Georgetown - Malaysia's Open Air Museum
Named after King George III, Georgetown is the capital of Malaysia’s island state Penang. Lying strategically in the Straits of Malacca in the nation’s northwest, Penang evolved in the middle ages as a trading outpost connecting the East to the West. The domain became home to fortune seekers from China, India and Europe. In 1786 the British laid claims to the land and built Georgetown as their epicentre.
The domain was dotted by them with fortifications, architecturally appealing buildings and monuments, many of which still exist as a souvenir of their glorious past. They stand alongside the slit houses built over the sea, two-storied shop houses and decorative mansions – all built by the Chinese and Indian immigrants.
Centuries of coexistence of settlers from Asia and Europe over time turned Penang into a unique cultural melting pot, most dominant within the core area of Georgetown where still stands nearly 1700 old buildings reflecting the cosmopolitan heritage of the domain. This multi-cultural tangible and intangible tradition is also expressed in the great variety of religious buildings of different faiths – churches, mosques and temples, ethnic quarters, the many languages, religious festivals, dances, costumes, art and music, food, and daily life.
Recognising its 500 years of East-West mercantile history, unique architectural setup and diverse multi-cultural characteristics, UNESCO in 2008 included Georgetown under their prestigious World Heritage List.
Avid travellers from around the world visit Penang to taste its living multi-cultural heritage that reflects the blend of cultural elements from the Malay Archipelago, India and China with those of Europe, to create a unique architectural figure, culture and townscape not to be easily seen anywhere else in the world.
For the most intense engagement with history and heritage of Penang, it’s best to stay in the heart of Georgetown. No shortage of hotels to suit one’s budget and taste, the newly built 162 room Prestige Hotel is a good choice because of its convenient location, range of facilities, excellent guest service and above all reasonable price. Its ornate white façade brings alive memories of a colonial era and welcomes every urbane traveller to a magical contemporized colonial scene, with 162 rooms, an all-day dining outlet, and an arcade with a mix of retail outlets, event spaces and a rooftop infinity pool.
It’s close to all the must visit sites of Georgetown. The ensemble includes the seafront Esplanade dominated by the British-built City Hall, Town Hall and the historic Fort Cornwallis, the kilometre-long Street of Harmony flanking four religious shrines in very close proximity - the Kapitan Keling Mosque, Shri Mahamariamman Temple, St George’s Church and the Goddess of Mercy Temple and the thriving Little India quarter glittering with saree and jewellery shops and curry eating outlets. Outside Georgetown perimeters, it’s worth visiting the Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist shrine in South-East Asia and the Penang National Park where nature is intimate.
Penang is world famous among foodies, particularly for its Nyonya cuisine which was introduced by the Chinese immigrants integrating Malay recipes with their own styles. Their two most popular items are Char Koay Teow – a flat rice noodle dish made with prawns and ‘Laksa’, a coconut curry soup. It will be unjustified to leave Penang without trying them, particularly from a roadside vendor as street food is a drawcard of the destination.
Another Penang lure is its array of paintings and wrought iron sculptures on walls. Their extensive range artistically display the diverse history and culture of the place.
Getting There: Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) via Singapore to Penang located around 350km away from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and connected by road, rail and air
Accommodation: Prestige Hotel (www.theprestige.my) for a comfortable stay
Eating : Local cuisine at one of the hawker centres or go for a dining splurge at the Sarkies Restaurant (www.eohotels.com/dining/sarkies) in the Eastern and Oriental Hotel , one of the region’s most glamourous addresses
More Info – Tourism Malaysia (www.malaysia.travel) and Penang Global Tourism (www.mypenang.gov.my)
Photos depict the British Colonial grandeur of Georgetown, the Prestige Hotel and its infinity pool, the Wayside Hindu Temple,,street vendors and displays, street art, and th e city skyline,