Discover Malaysia with Penang Travels!
Penang Malaysia is situated between the Malaysia peninsula and the Island of Sumatra overlooking the Strait of Malacca. Upon hearing the word Penang most would assume it is in reference to Pulau Pinang. In the local Malay dialect Pulau means island and Pinang means “betel nut palm”. Therefore, this island is known as the “island of the betel nut palm” in local dialect. “Betel nut” is actually an areca nut that is commonly found on south Pacific Islands and throughout SE Asia. Additionally, the nut has a mild narcotic effect similar to nicotine. As a result, it has been chewed like common tobacco by the natives for centuries.
“Pinang” Betel Nut Palm
Early Explorers Discover Penang Malaysia
The ambitions of the Ming Dynasty led to the exploration of the Strait of Malacca and the discovery of Penang. As a result, the first documented evidence of the island is found on the seafaring maps of Admiral Zheng He. In modern times, Pulau Pinang has a very large Chinese population relative to other states in Malaysia. However, large scale Chinese immigration to Malaysia would not begin until the 19th century during the tin mining boom. Although the trade routes between China and Penang were established as early as the 15th century by Admiral Zheng He.
Next came the arrival of the Sumatrans and the Arabs in the early 18th century. Settlements were then established on the island and these two cultural groups have since intermarried and assimilated into the local Malay culture. Subsequently, in 1786 the British would arrive in the form of the British East India Company. As a result of the British, Malaysia would be introduced to cultural and economic alterations that have permanently changed the cultural and geographical landscape.
The British Acquisition of Penang
The British East India Company immediately recognized the strategic geographical importance of Penang’s location. Being located on the Strait of Malacca was ideal for the establishment of a British stronghold to check the colonial endeavors of the French and Dutch in SE Asia.
Therefore, their representative Captain Francis Light was dispatched to negotiate with the Sultan of Kedah regarding the acquisition of Penang. For the captain, the timing could not be better. Fortunately, the sultan had been having difficulties repelling the incursions of the Siamese and Burmese. As a result, he agreed to let the British have possession of PUlau Pinang in return for military assistance. Unfortunately for the sultan, the British would renege on their promise of protection. However, the deed was done and Penang Malaysia would remain as a British possession until the 20th century Japanese occupation and subsequent independence of Malaysia.
The location of Penang Georgetown was ideal to establish a seaport on the lucrative sea lanes that ran between China and India. Therefore, under British authority George Town would be transformed into a duty free port. Additionally, agricultural production of spice was implemented on the island in the 18th century. Plus, demand for rubber and tin would explode in the late 19th century.
Multicultural Legacy in Penang
As a result of the growing agricultural interests of the British they began to import labor from southern India. Also, the Chinese had been immigrating to Penang for many years to work in the tin mines and at the seaport. The result was a large Chinese and Indian population that remained here after Malaysia received independence from colonial rule.
Ethnicity Population Percentage
Chinese 689,800 41.5%
Indian 166,000 10%
Malay (Bumiputra) 693,100 41.7%
Others 4,700 0.3%
Non Malaysian Citizens 103,300 6.2%
Festivals In Penang Malaysia
Therefore, the lasting legacy of the British colony in Penang is cultural diversity. Additionally, the three primary ethnic groups of Penang Georgetown all remain devoted to the cultural practices of their forefathers. As a result, there is an eclectic mix of ethnic holidays every year. However, the four primary festival celebrations are Wesak Day, Thaipusam, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Ironically, 3 of these celebrations carry strong religious implications. Thaipusam, Wesak Day and Hari Raya are all centered around religious themes. The primary religions being Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam respectively. Additionally, this religious diversity is further divided along ethic lines Tamil Indian (Hindu) Chinese (Buddhist) and Malay (Islam).
ISLAM + HINDUISM + BUDDHISM = PENANG MALAYSIA
To be clear, Malaysia is a multicultural country and these religious celebrations are Penang attractions for everyone who wishes to join in. Nonetheless, the celebrations are still heavily divided along ethnic lines just the same. Below, is a short description of the 4 main festival celebrations. Please note that the list is not all inclusive and there are many additional celebrations here throughout the year.
The word Thaipusam can be broken down into 2 words. Thai which means the Tamil month of January/February and Pusam is the name of a star. Pusam is a star that reaches its highest point in the night sky on the day of the Thaipusam Celebration. Additionally, the festival is held during the full moon that occurs during the month of “Thai”.
Thaipusam is predominately celebrated by Tamil Indians in countries that have a large Tamil population. Malaysia has a large population of Tamil Indians, therefore festival attractions definitely include the Thaipusam celebration. The ancient theme of the celebration was the giving of the spear “Vel” to Lord Murugan by Parvati and he used it to vanquish the demon army of “Asuras”. The 2017 celebration attracted over 1,000,000 visitors to the location of Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple which is dedicated to Lord Murugan! The Thaipusam festival is amazing and should be included as one of the best Penang Malaysia things to do.
Lord Murugan with his “Vel”
Penang Chinese Spring Festival
Also known as “Chinese New Year Celebrations“, the Spring Festival is the most significant Chinese holiday of the year. Therefore, every year in January/February the Chinese celebrate the change from winter solstice to spring equinox. The Chinese new year falls on the new moon that begins annually between January 21 and February 20. The Chinese Spring Festival celebrations start on the eve preceding the new moon and end on the 15th day of the following calendar month. In China it is a national holiday and it is also devoutly celebrated by other countries that have large Chinese populations. Therefore, Spring festival in Penang Georgetown is one of it’s top attractions.
As a result, there are fireworks displays nearly every night during Chinese New Year celebrations. Additionally, there is the annual Chinese New Year Street Party event. During this event the city of Georgetown closes off a large section of the city to vehicle traffic. Throughout this closed off area there are many stages set up for performers. There is also a large selection of Chinese food delights to indulge in. Plus, there are the stage performances featuring traditional music and dance including the Dragon Dance and also the Lion Dance.
Year of the Rooster 2017
Penang Pai Ti Kong Festival
The 9th day of the Chinese New Year is a very special day for the Hokkien population of George Town. As a result, this day is commonly referred to as the Hokkien New Year. Specifically, the Hokkiens are honoring the “Jade Emperor” also known as the “God of Heaven”. The Hokkiens believe that the Jade Emperor saved their ancestors from a ruthless army in ancient China. Therefore, the Hokkiens pay tribute every year during the annual Spring Festival celebrations. This celebration, also know as Pai Ti Kong Festival is held on the eve of the 8th day of Chinese New Year on Pengkalan Weld at Chew Jetty. This is considered a very important local event and every year the Chief Minister attends the celebrations. True to tradition, the Pai Ti Kong celebration in 2017 was attended by the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng.
Lim Guan Eng at Chew Jetty 2017
Wesak is a deviation from the Pali term Vesakha. Wesak Day commemorates the birthday, enlightenment and Paranirvana (death) of Gautama Buddha. Therefore, the celebration is very important to Buddhists worldwide. As a result, all nations with a sizable population of Buddhist devotees engage in the annual celebration. Wesak Day celebrations are held every Spring although they typically are not held on the same day in every country. However, they are based on the same Theravada traditions.
The Chinese population in Penang is mostly Buddhist and therefore Wesak Day is an important festival here. Other important symbols of Buddhist dedication include the Kek Lok Si Temple or “Temple of Supreme Bliss” in Hokkien. Kek Lok Si is believed to be the largest Buddhist temple in all of Malaysia. There are several temples on the grounds that were built over a period of about 40 years. A popular attraction is the “Pagoda of Rama VI” also known as the “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas”.
Pagoda of Rama VI
Penang Wesak Day Procession
Wesak Day celebrations begin very early in the morning when Buddhist devotees flock to the local temples to meditate and pay tribute. Additionally, throughout the day acts of charity take place such as the distribution of free vegetarian meals and doves are also set free. However, the celebrations don’t reach their apex until evening and the commencement of the Wesak Day Procession. The grand procession begins at the Malaysian Buddhist Association on 182 Burma Road and passes through the streets of George Town. There are beautiful floats covered with flowers, children singing, monks chanting and sprinkling holy water on devotees. This annual Wesak Day celebration has been held in George Town every year since 1949!
Eid al-Fitr Muslim Festival
Eid al-Fitr is a Muslim holiday celebration that commemorates the end of the Ramadan fast. As a result, the celebration begins only after the conclusion of the month long fast of Ramadan. Similar to Penang’s other festivals, the day it begins can fluctuate. The reason for the fluctuation is that observers wait until the arrival of the new moon which concludes the month of Ramadan and ushers in the new month. This is typically June/July on the western calendar. However, the arrival of the new moon must be verified by local authorities and therefore varies by locality worldwide.
In Malaysia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. The Malay translation of Hari Raya is “celebration day”. Similar to the other festivals, Hari Raya has great significance in Malaysia because it is a majority Muslim country.
Penang Hill Mosque “Masjid Bukit Bendera“
During Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Muslims in Malaysia greet each other commonly with “Selamat Hari Raya” which means “Happy Eid”. It is a time when workers in the city return home to the villages and visit family members. Additionally, it is common for Malaysian Muslims to wear traditional clothing for the celebration and to welcome neighbors into their homes.
Fireworks are used during the celebration however, their usage is not nearly as prolific as with the Chinese New Year festivities. Traditionally, large fireworks have been manufactured out of bamboo although their usage has proved very dangerous due to the magnitude of the explosion. Therefore, authorities have banned their usage in many areas especially during early morning hours of Ramadan.
Penang Malaysia My Second Home
The open multicultural lifestyle in Malaysia is universal and all cultural elements are welcome here. As a result, the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism has made the country readily accessible to expats from around the world. The program is called “Malaysia My Second Home” (MM2H). Therefore, global travelers who visit Pulau Pinang and other locations throughout Malaysia have the viable option of relocating here. Furthermore, the culture, unique food, Penang Malaysia weather and brilliant natural environment are financially accessible to most people.
The program was designed to be extremely competitive with similar long term visa programs throughout Asia and worldwide. As a result, there are clear novel benefits to procuring a MM2H Visa for you and your family. Typically, these types of programs which offer a high standard of living with low cost were ideal for retirees. Indeed, a significant percentage of the 30,000 successful MM2H applicants are retirees. However, in the era of globalization jet setters may find that the Penang Beaches and infrastructure suits them very well!
Successful applicants will receive a 10 year multiple entry visa. As a result they can reside anywhere on peninsular Malaysia, the federal territories and Sabah. Additionally, they can bring their spouses, children and parents who are over 60 years of age. Economic opportunity here is infinite! The local economy is strong and has tremendous potential to evolve and increase interconnection with other ASEAN countries and also China. Moreover, the banking system and government finances are sound in contrast to developed markets. Your MM2H visa will allow you to open bank accounts here in Malaysia that otherwise would not have been available. Plus, the offshore banking opportunities in the Labuan Federal Territory will offer you additional options for asset protection and wealth expansion.
Penang Malaysia Things To Do
Pulau Pinang offers an extraordinary selection of destinations for both short and long term stays. Therefore, city dwellers who enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life will be right at home here. Additionally, nature lovers there are beaches and pristine mountain trails for those who enjoy the challenges of hiking. Additionally, the island has a flora and fauna that will amaze botanists and animal enthusiasts.
For the city dwellers, George Town is the second largest city in Malaysia and has all of the big city amenities. Shopping malls, museums, street art and a wide diversity of dining options are available to all who come here. Additionally, easy access to Seberang Perai from George Town via the local ferry will quickly put you at the doorstep of Peninsular Malaysia. From the ferry terminal it is a short walk to both the ETS train and express bus service that runs throughout the peninsula. Indeed, modern infrastructure in Malaysia has been rapidly implemented. In fact, Kuala Lumpur is only 2 hours away when you take the new ETS train. Moreover, George Town suburbs such as Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Feringghi are easily accessible from downtown.
Penang Malaysia Natural Attractions
For those who prefer the natural environment you will enjoy many attractions on the island. These locations are all easily accessible from Komtar in George Town.
Penang Botanical Gardens – consists of a world class collection of trees and plants which have been cultivated and preserved for over a century. There is a wide diversity of flora and fauna for the novice and the botanist alike.
Penang Hill – is a challenging 5 kilometers uphill from the Botanical gardens, but it is a rewarding experience featuring the best views on the island. For those who wish to forgo the extra challenge of the uphill hike, there is the funicular train which will bring you straight to the top. Penang Hill will be the high point of your trip o the island – literally!
Balik Palau – In English this translates as the “backside of the island”. This consists of a mountain drive through pristine jungle. Along the way there are waterfalls, durian farms, nutmeg plantations and local fruit stands to satisfy your curiosity. Additionally, there are some great viewpoints looking out over the Malacca Strait towards Sumatra.
Taman Negara – This translates as “state park” in English. Taman Negara is located in the NW section of the island just outside Teluk Bahang. For the adventurers, the park features nature hikes that take you past Monkey Beach to the Muka Head lighthouse. Additional hiking options include making the trek through the park to Pantai Kerakut. Boat rides are available to Monkey Beach from Teluk Bahang if you don’t want to sweat it out.
Tropical Spice Garden – located midway between Batu Feringghi and Teluk Bahang is the spice gardens of Pulau Pinang. At the spice garden you will get a good look at tropical spices and also the amazing flora that is endemic to the tropics. Additionally, there is a spice restaurant and gift shop located within the gardens for good food and souvenirs. A beach awaits across the road from the gardens plus more restaurants featuring local fare.
Air Hitam – this translates as “black water” in English. The area features a huge fresh water dam located at the base of Bukit Bendera. Additionally, Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple is located adjacent to Air Hitam. Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and features a giant monument dedicated to Guanyin.
Pantai Miami – no joking, they have a Miami Beach on Pulau Pinang! Located in Tanjung Bungah on the way to Batu Feringghi you will find a nice beach and seaside park. Additional attractions include the Cafe Miami and also Taman Rama Rama is nearby.
Monkey Beach – located a few kilometers from the park office at Taman Negara, Monkey beach is a refreshing destination after the hike in. There are restaurants available on the beach and cool drinks for a modest price. There are lots of monitor lizards and monkeys to enjoy in the area. If you are lucky you will spot some on the way in. Plus, there is sea transport to and from Teluk Bahang and also jet ski rentals.
Pantai Keracut – located across the promontory from Monkey Beach is Pantai Keracut. This is a more secluded option that involves a pristine jungle hike. There are mountain streams and small waterfalls to view along the way. Wildlife viewing opportunities includes seasonal nesting turtles. Plus, Tasik Meromiktik which contains a unique layered mixture of sea water and fresh water.
Batu Feringghi – features the premier beach on the island. This beach runs for 2-3 kilometers in front of the plush seaside resorts, restaurants, bars and cafes in Batu Feringghi.
The cultural diversity is also reflected in the many food varieties which are readily available at reasonable prices. As a result, there are a large number of Indian, Chinese and Malay restaurants located throughout Georgetown. Additionally, food is also commonly found street side in what are referred to as hawker stalls. There are special markets known as hawker centers that are located throughout town. One of the largest is the world famous Gurney Drive Hawker Center. Plus, Chulia Street hawker stalls are very popular with tourists and locals. These food bazaars open up at night and the city comes alive to enjoy the great food and cooler temperatures. At the hawker stalls every imaginable cultural delight can be found at low prices!
Pulau Pinang is also one of the world’s largest producers of nutmeg and other spices. One particular natural food that is abundant on the island is an exotic fruit called durian. Unfortunately, durian has a bad reputation as being very smelly and having a strange taste. However, many people love it and travel from throughout Asia to enjoy Penang’s special fruit.
Due to Penang’s large Buddhist and Hindu population vegetarian restaurants are very common. Therefore, a large variety of both Chinese and also Indian varieties are available. A great vegetarian restaurant is available at the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple on the lower levels.
Peranakan Chinese In Penang
Last but not least, there is a unique cultural phenomenon here known as the Peranakan Chinese or the Straits born Chinese. Also known as Nyonya, they are Chinese immigrants who came to Malay Peninsula during the British colonial period. The Peranakan are unique compared to other Chinese immigrants because they embraced the local Malay culture. This is in contrast with most other Chinese immigrants who bring China with them and retain their culture of origin. As a result, the Nyonya food has developed as a mixture of Malay spice with traditional Chinese foods. This special cooking is a very unique Penang food that can be found only in Malaysia!