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For almost 2,000 years, Penang – strategically located between the Melaka Straits and the Andaman Sea – has been a key gateway to southeast Asia, luring merchant adventurers from the Arab world, India, China and Europe. The most recent invasion has been by holidaymakers from East and West, drawn by golden sand beaches, an exotic culture, great hotels and (for most of the year) a superb climate. Georgetown, the island’s capital, is a creation of British imperialism, founded by a swashbuckling English colonialist, Captain Francis Light, who took possession of the island for the British East India Company in 1786 and launched it on its way to becoming one of the jewels in Britain’s colonial crown. Georgetown became a dazzlingly cosmopolitan melting-pot, and Hindus, Muslims, Chinese and Europeans have all left their mark on one of Malaysia’s most colourful cities. A large number of its people are Peranakans, people of Chinese (mainly Hokkien) descent whose ancestors emigrated under British rule. Others are the descendants of Indian Muslim sepoys, who served in the East India Company’s army, and Tamils from southern India or Bumiputra Malaysians from the mainland.
The city’s landmarks range from the colonial-era Fort Cornwallis and the 60-foot Clock Tower on the waterfront Esplanade to the mighty Komtar Tower, and Georgetown has a fabulous choice of places to eat, drink and shop. Batu Feringhi, northwest of Georgetown, was Malaysia’s first international resort area, and with fine sand, accommodation to suit all budgets, nightlife, watersports and good shopping, it remains one of the region’s most popular and best-equipped beach destinations. Penang Bridge, the island’s road link to the mainland, was completed in 1988 – stretching 13.5 km (8.5 miles) from Gelugor on Penang to Seberang Prai in Malaysia, it is the longest bridge in South East Asia, and it is currently claimed to be the third longest bridge in the world.
Penang's cuisine shows typical signs as the rest of Malaysian food: multicultural influences and a huge variety. Several specialties originate from multiple ethic touches but, however, do expect plenty of herbs and spices.
Being that close to the beach with sunny weather nearly all year long, grabbing a coffee in Penang might refer to having only an ice-cold one. However, there are coffee shops dotted across the whole city that offer hot beverages and tasty desserts as well as smaller refreshments.
Nightlife in Penang is happening, and it is hot: weekends mean nightclubs, pubs, bars, and karaoke, and there are many places to go if you want to dance the night away. Georgetown, however, is the party hub with many party options awaiting you.
Penang has everything from antique stores selling Chinese and colonial relics to air-conditioned malls and night markets where you can buy designer brands, cheap clothes and colourful beach wear. Let these markets surprise you.
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