Before Penang, the 'Pearl of the Orient', became the country's oldest British settlement, it was Pulau Pinang, literally 'Island of the Betel Nut'. It's main city, Georgetown, was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for preserving its heritage as a historic colonial port with multicultural influences. Despite a skyline pierced by the Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (KOMTAR) skyscraper, the streets still have an estimated 12,000 pre-war houses, making it an architectural gem.
Consider joining the guided walking tours organized by Penang Heritage Trust, a renowned NGO dedicated to promoting Penang’s cultural and built heritage. Tours are by prior arrangements only and priced from RM50 per person. Find affordably-priced accommodation at Chulia Street, a backpacker's haven, which is located within the core zone of the UNESCO Heritage Site and is itself home to many quaint coffee shops and restaurants.
Outside of Georgetown, visitors still flock to take the railway 850m up Penang Hill, which has been faithfully ferrying passengers up since 1923. The top of Penang Hill is a full 5 degrees C cooler than the rest of the island and was a popular expat refuge before the advent of air-conditioning, which explains the colonial mansions atop the hill. Penang Hill also supports the last patch of tropical rainforest on Penang and as such is deemed of considerable natural value.
With its sandy shores and vast open sea, the main beach of Batu Ferringhi offers an amazing respite from the hustle and bustle of town. Check into any one of the resorts that line the stretch and spend your afternoon soaking in the soothing sound of lapping waves and bright sunny rays of this tropical paradise. At night, the popular tourist belt comes to life as traders hawk their wares while eateries bring out their best menus to satiate even the most discerning of palates.
Streets of Georgetown, Penang
Penang State Mosque, Georgetown