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PENANG -"The Pearl of the Orient"lies on the north-western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The state comprises an island of some 285 sq. km and a narrow strip of approximately 760 sq. km on the mainland known as Seberang Perai
They are linked by the Penang Bridge and a 24-hour ferry service. Its population of more than 1 million represents a happy mix of the major races found in Malaysia with Malays making up 32%, the Chinese 59% and Indians 7%.
Georgetown, at the north-eastern tip of the island is the seat of administration and is also the commercial hub of the state. This bustling metropolitan city combines the best of east and west as seen in its fascinating collection of fine old buildings, each bearing the stamp of different foreign influences in its colorful history. Much of its charm also lies in its famous golden beaches and clear blue seas. Penang today is a resort island in full bloom - an idyllic playground for worshippers of the sun and the sea. Its multi-racial population contributes to a wealth of cultural attractions and festivals for visitors to bring home memories of happy times in Penang.
Penang today bears the mark of an early history of successive foreign influences - from the early Indian Civilization that took root in northern Malaya to that of the Portuguese, Dutch and later the British who came to this part of the world in search of spices and stayed to participate in the lucrative trade.
The history of modern Penang can be traced back to 1786 when Francis Light managed to persuade the Sultan of Kedah to cede "Pulau Pinang" (island of the Betel nut) to the British East India Company. Light landed at the site of the present Esplanade and according to local legend, fired gold coins into the surrounding jungle to induce his men to clear the area. The island was originally named Prince of Wales Island and the settlement that soon grew up was named Georgetown after King George III. In 1800, the Sultan of Kedah further ceded a strip of land on the mainland across the channel which Light named Province Wellesley, after the then Governor of India. In 1832, Penang formed part of the Straits Settlement with Malacca and Singapore. It flourished and grew to be a major trading post for a lucrative trade in tea, spices, china and cloth. For more than a hundred years, it remained under British Colonial rule until 1957 when it gained independence and became one of the states of the newly formed Federation of Malaya and later Malaysia in 1963.
Penang is easily accessible by air with daily flights from major capitals of the region. It has direct links with Singapore, Bangkok, Hadyai, Nagoya, Phuket, Medan, Xiamen(China) and Madras, operated by Malaysia Airlines. The airline also operates about 24 daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
The Bayan Lepas International Airport is about 20km from the city center. Taxis plying the route follow the coupon system by which fares between the airport and various destinations in Penang are fixed. Passengers pay the fare at the taxi booth in exchange for the coupon which they then produce to the driver. Air-conditioned taxis and limousines charge slightly higher fares.
The opening of the Penang Bridge linking the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia to Penang Island has facilitated driving to Penang. A charge of RM7.00 is levied on all classes of cars at the toll plaza in Perai on the mainland. No payment is required for travelling from the island to the mainland.
From Butterworth, it is necessary to take the ferry to Penang Island. The ferry service is available around the clock for both passengers and vehicles. Tickets are purchased at the Butterworth terminal and the rates are applicable for a return journey, Fares: Adult - RM0.40- Children - RM0.20
The rates charged for vehicles are based on the engine capacity of the car and the number of passengers. Cars below 1200c.c - RM4.00 + 0.40 sen/per passenger. Cars above 1200c.c - RM5.00 + 0.40 sen/per passenger.
The journey from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth takes approximately 6 hours. First and second class passengers travel in comfort in the air-conditioned coaches. Taking the train is a comfortable way to travel within the country and it affords one the opportunity to see a lot of the countryside. Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad also operates regular services to Alor Setar, Padang Besar, Hadyai and Bangkok in the North from Butterworth.
Penang's public transport system is efficient and moving around by taxis, buses or trishaws may be a fun and inexpensive way of catching the sights.
Most city taxis do not generally use the meter. You may either insist on the meter being turned on or agree on the price before you move off. Taxis normally charge between RM 3.00 - RM 6.00 for short distances within the city.
The Penang Yellow Bus Co. operates an hourly service between the Airport and Pengkalan Weld in the city between 6.00am to 10.00pm daily (Bus No. 83)
Penang is also served by many buses which ply various routes between the city and other destinations on the island. The City buses operate from the main terminal at Lebuh Victoria, at frequent intervals.
The following buses cover various destinations in the city: (Kenderaan Juara Sdn. Bhd.)
A trishaw ride is one of the best ways of seeing Penang. Besides the novelty of traveling on this open-fronted three-wheeled vehicle, trishaws allow visitors the opportunity of doing the sights at a more leisurely pace stopping at any point to snap pictures or buy souvenirs. There is no standard fare and it would be wise to agree on the it price before you step on a trishaw. For extended sightseeing, it is advisable to hire them by the hour.
If you wish to venture further afield at your own leisure, it might be a good idea to drive around yourself Most major international and local car rental companies offer a good choice of vehicles and packages So, arm yourself with a valid international driving license and a reliable road map and set forth for the adventure of your life. Remember that traffic travels on the left side of the road and that the speed limit varies on all roads.
Bicycles and motorcycles also offer inexpensive and fun ways of exploring the island. Stores along the hotel stretch of Batu Ferringhi and in the city offer them for hire.
For those wishing to cover a bit of everything on limited time, there are many fascinating tours by air-conditioned coaches to famous landmarks around the island. Check at your hotel reception/tour desk for details on times and prices.
Penang celebrates the main religious festivals such as Hari Raya Puasa, Chinese New Year, Thaipusam, Vesak Day, Deepavali and Christmas. In addition there are celebrations for the National Day (31 August), the Birthdays of the King and Penang's Governor.
Hari Raya Puasa
The Muslim community looks forward to celebrating the 10th month of the "Hijrah" calendar after a month of fasting. For Muslims it is also a time to seek forgiveness and reconciliation over past mistakes with family members and relatives. The festive holidays see the exodus of Muslims throughout the country back to their 'Kampung' (villages).
Chinese New Year
A time for family reunion dinners, visiting relatives and friends and exchanging "ang pows"(red packets containing money) as the Chinese community greets the beginning of the New Year. The festival is celebrated for 15 days and ends on Chap Goh Meh (15th night of the first lunar moon).
One of the most colourful festivals to mark the victory of Lord Subramaniam over the demons. It is also symbolic of good triumphing over evil. The festival begins with a procession of the silver chariot bearing Lord Subramniam's statue from the Temple in Lebuh Queen to the Nattukotai Temple in Waterfall ' road. Devotees bear "kavadis" along the route in fulfillment of vows.
For Buddhists,Vesak Day represents the symbolic day of Gautama Buddha's birth, the day he achieved enlightenment which is also the day of his death. It is celebrated by Buddhists who undergo a vegetarian diet to "cleanse" themselves prior to the occasion. Thousands of devotees will gather at Buddhist temples throughout the country to pay homage and seek blessings. At night, a colourful procession will wind its way through the city.
Birthday of The Yang Di Pertuan Agong (The King of Malaysia)
The official birthday of the King is celebrated with respect and affection by Malaysians in a show of pomp and pageantry, reflecting their loyalty and respect for His Majesty.
Parades, exhibitions, traditional entertainment, marching bands and cultural events are among some of the colourful activities usually organised as part of the festivities.
Birthday of Penang's Governor (Yan Di Pertua Negeri)
The birthday of the Yang Di Pertua Negeri is celebrated throughout the State with a variety of events, including sports activities, boat races, flag parades, school band parades and tea parties.
National Day (August 31)
Malaysia's independence say is celebrated with a sense of reverence and patriotism by everyone. Parades, cultural shows and elaborate recreationalactivities are held to commemorate the Anniversary of Independence.
Prophet Mohammed's Birthday
The Birthday of the Prophet is celebrated with prayer sessions and religious lectures. In mosques, discussions and lectures are held to strengthen the faith and to consolidate the spirit of the Muslim community.
This Hindu festival falls on the Tamil month of Aippasi and marks the triumph of light over darkness. It is also called the Festival of Lights. For the Hindu community. Deepvali is a thanksgiving celebration when families an friends gather to obseve traditions and cultural practices. At night, Hindu families light oil lamps to place round their homes in a sysmbolic gesture to the theme of the festival.
Christmas (December 25)
The birth of Christ is celebrated with joy by the Christian community here with parties, carolling and evening masses. As anywhere else in the world. Christmas is a time to be jolly and thankful with everyone taking the opportunity to celebrate the end of another year.