Widely known also as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is one of Asia's most famous islands. Its natural beauty and exotic heritage have been attracting curious visitors for centuries.
Travel guides have referred to it as "... a place of mysterious temples and palm-shrouded beaches", while literary giant Somerset Maugham is known to have stayed on the island and spun tales about the romance of the white planter in South-East Asia.
Penang today is very much an amalgam of the old and the new – a bustling port, a heritage city and an industrial base. Perhaps it has more to offer per square mile than any other place in the world. For the sheer variety of locales, cultures and foods, Penang is hard to beat.
In its capital George Town, modern skyscrapers rise from one of Southeast Asia's largest collections of intact prewar buildings. Manufacturers of sophisticated electronic goods compete for space with wet markets and old temples. Where else can you find a century-old church, a Chinese temple, an Indian temple, and a Muslim mosque all within a five-minute walk from one another? Likewise, tall urban structures stand beside the red-tiled roofs of Chinatown and "Little India" is just across the road, while the Malay kampungs lie on the outskirts.
The seamless melding of the many peoples of Penang is best reflected in the delicious hawker foods (available around the clock) and the adherence to traditions and customs. Festivals abound throughout the year.
Should one wish to get away from the busy city, the idyllic beaches and soothing hills are but minutes away, while the industrial free trade zone, the "Silicon Valley of the East", and the international airport are equally accessible.
Penang or its Malay name of Pulau Pinang is made up of a turtle-shaped island, a total of 285 square kilometers, and a strip of land called Seberang Prai on Peninsular Malaysia about 48 kilometers wide.
Since 1985, the island has been joined to the mainland by the Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world. Alternatively, travellers arriving from the mainland can hop onto the ferry and take a 20-minute ride across. There are also international flights that connect directly to the international airport on the island.