Take one tropical island, add a luxurious beach resort, augment that with a significant amount of history, toss in a liberal dose of superb local food, and the result would be none other than Penang. Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, is the most culturally diverse East Asia holiday destination today. Lying at the crossroads of great civilizations, Penang, more than any other state in Malaysia, is the country's cultural melting pot. In the early years of its founding, the island attracted people of all races from seemingly all points of the compass. Penang today, like most of its counterparts in the country, bears the mark of an early history of successive foreign influences. From the early Indian Civilization that took root in northern Malaya, to the Portuguese, Dutch, and later the British who came to this part of the world in search of spices and stayed on to participate in the lucrative trade.
Originally a territory of the Sultan of Kedah, Penang was largely unoccupied until 1786. According to the annals of history, Francis Light of the British East India Company was very captivated by the island's immense beauty. Foreseeing its potential as an excellent trading port, he persuaded the then Sultan to concede the island to the British rule in exchange for protection against his Siamese enemies.
The task of clearing the jungle was given to Light. Legend has it that Light filled cannons with gold and silver coins, blasted them into the surrounding jungles, and then sent workers out to clear the jungle. It got the job done! Thanks to Light's far-sight, the island soon became a busy entry port for tea and opium trading between India and China.
Today's Penang combines the past and present. It is possible to stroll down its narrow lanes and enjoy viewing colonial buildings, as well as modern development of roads and high rises.
By Air :Easily accessible by daily flights from major capitols of the region, it also has direct links with Singapore, Bangkok, Nagoya, Medan, Madras, and Xiamen in China. Local flights are also available. Bayan Lepas, the island's International Airport, is a mere 20 minute from the city center.
By Rail :Operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM Bhd), this is a comfortable and leisurely way to travel and it affords one the opportunity to see a lot of the countryside and rural villages.
By Ferry :Ferry services are available around the clock from Butterworth for both passengers and vehicles. Tickets can be purchased at the Butterworth terminal and the rates are applicable for a return journey.
By Road :Since September 1985, the island's 285 sq. km of territory has been linked to the mainland by the 13km long Penang Bridge. This has facilitated driving to Penang. A toll charge of RM7 is levied on all classes of cars at Seberang Perai on the mainland. No payment is required for traveling from the island to the mainland.
Moving around :The city is efficiently serviced by busses, taxis, and most interestingly trishaws. A trishaw ride is one of the best ways to see the island. Besides the novelty of traveling in this open-fronted three wheeled vehicle, trishaws allow visitors the opportunity of a more leisurely paced sightseeing.
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