Expat talk: Why Penang part 1 – short-term and tourists

I was recently asked to write up a quick summary of what it’s like to live in Penang, or in short “Why Penang?”  I’m surprised that I hadn’t written anything like that before.  So here’s the first installment of Expat Talk.  A sort of Penang 101.  This is the time of year to post it, for incoming teachers at Dalat, Uplands and the other international schools.  Part 2 of the Why Penang series is now available.

Penang Wikivoyage Map

Penang is one of 13 states in Malaysia. Most of the state is the Island of Penang, that rests just west of the Malay Peninsula in the Strait of Malacca; the rest is the mainland.

Why Penang: History

Penang is a place to see history. The city of George Town, the state capital, was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008. You can walk along streets in Little India and Chinatown and see spices and goods still being sold along the sidewalk. The old buildings from the colonial era and earlier are being restored and preserved for people to enjoy. If you look carefully you can see lampposts with shrapnel scars from when the Japanese bombed during WWII.

Visit historic sites.  St. George’s Church, oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. has a free tour in the mornings.  Tour guides are available for the historic areas of George Town.  Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple or another of the many Taoist Chinese Temples.  Or be adventurous and see the unique Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas.

Why Penang: Culture

Penang is a place to see cultures. Every major religion seems to celebrate or observe their festivals in Penang. This past month (July 2014) we saw the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, end with the big holiday, Aidul Fitri. We started the Hungry Ghost Festival for the Chinese Buddhists. The Anglicans put on a huge Festival for St. Anne, that will go on into August. October will host the Deepavali Hindu festival of lights. And that barely scratches the surface of all the holidays and festivals you can experience in Penang. As a foreigner. you are more than welcome to come and photograph and even participate. In fact, good luck staying dry during the Thai Songkran Water Festival!

Why Penang: Food

Penang is a place to eat! CNN Travel, Lonely Planet and a host of other travel sites all agree, Penang has the number one street food in Asia, if not the world. Start your day with a Roti Canai and a Teh Tarik at an Indian stand. Lunch of Dim Sum or a bowl of noodles at a food court or a hawker stall. If you want adventure and spice, try out Tom Yam Fried Rice, not found in Thailand, a uniquely Malaysian dish. Lavish upscale restaurants are all over Penang, for those who want haute cuisine.

There’s much to see, experience and eat in Penang. We’ve found kids activities like visiting a goat farm, and painting traditional batik cloth.  There are plenty of traditional beach activities along the north resort areas of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah.  It’s got to be on your bucket list to visit.

Tune in for another list for long-term expats.