Penang Malaysia

Situated on the north-western coast of the Malay Peninsula at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, Penang Island covers an area of 292 sq km (112 sq mi). The island is separated from mainland Malaysia by a channel of sea varying between 3 km (1.9 mi) and 13 km (8 mi) wide, and they are linked by the 13.5 km (8.4 mi) Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world.

The island has the oldest British settlement in Malaysia, which was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786 while he was searching for a docking place for ships of the East India Company. Captain Light made a treaty with the Sultan of Kedah who gave him permission to colonize the sparsely populated island.

Penang today is a fine mixture of old and new: bustling, industrial port meets historic Old Town. In the capital, Georgetown, modem skyscrapers tower above one of the largest collections of pre-war buildings in south-east Asia. Colourful produce markets compete for space with high-tech electronics manufacturers. There is also a fascinating mixture of cultures here. Hundred year old churches, Chinese temples, Indian temples and mosques stand side by side.

In the middle of the bustling modern city is Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera), at almost 900 m (2,953 ft) high, with its cool, clean air. From its summit there are amazing views of the town, the island, and even the mountains on the mainland when the sky is clear. There is a Swiss-built funicular railway to take visitors to the summit, which creaks its way up through the beautiful tropical forest. At the top of the hill there is a cafe, a Hindu temple and a mosque.

If you want to escape the busy city, there are other attractions on the island, including plenty of lovely beaches, some quaint fishing villages, beautiful stretches of forest and cascading waterfalls. Among the less crowded beaches are Muka Head, Pantai Keracut, Monkey Beach, Pantai Acheh and Gertak Sanggul.

Penang Island is enriched by its numerous ethnic communities, among them Malays, Chinese and Indians, which live side by side in harmony to create a multi-faceted culture. Each community maintains its cultural identity through religious festivals and cultural shows, including angsawan, Boria, flag processions, the Chingay Parade, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the Hungry Ghosts Festival and Thaipusam. This succession of colourful festivals unravels throughout the year and when one big celebration is finished, another begins.