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The state of Penang on Malaysia’s north-west coast lies at the crossroad of Asia’s major civilizations and has sparked visitors' imaginations for centuries. From awe-inspiring architecture, non-stop shopping, and mouth-watering cuisine, Penang is an authentic taste of the real Asia, where laid-back charm is woven into a tapestry of culture, heritage and natural beauty.

A perfect blend of East and West, Penang has accepted modernity gracefully while maintaining the heritage and tradition. This wonderful state in Malaysia is situated on the northwest coast of the Malaysian Peninsula and is one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. Penang is the second smallest state in the country with the capital of the state being George Town.

Penang has it all: rich history, fun beaches, beautiful resorts, diverse culture and delicious food. Every year, thousands of visitors come here to experience the unique cultural heritage and scenery. It is also a very cosmopolitan city, perhaps the second busiest in the country after Kuala Lumpur.

The island occupies an area of 285 square kilometres. The state also encompasses Province Wellesley (Seberang Perai), a strip on the mainland. The island is separated from the mainland by a channel three kilometres wide at the narrowest point. The Penang Bridge (13.5km) - completed in August 1985, Penang Second Bridge (24km) - completed in March 2014 as well as Ferry services link the island to the mainland.

Quick Facts

  • Penang gets its name from the Malay word Pulau Pinang, which means island of the areca nut palm. 
  • Penang is one of the thirteen states of Malaysia and comprises an island and strip of island on the mainland called Seberang Perai. 
  • Penang was the first British outpost in South-East Asia, founded in 1786 by Captain Francis Light. 
  • George Town was bestowed the rank of a city by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 January 1957. 
  • Penang is the only Malaysian state offering FREE state-wide WIFI with 1,550 hotspots to date. 
  • Penang’s population of just over 1.5 million people includes Malays, Chinese, Indians, Thais, Burmese, Eurasians, Japanese, Koreans and various expatriate groups. 
  • Penang’s capital, George Town was inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List on 7 July 2008.

History of Penang

Penang was originally part of the Malay Sultanate of Kedah. On 11 August 1786, Sir Francis Light of the British East India Company landed in Penang and renamed it Prince of Wales Island in honour of heir to the British throne. Light then received it as a portion on his marriage to the daughter of the Sultan of Kedah. Light ceded Penang to the Government of India and promised the Sultan military protection from Siamese and Burmese armies who were threatening Kedah. Light is now credited as the founder of Penang.

Many early settlers succumbed to malaria, earning Penang the epithet 'the White Man's Grave'. Unbeknownst to the Sultan, Light had acted without the approval of the East India Company when he promised military protection. When the Company failed to aid Kedah when Siam attacked it, the Sultan tried to retake the island in 1790. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the Sultan was forced to cede the island to the Company for an honorarium of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum. This was later increased to 10,000 dollars, with Province Wellesley on the mainland of the Malay Peninsula being added to Penang in 1800. An annual honorarium of 10,000 ringgit continues to this day be paid by the Malaysian Federal Government to the state of Kedah.

In 1826, Penang, along with Malacca and Singapore, became part of the Straits Settlements under the British administration in India, moving to direct British colonial rule in 1867. In 1946 it became part of the Malayan Union, before becoming in 1948 a state of the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957 and became Malaysia in 1963.

The island was a free port until 1969. Despite the loss of the island's free-port status, from the 1970s to the late 1990s the state built up one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, in the Free Trade Zone in Bayan Lepas, around the airport in the south of the island.

On 7 July 2008, George Town, the historic capital of Penang, was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside with Malacca. It is officially recognized as having a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.