Have you been contemplating a visit, or perhaps even living in Penang, Malaysia? In this excerpt from my latest travel guide, ‘A Nomad’s Guide to Living in Penang’ I will introduce you to the basics of this delicious island state.
Simply the word Penang conjures up images of fiery laska and plates laden with Char Koay Teow. But this vibrant island-state of the north western coast of Malaysia is much more than simply a self-professed foodie haven. Technically covering both the island as well as a strip of mainland Malaysia known as Seberang Perai, We will leave mainland Seberang Perai for another day.
A Small Island with a Large History
Penang boasts a rich multicultural history that dates back to the 18th century when the British arrived and colonised the island. If looks are anything to go by, we can assume they arrived brandishing boatloads of candy-coloured paints and exuberant plans for colonial mansions.
As well as the very clear influence of the British, Penang is also made up of a large number of ethnic Chinese, Indian and Malay people. In fact, Penang is the only state in Malaysia where ethnic Chinese are the majority.
Thanks to the incredible blend of cultural diversity, Penang has some form of celebration, festival or religious gathering almost every week!
World Famous for Incredible Food
It takes a special cocktail of tropical weather, abundant oceans and a melting pot of ethnic diversity to create the smorgasbord of culinary delights that is Penang.
You’ll find overflowing platters of colourful tropical fruit, fish-head curry made from the day’s local catch and an array of mouth-watering Indian curries served up on a fresh banana leaf here, not to mention the timeless Malay delights of delicious satay, sour assam laksa and bright and cheery icy cendol.
Penang has been known throughout the land as Malaysia’s food paradise for a long time, but the name is catching on and Penang’s diverse and delicious cuisine is becoming recognised across Asia and the world.
An Island Destination for Sun, Sand and Sea
It doesn’t matter where on the island you are, you’re never too far from the ocean. Thanks to the compact size of Penang and it’s excellent bus network the shorelines are accessible and delightful.
Compared to some of Malaysia’s famed east coast beaches, Penang is somewhat lacking. However the sandy shores and coconut palms are still very much here, and although the oceans aren’t ideal for a dip they make for a beautiful backdrop for an island sunset, a wonderful sandy-spot to indulge in some reading and a great jump-off point to catch a boat out for some sailing, snorkeling, or a visit to Langkawi.
Georgetown: Colonial England, but in Asia
The capital city of Penang Island is Georgetown. A city named after King George III of Great Britain and one that is dotted with decrepit and decaying (yet deliciously coloured) colonial buildings. Wandering the streets of Georgetown is an experience like no other.
Boasting one of the most authentic little India’s outside of the Indian subcontinent and a China town that sprawls for blocks, Georgetown’s diversity is truly incredible. Mosques sit majestically amongst decayed colonial facades and Hindu’s come to prey in gloriously ornate shrines that sit just down the road from Buddhist monasteries and marvelous Thai temples.
Living in Penang: Hot, Wet or Both
Penang is rather close to the equator and the climate of the island is considered a tropical rain forest climate, bordering on a tropical monsoon climate. The title in itself gives much away about the meteorological tendencies of Penang. The year-round average temperature is a steady 30 – 32˚C during the daytime and 23 – 25˚C during the night, the variable that changes is rainfall.
Penang enjoys two wet seasons each year, the wettest months are September and October, with August and November receiving a far dash of rain as well. From March until May you can expect a wet season that isn’t quite as severe and the worst of the rainfall happening in April.
The monsoon and wet seasons aren’t necessarily bad, however, and you can often get glorious sunshine in the mornings and early afternoons, giving way to cracking thunderstorms and torrential rain bearing down in the afternoons and through the night.
Up-and-Coming Malaysian City
Penang is economically one of the most important states in Malaysia, a popular tourist destination and has the third-highest human development index in Malaysia. Thanks to a healthy and highly diverse range of cultures and a growing tourist-trade, Penang is becoming a popular destination for ex-pats, retirees, remote worker and start-ups.
The trend in remote workers, digital nomads and start-ups is starting to take root, and in return Penang is beginning to see an exciting new development of co-working spaces and startup accelerators blossoming on the island.
Want to Know More About Living in Penang?
Check out some of my other Penang-related blog posts: Penang vs Chiang Mai as a Digital Nomad, 9 Penang Cafes You’ll LOVE (for Free WiFi), Cost of Living in Penang, What’s it REALLY like to spend a month in Penang? To get a feel for the wonderful Island of Penang.