In Penang east meets west, and new shakes hands with old. Malaysian traditions meld with modern design, and heritage buildings are well kept. Visitors can expect gorgeous coasts and magnificent food — after all, Penang has long been regarded as Malaysia’s food capital.
With its history steeped in trade of tea, spices, porcelain and cloth, Penang became a melting pot for fortune-seekers from China, Malaysia, and India. Remaining under British rule for more than a century, Penang has an interesting mixture of European and Asian influence – evident in its food, architecture and events.
So what is best to see and do in Penang, you ask? Here is an octet of “must do” events for 2014:
1. George Town
Regardless of the time of year, you really must visit George Town while in Penang. This special place of preserved history was officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Take a step back in time as you admire the street art in George Town that replicates life in the city as it was. The official George Town Festival is on the whole month of August and excites with interactive performances from concert halls to street corners and this year promises to huge.
2. Tropfest – January 25
This is the world’s largest short-film festival that was originally the sporn of Tropicana café in Sydney, Australia. South East Asia is the latest member of the Tropfest – which aims to provide opportunities for filmmakers to bring their short films to the screen. Help out the industry, support local film makers and enjoy a fun night of short flicks.
3. Penang World Music Festival – April 12 and 13
Chill out in the Penang Botanic Gardens and soak up the sounds of international and local artists. Festival stalls will be set up in Quarry Park where you can indulge in a selection of food and drinks. The music festival promises two nights of entertainment not to be missed. Head to the park any time after 2pm.
4. Penang Durian Fair – June 1 – July 31
In Penang, the Durian is considered to the “King of Fruits” and when in season, fruit lovers should not miss the opportunity to taste it. With over 30 varieties, it has a very distinctive smell which is either loved or detested. Stalls can be found in Anjung Indah, Balik Pulau & Penang Times Square. Go along and test it for yourself!
5. Mooncake Festival – September 8
These little treats come in so many flavours that it is well worth trying a few – relish the traditional red bean paste or contemplate cotemporary versions like cheese or even chocolate. In Penang children carry beautiful paper and plastic lanterns around the city to celebrate the festival – illuminated with light of the full moon. The cakes themselves were originally used to carry hidden messages to the rebels. Legend has it that the Mongols were not particularly fond of sweet cakes – so the cakes were a genius part of the plan that lead to their demise.
6. Penang Bridge International Marathon – November 16
Want to see the longest bridge in Malaysia with stunning coastal views? The only time of year that it is closed to traffic is during the marathon. The bridge connects George Town on the island of Penang to the mainland. What a way to see the bridge and enjoy the scenery san polluting vehicles!
7. Nine Emperor Gods Festival
This is a nine day Taoist festival that runs from the 1st to the 9th day of the lunar month. The nine emperors are actually formed by the seven stars of the Big Dipper and two assistant stars. According to Taoists, honouring the Northern Dipper stars prolongs one’s life, eliminate calamities, and dissolves debt s and sins of their life and that of their family. This all sounds fabulous – what you will see is during the nine days Taoists dress all in white – and usually follow an abstinence from meat, poultry, seafood and dairy. The nine days end with a 5km procession to send of the Gods back to heaven. Imagine a clamorous street party with piercings and tongue slashings as an added bonus to the entertainment – and you are probably half-way there.
8. Penang International Jazz Festival – December 4-7
Batu Ferringhi beach will play host to the Penang Island Jazz Festival in December this year. The 11th year of this event will showcase stars such as Jazzkamikaze, Okan Ersen Quartet. “Jazz with a Heart” is a charity event held in conjunction with the festival, and with many local and international artists performing on the “Jazz by the Beach” stage it is an event that not only has gathered momentum over the years – it is an event to be at. Make sure you book from the selection of Penang hotel rooms nearby so you can rest peacefully after a full day of sun, sand and jamming tunes.