Penang Malaysia is a rich infusion of Chinese, Indian, British and Malay culture. This results in a diversity of language, food and holidays. At least once a week is a national
festival of some sort. Banks and stores close for Muslim, Hindu and Buddist holidays. Malays are said to use more fireworks per capita than any other other country in the world. The four-day work week seems to keep the locals in high spirits.
Penang is four times the size of Manhattan. The island was established by Francis Light in 1786 as the first British trading post in the Far East. Light had persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to cede Pulau Pinang (“Island of the Betel Nut”) to the British in exchange for military assistance. Penang’s main port is Georgetown. Georgetown is linked to the mainland by the longest bridge in southeast Asia. The Malasian mainland is home to some of the lushest rainforests on the planet. Waterfalls, lakes and rivers are inhabited by wild monkeys and a plethora of exotic birds, reptiles and fish.
Georgetown is a modern city that was originally a British colony. It is a living historic city, with inner city communities, places of worship, guilds, wet markets and bazaars, traditional trades and retail shops, trishaw peddlers and hawkers. There is a fantastic Chinese temple that was the site location for the Chun Yo Fat movie, “Anna and the King.” The elaborate monument is known the Khoo House, named after the original Chinese clan to migrate to the bountiful island of Penang. The tallest hotel on the island has a revolving restaurant that offers panoramic views of the island. The Indian dishes we tried were the spiciest we’ve ever tasted. I ordered a Bombay Curry that literally had steam coming out of my ears.
After a stay in the city, we made our way to the beaches on the north side of the island. Along the way we stopped at the zoo and national park. There is also a Buddist temple that sits on Jalan Hill overlooking the island. A cable car takes you to the summit and offers breathtaking views of the botanical gardens below. The drive from Georgetown to the beach takes less than two hours. We stayed at the Batu Ferrenghi Sheraton, a popular waterfront resort. The resort offered great watersports and snorkeling opportunities. Unfortunately, the prices were twice as much as Georgetown.
To reach Penang from B.W.I. requires a twenty-one-hour flight to the capital city of Kuala Lumpor. From KL, it’s a four-hour drive north to Penang. We arrived via Thailand. This included a seven hour trip from Phuket. The south of Thailand is unstable as Muslim uprisings are a common occurrence in the poorer areas. A week earlier, 112 people were killed when they attacked the local police staion with machetes. Needless to say, we drove straight through until we reached the border.
Malaysian government is pretty stable and the country was relatively safe. Thanks to years of British influence, English was everyone’s second language. Penang is 12 hours ahead of Ocean City. It is bordered by Indonesia and Singapore to the south. It sits just north of the equator on the Indian Ocean. We were in Malaysia in February of 2004. The Tsunami of December 2004 was brutal for the island of Penang. Fortunately, much of the damage has been repaired and the island is thriving once again. This tropical paradise offers an amazing taste of southeast Asian culture that will expand any travelers scope. Cheers!
– Sean Rox