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culture by locations
Pearl Of The Orient
With its capital Georgetown being one of the only two UNESCO World Malaysia Heritage Sites, Penang’s unique cultural heritage along with its beautiful charms make it one of the must-visit destinations in the country.
With over 200 years of being a busy port, Penang had been influenced by cultures brought in by traders from all around the world. Penang’s time under the British rule also imparted a distinct western flavour that lasts till this very day.
Although widely known as a “beautiful and exotic tourist destination”, what is most impressive about Penang is undoubtedly its historical significance a significance that is rivalled only by Malacca. Despite being one of the most developed cities in Malaysia, Georgetown nonetheless managed to prevent its traditions from being swept away by the modern progress, retaining much of the city’s cultural heritage. Even the skirmishes and battles during World War II between the Japanese and the Allied forces left much of the city’s historical buildings still standing.
Should visitors prefer a more modern destination to visit, Penang is known as a major shopping hub in northern Malaysia, with the developed portion of the town housing many shopping malls. Of note are Queensbay Mall, Gurney Plaza, KOMTAR and Penang Times Square. This unique co-existence of traditional and modern culture allows visitors to find the best from both worlds in Penang Times Square.
This unique co-existence of traditional and modern culture allows visitors to find the best from both worlds in Penang. As a matter of fact, Yahoo! Travel has ranked Penang as no.8 of must-see island destinations before you die, along with other beautiful places such as Bali, Galapagos and Palm Islands. The writer of the article praised Penang, especially nothing the delicious island cuisine as well as its historical architecture as its main attraction points.
The history of Penang stretches back all the way to 1786, when English captain Francis Light convinced the Sultan of Kedah to hand over Penang (and Seberang Perai/Province Wellesley on the mainland 14 years later) to the British East India Company.
Originally known as Pulau Pinang (Betel Nut Island in Malay), Penang was renamed into Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the throne who would eventually become George IV of the United Kingdom. At that time, Penang served as the Britain’s harbour and naval base in the region.
In 1832, Penang became part of the Straits Settlement along with Malacca and Singapore and later joined the Malayan Union and Federation of Malaya (all under British rule) till it achieved independence along with the rest of Malaya (later Malaysia) on 1957.
Widely known as the food capital of Malaysia, Penang was featured as the entry for best street food in TIME magazine in 2004 with the claim that “only in Penang could food this good be this cheap”. Mouth-Watering dishes are found all around Penang with very affordable prices.
Although Penang is most well known for its Laksa and Char Kway Teow, great hawker food of all kinds can be found here. Penang cuisine is mainly based around Indian, Nyonya, Chinese and Malay food with some influence from Thailand. From satays, burgers and mee goreng mamak to chendol, ice kacang and rojak, Penang is definitely a must visit place for gastronomic enthusiasts, especially if you’re in a tight budget.
Recommended places for the best food in Penang are Gurney Drive, Chulia Street, Swatow Lane, Pulau Tikus, New Lane and Penang Road
Historical Places to Explore
Penang is riddled with structures of immense historical value places of great significance, dating back up to hundreds of years ago. Having been visited and lived in by people of various cultures, many different styles of architecture can be found on the streets of Penang. Historical structures are predominantly of British and Chinese origin due to their long involvement with the island.
Having served as a colony of the British Empire for many years, Penang has a large number of British-styled architecture around the island. Among the historical structures of note are Fort Cornwallis (oldest building, constructed by Francis Light), the State Assembly Building, the City Hall, the Town Hall and many more. These buildings “render the eclectic architectural styles of the Victorian and Georgian eras as well as Art Deco and Anglo-Indian”.
Another significant influence on Penang’s architecture was from the Chinese. The home of many wealthy Chinese traders and craftsmen throughout the years, Penang is greatly influenced by culture brought over from mainland China.
The historical buildings are remnants of the 19th century Penangnite Chinese’s lifestyles. Ancient Temples were built as places of worship for the Chinese. Clan centres and temples were the places where 19th century clan members congregated, while guilds which housed Chinese craftsmen. Large mansions of important Chinese in the previous centuries still remain as displays of their wealth. Places to visit include the King Street Temples, Muntri Street’s Hainan Temple and Chulia Street’s Teochew Temple, Cheah Kongsi, Khoo Kongsi and Yap Kongsi, Goldsmith’s Guild and Carpenter’s Guild as well as Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and Leong Fee’s Mansion.
Another location of note is related to Dr Sun Yat Sen, the great revolutionary leader of China. Dr Sun once operated a base in 120, Armenian Street in Penang, which has since been converted into a gallery where a vast collection of Dr Sun’s personal items can be found.
Other interesting buildings include various olden mosques (such as the Benggali Mosque, Kapitan Keling Mosque and Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh), the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Sri Mahamariamman Temple and many more.
Arts and Culture
Much of Penang heritage has been rather resistant to the forces of modern development, allowing a variety of traditional practices to continue flourishing in the state. Craftsmen of various items such as rattan products, songkok, and traditional Chinese signboards can still be found here, creating beautiful handmade products not found anywhere else.