Penang is one of the most well known tourist destination and noted state in Malay. It is also known as the Pearl of the Orient. This multicultural island is also commonly regarded as the food capital of Malaysia and is a rapidly growing region. Penang consists of the Penang Island on the Strait of Malacca which is located about 8 kms to the west of the peninsular Malaysia. It also includes a strip of territory on the mainland across the strait which is known as the Seberang Perai.
The geography of the state consists of the irregular shaped island of Penang and the strip of hinterland across the narrow strip of water on the mainland called Seberang Perai. The Muda River forms the eastern and northern boundary of this territory while Perak lies in the South. The island consists of a narrow promontory in the northeast where the capital of Georgetown is located. The Central Hill range lies in the middle of the island rising to 830 meters while sandy beaches and narrow strips of coastal plains border the island. The Seberang Perai is almost flat as it stretches from the Perai River estuary. Major rivers of Penang are Penang, Dondang, Air Itam, Tukun and others.
The region has an equatorial climate, but influence of monsoon winds is strong. It remains hot and humid throughout the year and rainfall is concentrated in the months from April to September. The driest months are January and February. Thunderstorms are frequent in the region.
How to reach (transport) :
You can easily fly to Penang from a vast number of Asian and even some European destinations. The island is served by the Penang International Airport, located about 30 minutes away from Georgetown. Besides, the island also offers other communication options. For instance, you can also travel to this island by road across the Penang Bridge. The Penang ferry service operates a fleet of eight ferries between Butterworth on the mainland and Georgetown. Butterworth railway station is located close to the ferry and bus terminus and is a prominent rail terminal for Malayan trains heading towards south to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. You can also board trains to Thailand and Hat Yai from here. On the other hand, those favoring the bus route can count on Rapid Penang that operates bus services in Penang, Malaysia.
When to visit :
The best time to visit Penang is in December and January when the weather is somewhat less hot and humid. These are also the months of least rainfall.
Culture (fairs and festivals) and traditions :
Penang consists of a huge mix of different cultures. Ethnic Chinese are the majority though there are also Indians, Sumatrans, Siamese and British settlers. This has created a unique architecture and townscape. On 7th July, 2007, George Town was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
A number of festivals are celebrated in Penang. Some of these are :
- Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days with the highlights on 10th and 11th February. Open houses are kept, colorful parades, lion dances and fireworks are seen on the main roads.
- Qing Ming is celebrated on 4th April. It is also called Tomb sweeping festival or Pure Brightness festival. Relatives gather in graveyards to offer joss sticks, hell money and a number of other goods to their ancestors.
- Hungry Ghost festival is celebrated for a month in August and September. This is the time when ghosts roam the earth freely. Food offerings are set along roadsides and temples organize entertainments for the spirits. On the last day of the festival at the stroke of midnight, giant effigies of the King of Hades and hell money are burnt to see the spirits off to the underworld.
- The Mooncake festival or Mid autumn festival is celebrated on 19th September. Children carry paper and plastic lanterns around the neighborhood and delicious mooncakes are on sale.
- The Nine Empire Gods festival is a Taoist festival celebrated in October. The highlights are the mediums who go into trance and then immerse themselves in hot oil or pierce themselves with long spears.
- The Chingay Procession is another annual event where processions carry giant flags.
- The Dragon Boat festival is another colorful event of Penang.
Some of the most important sights of Penang are as follows :
- The historical heart of the world heritage site of George Town is a great place to explore on foot.
- Chinatown is another place to explore where clanhouses, shophouses and temples give you a feel of authentic Chinese lifestyle.
- Fort Cornwallis contains ruins of the British forts and the canons from that era.
- The State Art Gallery in Diwan Sri Pinang contains exhibits of the leading Malaysian artists.
- The Kek-Lok-Si temple of Supreme bliss is the largest Buddhist temple of southeast Asia.
- The Tropical Spice garden contains 100 species of spice trees as well as a vast amount of other exotic flora.
A good stay compliments a good vacation. There are vast choices of accommodation in Penang. You can either stay in George Town or at one of the beaches. G hotel, Cititel, Lone Pine, Eastern and Oriental, Bayview, Golden Sands, Eastin etc are luxury hotels with four or five stars. Mid range accommodations include Yang Keng, Rainbow Paradise, Sunway etc while there are several resorts like Jerejak rainforest, Evergreen Laurel, Bayview Beach, Rasa Sayang of Shangri La and others.