanting a share of your food, so be prepared for the eventuality that you may need to refuel later.
An international flower fest is held at the Penang Botanic Gardens every year, along with several other events.

Penang Museum & Art Gallery

Walk into the compound of the Penang State Museum, and you will first be greeted by a regal bronze statue of Captain Francis Light, the founder of the Penang Straits Settlement, gazing down upon you. Once you set foot inside the museum building, you will see why the State Museum located along Jalan Farquhar in Georgetown is reputed to be one of the best state museums in the country. Divided into galleries dedicated to Penang’s historical communities, as well as particular historical events that took place in Penang, the museum houses a fine collection of old photographs, maps, historical documents, Chinese furniture, embroidery, costumes and other historical relics. On the first floor where the Art Gallery is located, works of local artists and paintings of old Penang are on display, namely those by William Daniels and Captain Robert Smith. From time to time, special exhibitions are held here

Kapitan Keling Mosque

The Kapitan Keling Mosque was first erected by the troops of the East India Company who were some of Penang’s first Muslim settlers, in the late 1700s. Several years later, the growing Indian Muslim community required a more permanent mosque. In 1801, the community, led by their leader, Cauder Mydin Merican or also referred to as ‘Kapitan Keling’, was granted with an 18-acre lot. Made of brick, the original mosque was a single-storey structure, but over the years, the mosque has seen plenty of renovation works.
Surrounded by a low wall, this white-washed mosque is adorned with yellow Moghul-style domes and turrets. A madrassah (a place where religious classes are held) can also be found within the mosque’s compound. The tall minaret, once used by the muezzin to deliver his call to prayers, is located on the corner of Buckingham and Pitt Street.