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Penang Island Guide


Georgetown, Penang's capital, sits roughly on the right arm of the skin, while the Muka Head Lighthouse would be on the left arm. Somewhere near the head lies a cluster of good beaches that have helped Penang develop a reputation as a resort destination. Penang Hill sits at the centre, or heart, while the figurative legs are hosts to the international airport and the Batu Maung Fishing Village. Across the straits, Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), the other territorial half of the State of Penang, is linked to Georgetown by ferry and the Fort Cornwallis marks the spot where Captain Francis Light first set foot on Penang on July 16, 1786. The hastily built wooden fort was later reinforced by convict labour. At the time no one predicted that a history gallery and a souvenir shop within the fort would become as well known as the Seri Rambai Cannon that was once salvaged from the sea. Echos of colonialism are found in the Town Hall and City Hall. The Padang Kota Lama, where many important local events are held, was once training grounds for British imperial soldiers. The eccentric Clock Tower along Lebuh Light at Lebuh Pantai was constructed in honour of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee by a Straits Chinese British subject. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion marks the legacy of another wealthy Chinese resident of Penang, but one of a very different nature. A masterpiece of architecture and eccentricity is on display at the Malayan Railway Building, which hosts no nearby railway.

Lebuh Pantai

More colonial legacies line one of Penang's oldest streets, Lebuh Pantai. It is the centre of a modern business district congested with a milieu traders and travelers. Along the waterfront is the Frank Swettenham Pier, terminus for the bright yellow ferries that connect Georgetown with Butterworth. Nearby Kampung Ayer, a neighbourhood on stilts, was convincingly employed for the filming of Anna and the King as the setting of a 19th century dock in Siam. Wandering further into Weld Quay with its pre-crane docking warehouses and colourful waterfront may have you feeling like you stepped back in time.

Chinatown & KOMTAR

When viewed from the top of KOMTAR, Chinatown looks like a colourful fabric of russet roofs and crusted stuccoes. Godowns, ancient looking warehouses along the waterfront, and two-story shutter-fronted shophouses, are ubiquitous through Chinatown and an important part of Penang’s architectural make-up. Here you will find as many community establishments as you will shops, and some that serve as both, such as Eu Yan Sang traditional Chinese medicine shop. The Carpenters’ Guild acted as a newcomer association for Chinese carpenters and the Khoo Kongsi and Har Yang Sit Teik Tong Yeoh Kongsi a re just two examples of clan associations where members of the Chinese community could find support and society. Traditional temples also make their home in Chinatown, from Hainan Temple, dedicated to the protector of seafarers, to the Chung Keng Kooi Temple, whose origins are in the darker side of Hakka secret societies. If Penang is a destination for gourmands, Chinatown is one reason why. Institutions such as Goh Thow Chick Café have brought the art of serving Malay chicken rice to the level of art.

Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (Pitt Street)

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 planners' idea of a "street of harmony" remains. For more than a century, through good and bad times, the Taoist Goddess of Mercy Temple, the Hindu Maha Mariamman Temple, the Muslim Kapitan Keling Mosque and the Acheen Street Mosque have been close neighbours.

Little India, Gurney Drive & 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 Little India, w here saris, garlands, trinkets, sculptures, Indian music and curries abound.

West of Jalan Penang hides an enclave of stylish mansions – Millionaire's Row. Gurney Drive used to be a great place to swim, but is now the product of land reclamation, condominium development and cafés. In the evening it is also the setting for clandestine bike racing. Jalan Burma in Pulau Tikus hosts a lively wine-and-dine scene including destinations such as Club Mixx.

History and culture rule everywhere you turn in Penang. St George's Anglican Church, the Penang Museum and the Heritage Centre at Syed Alatas Mansion offer reminders of the past. The active Penang Heritage Trust has done a commendable job of preserving the details of Penang’s history and spreads the wealth of its information through its heritage walk and special talks.

Batu Ferringhi & Northern Beaches

Batu Ferringhi's 3-km (1.9 mi) beachfront is packed cheek-in-jowl with world-class hotels and eateries along with a nocturnal clutch of trinket stalls, tailors, street hawkers and rowdy bars. Several other beaches of the North Coast such as Teluk Bahang Beach, Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach, Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Mas prove progressively less crowded and more pristine as you head west.

Penang Hill & Air Itam

A series of hills rise up towards the island's centre and the highest of these, Penang Hill, is 821 m (2700 ft) above sea level. In its foothills lie the Botanical Gardens and the Air Itam Dam. The Kek Lok Si Temple provides an imposing spectacle when approaching the Air Itam district from downtown, befitting its name "Million Buddhas Precious Pagoda".





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