Derived from the Malay word “Pinang” which means “betel nut”, Penang is often referred to as “The Pearl of the Orient”. The island got its name due to the abundance of betel nut palms found here in the past.
Penang, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, comprises an island and a strip of mainland known as Seberang Perai. The two parts are connected by the Penang Bridge and the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge. It’s bordered by Kedah to the north and the east, and Perak to the south. To the west, it opens to the Malacca Strait.
Penang, once a part of the Sultanate of Kedah, was ceded to the British East India Company in 1786 by Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah in exchange for military protection against a Thai invasion. This marked the beginning of Penang’s British colonial period. George Town, named after King George III, became an important trading post, and over the years, it saw a mix of cultures, mainly Chinese, Indian, and Malay, converging on the island. Today, it stands as a testament to its rich historical tapestry, evident in its preserved architecture, traditions, and cuisine.
Highlights of Things to Do
- George Town: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this historic city is a maze of colonial buildings, temples, mosques, and shophouses. Street art and vibrant murals decorate its walls, making it a haven for photographers and culture enthusiasts.
- Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera): Offering panoramic views of George Town and the Malacca Strait, it’s accessible by a funicular train and is a cool retreat from the city’s hustle.
- Batu Ferringhi: Famous for its sandy shores and nightly markets, it’s a top spot for beach lovers and those looking for local crafts and food.
- Penang Botanic Gardens: Established by the British in 1884, this green space is home to a variety of flora and fauna.
- Kek Lok Si Temple: One of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, it stands as an icon of Penang’s rich religious heritage.
How to Get In and Out
- By Air: Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas connects the island with many international and domestic destinations.
- By Sea: The Swettenham Pier in George Town caters to cruise ships, while ferries run regularly between the island and the mainland, connecting George Town and Butterworth.
- By Road: Penang is connected to the mainland by two major bridges and is also accessible via the North-South Expressway, which runs through mainland Penang.
- By Rail: The Butterworth Railway Station on the mainland offers train services that connect Penang to Kuala Lumpur, southern Thailand, and Singapore.
Penang, with its blend of historical charm and modern vibrancy, offers travelers an array of experiences, from exploring heritage sites and tasting its famed street food to relaxing on sandy beaches. It’s a destination that echoes the diverse and rich history of Malaysia.