From a tourist map, the island of Penang looks somewhat like a mink's pelt. Georgetown, its capital, sits roughly on the right arm of the skin, while the
Lebuh Pantai—Central Business District
More colonial legacies line one of Penang's oldest streets, Lebuh Pantai. It is the center of a modern business district congested with a milieu traders and travelers. Along the waterfront is the
Chinatown and KOMTAR
When viewed from the top of
Pitt Street—Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling
Within the borders of Georgetown lie several notable religious monuments of diverse faiths. Pitt Street may have been renamed Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, but the town p lanners' idea of a "street of harmony" remains. For more than a century, through good and bad times, the Taoist
Little India, Gurney Drive and the Suburbs
Indian and Chetty moneychangers, Singhalese silverware and lace vendors, and the "Bombay merchants" make up an interesting corner of town. They present an experience of sights, smells and sounds straddling a few streets around Lebuh Pasar, commonly called
West of Jalan Penang hides an enclave of stylish mansions —
History and culture rule everywhere you turn in Penang.
Northern Beaches and Batu Ferringhi
Penang Hill and Air Itam--Precious Patches of Green
A series of hills rise up towards the island's centre and the highest of these,
Seberang Perai—Rapid Urbanisation
Across the Penang Straits lies,
Little is known of Penang's early history. Chinese seafarers were aware of the island, which they called Pulo Pinang (Betelnut Island), as far back as the 15th century, but it appears to have been uninhabited. When English merchant-adventurer Captain James Lancaster swung by in 1593, Penang was still an unpopulated jungly wilderness. It wasn't until the early 1700s that colonists arrived from Sumatra and established settlements at Batu Uban and the area now covered by southern Georgetown. The island came under thecontrol of the sultan of Kedah, but in 1771the sultan signed the first agreement with the British East India Company, handing it trading rights in exchange for military assistance against Siam. In 1786 Captain Francis Light, on behalf of the East India Company, took possession of Penang, which was formally signed overto the company in 1791.
Light renamed it Prince of Wales Island, as the acquisition date fell on the prince's birthday. It's said that Light fired silver dollars from his ship's cannons into the jungle to encourage his labourers to hack back the undergrowth for settlement. Whatever the truth of the tale, he soon established the small town of Georgetown, also named after the Prince of Wales (who later became King George IV), with LebuhLight, Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Pitt and LebuhBishop as its boundaries. By 1800 Light had also negotiated for a portion of the mainland adjacent to the island; this becameknown as Province Wellesley, after the governor of India.
Light permitted new arrivals to claim asmuch land as they could clear, and this, togetherwith a duty-free port and an atmosphere of liberal tolerance, soon attracted settlers from all over Asia. By the turn of the 19th century Penang was home to over 10,000 people. The local economy was slow to develop, as mostly European planters set up spice plantations - slow-growing crops requiring a high initial outlay. Although the planters later turned to sugar and coconut, agriculture was hindered by a limited labour force.
In 1805 Penang became a presidency government,on a par with the cities of Madrasand Bombay in India, and so gained a much more sophisticated administrative structure. It even became the capital of the Straits Settlements briefly in 1826 (including Melaka and Singapore) until it was superseded by the more prosperous Singapore. By the middle of the 19th century, Penang had become a major player in the Chineseopium trade, which provided more than half of the colony's revenue. It was a dangerous, rough-edged place, notorious for its brothels and gambling dens, all run by Chinese secret societies. In 1867, the simmering violence came to a head when large-scale rioting broke out between two rival Chinese secret societies, who had each allied themselves with similar Malay groups. Once the fighting had been brought under control, the British authorities fined each group the then huge sum of $10,000. The proceeds were used to establish a permanent police force in the colony.
Although Penang thrived as a centre ofinternational trade, it never saw the rapiddevelopment experienced by Singapore, resultingin much of its early colonial architectureremaining intact to this day. A royal charter awarded city status to Georgetown in January 1957, just seven months before Malaysian independence; in the 1960s Penang became a free port.
The island enjoyed rapid economic growthin the following decades, but lost its duty-freestatus to Langkawi in the 1980s. Since then, numerous international high-tech companies have set up in Penang, earning it the title of 'Silicon Valley of the East', while tourism has become one of the state's most lucrative industries.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the northern and western coasts of Penang, killing 52 people there. Aquaculture and fisheries were the industries most affected by the disaster. Significant financial assistance from the government has helped with the rebuilding of damaged areas and with the regeneration of businesses.
The mainland strip of Seberang Perai is easily accessed by road and rail from other parts of the peninsula. Butterworth is the transport hub and the departure point for ferries to Penang Island, which is also linked to the mainland by bridge. Unless you're taking the train, you can easily skip over Butterworth since there's plenty of transport going direct to the island.
Long-distance bus services leave Penang from the express bus station on Jln Sungei Nibong, just to the south of Penang Bridge. While it may be more convenient to buy your tickets from travel agents on Lebuh Chulia or some guesthouses and hotels, it's a safer bet to buy your ticket in person at the bus-company offices at the station. Many more buses leave from next to the mainland ferry terminal in Butterworth, and a few long-distance buses also leave from other parts of Georgetown. Newsia Tours & Travel (tel: 261 7933; 35-36 Pengkalan Weld) is a major agent.
The following services run to Singapore from the bus station: Singapore (53.00, 10 hours, two daily) and to Johor Bharu's Larkin bus station (45.00, nine hours, one daily).
The following services, leaving from the Komtar bus station, run to Thailand: Hat Yai (35.00); Phuket (70.00); Ko Phi Phi (90.00); Ko Samui (80.00); and even Bangkok (120.00). The minibuses usually don't go directly to some destinations; you'll probably be dumped for a change of vehicle in Hat Yai or Surat Thani, sometimes with significant waiting times. Buy tickets from bucket shops on Lebuh Chulia or directly at the bus station, which can be cheaper.
Georgetown, the capital of Penang, also has ferry links to Langkawi and to Medan in Indonesia and an airport with regular flights to KL, Singapore, Johor Bahru and Langkawi.
Penang is a major centre for cheap airline tickets, although international air fares are less competitive than they used to be. Malaysia Airlines has at least one flight daily to Medan in Sumatra and with Singapore Airlines to Singapore. Cathay Pacific also offer flights to and from Penang. Other international connections include Mumbai, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Sydney.
The train station (tel: 323 7962) is next to the ferry terminal and bus-and-taxi station in Butterworth. There is one daily train to KL and two in the opposite direction to Hat Yai in Thailand. Fares and timetables change frequently, so check with the station before you travel.
Seberang Perai and Pulau Penang are linked by road-bridge and a 24hr ferry service. Georgetown is well served by bus, and trishaws (bicycle rickshaws) are a popular way to get around the city centre.
The 704 and 705 buses run from the train and ferry terminal in Butterworth to Georgetown - the 704 route ends at Komtar, while the 705 stops at Sungei Nibong, the long-distance bus terminal. Buses from Georgetown to other parts of the island are less frequent and getting around the island by road is easiest with your own transport, particularly since the road does not always run along the coast and you have to leave the main road to get to the small fishing villages and isolated beaches.
Penang's a good place to rent a car, but you'll probably have to reserve in advance, especially for weekends and holidays. Good deals can be found at smaller agents, though the main companies are also worth trying for special deals. If you drive the 13.5km across Penang Bridge to the island there's a 7.70 toll payable at the tollplaza on the mainland, but no charge to return.
Penang's Bayan Lepas International Airport is 18km (11mi) south of Georgetown. There's a coupon system for taxis from the airport.
Taxis take about 45min from the centre of town, while the bus takes at least an hour. Yellow Bus No 83 runs to and from the airport.
There's a ferry service (per adult/car 1.20/7.70; h24hr) between Georgetown and Butterworth. Ferries take passengers and cars every eight minutes from 06:20 to 21:30, every 20 minutes until 23:15, and hourly after that until 06:20. The journey takes 15 minutes. Fares are charged only for the journey from Butterworth to Penang; returning to the mainland is free.
There are several bus departure points in Georgetown, and half a dozen bus companies. The main city bus terminal is in the Komtar basement and almost all buses (including minibuses) stop here. Another main stand is at Pengkalan Weld, next to the ferry terminal jetty.
You can circuit the island by public transport. Start with a Yellow Bus No 66 and hop off at the Snake Temple. This Yellow Bus No 66 will take you all the way to Balik Pulau, where you have to transfer to Yellow Bus No 76 for Teluk Bahang. There are only a few per day, between 07:30 and 19:15, so it's wise to check the departure times. From Teluk Bahang, on the north-beach strip, take a TransitLink bus No 202 or a blue Hin Bus No 93 back to Georgetown via Batu Ferringhi.
You can hire bicycles and motorbikes from many places, including travellers' guesthouses and shops along Lebuh Chulia or out at Batu Ferringhi.
Penang's taxis all have meters, which drivers flatly refuse to use, so negotiate the fare before you set off. Bicycle rickshaws are an ideal way to negotiate Georgetown's backstreets - but, as with taxis, it's important to make sure you agree on the fare before departure.