This was a review I wrote about Penang when I was studying in London back in March 2004. The information will still be relevant for most. Enjoy....!
Where Is Penang?
Oh...Penang! My sweet Penang. It has been about six months now since I left home. For those who are unaware about Penang, it is one of the 13 states in Malaysia. It is located in the north of Peninsular Malaysia between Perak and Kedah, two other states. Penang consists of one part Island and the other part Mainland connected by a 13.5KM long bridge that used to be the longest bridge in Asia 10 years ago.
Penang was founded by Sir Francis Light. Sir Francis Light was also the person who founded Adelaide in Australia. He fooled the Sultan of Kedah, where Penang used to belong to in promising to provide Military aid against Thailand. He never kept his promise and further acquired the small part of the mainland opposite the island as security reasons to prevent attacks from the Sultan of Kedah. Penang later became one of the main ports for trading because of its convenient location between China and India routes. It also act as an Army base for the British.
If you happened to drop by in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, Penang is just an hour away by Plane or 3-4hours drive or by coach. Cheap air tickets can be bought through Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com) that could range from as low as GBP2.00-GBP20.00. Travel by coach costs roughly the same. Avoid travelling by train that could take up to 10 hours due to the amount of station it stops at along the way. Malaysia Airlines fly to Penang directly from Heathrow twice a week.
Places To Stay
Penang have various 3-5 star hotels located in Batu Ferringhi such as Shangri-la, Novotel, Crown Jewel and Holiday Inn. There are also budget hostels that costs less than GBP5 a night.
Places To Visit
While in Penang, you must visit the beaches (quite dirty now), Kek Lok Si (a Pagoda), The Snake Temple, Penang Hill, Khoo Kongsi and Komtar. You can also choose to walk in Georgetown which have different types of shops with collonial architecture selling almost anything. If you like the outdoors, you can hike to Muka Head or Pantai Aceh which is the small forest reserve in Penang. Other famous hiking spots include Air Itam Dam, Bukit Jambul Hill, Penang Hill and Youth Park.
A new spa and resort have just been opened in Pulau Jerejak which is a small island beside Penang. You can see the island while from the Penang Bridge or on the East side on the island. It should be worth a visit since all the facilities are brand new.
Penang boasts one of the most diverse culture. It consists of Chinese, Malay, Indian and others. Most of us can speak and understand English. So, it becomes a tourist friendly destination.
Indulge yourself to the various types of Hawker Food while in Penang. The food are virtually available everywhere. Famous dish include Char Kuey Tiao (Fried Flat Rice Noodles), Poh piah (Spring Rolls), Asam Laksa (Spicy Dish) and the list just goes on and on. The most famous location to have this is in Gurney Drive.
We celebrate most of the events like Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Aidilfitri. Special occasions also include Thaipusam which is an Indian celebration with rituals and Kew Ong Yeah (Nine Emperor's Son), a Chinese Celebration that requires the people to fast on Vegetarion for 9 days. This are the major celebrations that you can experience in Penang. Every year there is also the Bon Odori held by the Japanese community with a massive fireworks display in the night.
Your Shopping Needs
You can do your shopping in Island Plaza, Prangin Mall, Super Komtar, Megamall Pinang, Gurney Plaza, One Stop Midlands Park and Bukit Jambul Complex. There are other small shopping centres mostly nearby to the hotels you are staying.
It has also been the spot of the filming of Anna And The King staring Chow Yun-Fatt, Bai Ling and Jodie Foster. Read about the movie at this site http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?id=1800020267&d=hv&cf=info
If have to make any calls from the UK to Malaysia for your hotel booking, other arrangements or for people to contact you while on holiday. Use Just Dial, to make your calls at national rate. Check http://www.justdial.tk for more info. It really works.
You can visit the Malaysian Tourism centre in Trafalgar Square to get more information or any other enquiries regarding places to visit in Malaysia. Here are some websites that might be useful if you are travelling to Penang.