Penang facts for kids

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Penang
Pulau Pinang
State of Malaysia
State of Penang
Other transcription(s)
 • Malay Pulau Pinang (Rumi)
ڤولاو ڤينڠ (Jawi)
 • Chinese 槟城 (Simplified)
檳城 (Traditional)
 • Tamil பினாங்கு
Flag of Penang
Flag
Coat of arms of Penang
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient
Motto: Bersatu dan Setia
United and Loyal
Anthem: Untuk Negeri Kita
For Our State

   Penang in    Malaysia
Area
 • Total 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi)
Population (2018)
 • Total 1,766,800
 • Density 1,684/km2 (4,360/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Penangite
Human Development Index
 • HDI (2017) 0.827 (very high) (2nd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 10xxx–14xxx
Calling code +604
ISO 3166 code MY-07
Vehicle registration P
Founded by the British East India Company 11 August 1786
British crown colony as part of the Straits Settlements 1 April 1867 - 1 April 1946
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941 - 3 September 1945
Accession into the Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence as part of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
Website www.penang.gov.my
2,465.47/km2 (6,385.5/sq mi) on Penang Island and 1,117.18/km2 (2,893.5/sq mi) in Seberang Perai

Penang (also known Pulau Pinang) is a state in Malaysia. It is on the northwestern part of Malaysia. The capital city of Penang is George Town. by the Strait of Malacca. A resident of Penang is known as a Penangite. It has two parts – Penang Island and Butterworth on the mainland. The state of Penang is next to Kedah to the north and east, and Perak to the south.

History

Historical affiliations Period
Flag of Kedah (18th century - 1912).svg Kedah Sultanate 1136–1786
Flag of the British East India Company (1801).svg British East India Company 1786–1867
Straits Settlements Straits Settlements 1826–1941; 1945–1946
Empire of Japan Empire of Japan 1941–1945
Malayan Union Malayan Union 1946–1948
Federation of Malaya Federation of Malaya 1948–1963
Malaysia Malaysia 1963–Present

Prehistory

Human remains, dating back to about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, have been uncovered in Seberang Perai, along with seashells, pottery and hunting tools. These artifacts indicate that the earliest inhabitants of Penang were nomadic Melanesians during the Neolithic era.

Early history

The Cherok Tok Kun megalith in Bukit Mertajam, uncovered in 1845, contains Pali inscriptions, indicating that the Hindu-Buddhist Bujang Valley civilisation based in what is now Kedah had established control over parts of Seberang Perai by the 6th century. The entirety of what is now Penang would later become part of the Sultanate of Kedah up to the late 18th century.

Founding of Penang

Fort Cornwallis Eck
Fort Cornwallis in George Town was built on the spot where Francis Light first set foot in 1786.

However, the modern history of Penang only began in the late 18th century. In the 1770s, Francis Light was instructed by the British East India Company to form trade relations in the Malay Peninsula. Light subsequently landed in Kedah, which was by then a Siamese vassal state. Aware that the Sultanate was under external and internal threats, he promised British military protection to the then Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin II; in return, the Sultan offered Penang Island to the British.

Penang
British acquisition and expansion of Penang (in yellow) occurred between 1786 and 1874, when the final alterations to Penang's boundaries was enacted.

It was only in 1786 when the British East India Company finally ordered Light to obtain the island from Kedah. Light negotiated with the new Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah, regarding the cession of the island to the British East India Company in exchange for British military aid. After an agreement between Light and the Sultan was ratified, Light and his entourage sailed on to Penang Island, where they arrived on 17 July 1786. Light took formal possession of the island on 11 August "in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III and the Honourable East India Company". Penang Island was renamed the Prince of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne, while the new settlement of George Town was established in honour of King George III.

Unbeknownst to Sultan Abdullah, Light had been acting without the authority or the consent of his superiors in India. When Light reneged on his promise of military protection, the Kedah Sultan launched an attempt to recapture the Prince of Wales Island in 1791; the British East India Company subsequently defeated the Kedah forces.

In 1800, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Leith secured a strip of hinterland across the Penang Strait and named it Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai). Province Wellesley was then gradually expanded up to its present-day boundaries in 1874. In exchange for the acquisition, the annual payment to the Sultan of Kedah was increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum. To this day, the Malaysian federal government still pays Kedah, on behalf of Penang, RM 10,000 annually as a symbolic gesture.

Colonial Penang

The Map of Early Penang Showing the Malay Town on the South of the Town Center by Popham 1799
A 1799 map of George Town.

Light founded George Town as a free port to entice traders away from nearby Dutch trading posts. Simultaneously, spices were harvested on the island, turning it into a regional centre for spice production. Consequently, maritime trade at the Port of Penang grew exponentially; the number of incoming vessels rose from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802.

In 1805, Penang became a separate presidency of British India, sharing similar status with Bombay and Madras. By 1808, a local government for George Town was in place, whilst the establishment of the Supreme Court of Penang marked the birth of Malaysia's modern judiciary. In 1826, Penang, Singapore and Malacca were incorporated into the Straits Settlements, with George Town as the capital.

However, Penang's importance was soon supplanted by Singapore, as the latter rapidly outstripped the Port of Penang as the region's premier entrepôt. In 1832, Singapore replaced George Town as the capital of the Straits Settlements.

KITLV - 80020 - Kleingrothe, C.J. - Medan - Quay in Penang - circa 1910
The Port of Penang in George Town in the 1910s

Even so, the Port of Penang retained its importance as a vital British entrepôt. Towards the end of the 19th century, it became a major tin-exporting harbour. George Town concurrently evolved into Malaya's principal financial hub, as banks and mercantile firms flocked into the city. Meanwhile, other towns, including Bayan Lepas on the island, and Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam in Province Wellesley, emerged due to agricultural and logistical developments.

Throughout the century, Penang's cosmopolitan population, comprising Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, Eurasian, Thai and other ethnicities, grew rapidly in tandem with the economic prosperity. However, the population growth also led to social problems, such as inadequate sanitation and public health facilities, as well as rampant crime, with the latter culminating in the Penang Riots of 1867. Also in 1867, the Straits Settlements was made a British crown colony. Direct British rule meant better law enforcement, as the police force was beefed up and the secret societies that had previously plagued Penang were gradually outlawed. More investments were also made on health care and public transportation.

Due to the improved access to education, the active participation in municipal affairs by its Asian residents and substantial press freedom, George Town was perceived as being more intellectually receptive than Singapore. The city became a magnet for reputable English authors, Asian intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Sun Yat-sen.

World wars

Cenotaph in penang
The Cenotaph in George Town, erected after World War I, commemorates fallen Allied soldiers.

During World War I, in the Battle of Penang, the German cruiser SMS Emden surreptitiously sailed to Penang Island and sank two Allied warships off its coast. 147 French and Russian sailors perished during the battle. World War II, on the other hand, led to unparalleled social and political upheaval. Although Penang Island had been designated as a fortress, Penang fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941, after suffering devastating aerial attacks. The British covertly evacuated Penang's European populace; historians have since contended that the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang.

Royal Marines Parade in Penang (5316034010)
British Royal Marines liberating George Town on 3 September 1945.

Penang Island was subsequently renamed Tojo-to, after the then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. The period of Japanese occupation was renowned for the Imperial Japanese Army's massacres of Penang's Chinese populace, known as Sook Ching to the locals. Women in George Town were also coerced to work as comfort women by the Japanese. Meanwhile, the Port of Penang was put to use as a major submarine base by the Axis Powers.

In the last years of the war, Allied bombers from India repeatedly bombed George Town, seeking to destroy the naval facilities and administrative centres. Several colonial buildings were destroyed or damaged, such as the Government Offices, St. Xavier's Institution and Hutchings School (now Penang State Museum). The Penang Strait was also mined to constrict Japanese shipping. Following the surrender of Japan, British forces launched Operation Jurist to recapture Penang Island on 3 September 1945, making George Town the first city in Malaya to be liberated from the Japanese.

Post-war years

Flag of Penang (1946-1949)
Flag of the Crown Colony of Penang between 1946 and 1949

Penang was placed under a military administration until 1946. Subsequently, the Straits Settlements was abolished, as the British sought to consolidate the various political entities in British Malaya under a single polity named the Malayan Union. The now separate Crown Colony of Penang was consequently merged into the Malayan Union, which was then replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

The idea of the absorption of Penang into the vast Malay heartland initially proved unpopular amongst Penangites. Economic and ethnic concerns led to the formation of the Penang Secessionist Committee in 1948. However, the committee's attempt to avert Penang's merger with Malaya ultimately petered out due to British disapproval.

The British government allayed the concerns raised by the secessionists by guaranteeing George Town's free port status, as well as reintroducing municipal elections in George Town in 1951. By 1956, George Town became the first fully elected municipality in Malaya and in the following year, it was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first city within the Federation of Malaya, and by extension, Malaysia.

Post-independence era

Menara Komtar Penang
The Komtar Tower, Penang's tallest skyscraper, was built in the 1970s.

George Town was, since colonial times, a free port - until its sudden revocation by the Malaysian federal government in 1969. Penang subsequently suffered an economic crisis, with the loss of maritime trade resulting in massive unemployment and brain drain. To alleviate the downturn, the then Chief Minister, Lim Chong Eu, masterminded the construction of the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone. The zone, regarded by many as the Silicon Valley of the East, proved instrumental in reversing Penang's economic slump and led to the state's rapid economic growth until the late 1990s. The Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on Boxing Day of 2004 hit the western and northern coasts of Penang Island, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).

Skyline of George Town, as seen from Gurney Drive.

Geography

With a total land area of just 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi), Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia by land mass after Perlis. Penang, situated at the northwestern coastline of Peninsular Malaysia, lies between latitudes 5.59° and 5.12°N, and longitudes 100.17° and 100.56°E. The state consists of Penang Island, Seberang Perai (a narrow strip of the Malay Peninsula) and a handful of smaller islets. Its capital city, George Town, is located at the northeastern tip of Penang Island.

Topography

Calflier001 George Town Penang aerial
Aerial view of George Town. The city is physically separated from Butterworth (bottom) by the Penang Strait.

Penang is geographically divided into two major halves physically divided by the Penang Strait.

  • Penang Island, a 293 km2 (113 sq mi) island.
  • Seberang Perai, a 751 km2 (290 sq mi) hinterland on the Malay Peninsula. It is bordered by Kedah to the east and north, and by Perak to the south.

The Penang Strait is further divided into the North Channel and the South Channel. At the strait's narrowest section, George Town on the island is separated from Butterworth on the mainland by a mere 3 km (1.9 mi).

Clouds above Penang
View of George Town as seen from Seberang Perai, with Penang Hill in the background

Penang Island is irregularly shaped, with a hilly and mostly forested interior; its coastal plains are narrow, the most extensive of which is at the northeastern cape. With a height of 833 m (2,733 ft), Penang Hill, at the centre of the island, is the tallest point within Penang. From a small settlement at the northeastern tip of Penang Island, George Town has expanded over the centuries, particularly in the northwestern, western and southern directions, eventually linking up with Bayan Lepas at the island's southeast and urbanising the entire eastern coast of the island. Meanwhile, the topography of Seberang Perai is mostly flat, save for a few hills such as Bukit Mertajam.

The major rivers within Penang include the Pinang, Perai, Muda and Kerian rivers. In particular, the Muda River serves as the northern border between Seberang Perai and Kedah, while the Kerian River forms the southern boundary between Seberang Perai, Kedah and Perak.

Due to land scarcity, land reclamation projects have been undertaken in high-demand areas such as Tanjung Tokong, Jelutong and Gurney Drive.

Nature and parks

Pg botanic gardens trees
The Penang Botanic Gardens was founded in 1884 as an offshoot of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

In spite of rapid urbanisation, Penang has still managed to safeguard a considerable area of natural environment. Within the state, 7,761 ha (77.61 km2) have been designated as protected forest reserves.

The central hills of Penang Island, including Penang Hill, serve as the green lung for the urbanised island. Two of the major parks within George Town - the Penang Botanical Gardens and the City Park - are situated near the hills.

Penang is also home to the smallest national park in the world - the Penang National Park. Covering 2,562 ha (25.62 km2) of the northwestern tip of Penang Island, it encompasses mangrove swamps, rainforest interspersed with hiking trails and tranquil beaches. Other notable natural attractions nearby include the Tropical Spice Garden and the Entopia Butterfly Farm, the latter of which was Malaysia's first butterfly sanctuary.

In Seberang Perai, the Penang Bird Park, established in 1988 in Seberang Jaya, was the first aviary in Malaysia.

Outlying islets

Penang also consists of nine other islets off its coasts. The biggest of all, Jerejak Island, is located in the South Channel of the Penang Strait. Once the site of a leper asylum built in 1868, which was later converted into a maximum-security penitentiary, Jerejak Island remains heavily forested. The other islets under the jurisdiction of Penang include Aman, Betong, Gedung, Kendi and Rimau.

Climate

As in the rest of Malaysia, Penang has a tropical rainforest climate bordering on a tropical monsoon climate, although the state does experience slightly drier conditions from December to February of the following year. The climate is very much dictated by the surrounding sea and the prevailing wind system.

Penang's proximity with the island of Sumatra makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from perennial but transient forest fires, creating a phenomenon known as the Southeast Asian haze.

The Penang Meteorological Office in Bayan Lepas is the primary weather forecast facility for northern Malaysia.

George Town Conurbation

Penang forms the heart of the Greater Penang Conurbation, Malaysia's second biggest conurbation. Centred in George Town, the metropolitan area encompasses the entire State of Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak. As of 2010, Greater Penang had nearly 2.5 million residents, second only to Greater Kuala Lumpur (Klang Valley). Greater Penang also generated a GDP of US$13,596,418 in 2010, making the conurbation the second biggest contributor of Malaysia's GDP after Greater Kuala Lumpur.

Districts

Penang is also divided into five administrative districts - two on Penang Island and three in Seberang Perai. Each district is headed by a district officer. The lands and district office in each district deals with land administration and revenue; thus it differs from the local governments (city or municipal council) which oversee the provision and maintenance of urban infrastructure.

Demographics


Circle frame-1.svg

Source of interstate immigrants to Penang in 2016       Perak (28.22%)      Selangor (20.86%)     Template:Country data Kedah (19.63%)      Johor (10.43%)      Kuala Lumpur (10.43%)     Template:Country data Sarawak (3.68%)      Negeri Sembilan (3.68%)     Other states (3.07%)

Penang, with an estimated population of 1,766,800 as of 2018, has the highest population density of all Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur), at 1,684/km2 (4,360/sq mi). In addition, Penang is one of the most urbanised Malaysian states, with an urbanisation level of 90.8% as of 2015.

Due to its vibrant economy, Penang is also one of the major recipients of interstate migrants within Malaysia. Between 2015 and 2016, Penang achieved the highest migration effectiveness ratio among Malaysian states; for every 100 Malaysians that migrated into and out of Penang, the state's population increased by 58 persons. The bulk of the interstate immigrants came from Perak, Selangor, Kedah, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.

Penang's population is almost equally distributed between the island and the mainland.

  • Penang Island had a population of 722,384 as of 2010 and a population density of 2,465.47/km2 (6,385.5/sq mi).
  • Seberang Perai had a population of 838,999 as of 2010 and a population density of 1,117.18/km2 (2,893.5/sq mi).

The Greater Penang Conurbation, which also covers parts of neighbouring Kedah and Perak, is the second largest metropolitan area in the nation, with almost 2.5 million inhabitants as of 2010.

Ethnicities

Ethnic composition of Penang (2018)
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Bumiputera
  
42.25%
Chinese
  
39.42%
Indians
  
9.43%
Others
  
0.28%
Non-Malaysians
  
8.62%

Whilst Penang has historically been regarded as a predominantly Chinese state, in recent years, the proportion of Bumiputeras within the state, which include ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous races, has reached parity with that of the Chinese. 2018 estimates from Malaysia's Department of Statistics showed that the Bumiputeras constituted more than +25 of Penang's population, whereas the Chinese made up another +25. Ethnic Indians comprised nearly +110 of the state's populace.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town, Penang
Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town

In particular, George Town remains a Chinese-majority city, with the Chinese making up over half of the city's population as of 2010. George Town's Chinese populace includes the Peranakan, a hybrid ethnicity whose rich legacies can still be seen to this day in the form of distinctive architectures, costumes and cuisine. Moreover, the city is also renowned for its more cosmopolitan population, which also comprises indigenous East Malaysians, the Eurasians and the Siamese. Meanwhile, the Malays have formed the plurality in Seberang Perai.

In addition, Penang is home to a sizeable expatriate population, especially from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries, as well as other Commonwealth nations. Almost 9% of Penang's population consisted of foreigners, reflecting the well-established allure of Penang amongst expatriates. Most expatriates settle within the vicinity of George Town; the city's northern suburbs, such as Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi, are particularly popular.

Languages

Major languages spoken in Penang are Malay, English, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin, and Tamil. In particular, Penang is well known for its distinctive Hokkien language, known as Penang Hokkien.

Under British rule, English was the official language in Penang. The mushrooming of English and missionary schools throughout George Town contributed greatly to the widespread use of the language in the state.

As in the rest of Malaysia, Malay is currently the official language in Penang. The Malays in Penang also use a variant of the Kedah Malay dialect, with slight modifications made to the original dialect to suit the conditions of an urban, cosmopolitan society.

Tamil is the most widely spoken language amongst Penang's Indian community. There are also other Indian languages spoken by minority Indians such as Telugu and Punjabi who hailed from diverse ancestries in the Indian subcontinent. Meanwhile, Penang's Chinese population uses a variety of Chinese dialects, including Hakka and Cantonese. Mandarin, more commonly used by youths, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout the state.

However, it is Penang Hokkien that serves as the lingua franca of Penang. Originally a variant of the Minnan language, Penang Hokkien has absorbed numerous loanwords from Malay and English, yet another legacy of the Peranakan culture. It is spoken by many Penangites irrespective of race for communication purposes. Greater emphasis has been placed on preserving the language's relevance in the face of the increasing influence of Mandarin and English among the youth.

Religions

Religions in Penang (2010)
Religion Percentage
Islam
  
44.63%
Buddhism
  
35.63%
Hinduism
  
8.70%
Christianity
  
5.13%
Chinese folk religion
  
4.55%
Other
  
0.31%
No religion
  
1.05%

As with other Peninsular states, Islam is the official religion of the State of Penang. Even so, other religions are allowed to be practised within the state, contributing to its cosmopolitan society.

Cmglee Penang Anglican church night
Built in 1818, St. George's Church in George Town is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia.

As of 2010, Muslims constituted over 44% of Penang's population, followed by the Buddhists at nearly 36% and the Hindus at almost 9%. Notably, smaller communities of Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims have long existed within George Town, while most Buddhists in Penang follow either Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana traditions. A significant multiracial community of Christians, of both Catholic and Protestant sects, also exist in Penang, consisting of ethnic Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, East Malaysian migrants and expatriates. Meanwhile, more than 10% of the state's Chinese populace adhere to Taoism and other Chinese folk religions.

One particular street in George Town exemplifies the harmonious coexistence of the various religions in Penang. Along Pitt Street, Muslim, Taoist, Hindu and Christian places of worship are situated just metres away from one another, earning the street its nickname, the Street of Harmony. This reflects Penang's diverse ethnic and socio-cultural amalgamation.

There was once a tiny and little-known community of Jews in George Town, who mainly resided along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Yahudi Road). The last known native Jew died in 2011, rendering the centuries-old Jewish community in Penang effectively extinct.

Economy

In spite of its tiny size, Penang, regarded as the Silicon Valley of the East, has one of the largest economies in Malaysia, contributing as much as RM7 billion of the country's tax income in 2015. Penang has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita among Malaysian states. With a GDP per capita of RM49,873 as of 2017, Penang has also surpassed the World Bank's threshold to be considered a high-income economy, which was set at US$12,056 within the same year.

Penang is the top destination within Malaysia for foreign investors.

Manufacturing

Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, Penang
Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, known as the Silicon Valley of the East

Machinery and transport equipment accounted for 71% of Penang's total exports during the first nine months of 2014.

The Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, now regarded as the Silicon Valley of the East, is the main electronics manufacturing hub within Malaysia. Located at the southeastern corner of Penang Island, the zone is home to several high-tech multinational firms, including Dell, Intel, AMD, Motorola, Agilent, Renesas, Osram, Bosch, Sony and Seagate.

Seberang Perai has witnessed massive industrialisation as well, with industrial estates and oil refineries being established in the late 20th century in areas like Mak Mandin and Perai. The major local firms currently operating in Perai, including Malayan Sugar, Malayawata Steel, Southern Steel, Harvik Rubber and Soon Soon Oilmills, have been joined by multinational companies, such as Mattel, Pensonic, Hitachi, Mitsuoka, Chevron and Honeywell Aerospace. In recent years, Batu Kawan has also been rapidly industrialised, with a number of international firms, such as Boston Scientific and Bose Corporation, setting up manufacturing plants in the town.

Aside from electronics and engineering manufacturing, Penang is Malaysia's main jewellery finishing hub, contributing 85% of the nations's gold and jewellery exports. Penang's gold and jewellery industry is relatively well-established, dating back to the founding of the Penang Goldsmith Association in 1832. Jewellery from Penang is exported to over 20 foreign markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the United States.

Services

Design Village, Batu Kawan, Penang
Design Village in Batu Kawan is the largest outlet mall in Malaysia.

The services sector has overtaken the manufacturing sector as the largest economic sector in Penang, with the former accounting for 49.3% of Penang's GDP. In addition, almost 35 of Penang's workforce are employed in services-related industries, which include retail, accommodation, medical tourism, and food and beverages (F&B) sub-sectors. Medical tourism has emerged as an integral component of Penang's services sector. George Town, in particular, has become the centre of medical tourism within Malaysia, attracting approximately half of the nation's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generating about 70% of the country's medical tourism revenue.

Penang Malaysia Mini-market-corner-Lebuh-Gereja-and-Lebuh-King-01
Shophouses in George Town's Little India sell Indian fabrics and textile, as well as Hindu prayer paraphernalia.

Penang also has a vibrant retail sub-sector, which employs as many as 24% of Penang's workforce. As the main shopping destination in northern Malaysia, Penang is home to several shopping malls, such as Gurney Plaza, Gurney Paragon, 1st Avenue Mall, Straits Quay, Queensbay Mall and Design Village. While shopping malls now dominate the retail scene, centuries-old shophouses are still operating alongside George Town's flea markets and wet markets, all of which cater more to local products, including spices, nutmegs and tau sar pneah, a famous Penang delicacy.

Tourism

BatuFerringhi2006
A beach at Batu Ferringhi

Penang has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia. Throughout history, the state welcomed some of the most influential personalities, including W. Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Lee Kuan Yew, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Penang is known for its rich heritage and architecture, its vibrant multicultural society, a wide range of modern entertainment and retail choices, natural features such as beaches and hills, and the world-famous Penang cuisine.

Unlike other Malaysian states, Penang does not rely only on air transportation for tourist arrivals. Aside from the Penang International Airport, Swettenham Pier, conveniently located within the heart of George Town, has emerged as one of the major tourist entry points into the state. As of 2017, Penang attracted nearly 8.6 million tourists, with the airport posting a record 7.2 million passenger arrivals and the pier registering another 1.35 million tourist arrivals. Within the same year, Penang, which contributed close to RM3.9 million of tourism tax revenue, was Malaysia's third largest tourism tax contributor after Kuala Lumpur and Sabah.

In recent years, George Town has received numerous international accolades. The city has been listed by several publications, including the Lonely Planet, CNN, Forbes and Time, as one of Asia's top travel destinations. These are in addition to George Town's reputation as a gastronomic haven, with the CNN placing George Town as one of Asia's best street food cities.

Culture

Public Holidays in Penang
Holiday
Date
New Year's Day
1 Jan
Thaipusam
variable
Chinese New Year
2 days in
Jan/Feb
Labour Day
1 May
Wesak Day
variable
King's Birthday
1st Sat of Jun
George Town World
Heritage City Day
7 Jul
Governor's Birthday
2nd Sat of Jul
Revelation of
the Koran Day
variable
Aidilfitri
2 days
(variable)
National Day
31 Aug
Hari Raya Haji
variable
Awal Muharram
variable
Deepavali
variable
Prophet Muhammad's
Birthday
variable
Christmas
25 Dec

Festivals

Penang's diverse, cosmopolitan society means that there are a great many celebrations and festivities in any given year. The major cultural and religious festivities in the state include, but not limited to, the Chinese New Year, Eid ul-Fitri, Deepavali, Thaipusam, Vaisakhi, Christmas, Vesak Day and Songkran.

Expatriates residing in Penang have also introduced a host of other celebrations. Bon Odori is celebrated yearly by the Japanese in George Town, while St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest, traditionally celebrated by the Irish and the Germans respectively, have also been gaining popularity amongst the locals.

Moreover, Penang hosts several major festivals in any given year. The George Town Festival, first held in 2010, has evolved into one of the largest arts events in Southeast Asia, while the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta attracts close to 200,000 visitors from all over the world.

Performance arts

Penang Chingay
A Chingay troupe in George Town

George Town is the birthplace of a unique form of the Chingay procession. Introduced in 1919, Penang's variant of Chingay includes the act of balancing gigantic flags on one's forehead or hands. A yearly Chingay parade is held in the city every December, though Chingay performances are also a common feature of Chinese festivities and major state celebrations in Penang.

Bangsawan, which was also developed in Penang, is a type of Malay theatre that incorporates Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian influences. Boria is also indigenous to Penang, featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.

Aside from these, the state has orchestras based in George Town, the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra, Penang Symphony Orchestra, as well as several chamber and school-based musical ensembles. Dewan Sri Pinang and Penangpac within Straits Quay are two of the major performing venues in the city.

Street art

Penang - Little Children on a Bicycle
Ernest Zacharevic's Children on a Bicycle in George Town

In 2012, as part of the George Town Festival, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of 6 wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles. In addition, several wrought iron caricatures have been installed within George Town, with each caricature detailing the city's history and the daily lives of its inhabitants. In recent years, the street art scene has also begun to grow out of the city, in areas such as Balik Pulau and Butterworth.

In addition, art exhibitions are frequently held at cultural centres within George Town, such as the Hin Bus Depot.

Museums

The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery in George Town is the state's primary public museum; it houses relics, photographs, maps, and other artefacts that document the history and culture of Penang.

Other museums in the city focus on religious and cultural aspects, as well as famous personalities, including the Penang Islamic Museum, Sun Yat-sen Museum, Batik Painting Museum, and Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery. Besides that, the birthplace of Malaysia's legendary singer-actor, P. Ramlee, has been restored and turned into a museum

In recent years, private-run museums have sprung up throughout the city, such as the Camera Museum and the Penang Toy Museum. A handful of newer 3D visual and interactive museums have also been established, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel.

Architecture

Penang Malaysia Wat-Chaiya-Mangkalaram-Temple-01
Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a Thai Buddhist temple at Pulau Tikus.

Penang is home to a relatively wide variety of architectures, both historical and modern. The historical core of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

Gurney Drive, George Town in 2018
Skyscrapers at Gurney Drive in George Town

Fort Cornwallis, in George Town, was the first structure built by the British in Penang. The city's UNESCO World Heritage Site also covers several important landmarks, including the City Hall, the Penang High Court, St. George's Church, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and the Central Business District at Beach Street. Aside from European architecture, a huge assortment of Asian architectural styles also exists throughout George Town, exemplified by buildings like the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Khoo Kongsi, Kapitan Keling Mosque and Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Meanwhile, the Siamese and the Burmese have also left a visible impact on certain landmarks within the city, such as Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, Dhammikarama Burmese Temple and Kek Lok Si.

Aside from the colonial era architecture, Penang Island contains most of the skyscrapers within Penang, with the state's tallest buildings all located within the island. The tallest skyscrapers in George Town, and by extension, Penang, include the Komtar Tower, Setia V, Gurney Paragon and Arte S.

Cuisine

Penang Hokkien Prawn Noodles
A bowl of Penang Hokkien mee

George Town, popularly regarded as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied cuisine which incorporates Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European influences. The city has been recognised by various publications, such as Time Magazine, CNN and Lonely Planet, as one of the Asian cities with the best street cuisine. According to Time Magazine in 2004, "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap," whilst Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet described George Town as the culinary epicentre of the many cultures that arrived after it was set up as a trading port in 1786, from Malays to Indians, Acehenese to Chinese, Burmese to Thais.

The various street dishes and delicacies of Penang include (but not limited to) asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, oh chien (fried oyster omelette), lor bak, rojak, pasembur, chendol, ais kacang, and tau sar pneah (bean paste biscuit).

Transport

Land

Cmglee Penang Second Bridge aerial
The Second Penang Bridge, 24 km-long (15 mi), is the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.

Penang Island is connected to the mainland by two bridges. The 13.5 km (8.4 mi) Penang Bridge, completed in 1985, spans the Penang Strait between Gelugor on the island and Perai on the mainland. Spanning 24 km (15 mi), the Second Penang Bridge is located further south, linking Batu Maung on the island to Batu Kawan on the mainland. The latter was opened to the public in 2014 and is currently the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.

The North–South Expressway, a 966 km-long (600 mi) expressway along the western part of Peninsular Malaysia, passes through Seberang Perai. In addition, about 34.9 km (21.7 mi) of the Malayan Railway's West Coast Line also lies within Seberang Perai, with the Butterworth railway station serving as the main railway station within northern Malaysia. Aside from the regular Malayan Railway services, the Butterworth railway station is the southernmost terminus of the State Railway of Thailand's Southern Line and the International Express from Bangkok. Notably, the train station is also one of the main stops of the Eastern and Oriental Express service between Bangkok and Singapore.

On Penang Island, the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway is a vital coastal highway that runs along the island's eastern seaboard, connecting George Town with the Penang Bridge, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, the Penang International Airport and the Second Penang Bridge. The Federal Route 6 is a pan-island trunk road, while the two major ring roads within George Town are the George Town Inner Ring Road and the Penang Middle Ring Road.

In Seberang Perai, the major ring roads and expressways include the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) and the Butterworth–Kulim Expressway.

Public transportation

Penang Street Art Bicycle
Children on a bicycle
GeorgeTown Altstadt
A trishaw, known locally as beca, on a street in George Town.

Under British rule, George Town served as a pioneer in public transportation within British Malaya. The city's first tram system, originally powered by steam, began operations in the 1880s. Although the tram lines have since been disused, another colonial legacy, the trishaw, still plies the city's streets, albeit catering primarily for tourists.

Funicular to the top of the Penang Hill, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
The Penang Hill Railway, Malaysia's only funicular railway system

Buses now form the backbone of public transportation within Penang. Public bus services are mainly provided by Rapid Penang, which operates 56 routes within Greater Penang, including interstate routes into Kedah and Perak. Among the routes are free-of-charge transit services such as the Central Area Transit, the Congestion Alleviation Transport and the Pulau Tikus Loop. In addition, the Hop-On Hop-Off bus service, which utilises open-topped double decker buses, has been introduced for tourists within George Town.

Meanwhile, the only rail-based transportation system within Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the peak of Penang Hill. Opened in 1923, it is also the sole funicular railway system in Malaysia.

Efforts are also being undertaken to promote pedestrianisation and the use of bicycles as an environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Dedicated cycling lanes have been paved throughout the city and in 2016, George Town became the first Malaysian city to operate a public bicycle-sharing service, with the inauguration of LinkBike.

The Penang Sentral in Butterworth is the main rapid transit hub within Penang. Penang Sentral's location, adjacent to the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal and the Butterworth railway station, allows it to function as a termini for public and interstate buses, ferry and train services.

Air

View of Penang International Airport and the Second Penang Bridge in 2017

Penang International Airport (PEN) is located in Bayan Lepas at the southeast of Penang Island, 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town. It serves as the main airport for northern Malaysia, with frequent links to major regional cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Doha. Penang International Airport is Malaysia's second busiest in terms of cargo traffic and recorded the third highest passenger traffic of all Malaysian airports.

The airport is also a hub for two Malaysian low-cost carriers - AirAsia and Firefly. Among the international carriers that operate out of the airport are SilkAir, Scoot, Jetstar Asia Airways, Cathay Dragon, China Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Thai Smile and Qatar Airways.

Sea

The Port of Penang with George Town in the background, as seen from Butterworth
Penang ferry
A Rapid Ferry crossing the Penang Strait towards George Town.

The Port of Penang, the main harbour in northern Malaysia, is operated by the Penang Port Commission. The Port consists of seven facilities, with six of them in Butterworth and Perai on the mainland, including the North Butterworth Container Terminal, Butterworth Deep Water Wharves and the Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal. The Port of Penang, the third busiest seaport in Malaysia, handled more than 1.52 million TEUs of cargo in 2017.

Meanwhile, Swettenham Pier, situated in the heart of George Town, is the sole Port facility on Penang Island. The pier now accommodates cruise ships, making it one of the major entry points into Penang. As of 2017, Swettenham Pier recorded 1.35 million tourist arrivals, thereby surpassing Port Klang as the busiest cruise shipping terminal in Malaysia; the pier has also attracted some of the world's largest cruise liners, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2. The pier also serves as a homeport for regional-based cruise ships.

Occasionally, the Port of Penang hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, the United States and most recently, China.

The cross-strait Rapid Ferry service connects George Town and Butterworth, and was formerly the only transportation link between Penang Island and the mainland until the completion of the Penang Bridge in 1985. At the time of writing, six ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth daily.


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