Malaysia is more than Kuala Lumpur. Take Penang, for instance, which is just as appealing and its development just as dynamic. The island is known not only as a city of education but also as the largest medical tourism destination in Southeast Asia.
Penang, which was the first British trade center in the Far East, is one of the most beautiful cities in the eastern region. Located northeast of the Malaysian peninsula, Penang is named after the pinang (betel nut) tree, which can be found all over the island.
Penang consists of Penang Island and Seberang Perai on the mainland peninsula. The two are connected by the 13.5 km Penang Bridge, which is the longest in Asia, and served by ferries.
Georgetown is a city on Penang Island that was named one of the best cities in Asia by AsiaWeek in 1998 and 2000. UNESCO has recognized it as a city with unique architecture. Georgetown has seen fast development over the last two centuries. Initially it was a swamp, but it was eventually transformed into a bustling trade center.
Downtown Georgetown has many old historical buildings. A British fortress was built in the city by Capt. Francis Light in 1786. Representing the British East India Company, Light accepted Penang in return for a pledge to protect Sultan Kedah from the Siamese. Light renamed it Prince of Wales Island and later established Georgetown in the eastern cape of the island, later known as Semenanjung Daratan.
In 1805, Penang became a dependent of Bengal and was later developed into the fourth Indian Presidency of British India. In 1828, Malacca and Singapore were included into Penang territory and residential areas were established. The economy in Penang developed fast and Georgetown founded the first English school in Southeast Asia in 1816. The Penang of today is a modern city that is considered the Silicon Valley of the East as many IT companies can be found on the island.
Like Kuala Lumpur, Penang is also a shopping paradise with goods ranging from electronic gadgets and jewelry to clothes and antiques. Prangin Mall is a good place to start as it is the biggest mall on the island.
Chinatown is a must-see area, considering that the Chinese ethnic population in Penang constitutes the majority. Located in the heart of Georgetown, it is quite busy, particularly with various festivals. Lines of stores serving as the traditional business center, a Chinese temple, a Hindu temple and a mosque can be found here.
If you love historical buildings, visit one of the many temples in the area, such as the landmark Kek Lok Si Temple. Built in 1886, it is one of the biggest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. It has a 30-meter high pagoda and a giant statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.