Malaysia’s State of Penang is made up of a turtle-shaped island and a large strip of land on the mainland, joined by one of the longest bridges in the world, however when tourists refer to Penang (or Pulau Pinang in Malay), they almost always mean the island portion of the State. Featuring an exotic melange of old and new: the south side of Penang is home to the country’s second largest airport, an industrial area where electronics manufacturing reigns, and the world’s only Snake Temple; while on the northwestern tip, Penang National Park lures visitors with unspoiled natural beauty of Monkey Beach, waterfalls, jungle paths, and a meromictic lake.
In between, on the east coast, the capital of George Town melds a bustling port with one of the largest collection of intact pre-war buildings in the whole of SE Asia, earning it the designation of UNESCO World Heritage City in 2008. The British laid out the city in a grid system designed to segregate the races and to some degree, these invisible boundaries still exist, with neighborhoods such as Little India and Chinatown. I found the historic center of George Town to be compact and easily seen on foot; surprising me every few feet with another 200-year old temple, church, mosque, clan house, market, historic government house, or bazaar. During the nearly two and a half weeks I stayed on Penang I spent most days wandering around George Town and still didn’t see everything it had to offer, but the above slide show will give you a small taste of just some of the more interesting sites I found on my discovery walking tours.
During one of those walks, I met Lee Ben Chuan, the only remaining traditional joss stick (incense stick) maker on Penang. He happily told me about his trade and his life in broken English, then shoved a brochure in my hand that listed the other vanishing traditional artisans in George Town, insisting that I visit them all. I did my very best, and you can read about all the fascinating artisans I met in this article I wrote for Travel Wire Asia, the news arm of Malaysia Tourism.