Great Penang

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah



Adrian Cheah loves Penang. He brings you an interesting insights on the UNESCO heritage city of George Town where he calls home.

About Penang

Widely known also as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is one of Asia's most famous islands. Its natural beauty and exotic heritage have been attracting curious visitors for centuries.

Penang © Adrian Cheah

Travel guides have referred to it as "... a place of mysterious temples and palm-shrouded beaches", while literary giant Somerset Maugham is known to have stayed on the island and spun tales about the romance of the white planter in South-East Asia.



Penang © Adrian Cheah

Penang today is very much an amalgam of the old and the new – a bustling port, a heritage city and an industrial base. Perhaps it has more to offer per square mile than any other place in the world. For sheer variety of locales, cultures and foods, Penang is hard to beat.

Penang © Adrian Cheah

In it's capital Georgetown, modern skyscrapers rise from one of Southeast Asia's largest collections of intact prewar buildings. Manufactures of sophisticated electronic goods compete for space with wet markets and old temples. Where else can you find a century-old church, a Chinese temple, an Indian temple, and a Muslim mosque all within a five-minute walk from one another? Likewise, tall urban structures stand beside the red-tiled roofs of Chinatown and "Little India" is just across the road, while the Malay kampungs lie on the outskirts.

Penang © Adrian Cheah

The seamless melding of the many peoples of Penang is best reflected in the delicious hawker foods (available around the clock) and the adherence to traditions and customs. Festivals abound throughout the year.

Penang © Adrian Cheah

Should one wish to get away from the busy city, the idyllic beaches and soothing hills are but minutes away, while the industrial free trade zone, the "Silicon Valley of the East", and the international airport are equally accessible.

Penang © Adrian Cheah

Penang or its Malay name of Pulau Pinang is made up of a turtle-shaped island, a total of 285 square kilometers, and a strip of land called Seberang Prai on Peninsular Malaysia about 48 kilometers wide.

Since 1985, the island has been joined to the mainland by the Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world. Alternatively, travellers arriving from the mainland can hop onto the ferry and take a 20-minute ride across. There are also international flights that connect directly to the international airport on the island.

General information about Penang

State Emblem

 The betelnut tree gave the island its name.

The Penang Bridge is not only a source of pride to the people of Pulau Pinang, it also unites the island with the mainland and part of the State. In addition, it symbolises the unity between the State and the Federation. The two pillars of the bridge stand for two basic features of the new Economic Policy, namely the eradication of poverty and the restructuring of society. The four cables represent the four major races of the nation – Malays, Chinese, Indians and others.

The five blue and white waves symbolise the five principles of the Rukunegara (Principles of Malaysian Nationhood) and also the five administrative districts of the State. The five colours at the base of the betelnut tree have the same meaning.

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Little India of George Town

Little India © Adrian Cheah

Not many visitors and tourists to George Town's famous Little India enclave know that the area's name was adopted by the local authorities only nine years ago.

But whatever it is named, visitors hardly fail to sense the remarkable nostalgic charm and almost innocent simplicity of the area. And no wonder. Little India breathes a rich living history that spans over two centuries. Culture here throbs with antiquity and tradition.

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History of Little India

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" - a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

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Chine Blue - an insight into Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion © Adrian Cheah

Like a fragment from a scroll painting, an exotic indigo-blue mansion, with graceful, curved windows and a peaked, tiled roof, remains in the midst of Penang's modern high-rises. This rare survivor of old Penang, constructed in a Chinese-courtyard style with Western art-nouveau features, reflects the complex personality of its builder Cheong Fatt Tze. Called the "Rockefeller of the East", he was the most flamboyant of all Penang's multimillionaire towkays during the island's heyday of wealthy magnates.

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Clan Jetties of Penang

Clan Jetties of Penang © Adrian Cheah

"The wooden stilts are replaced every five years or so" explained Siew Pheng as we walked around the jetty. Siew Pheng, born and raised on Chew Jetty goes on to tell us that this labour intensive task of replacing the wooden stilts is a dying trade as only a few old hands practice the skill. Many youngsters prefer not to live at the jetty, but in apartments and houses on Penang island itself, as the maintenance of these houses is backbreaking work.

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Fort Cornwallis – the Star on the North East Coast of Penang

Fort Cornwallis © Adrian Cheah

The star-shaped Fort Cornwallis marks the point where Francis Light and crew landed on August 11th, 1786 to "take possession" of the island from the Sultan of Kedah. This date was also the birth date of Prince Charles and hence Francis Light named Pulau Pinang as the Prince of Wales Island.

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Street Art of George Town, Penang

Take an amazing tour around the UNESCO World Heritage City of George Town, Penang to discover the unique wrought-iron caricatures with anecdotal descriptions of the street that they adorn.

Also within the heritage enclave are street art installations that have gain popularity among both visitors and locals alike. The street art all started off with a project called Mirrors George Town by George Town Festival 2012. Through this project, the talented efforts by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic has drawn much attention.

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Sri Mariamman, the temple of an ancient goddess

Sri Mariamman © Adrian Cheah

Penang has a large community of Indians, broadly divided into those from the North (Bengalis, Sindhis, Gujerati etc.) and the South (Tamils). It is not surprising then that the Penang landscape is dotted with Hindu temples, from the large and ornate to the unostentatious makeshift huts and lean-to's.

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The Kapitan Keling – a mosque rich in history

Kapitan Keling Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The Kapitan Keling Mosque Kapitan Keling Mosque along Jalan Kapitan Keling (once Pitt Street) is a monumental structure crowned by copper domes. This is the largest historic mosque in George Town, founded around 1800.

The name of mosque was taken from the Kapitan Kelings, people who were appointed leaders of the South Indian community by the British.

The term 'keling' derived from the ancient Hindu kingdom on the Coromandel coast of South India. It was generally used to denote all those who came from there. As the Indians found it difficult to pronounce certain English words, the title "Captain" was somehow transformed into "Kapitan". From there, the Kapitan Kelings (or Captains of the Kelings) came about.

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Acheen Street Mosque, priceless legacy of the Penang Muslim community

Acheen Street Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The history of the Acheen Street mosque (also known as the Malay mosque), began in 1792, which marked the arrival of its founder Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid who had come from Acheh to settle in Penang. A member of the royal family of Acheh, Sumatra and descendant of a sovereign Arab family, Hussain became a hugely successful entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest merchants and landowners in Penang.

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Sanctum sanctorums of the Thai and Burmese communities

Dhammikarama Burmese Temple © Adrian Cheah

In 1845, a large endowment of land in the Pulau Tikus area was made to the Theravada Buddhists, principally Thai and Burmese, whose importance is recorded in local street names to this day. Today, the extensive lands surrounding the Thai Wat Chaiyamangalaram are home to a small and thriving kampong of about thirty families (approximately 120 persons) of Thai Chinese and Hindu Indians. (The Changing Perceptions of Waqf, as Social, Cultural and Symbolic Capital in Penang, Judith Nagata)

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The Han Jiang Ancestrial Temple of the Penang Teochew Association – linking past and present

Teochew Temple © Adrian Cheah

You cannot miss the building. Nestled among rows of old Indian Muslim carpet stores, jewellers and eateries, the ancestral temple of the Teochew Chinese stands out with its pronounced Chinese architecture and imposing doors featuring twin larger-then-life Chinese warriors in full regalia. This silent and formidable pair with their red-faces and weapons, frightening to foes yet welcoming to members and visitors, have been standing guard to the temple's peaceful interior for more than a century. Their presence recalls to mind a rather popular Chinese tercet: "Like the spring rain to a lotus blossom, thou art welcome; come, rest within".

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Kek Lok Si Temple, the monastery on Crane Hill

Kek Lok Si Temple © Adrian Cheah

In Chinese iconography, the Crane holds special significance. It is an auspicious symbol denoting longevity, and wisdom that comes with age. The Crane is said to manifest a peculiar interest in human affairs and is also often associated with good luck, high-mindedness, purity and freedom.

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Hills and Heritage of Penang – the durian experience

Flowering Frenzy

durian flowers © Adrian Cheah

After a very disappointing 2017 for seasonal fruits, 2018 has certainly started off with a bang. As if making up for last season’s low yield, most of the durian trees around the Balik Pulau area are flowering with a vengeance. Barring weather calamities, we should see a bumper crop starting - a bit earlier than usual - in mid March 2018. The hot and dry weather the past months plus all the storing of energy from the low yield have caused this explosion of flower buds.

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Batu Ferringgi – a beach for lovers and dreamers

Batu Ferringgi © Adrian Cheah

I came to Penang for the first time only last July after spending time over the years in Hong Kong, China and India, but mostly in Indonesia. Being a lover of beaches I headed for Batu Feringgi on the north coast and settled at the Parkroyal Hotel. In Indonesia the beaches at Kuta on Bali and Paragtritis on Java have been ones I have always returned to.

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Penang Hill – an uplifting experience!

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

A must see in Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, Keretapi Bukit Bendera, a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. OK!, if you are not quick on your feet you can miss a seat, but the majority of passengers stand. Any way you see more and have the added fun of travelling upwards at 45 degrees to the landscape.

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Penang's very own Arcadia in the clouds – Penang Hill

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

Penang Hill is the state's foremost hill resort. Although it was originally called Flagstaff Hill, the locals have always affectionately referred to it as Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera. At about 830 metres (2,750 feet) from sea level, the temperature on the hilltop is considerably cooler than the nether lands. On regular weekdays, the hill is pretty quiet and can serve as a recuperative getaway, far from the madding crowd and city heat.

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Stop and smell the spices at Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden © Adrian Cheah

One of Penang's popular attraction is the Tropical Spice Garden which is located in Teluk Bahang, a few minutes’ drive from Batu Feringgi. For those seeking peace, tranquility and to immerse one's self in the splendour of Mother Nature, this veritable secret garden is the place to be.

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Penang Bridge – connecting the island to the mainland

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was solely dependent on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that plies between Butterworth and George Town. For using the ferry services in Penang, motorists need to pay toll fare while heading to the island. There is no charge for leaving the island.

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