Penang Island

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Penang Island
Island City
Other transcription(s)
 • Malay Pulau Pinang
 • Chinese 槟岛 (Simplified)
檳島 (Traditional)
 • Tamil பினாங்கு தீவு
Clockwise from top: Skyline of George Town, a beach at Batu Ferringhi, Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, Balik Pulau, Kek Lok Si at Air Itam, the Penang Bridge
Flag of Penang Island
Official seal of Penang Island
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient[1]
Motto(s): Leading We Serve
(Malay: Memimpin Sambil Berkhidmat)
Penang Island (red) in Penang (left) and West Malaysia (right)
Penang Island (red) in Penang (left) and West Malaysia (right)
Coordinates: 5°24′52.2″N 100°19′45.12″E / 5.414500°N 100.3292000°E / 5.414500; 100.3292000
Country  Malaysia
State  Penang
Administrative Areas
Founded by the British 17 July 1786
British crown colony 1 April 1867 - 31 August 1957
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941 - 3 September 1945
Granted city status 1 January 2015
Capital Seal of George Town.svg George Town
 • Local Government Penang Island City Council
 • Mayor Yew Tung Seang
 • Island City 293 km2 (113 sq mi)
 • Metro 2,563.15 km2 (989.64 sq mi)
Elevation 833 m (2,733 ft)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Island City 722,384 (2nd)
 • Density 2,372/km2 (6,140/sq mi)
 • Metro 2,412,616 (2nd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 100xx to 119xx
Area code(s) +604
Vehicle registration P

Penang Island, the most populous island city in Malaysia, is situated in the State of Penang. With a population of 738,500, it also forms Malaysia's second largest city by population, while Greater Penang, with 2.5 million inhabitants, is the nation's second most populous metropolis.[4] Its capital, George Town, has also been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

Founded by Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786, Penang Island, then named the Prince of Wales Island, was one of the first British possessions in Southeast Asia. Together with Singapore and Malacca, the island became part of the Straits Settlements, which was elevated into a British crown colony in 1867. The island's development as a British entrepôt and a regional centre of spice production attracted various religions and ethnicities, including the Peranakans, onto its shores. It was subjugated by the Empire of Japan during World War II, before being recaptured by the British at war's end. Shortly before Malaya gained independence from the British in 1957, George Town was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II, making it the first city in the country's modern history. Penang Island has since been developed into the 'Silicon Valley of the East', and the entire island was also granted city status in 2015.

Penang Island has become one of the most vital economic powerhouses in Malaysia. Bayan Lepas, home to numerous multinational firms, is a major manufacturing centre, while George Town is the nation's leading medical tourism hub.[5][6][7] Furthermore, George Town serves as the financial centre of northern Malaysia, with several international banks based within the city centre; in addition, the island is logistically well-connected; the Penang International Airport offers frequent connections with major Asian cities, whilst a ferry service, the Penang Bridge and the Second Penang Bridge link the island with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia. Within the city centre, Swettenham Pier is also the busiest port-of-call in Malaysia for cruise shipping.[8][9]


Mao Kun map from Wubei Zhi which is based on the 15th century navigation maps of Zheng He showing Penang Island (梹榔嶼)

The state of Penang is named after Penang Island, which was, in turn, named after the areca nut palm (Areca catechu, family: Palmae), also known as pinang in Malay.[10] To this day, the island has also been known as the Pearl of the Orient, or Pulau Mutiara (The Island of Pearls) in Malay.

The early Malays called the island Pulau Ka-Satu (First Island) because it was the largest island encountered on the trading sea-route between Lingga and Kedah.[11] The Siamese, then the overlord of the Kedah Sultanate, referred to the island as Koh Maak (Thai: เกาะหมาก), meaning areca nut palm island.[12][13] In the 15th century, the island was referred to as Bīnláng Yù (simplified Chinese: 梹榔屿; traditional Chinese: 梹榔嶼) in the navigational drawings used by Admiral Zheng He of Ming China.[12][14] The 16th-century Portuguese cartographer Emanuel Godinho de Eredia also referred to the island as Pulo Pinaom.[15]


Historical Affiliations Period
Kedah Sultanate 1136–1786
British East India Company 1786–1867
Straits SettlementsStraits Settlements 1826–1941; 1945–1946
Empire of JapanEmpire of Japan 1941–1945
Malayan UnionMalayan Union 1946–1948
Federation of MalayaFederation of Malaya 1948–1963
MalaysiaMalaysia 1963–Present

Founding of Penang Island[edit]

Penang Island was known as early as the 15th century, when Chinese sailors under Admiral Zheng He mapped the island as Bīnláng Yù (simplified Chinese: 梹榔屿; traditional Chinese: 梹榔嶼) in the 'Nautical Charts of Zheng He'. At the time, Ming China was launching naval expeditions that would eventually sail all the way to Africa.

A bronze statue of Captain Francis Light still stands within Fort Cornwallis, George Town.

The first Englishman to reach Penang Island was actually Sir James Lancaster, a navigator and privateer who commanded the Edward Bonadventure, he landed at Batu Ferringhi in June 1592 and remained on the island until September, pillaging every vessel he encountered. He only sailed home to England in May 1594.[16]

In the early 18th century, ethnic Minangkabaus from Sumatra opened up a settlement on Penang Island. Haji Muhammad Salleh, known as Nakhoda Intan, anchored at Batu Uban and built a mosque for his seaside settlement in 1734.[17] Later, the Arabs arrived and settled mainly at Jelutong. Intermarriages between the Arabs and the Minangkabau later gave rise to Arab-Minangkabau admixture who are described as Malay as they have assimilated into the local Malay community.[18]

Fort Cornwallis was built in 1786 to protect Penang Island from sea-borne invasion. However, the fort has never been tested in combat.

However, it is Captain Francis Light who is honoured as the founding father of Penang. Under instructions from the British East India Company, which had been seeking to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade in South-east Asia and establish trade relations in the Malay Peninsula, Light landed on Penang Island on 17 July 1786. Fort Cornwallis was later erected at the spot where he had first set foot.

For Light, Penang Island was a "convenient magazine for trade", and its strategic location could be utilised by the Royal Navy as a repair base.[19] Furthermore, by gaining control of the island, the British would be able to check Dutch and French territorial gains in South-east Asia.

At that point, Penang Island was part of the Kedah Sultanate, which faced Siamese and Burmese threats.[20] Taking advantage of the situation, Light brokered with Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah of Kedah regarding the cession of Penang Island to the British East India Company in exchange for British military protection.[21]

Once an agreement was signed between Light and the Sultan, Light returned to Penang Island on 11 August, the Union Jack was then raised, signifying the formal possession of the island by the British East India Company "in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III". Penang Island was renamed the Prince of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne, while a new settlement, named George Town in honour of King George III, was created at the island's north-eastern tip.[22]

A 1799 map of George Town.

George Town was created out of a swamp. While Fort Cornwallis was being constructed, Light encouraged immigrants to the new settlement by firing silver coins into the jungles,[21] he also developed George Town as a free port to attract traders from Dutch ports in the region.[23] The number of incoming vessels to the Prince of Wales Island rose from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802; George Town's population had also increased to 10,000 by 1792.[24][25][26]

Panoramic view of George Town from the sea, drawn in 1811.

Colonial era[edit]

1818 drawing of the Prince of Wales Island. George Town, jutting out into the Penang Strait, can be seen to the left and Jerejak Island to the right.

The British East India Company intended to turn the Prince of Wales Island into a centre of spice production in South-east Asia, the cultivation of pepper began soon after the founding of the island by Captain Francis Light in 1786.[27] Spice production gradually grew more varied and agricultural plantations were established in the hilly interior of the island, the export of spices then allowed the Company to cover the administrative costs of Penang.[28][29] The agricultural plantations would also fuel the growth of the villages of Air Itam and Balik Pulau, where the clove and nutmeg farms attracted Malay refugees fleeing the Siamese invasion of Kedah and Chinese immigrants.[30]

The first Indian convict labourers were also sent to the Prince of Wales Island in the 1790s, thus beginning the practice of employing Indian convicts for the island's development.[27] Main roads were extended from George Town proper into the agricultural farms further inland, swamps were drained and the jungles cleared. Pipeworks were then laid to facilitate the supply of clean water, some were also involved in the construction of administrative and military buildings in George Town, such as Fort Cornwallis.[31] Indeed, convict labour was key to Penang's successful colonisation as many found employment in the civil service, military, and as private servants to the colonial officials.

In 1826, the Prince of Wales Island, along with Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai, the mainland part of Penang), Malacca and Singapore, were amalgamated into the Straits Settlements. Originally, George Town was made the capital. However, the capital was later shifted to Singapore in 1832, as the Port of Singapore was more strategically located along the India-China naval route and had already surpassed George Town as the preeminent harbour in the region.[32]

Map of Penang Island surveyed by Commander F C P Vereker in 1884

Nonetheless, the Prince of Wales Island continued to retain a secondary importance to Singapore.[33][34] Apart from being a centre of spice production and funnelling the exports meant for global shipping lines which had bypassed other regional ports, the tin mining boom in neighbouring Perak towards the end of the 19th. century transformed the Port of Penang into a major tin-exporting harbour in the Malay Peninsula, directly challenging the Port of Singapore.[35][36] Simultaneously, George Town grew wealthier as mercantile firms and banks flocked into the city.

View of George Town in the late 19th century.
Sun Yat-sen Museum in George Town was where Dr. Sun plotted his plans against the Qing dynasty. The museum is also an example of the typical Peranakan townhouse.

The growth of the Prince of Wales Island as an entrepôt led to the burgeoning of the island's population and the rapid development of George Town. Immigrants and traders flooded in from all over, including the Arabs, Jews, Germans and Armenians, bringing along their diverse cultures and religions; in particular, the Peranakans, who had settled in the region for generations, were also moving into George Town from Malacca; known as the King's Chinese, they would rise to prominence in Penang's economic and political scene, as well as leaving a lasting mark in Penang's architecture and cuisine.[37][38] In addition, the town of Bayan Lepas, at the south-eastern part of Penang Island, came into being towards the end of the 19th century.

For ten days in August 1867, the Penang Riot erupted in George Town due to the fierce enmity between rival secret societies Kean Teik Tong (Tua Pek Kong Hoey) and Ghee Hin Kongsi. The British authorities under newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor Col. Edward Anson put down the rioting with sepoy reinforcement after days of chaos.

Also in the same year, the Straits Settlements was made a British crown colony, which in effect meant the transfer of the administration of Penang, Singapore and Malacca from the hands of the British East India Company into the Colonial Office in London. Direct British rule meant better enforcement of the rule of law, as Penang's police force was rapidly improved and the secret societies that had plagued George Town during the preceding decades were gradually outlawed.[33][39] Other than that, the Prince of Wales Island was renamed Penang Island by the end of that year.[40]

At the turn of the century, George Town, with a majority Chinese population, was a natural place for the Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen to raise funds for his revolutionary efforts in Qing China. His frequent visits culminated in the famous 1910 Penang conference which paved the way to the ultimately successful Wuchang uprising that overthrew the Manchu government.

A 1914 map from the New York Times depicting the course of the Battle of Penang.

World wars[edit]

At the start of World War I in 1914, SMS Emden, an Imperial German Navy cruiser, sank two Allied warships off the northern coast of Penang Island, in what would become known as the Battle of Penang. 147 French and Russian sailors were killed, while the others were rescued by local Malay fishermen.[41]

The Cenotaph in George Town was built in honour of fallen Allied servicemen of World War I.[42][43]

World War II, on the other hand, brought unprecedented social and political upheaval to Penang. Between 9 December and 18 December 1941, Japanese warplanes indiscriminately strafed and bombed George Town, as well as destroying the outdated Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force squadrons defending Penang.[44][45] It was estimated that 600 civilians died as a result of the Japanese bombardment, with an additional 1,100 wounded.

Eighty Japanese fighters and bombers had flown over Georgetown unopposed... Thousands of people had filled the streets to watch the spectacle, which turned to tragedy when the bombs began to fall. Aircraft had then wheeled down to dive-bomb and strafe. Mass panic was the result of the bombing, and Penang had no anti-aircraft guns and few air raid shelters. Most of the bombs fell by design on Georgetown's densely populated Chinatown...[46]

— Allen Warren, British historian.

While the British Army had earlier designated Penang Island as a fortress, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival then decided on a withdrawal from Penang. Not only did the British Army abandon the Batu Maung Fort at the south-eastern tip of Penang Island without a fight, they also silently evacuate Penang's European population, leaving the rest of Penang's civilians to their fates.[47] Historians have since argued that the withdrawal and the covert evacuation of the white race led to the loss of the sense of British invincibility, and that "the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang".[48]

Women on Penang Island were rounded up by the Imperial Japanese Army to be taken as comfort women.
British Royal Marines retaking George Town on 3 September 1945.

Penang Island fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941, marking the start of a brutal period of Japanese occupation,[49][50] the island was renamed Tojo-to in honour of the then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.[51] This period was especially renowned for the Imperial Japanese Army's massacres of Penang's Chinese populace, also known as Sook Ching to the locals.[52] Women in Penang were also coerced to work as comfort women by the Imperial Japanese Army.

During the Japanese occupation, George Town's harbour facilities were used as a major U-boat base by Nazi Germany.[53][54] Between 1942 and 1944, the Port of Penang was utilised by Axis submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine and the Regia Marina.[55][56][57]

Japanese officials signing the surrender of Penang documents aboard HMS Nelson on 2 September 1945.

Between 1944 and 1945, Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force bombers based in British India repeatedly bombed George Town, seeking to destroy the naval facilities and administrative buildings.[58] The Penang Secretariat building was destroyed by the Allied bombardment, causing the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning Penang,[59] the Penang Strait was also mined to cripple Japanese shipping.[60]

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, the Penang Shimbun published the proclamation of surrender by the Emperor of Japan on 21 August. Under Operation Jurist, the British Royal Marines accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrison in Penang and recaptured Penang Island on 3 September 1945.


The British dissolved the Straits Settlements in 1946, and proceeded to merge the crown colonies of Penang and Malacca into the Malayan Union; Singapore was to be governed as a separate crown colony. The Malayan Union was eventually replaced with the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

However, the impending absorption of the British colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland alarmed Penang's population over economic and ethnic concerns,[61] the Penang Secessionist Movement (active from 1948 to 1951) was formed to prevent Penang's merger with Malaya, and was spearheaded by, among others, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Penang Clerical and Administrative Staff Union.[62] A secession motion tabled in the Penang Settlement Council in 1949 was narrowly defeated by British official votes, while another petition sent to London also met with British disapproval in 1951.[63][64][65] The British government responded to the concerns raised by the secessionists by guaranteeing George Town's free port status, as well as reintroducing municipal elections in George Town in 1951.[63]

Komtar Tower, built in 1974, is Penang's tallest skyscraper. However, it failed in its original purpose of rejuvenating George Town.

On 1 January 1957, George Town was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya. George Town continued to be the only city within Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur was granted city status.


The revocation of George Town's free port status by the Malaysian federal government in 1969 caused unemployment in the city to soar to over 16% and per capita income to plunge considerably.[64][66][67][68] This also contributed to George Town's gradual decline, which lasted until the early 2000s,[69] as the Malaysian federal government continued to develop Kuala Lumpur and nearby Port Klang by controlling investments in communication, transport, education and health, Penang began to suffer considerable brain drain as younger Penangites started emigrating out of the state for better employment opportunities.[66][70][71][72][73][74]

To reverse Penang's economic downturn, the then Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Chong Eu, created the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone next to the Penang International Airport, thus transforming the former agricultural town by industrialisation. Pioneer tax status was offered to attract multi-national electronic firms to set up factories and assembly plants in Bayan Lepas.[75] Complemented by low-cost labour, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone managed to pull Penang out from its economic slump and grew to become the Silicon Valley of the East.[76]

The Penang Bridge, opened for public use in 1985, was once the longest bridge in South-east Asia.

In an attempt to reverse George Town's decline, the Komtar project was launched in 1974. Hundreds of shophouses, schools and temples, as well as whole streets, were erased from the map in order to make way for the construction of Penang's tallest skyscraper.[66] However, instead of arresting George Town's decline, Komtar itself became a white elephant by the 2000s.[77][78][79]

The Penang Bridge linking Penang Island with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia was opened in 1985 by the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad. It was the longest bridge in South-east Asia until 2014, when it was superseded by its southern sibling, the Second Penang Bridge.


A part of George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the pre-war buildings were in a dilapidated state by 2000 and have since been restored.

In 2001, the Rent Control Act, which had protected the low-income residents and smaller businesses within George Town from arbitrary rental hikes, was repealed.[80][81][82] Consequently, the city centre became hollowed out and its colonial-era heritage buildings were left in disrepair, while unscrupulous private developers began demolishing some of the heritage buildings. Meanwhile, inconsistencies in urban planning and poor traffic management led to worsening traffic congestion, while decades of brain drain also took its toll as the city lacked the expertise to regulate urban development and new construction projects.[83][84][85] In addition, Penang's economy was slowing down in the early 2000s, with the state recording the lowest monthly household income growth rate in Malaysia.[86]

In response, George Town's non-governmental organisations started mobilising public support and forming strategic partnerships for the conservation of heritage buildings. A media campaign was also launched in 2004 to restore the city to its former glory.[85][87][88][89] As a result of the widespread resentment over Penang's decline, the federal opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, was voted into power within Penang in the 2008 State Election.[90][91][92][93]

The northern coastline of Penang Island, including Gurney Drive in George Town, was hard hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In 2008, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a recognition of the conservation efforts to protect the "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[94][95] The subsequent sprucing up of George Town and strict measures to improve traffic flow, pedestrianisation and environmental aspects by the new state government also led to George Town being ranked the 8th most liveable city in Asia by ECA International in 2010.[96][97][98][99][100][101][102]

The Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on 26 December 2004 hit the western and northern coasts of Penang Island, including George Town, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).

Whilst George Town had been declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, the entire Penang Island was also granted city status by the Malaysian federal government in 2015.[103]


A heightmap of Penang Island and surrounding islands plotted from ASTER GDEM data and coloured to allow easy extraction of height data in metres
Satellite view of George Town.

With an area of 293 km2 (113 sq mi), slightly ⅓ the size of Singapore, Penang Island is the fourth-largest island in Malaysia.[104] It is also the most densely populated island in the country, with a population density of 2,372/km2 (6,140/sq mi).[105]

Penang Island is geographically separated from the Malay Peninsula by the Penang Strait, as for the terrain, much of the centre of Penang Island consists of granitic hills covered by rainforest jungles. The central hills of Penang Island, including Penang Hill, serve as a giant green lung for the entire island and an important forested catchment area.[106]

Generally speaking, the island can be distinguished into five areas:

  • The northeastern plains form a triangular promontory where George Town is centred. This densely populated city centre is the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of Penang.
  • The southeast, where Bayan Lepas is located, was once an agricultural area consisting of rice fields and mangroves. Due to the massive industrialisation of the 1970s, this area has been developed into new townships and industrial areas.
  • The north, including Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong, consists of narrow sandy beaches lined with resort hotels and residences that form the north-western edge of George Town.
  • The southwest (Balik Pulau) contains the only large pockets of scenic countryside with fishing villages, fruit orchards, and mangroves.
  • The central hill range, with the highest peak being Penang Hill at 735 metres above sea level, is an important forested catchment area.

In recent decades, the urbanisation of George Town has led to the development of residential suburbs, such as Pulau Tikus, Air Itam, Paya Terubong, Jelutong and Gelugor. The southward expansion of George Town along the eastern seaboard of Penang Island has merged its southern-most suburb, Gelugor, with Bayan Lepas, thereby urbanising the entire eastern coast of Penang Island.

As with most island cities, land scarcity is a pressing issue on Penang Island. Land reclamation projects have been carried out to provide more low-lying land in high-demand areas, such as at Karpal Singh Drive, Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong and Queensbay.


Skyline of George Town, as seen from Gurney Drive.

Street names[edit]

A bilingual road sign at Victoria Street, George Town.

Unlike other cities in Malaysia, George Town still keeps most of its English street names. Even for roads that have been officially renamed in Malay, such as Jalan Masjid Negeri, Penangites in general still prefer to use the road's former English name, which in this particular case is Green Lane, this is partly because the new names are often unwieldy (e.g. Pitt Street vs Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Northam Road vs Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), but also indicates strong conservatism among Penangites, who see Penang's colonial history as part of their local identity.

In addition, since 2008, multi-lingual road signs have been in use throughout Penang Island, each of the new road signs has the road's official Malay name and either the street's English, Chinese, Tamil or Arabic name.[107][108] To this day, Penang Island is the only city in Peninsular Malaysia to have multi-lingual road signs.

Urban and suburban areas[edit]

Aerial view of Tanjung Tokong looking towards Gurney Drive, George Town.
A Rapid Penang bus navigating the narrow streets of Air Itam, west of George Town proper.

The expansion of George Town has created suburbs to its north-west, west and south, the north-western suburbs are somewhat more affluent, given their seafront locations which attract tourists and expatriates. The southern suburbs, such as Jelutong, grew due to industrial activities,[109] on the other hand, Air Itam and Paya Terubong emerged to the west of George Town as a result of agricultural plantations on the central hills of Penang Island.

The suburbs of George Town are as follows.

At the south-eastern part of Penang Island, the former agricultural town of Bayan Lepas has grown into an industrial town, while townships and neighbourhoods have spread, merging with George Town's southern suburbs and urbanising the whole eastern seaboard of Penang Island, the townships and villages around Bayan Lepas are as listed below.

The south-western part of Penang Island, where the agricultural town of Balik Pulau is located, also consists of a number of fishing villages and fruit orchards, these fishing villages include Gertak Sanggul and Pantai Acheh.

Tucked away near the north-western tip of Penang Island is the fishing village of Teluk Bahang, which has been experiencing increased tourist arrivals due to the opening of a handful of attractions there.

Batu Ferringhi, the most famous beach destination on Penang Island.


Monkey Beach, situated within the Penang National Park at Teluk Bahang.

The north-western edge of George Town - at Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah - is lined with some of the most popular beaches in Penang, as well as a hotel and resort belt that includes Hard Rock Hotel. However, decades of sea pollution have degraded the beauty of the beaches somewhat and led to the infestation of jellyfishes along the northern coast of Penang Island.[110]

More pristine beaches can be found within the Penang National Park, which covers the north-western tip of Penang Island, these include Monkey Beach and Kerachut Beach.


Penang Hill forms an imposing backdrop over George Town.

The central hills of Penang Island serve as a gigantic green lung and water catchment area for the urbanised island.

Penang Hill, with tallest peak on Penang Island, lies near the centre of the island and west of Air Itam. The peak, 735 metres above sea level, is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway from its base station at Air Itam. Once visited by British officials and Queen Elizabeth II, the peak of Penang Hill is one of Penang's most well-known tourist attractions, with 1.36 million tourist arrivals in 2014.[111][112]

Parks and gardens[edit]

The City Park in George Town is also known colloquially as the Youth Park.

The main parks within George Town are the Penang Botanic Gardens and the nearby City Park.

Founded in 1884 as an offshoot of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Penang Botanic Gardens, located off Waterfall Road to the west of the Pulau Tikus suburb, is Malaysia's oldest botanical garden. Today, it serves as the city's green lung and a major recreational area, receiving about 5,000 visitors per weekend,[113] this botanical garden also includes Penang's biggest waterfall, which supplies a small amount of George Town's water supply.[114]

The City Park, a short distance away from the Penang Botanic Gardens, was opened in 1972,[115][116] this 172-acre (70 ha) urban park now consists of a water park, a skating rink, a children's playground and a street art corner, and has become a popular place for urbanites to unwind.[117][116]

Gazetted in 2003, the Penang National Park, west of Teluk Bahang, is the country's smallest national park. Within the 2,562 hectares of protected rainforest, lie mangrove swamps, mud flats, coral reefs and pristine beaches where turtles can be occasionally spotted laying eggs.

Teluk Bahang is also home to unique agricultural attractions, such as the Penang Butterfly Farm, Tropical Spice Garden and Tropical Fruit Farm.[118][119][120]

Drainage system[edit]

The major rivers on Penang Island include the Pinang River, Air Itam River, Gelugor River, Dondang River, Teluk Bahang River, Tukun River and Betung River. Two dams store Penang Island's water supply - Teluk Bahang Dam and Air Itam Dam.[114]


Like the rest of Malaysia, Penang Island has a tropical rainforest climate under the Köppen climate classification (Af), although it also borders on a tropical monsoon climate. Penang Island does experience slightly drier conditions between December and February of the following year, the city sees on average around 2,477 millimetres (97.5 in) of precipitation annually with the lowest being 60 millimetres (2.4 in) in February while the highest was around 210 millimetres (8.3 in) between August and October.[121]

Penang Island's proximity to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from the perennial but transient forest fires, creating a yearly phenomenon known as the Southeast Asian haze.[122][123] The haze season typically hits between July and October.

Weather forecasts in Penang Island is served by the Bayan Lepas Regional Meteorological Office, which acts as the primary weather forecast facility for northern Peninsular Malaysia.[124]

Climate data for Penang
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.9
Average low °C (°F) 23.2
Average rainfall mm (inches) 68.7
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5 6 9 14 14 11 12 14 18 19 15 9 146
Mean monthly sunshine hours 248.8 233.2 235.3 224.5 203.6 202.4 205.5 188.8 161.0 170.2 182.1 209.0 2,464.4
Source: NOAA[125]

Governance and politics[edit]

Local government[edit]

The City Hall in George Town, built in 1903, now serves as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council.

Local administration of Penang Island, including George Town, is under the purview of the Penang Island City Council, an agency of the Penang state government, with a history dating back to 1800, it is the oldest local council in Malaysia and the successor to the country's first city council - the George Town City Council.

Headquartered in the City Hall, George Town, the city council is responsible for urban planning, heritage preservation, public health, sanitation, waste management, traffic management, environmental protection, building control, social and economic development, and general maintenance of urban infrastructure. In 2017, Penang Island was ranked Malaysia's second cleanest city, after Ipoh.[126]

The Mayor is appointed by the Penang state government for two years, while each of the 24 councillors is appointed for a one-year term,[127] the current Mayor of Penang Island is Yew Tung Seang, who took office in 2018.[128]

Penang state government[edit]

The Komtar Tower houses both state and local government offices, as well as the Office of the Chief Minister of Penang.
The Residency in George Town serves as the official residence of Penang's head of state, the Governor.

As the capital of the State of Penang, George Town is the seat of the Penang state government, the Office of the Chief Minister of Penang is at the 28th floor of the Komtar Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Penang.[129] Meanwhile, the Penang State Legislative Assembly convenes within the Penang State Assembly Building, also in George Town. The Governor of Penang, as the head of state, also has his official residence within the city.

For the unicameral Penang State Legislative Assembly, Penang Island is divided into 19 state constituencies. The State Assemblymen are elected into office via the Penang State Election, which by convention is held simultaneously with the Malaysian General Election every five years.

Penang Island is also represented by six Members of Parliament in the Malaysian Parliament, the Members of Parliament are elected via the Malaysian General Election.

The current State Assemblymen and Members of Parliament for Penang Island are as listed below.

Map Federal Constituency Party Member of Parliament State Constituency Party State Assemblyman
Bukit Bendera (P048) DAP Zairil Khir Johari Tanjong Bunga (N22) DAP Teh Yee Cheu
Air Putih (N23) DAP Lim Guan Eng
Kebun Bunga (N24) PKR Cheah Kah Peng
Pulau Tikus (N25) DAP Yap Soo Huey
Tanjong (P049) DAP Ng Wei Aik Padang Kota (N26) DAP Chow Kon Yeow
Pengkalan Kota (N27) DAP Lau Keng Ee
Komtar (N28) DAP Teh Lai Heng
Jelutong (P050) DAP Jeff Ooi Chuan Aun Datok Keramat (N29) DAP Jagdeep Singh Deo
Sungai Pinang (N30) DAP Lim Siew Khim
Batu Lancang (N31) DAP Law Heng Kiang
Bukit Gelugor (P051) DAP Ramkarpal Singh Seri Delima (N32) DAP RSN Rayer
Air Itam (N33) DAP Wong Hon Wai
Paya Terubong (N34) DAP Yeoh Soon Hin
Bayan Baru (P052) PKR Sim Tze Tzin Batu Uban (N35) PKR Jayabalan s/o Thambyappa
Pantai Jerejak (N36) PKR Mohd Rashid Hasnon
Batu Maung (N37) PKR Abdul Malik bin Abdul Kassim
Balik Pulau (P053) BN Hilmi Yahaya Bayan Lepas (N38) BN Nordin bin Ahmad
Pulau Betong (N39) BN Muhamad Farid Saad
Telok Bahang (N40) BN Shah Haedan bin Ayoob Hussain Shah


The Supreme Court of Penang in George Town occupies the top of the hierarchy of Penang courts.

The Malaysian legal system had its roots in George Town; in 1807, a Royal Charter was granted to Penang which provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court. This was followed by the appointment of the first Supreme Court judge designated as the Recorder.

The Supreme Court of Penang was first opened at Fort Cornwallis on 31 May 1808, the first Superior Court Judge in Malaya originated from Penang when Sir Edmond Stanley assumed office as the First Recorder (later, Judge) of the Supreme Court of Penang in 1808. The Supreme Court was then relocated a short distance away to Light Street, where the present building was built in the 1903, the legal establishment in George Town was then gradually extended to the whole of British Malaya (including Singapore).

The courts in Penang consist of the Magistrates, Sessions, and the Supreme Court. All three courts are located at Light Street, George Town to this day, while a Sessions Court has also been established in Balik Pulau.[130]

The Syariah court is a parallel court which hears matters under Islamic jurisprudence.


Penangites celebrating Songkran in George Town.

According to the 2010 Census by the Malaysian federal government, Penang Island had a population of 722,384.[3] More recent estimates from Malaysia's Department of Statistics indicated that the island had about 738,500 residents by 2012,[131] these figures placed Penang Island as Malaysia's second largest city by population.

In addition, Penang Island's population is part of the approximately 2.5 million inhabitants within the Greater Penang conurbation, which also covers Seberang Perai (the mainland portion of Penang) and the southernmost part of neighbouring Kedah. Thus, Greater Penang is the most populous metropolitan area in Malaysia outside of Klang Valley (Greater Kuala Lumpur).

Penang is one of the most urbanised Malaysian states, with an urbanisation level of 90.8% as of 2015.[132]


Ethnic composition of George Town (2010)[3]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras

According to Malaysia's Department of Statistics, Penang Island has a predominantly Chinese population, which includes the Peranakans, as of 2010, more than 53% of the island's population were of Chinese descent.[3] The Bumiputeras, including ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous tribes such as the Dayaks and Kadazans, collectively comprised nearly 32% of the island's population. Ethnic Indians constituted another 9% of Penang Island's population. These were in addition to small, but prominent, Eurasian and Siamese minorities;[133] in particular, most of the nearly 1,500 Eurasians remain concentrated at the Pulau Tikus suburb.[134][135]

The Peranakans, descendants of mixed Malay and Chinese ancestries, had simultaneously lived throughout the Straits Settlements for generations, the Peranakan community on Penang Island, which included tycoons like Chung Thye Phin, Lim Boon Keng and Khoo Sian Ewe, would go on to wield considerable influence in protecting Penang's commercial and political interests.[136] As the Peranakans tended to be more loyal to the British Crown than to China, they were also known as the King's Chinese, although Malaysia's current ethnic policies have effectively forced the Peranakans to assume a more Chinese-centric identity, Peranakan influence still thrives in George Town to this day.[137]

George Town currently has a significant expatriate population, particularly from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries as well as the United Kingdom, many of whom chose to retire in Penang as part of the Malaysia My Second Home programme. In recent years, George Town has been acknowledged as one of the best cities to retire within South-East Asia, as reported by CNN and Forbes.[138][139] Expatriates formed almost 6% of Penang Island's population as of 2010, and are concentrated around George Town's northern suburbs such as Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi.[140]

The Jewish Cemetery in George Town is believed to be the oldest in South-east Asia.

During the colonial era, there were also Burmese, Filipino, Sinhalese, Japanese, Sumatran, Arab, Jewish, Armenian and Persian communities in George Town, as well as tiny but commercially significant community of German merchants.[141][142] Although most of these communities are now extinct, they lent their legacy to several street and place names in George Town, such as the Jewish Cemetery, Dhammikarama Temple, Armenian Street and Gottlieb Road.[143][144]


As with other multi-ethnic cities in Malaysia, all four major languages are widely spoken on Penang Island - Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. However, the island is best known for its distinct Hokkien dialect, known as Penang Hokkien.

Under British rule, English was the official language, this was helped by the growth of missionary schools throughout George Town, including Penang Free School, St. Xavier's Institution, St. George's Girls' School, Catholic Convent schools and Methodist schools, all of which used English as their medium of instruction and were held in high esteem by the locals.[145] Most Penangites have at least reasonable command of the language; while British English is formally used, spoken English usually takes the form of Manglish.[146] Notably, Penang Island is the only city in Malaysia that retains most of its English street names, as can be seen on the multi-lingual street signs in the city.

As with the rest of Malaysia, Malay is currently the official language on Penang Island, the Malays of Penang Island also use a unique dialect similar to Kedah Malay, with characteristic words such as hang, depa, pi and kupang. Syllables ending with aq are usually stressed.

Due to their Tamil ancestry, most Indians speak Tamil. Punjabi and Telugu are also spoken by smaller numbers of Indians on Penang Island.

Meanwhile, the Chinese population uses a variety of Chinese dialects, reflective of their forebears' different places of origins in southern China, these include Hakka and Cantonese, while Mandarin, more widely used by youths, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout Penang.

However, it is Penang Hokkien that serves as the lingua franca, particularly in George Town. Originally a variant of the Minnan dialect, over the centuries, Penang Hokkien has absorbed a large number of loanwords from Malay and English, yet another legacy of the Peranakan culture. It is spoken by many Penangites regardless of race for daily communication, so much so that even police officers also take courses in Penang Hokkien.[147][148][149] In recent years, steps are being taken to maintain the dialect's importance in the face of increasing influence of Mandarin and English, including through books, dictionaries and movies.[150][151]


View of George Town from the Penang Strait. Penang Island serves as the main economic pole for northern Malaysia.

Penang Island is one of the major economic powerhouses of Malaysia, the 'Silicon Valley of the East' is one of the top contributors of Malaysia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and tax income.[152] While George Town was originally established as an entrepôt by the British, the economic sectors on Penang Island now vary, from commerce to manufacturing.

Penang Island also acts as the economic pole of northern Malaysia, with relatively well-developed logistical connectivity, the Penang International Airport is one of the country's busiest in terms of cargo tonnage and passenger traffic, while the Port of Penang, the most important entrepôt in northern Malaysia, has cemented the island city's reputation as a popular destination for cruise shipping.[153]

The top sectors in Penang's economy are services and manufacturing, the major component of Penang's manufacturing sector, in particular, is the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, where numerous multinational electronics and engineering firms have set up factories since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the services sector is slated to become the largest economic sector in Penang, due to the island's reputation as a famous tourist destination and the outsourcing of advanced services to the state, the high concentration of international banks in George Town has also made Penang Island the financial centre of northern Malaysia.

In 2015, Penang Island contributed US$12,044, or nearly 8%, of Malaysia's personal disposable income in 2015, second only to Kuala Lumpur.[154] George Town was subsequently ranked Malaysia's most attractive destination for commercial property investment by Knight Frank in 2016, surpassing even Kuala Lumpur.[155] This has also contributed to Penang attaining the highest level of investments within Malaysia, amounting to RM7.7 billion, or 45% of the total investments within the nation, in the first half of 2017 alone; almost 81% of that figure were in the form of foreign direct investments.[156]

Overall, Penang has the third largest economy of all Malaysian states, contributing as much as RM6.302 billion of Malaysia's tax income in 2014.[157][158] As of 2016, Penang's GDP per capita has risen to RM47,322, the highest among Malaysian states.[159] Furthermore, Penang constantly records one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country - 1.5% in 2015.[160][161] Penang's Gini coefficient is also one of the nation's lowest, standing at 0.356 in 2016.[162]


Massive industrialisation since the 1970s has led to manufacturing becoming one of Penang's top economic sectors, contributing as much as 47.4% of Penang's total GDP in 2015.[163] Penang's manufacturing sector is one of the largest in the state's economy, contributing as much as 48.3% of Penang's GDP in 2013.[164] Of Penang's total exports during the first nine months in 2014, machinery and transport equipment accounted for 71%.

As the Silicon Valley of the East, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone is now home to the factories of several multinational firms specialising in electronics and engineering.[165] Among them are Bosch, Dell, Intel, Osram, Plexus Corporation, Motorola, Hitachi and Hewlett Packard.


Beach Street still serves as the commercial heart of George Town. The bank buildings along the street were built in the same colonial architecture as in Shanghai.

George Town was once the centre of banking in Malaysia, at a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a small outpost. The first international bank to open a branch in Malaysia was Standard Chartered Bank (then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) in 1875, with a main branch in George Town.[166] The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and the Royal Bank of Scotland (then ABN AMRO) followed suit by opening their George Town branches in 1885 and 1888 respectively.[165]

To this day, George Town remains the banking centre of northern Malaysia, with branches of Citibank, United Overseas Bank, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, Bank of China and Bank Negara Malaysia (Malaysian central bank) together with local banks such as Public Bank, Maybank, Ambank and CIMB Bank. Most of the older international banks still retain their Penang headquarters at Beach Street, which serves as George Town's main Central Business District.

Since the 1990s, Northam Road, along with Gurney Drive, has evolved into the city's second Central Business District.[167] Northam Road, in particular, is home to a cluster of financial services, with a number of accounting, auditing and insurance firms based along this coastal road.[168] In addition, the Employees Provident Fund, run by the Malaysian federal government, operates an office at the road as well.[169]


Penang Island has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia, over the centuries, the island has even welcomed some of the most influential personalities, including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, Lee Kuan Yew and Queen Elizabeth II. As of 2017, Penang attracted almost 8.6 million tourists, with the Penang International Airport posting a record 7.2 million passenger arrivals and the Swettenham Pier registering another 1.35 million tourist arrivals.[170][171] Within the year, the state also contributed the third highest tourism tax revenue in Malaysia, after Kuala Lumpur and Sabah.[172]

Penang Island's various attractions include the impressive array of heritage architecture, its multicultural society, a wide range of modern entertainment and retail choices, natural features such as beaches and verdant hills, and the world-famous Penang cuisine, the city's low cost of living and well-developed infrastructure have also been cited as pull factors.[74]

In recent years, George Town has received numerous international accolades, further putting the city on the world stage; in 2016, George Town was recommended as one of the 16 must-see destinations by the Los Angeles Times, as well as one of the top ten by the Lonely Planet.[173][174] CNN followed suit by listing Penang Island as one of the 17 best destinations of 2017.[175] Forbes also listed George Town as one of the best budget tourist destinations in 2016, while the Time magazine placed Penang as one of the top 10 budget-friendly Asian destinations in 2017.[176][177]

These are in addition to Penang Island's reputation as a gastronomic haven, with CNN placing the city as one of Asia's best street food cities.[178]


Renovated shophouses in George Town, repainted in vibrant colours.

In recent years, the services sector, driven mainly by tourist arrivals into Penang Island, has become one of the top economic sectors in Penang, with nearly two thirds of Penang's workforce employed in services-related industries, this particular sector has also overtaken manufacturing as Penang's biggest economic sector, contributing 48.6% of Penang's total GDP in 2015.[163]

Within Penang's services sector, the greatest proportion of employment was recorded in the retail, accommodation, and food and beverages (F&B) sub-sectors, clearly indicating the influence of tourist arrivals on service-related industries. After the inscription of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a growing trend is the acquisition of heritage shophouses within the zone by foreign investors, especially from Singapore and Hong Kong.[179][180][181][182] These shophouses are then renovated and converted into cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and shops, further contributing to the city's booming services sector and its nightlife.

In addition to these, Penang Island is home to an emerging startup community, including the likes of Piktochart and DeliverEat.[183] Attracted by the city's cheaper living costs and the several multinational technology firms throughout the island, the startups are also being actively encouraged by the Penang state government and the private sector, with initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and the Internet of Things (IoT).[184][185]

Penang's services sector is also boosted by shared services outsourcing (SSO) firms, including AirAsia, Citigroup and Temasek Holdings; the SSO sub-sector has earned a yearly revenue of RM12.79 billion by 2013 and created over 8,000 jobs.[186][187]

Medical tourism[edit]

An integral part of Penang's services sector is medical tourism, which has made George Town the medical tourism hub of Malaysia, the city attracted approximately half of the nation's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generated about 70% of Malaysia's medical tourism revenue.[6][7][74] About 1,000 patients arrive on Penang Island daily, mostly from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

The success of Penang's medical tourism industry is mainly due to the specialised medical treatments offered at more affordable costs by the numerous private hospitals on Penang Island, coupled with well-trained professionals and advanced equipment.[74] Indirect factors that were cited include the low cost of living, the laid-back lifestyle and the ease of travel facilitated by the relatively well-developed logistical infrastructure.[6]


Gurney Plaza, one of the more popular shopping malls in George Town.
Shophouses along George Town's Little India sell Indian fabrics and textile, as well as Hindu prayer paraphernalia.
Queensbay Mall, the biggest shopping mall on Penang Island, is situated in Bayan Lepas.

Due to the several shopping malls and hypermarkets on Penang Island, the city is the main shopping hub of northern Malaysia, the retail sub-sector is supported by the large number of tourist arrivals, and Penang's well-developed logistical connections and infrastructure, which facilitated the import of goods. Since 2001, shopping complexes in George Town registered the biggest increases in Malaysia.[188]

In particular, the shopping malls in George Town are the major draws for shoppers. Within the vicinity of Komtar are 1st. Avenue Mall, Prangin Mall and Penang Times Square. Upmarket shopping malls, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon, are located next to each other along Gurney Drive. Suburban shopping malls have also sprung up in recent decades, including Straits Quay and Island Plaza at Tanjung Tokong, Udini Square at Gelugor and All Seasons Place at Air Itam.[189]

The largest shopping mall on Penang Island is Queensbay Mall, located in Bayan Lepas, the 73 acre, 2.5 million ft2 complex was opened in 2006.

While shopping malls now dominate the retail scene, many centuries-old shophouses are still operating alongside the city's flea markets and wet markets; in George Town, these smaller retail establishments cater more to locally made products, including spices, nutmegs and tau sar pneah, a famous Penang delicacy.

This combination of both old and new creates a unique bustling retail sector on Penang Island;[190] in addition, as many as 24% of Penang's workforce are employed in the retail sub-sector, the largest of all economic sub-sectors in Penang.[163]


Centuries of development have brought a mix of architectural styles to Penang Island, both historical and modern, the centre of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its 'unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia'.[95] Just outside the UNESCO zone lies the modern cityscape, with skyscrapers, residential high-rises, office blocks and shopping malls built all over the island city.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, opened in 1885, also features colonial architecture.
The Moorish-style Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower is among the most prominent clock towers in the city.

In particular, the older architecture reflects the legacy of 171 years of British rule, coalescing Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Siamese, Burmese and other cultural influences. This blend of architectural styles is also ubiquitous in Malacca and Singapore, two fellow Straits Settlements which shared similar British colonial legacies. However, unlike Singapore, where many heritage buildings have been replaced by modern skyscrapers and high-rise apartments, George Town's architectural heritage has enjoyed a better fate. Since the 2000s, conservation efforts have brought previously derelict heritage buildings such as the famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion back to life.[191]

Sri Mahamariamman Temple, with a history dating back to 1801, is the focal point of George Town's Little India.

Historical architecture[edit]

Most of George Town's famous heritage landmarks are located within its UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the first structures to be constructed in George Town was Fort Cornwallis, which was built just weeks after Captain Francis Light had first landed in 1786.[36]

Kapitan Keling Mosque was built by Indian Muslims in the early 1800s, one of the first in the city.
Wat Chaiyamangkalaram at Pulau Tikus was constructed in 1845 by the suburb's Siamese community.

The governmental buildings in George Town were built in various colonial architectural styles, for example, the City Hall was built in the Edwardian Baroque style, whereas the Supreme Court features a Palladian architectural style, similar to that of St. George's Church. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a sibling of Singapore's Raffles Hotel; both were founded by the Sarkies Brothers and built in colonial architecture.

Kek Lok Si, with its main pagoda incorporating Chinese, Burmese and Siamese influences, is a major tourist attraction at Air Itam.

Many of the bank headquarters along Beach Street, such as Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC were also constructed in the Art Deco styles.[192]

In addition, various Asian architectural styles can be seen throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site, some of them combining different cultural influences. Kapitan Keling Mosque, the largest mosque within the zone, combines Moorish, Mughal and Islamic styles. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan Mansion both merge Chinese architecture and European interior design, while the Sun Yat-sen Museum is one of the countless examples of a typical Peranakan townhouse which dominates the cityscape.[193][194] Other unique examples of Chinese architecture include Khoo Kongsi and the Clan Jetties. Little India contains more Hindu and Indian Muslim architecture, such as the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Nagore Durgha Shrine.

Impressive heritage architecture outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the colonial bungalows built by nouveau riche Chinese tycoons in the 19th century along Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), and stately bungalows like The Residency and Suffolk House.

The Siamese and Burmese communities have left their mark on George Town's landscape, at Pulau Tikus, Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a Thai temple that is famous for its reclining Buddha statue, while Dhammikarama Burmese Temple is located nearby. Kek Lok Si, situated at Air Itam was completed in the 1930s, merging Chinese, Siamese and Burmese architectural styles into its main pagoda.

Modern architecture[edit]

Komtar Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Penang, forms an imposing backdrop of George Town.
Skyscrapers at Gurney Drive in George Town

Since the mid 20th century, modern urbanisation has transformed much of Penang Island. Skyscrapers and high-rises have sprung up all over the city, sometimes side-by-side with heritage buildings. Industrial estates are concentrated within Bayan Lepas to the south.

Just south of the UNESCO World Heritage Site stands Komtar, the tallest skyscraper in Penang at nearly 250 metres tall. It forms the core of George Town's modern centre, surrounded by residential high-rises like Hotel Jen, St. Giles Wembley Hotel, Neo+ Hotel and Penang Times Square, as well as shopping centres including Prangin Mall, 1st. Avenue and Gama. The second Central Business District at Northam Road and Gurney Drive, which lies along the city's northern shoreline, is also home to some of Penang's tallest skyscrapers, including Setia V, Gurney Paragon and BHL Tower.

With increasing urbanisation, high-rises are also springing up throughout Penang Island.



A bowl of asam laksa, Penang's most famous hawker dish. It was ranked 7th. in CNN's list of the world's 50 best foods.[195]
A roadside rojak stall in George Town. Roadside hawker stalls are ubiquitous throughout the city.

Penang Island, long regarded as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied street food, incorporating Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European influences into its literal melting pot.

The island has been acknowledged as one of Asia's top street food cities by the CNN, as well the top culinary destination in the world by Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet in 2014.[178][196] According to Barton, Penang cuisine "reflects the intermingling of the many cultures that arrived after it was set up as a trading port in 1786, from Malays to Indians, Acehenese to Chinese, Burmese to Thais. State capital George Town is its culinary epicentre". These were in addition to the Time magazine, which acclaimed Penang in 2004 as having the best street food in Asia, citing that "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap".[197]

The best places to savour Penang cuisine include (but not limited to) Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, Chulia Street, Kimberley Street, New Lane, New World Park, Penang Road, Air Itam and Balik Pulau. Famous Penang dishes include asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, oh chien (fried oyster omelette), rojak and chendol. Certain places throughout Penang Island are more renowned for particular local dishes, such as chendol at Penang Road in George Town, Hokkien mee at Pulau Tikus, and asam laksa at Air Itam.[198][199][200][201]

Besides that, tau sar pneah shops can be found throughout the island, selling delectable bean paste biscuits.

Other than that, Balik Pulau is well known for its durian orchards, which reputedly produce among the best durians in Malaysia. Between May and August every year, tourists from all over Malaysia and Singapore flock to Balik Pulau to taste freshly picked durians.[202][203]

Performance arts[edit]

A Chingay troupe in George Town

Penang is the birthplace of the Chingay procession, which began with its first parade in 1919.[235] Although Chingay parades are held throughout Malaysia and Singapore, Penang's Chingay is unique in that the balancing of gigantic flags on one's forehead or hands is an essential component. It is held to celebrate the birthdays of the Chinese deities or during the procession of the Goddess of Mercy, it was said that Singapore even copied Penang's Chingay processions for its own Chinese New Year celebrations.[204]

Bangsawan, or Malay opera, is a theatre art form which originated from India and was developed in Penang with Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian influences. It went into decline towards the end of the 20th century and is a dying art form today.[205][206] Boria, another traditional dance indigenous to Penang, features singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.[207]

Dozens of wrought iron caricatures have been put up within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Chinese opera (Teochew and Hokkien versions) is performed especially during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival. There are also puppetry performances, although they are not as frequently performed today.

There are also two major Western orchestras on Penang Island - the Penang Philharmonic (formerly Penang State Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (PESSOC), and the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO) - as well as several chamber and school-based musical ensembles.[208][209] Dewan Sri Pinang, Straits Quay and the SPICE Arena are some of the major performing venues on Penang Island.

Ernest Zacharevic's Children on a Bicycle in George Town.

Street art[edit]

In 2012, as part of the George Town Festival, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of 6 wall murals depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles,[210] they now stand as celebrated cultural landmarks of George Town, with Children on a Bicycle being one of the most photographed spots in the city.

Penang's street art scene has blossomed ever since. New galleries, such as the Hin Bus Depot, are now curating exciting exhibitions and inviting international artists to visit and paint murals, building on the existing reputation the city has as a vibrant arts and culture centre. Dozens of wrought iron caricatures, which illustrate the history and lifestyles of a particular area, have been set up among the streets of George Town. Wall murals have also been drawn outside George Town, such as the painting of an old fisherman in Balik Pulau.[211]


The Penang Museum and Art Gallery in George Town, which also formerly housed Penang Free School, is an architectural gem on its own right.

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery in George Town houses relics, photographs, maps, and other artefacts that document the history and culture of Penang and its people.[212] Other museums focus on religious and cultural aspects, as well as famous personalities, including the Penang Islamic Museum, Sun Yat-sen Museum, Batik Painting Museum, and Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery.[213]

Besides that, the birthplace of Malaysia's legendary singer-actor, P. Ramlee, has been restored and turned into a museum.[214]

More recently, private-run museums have sprung up all over George Town, such as the Camera Museum at Muntri Street and Penang Toy Museum at Tanjung Bungah. A handful of newer 3D visual museums have also been established, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel.[215][216]


New Year celebrations at Karpal Singh Drive, George Town.

Penang Island's cultural melting pot of various races and religions means that there are a great many celebrations and festivities in any given year. Chinese New Year, Eid ul-Fitri, Deepavali, Thaipusam, Vaisakhi, Christmas, Vesak Day and Songkran are just some of the major cultural and religious celebrations on Penang Island.[217][218]

The island's expatriates have also introduced a host of other celebrations from their countries of origin. Bon Odori is celebrated annually at the Esplanade by the Japanese, while St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest, traditionally celebrated by the Irish and the Germans respectively, have been gaining popularity amongst the locals as well.[219][220][221]

In recent years, the city has been hosting several major festivals as well, such as the George Town Festival and the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.


The City Stadium in George Town was where Mohd Faiz Subri, a Penang FA player, scored the goal that won him the prestigious FIFA Puskás Award in 2017.
Nicol David (currently ranked world number 3 - as of September 2016) hailed from George Town.
The SPICE Arena is also one of the major meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) venues in Penang.

Penang Island houses relatively well-developed sporting infrastructure, the City Stadium in George Town is the island's main football stadium, with a capacity of around 25,000. The stadium is the home ground of Penang FA, and was where a Penang footballer, Mohd Faiz Subri, scored a physics-defying goal that won him the FIFA Puskás Award. The SPICE Arena in Bayan Baru consists of an indoor stadium and an aquatics centre, while the Nicol David International Squash Centre at Gelugor is a major squash training facility. In addition, the Penang Turf Club, founded in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.[232] The Penang Bridge Marathon is a popular yearly event, the full marathon route starts from near Queensbay Mall and then on to the 13.5 km (8.4 mi) (8.4 mi) length of the Penang Bridge, and finally back to the starting point for the finish. 24,000 athletes participated in this event in 2010.[234]

Sports clubs on Penang Island include the Penang Club, Chinese Recreation Club (CRC), Penang Sports Club, Penang Rifle Club, Penang Polo Club, Penang Swimming Club, Chinese Swimming Club, and the Penang Squash Centre.

Among the national and international sport events that were hosted on Penang Island include the 2000 Sukma Games, 2001 Southeast Asian Games and the 2013 Women's World Open Squash Championship.

In addition, Penang Island has also produced some of Malaysia's sporting greats. Nicol David, one of the world's greatest female squash player of all time, was born in George Town and had trained at Gelugor at a young age.[222] Fellow squash players Low Wee Wern and Ong Beng Hee also hailed from Penang Island, as is Chan Peng Soon, who clinched a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in mixed doubles badminton.


Universiti Sains Malaysia, at Gelugor, is the only public university that was founded on Penang Island.

George Town is home to some of Malaysia's oldest schools, making it a pioneer in the country's education system. Under British rule, missionary schools, starting with Penang Free School in 1816, were established across George Town. Subsequently, Chinese schools, some of which are also among the oldest in the nation, were also founded, thus making George Town the nucleus of Chinese education in Southeast Asia.

International schools have also been established to cater to the growing expatriate population, these schools offer primary to secondary education up to A Levels and International Baccalaureate.

Penang Island is also home to one of the best Malaysian public universities - Universiti Sains Malaysia, as well as several private colleges and institutions. Aside from these, George Town contains a handful of language institutions, including the British Council, Alliance Française and the Malaysian German Society.[223][224][225]

These educational institutions have contributed to Penang Island's relatively well-educated population and led to Penang having the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia. Overall, Penang's literacy rate stood at 98.2% in 2010, while its youth literacy rate stood at 99.5% as of 2014.[226][227][228]


Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Southeast Asia.

There are a total of 117 primary schools, 49 high schools, four Islamic religious schools, one technical school and two vocational colleges throughout Penang Island.[229] The breakdown of these schools is as follows.

Type Total
Primary schools National 53
National-type Chinese 51
National-type Tamil 7
Private 4
Special needs 2
High schools National 42
Private 6
Special needs 1
Islamic 4
Technical/vocational 3

George Town is home to some of the oldest missionary schools in Malaysia, such as the Penang Free School (1816), St. Xavier's Institution (1852), Convent Light Street (1852), St. George's Girls' School (1885) and Methodist Boys' School (1891).[230] These missionary schools have educated generations of Malaysian and Singaporean leaders, politicians, businessmen and other professionals.

The oldest Chinese school in Southeast Asia was Chung Hwa Confucian School, which was established in 1904, since then, Chinese schools on Penang Island, including Chung Ling, Heng Ee and Penang Chinese Girls' High School have maintained their reputation for academic excellence, attracting Chinese students from Indonesia and Thailand, where Chinese education was banned, as well as non-Chinese students.[231][232][233]

Aside from government-run and private schools, Penang Island contains a total of 10 international schools, among these, Dalat, Uplands, Tenby, Pelita, Fairview, Hua Xia and Straits International School offer both primary and secondary education.[234][235][236][237] The Penang Japanese School is the only international school on the island that caters for expatriates of a specific nationality.[238]

Tertiary education[edit]

Wawasan Open University in George Town is a private institution specialising in open-distance learning.

Universiti Sains Malaysia, located at Gelugor, is one of the top public universities in the nation. Established in 1969 as the second university in Malaysia, it was originally named Universiti Pulau Pinang (University of Penang),[239] as of 2017, it is ranked 264th in the QS World University Rankings, the fifth highest in Malaysia.

Several private institutions have also been established across Penang Island.

  • DISTED College
  • Penang Skills Development Centre
  • Equator Academy of Arts
  • PTPL College
  • Olympia College
  • The One Academy
  • Cosmopoint College


Penang Digital Library in George Town

There are a total of 30 libraries on Penang Island, the Penang State Library operates two branches - one each in George Town and Balik Pulau.[240][241] In addition, the Penang state government launched the Penang Digital Library in George Town in 2016,[242] the first such digital library in Malaysia, it currently houses a digitalised collection of over 3,000 books, magazines and journals, and is accessible by the general public for free.[243][244]

Health care[edit]

Penang General Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital in Penang.
Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre in George Town is one of the many private hospitals located within the city.

Health care on Penang Island is adequately provided by the several public and private hospitals on the island, these hospitals have also helped the city to emerge as the centre of medical tourism in Malaysia.

The Penang General Hospital, administered and funded by the Ministry of Health, is the main public hospital for Penang Island. Built in 1882, the hospital in George Town is also supported by the Balik Pulau Hospital, which serves the south-western part of the island. Today, the Penang General Hospital also serves as the reference hospital within the northern region of Malaysia.[245] A medical school within the hospital is expected to be completed by 2017.

Aside from the Penang General Hospital and the Balik Pulau Hospital, there are 54 government-run clinics throughout Penang Island, supported by 11 private hospitals and 352 private clinics,[246] the private hospitals within George Town, in particular, have contributed significantly to Penang's medical tourism sector, catering not only to the locals but also to interstate patients and foreign tourists.[6][7][74] The hospitals on Penang Island are as listed below.

Public hospitals Private hospitals

George Town became the first Malaysian city to install public automated external defibrillators (AEDs), with the launch of the first device in 2015.[255][256] This initiative by the Penang state government is aimed at improving the response of citizens towards sudden cardiac arrests,[257] since then, AEDs have been placed at a number of locations throughout the city, including the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, Penang Hill and the City Park.[258][257]

Infant mortality rate within Penang was reduced by 85% between 1970 and 2000 to 5.7 per 1,000 live births, while neonatal mortality rate also dropped by 84.7% within this period to 4.1 per 1,000 live births.[259] As of 2016, the life expectancy of Penangites stood at 72.4 years for men and 77.6 years for women.[260]



George Town was once the centre of Malaysia's print press. The country's first newspaper was founded in the city – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette in 1805.[261] Presently, one of Malaysia's top dailies in circulation today, The Star, has its origins as a regional newspaper founded in George Town in the 1970s, while the oldest Chinese newspaper in the nation, Kwong Wah Yit Poh, was also established in the city in 1910.

The mainstream newspapers on Penang Island include the English dailies The Star, The New Straits Times, and the free The Sun; the Malay dailies Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia, Harian Metro, and Kosmo!; the Chinese dailies Kwong Wah Yit Poh, Sin Chew Daily, China Press, and Oriental Daily News; and the Tamil dailies Tamil Nesan, Malaysia Nanban, and Makkal Osai. The Malay Mail is an English weekly. Nanyang Siang Pau is a Chinese-language financial daily while The Edge is an English-language financial weekly newspaper. All of them are in nationwide circulation.

In 2011, the Penang version of Time Out was launched,[262] this edition of the international listings magazine is currently published in three versions: a yearly printed guide, a regularly updated website and a mobile app.[263] The Penang state government also publishes its own multi-lingual newspaper, Buletin Mutiara, which is distributed for free every fortnight, the Penang-centric newspaper focuses on the current state matters and policies.


The television stations channels available on Penang Island are national media RTM's TV1 and TV2, and privately owned TV3, NTV7, 8TV and TV9. Programmes are broadcast in Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. A pay television service, Astro, is also widely subscribed in the city, as it broadcasts international television channels such as CNN International Asia Pacific, BBC World News, Channel News Asia, STAR World, FOX Movies Premium and HBO Asia.

Due to its well-preserved heritage cityscape, a number of movies have been filmed in George Town, such as Anna and the King, Lust, Caution and You Mean the World to Me, the latter of which is the first film to be made entirely in Penang Hokkien. Singaporean drama series, The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also filmed within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, Penang Island became one of the pit-stops of The Amazing Race 16, The Amazing Race Asia 4 and The Amazing Race Asia 5.


The available FM radio stations on Penang Island, both government (including Penang-based Mutiara FM) and commercial, are as listed below.

Frequency Station Operator Language
87.8 One FM Media Prima Mandarin, Cantonese
88.2 Hot FM Media Prima Malay
89.9 Fly FM Media Prima English
91.0 Mix FM Astro Radio English
92.8 Hitz FM Astro Radio English
93.9 Mutiara FM RTM Malay
94.5 988 FM Star RFM Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
94.9 Klasik FM RTM Malay
96.7 Minnal FM RTM Tamil
97.1 Sinar FM Astro Radio Malay
98.1 Red FM Star RFM Radio English
98.7 TraXX FM RTM English
99.3 THR Raaga Astro Radio Tamil
99.7 My FM Astro Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
101.3 Ai FM RTM Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien
102.4 Suria FM Star RFM Radio Malay
103.6 Era FM Astro Radio Malay
104.4 Lite FM Astro Radio English
107.6 goXuan[264] Astro Radio Mandarin, Cantonese


Penang Road is one of the busy thoroughfares in the heart of George Town.

As one of Malaysia's major cities, Penang Island's logistical infrastructure is well-developed, enabling extensive connections via land, air and sea, the island's compact size and an extensive road network also allow for ease of travel for locals and tourists alike.


The Second Penang Bridge that links the south-eastern tip of Penang Island with the mainland is the longest bridge in South-east Asia.

Development of Penang Island's roads is an ongoing process that dates back to the early years of British rule, the first roads were laid in George Town, before more roads extending inland to the agricultural plantations were created.[27]

Today, Penang Island has inherited an extensive road network, outside the narrow streets of inner George Town, more modern roads link the city centre with the surrounding suburbs. Thanks to the urbanisation of the island's eastern coast, George Town and Bayan Lepas are more interconnected than ever before, the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway runs along the eastern coastline of Penang Island between the city centre and the Penang International Airport, linking both locations with the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Penang Bridge.

The Federal Route 6 is a winding trunk road that forms a circular loop round Penang Island, hugging the length of the island's coastline; in the clockwise direction, this road connects George Town, Bayan Lepas, Balik Pulau and Teluk Bahang.

The 13.5 km-long Penang Bridge, together with the more southerly Second Penang Bridge, links Penang Island with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia. The Penang Bridge connects Gelugor with the industrial town of Perai on the Malay Peninsula, whereas the Second Penang Bridge links Batu Maung and Batu Kawan on the mainland.

A trolleybus in George Town, circa 1926.

Public transportation[edit]

Rapid Penang buses at the Weld Quay Bus Terminal, George Town.
A trishaw, known locally as beca, on a street in George Town.

The first mode of transportation in George Town was the horse hackney carriage, which was popular between the late 18th century and 1935, when the rickshaw gained popularity. The rickshaw was in turn was rapidly superseded by the trishaw beginning in 1941, until today, trishaws still ply the streets of George Town, primarily catering for tourists.[265]

In addition, horse trams, steam trams, electric trams, trolleybuses and double deckers used to ply the streets of George Town, the first steam tramway began operations in the 1880s, and for a time, horse-drawn cars were also used. Electrical trams were operated from 1905. Trolleybuses commenced in 1925 and they gradually replaced the trams but they were in turn discontinued in 1961, since then, regular buses have been the only form of public transportation.[266][267]

For a long time, public bus services, troubled by intense rivalry between the different bus companies, were deemed unsatisfactory.[268][269][270] In 2007, the Malaysian federal government announced that Prasarana Malaysia, which runs Rapid KL, would take over all public bus services in Penang under a new entity - Rapid Penang.

Rapid Penang commenced operations with 150 buses covering 28 routes on Penang Island. This service has since been expanded and in the process, public transportation has improved. Public bus usage in Penang has risen from a lowly 30,000 commuters a day in 2007 to 75,000 commuters a day in 2010,[271] as of 2016, there were 406 buses plying 56 routes throughout Greater Penang, with 30 of the routes on Penang Island.[272] Besides that, the Penang Island City Council, with the collaboration of Rapid Penang, has introduced free shuttle bus services for short commutes within the centre of George Town to ease traffic congestion.[268] Open-air double decker buses, known as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, have also been launched, mainly catering for tourists in the city.[273]

Old Swiss-made Penang Hill Railway coach, which was in use between 1923 and 1977.

Express bus services between Penang Island and the rest of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand terminate at the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, the main express bus terminal on Penang Island.

The new Penang Hill Railway funicular train, which has been in use since 2011.
George Town became the first city in Malaysia to operate a public bicycle-sharing system. Pictured here is a LinkBike station.

The only rail-based transportation system on Penang Island is the Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the peak of Penang Hill. When launched in 1923, the railway, then using Swiss-made coaches, was considered an engineering feat of sorts, it was upgraded with new coaches in 2010 and reopened in early 2011.[274]

Within the city centre, efforts are being undertaken to encourage pedestrianisation and the use of bicycles as a greener transportation mode.[275] Rental bicycles have been introduced and marketed by several companies within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, while dedicated cycling lanes are being marked throughout the city;[276][277] in 2016, a public bicycle-sharing system, LinkBike, was launched; this electronically-operated system requires the use of smartphones to rent a bicycle at any one of the 25 LinkBike stations in George Town.[278][279][280]

Since 2015, Uber, a private car hailing service, has been made available throughout Penang.[281]

There are plans by the Penang state government to bring in more rail-based transportation systems throughout Penang, the Penang Transport Master Plan envisages the following long-term solutions to counter the island's worsening traffic congestion.

With the completion of the plan slated in 2030, the Penang state government aims to have multiple public transportation options on the ground, at sea and even in the air.


The Penang International Airport, located in Bayan Lepas, was opened in 1935 while Penang was part of the Straits Settlements, making it the oldest airport in Malaysia. It serves as the main airport for northern Malaysia, with extensive links to several major cities in the region.

The airport connects Penang with major Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City and Doha.[287][288] It also serves as the hub for two Malaysian low-cost carriers - AirAsia and Firefly.

The airport is one of the country's busiest, with the second highest cargo traffic and the third largest passenger traffic as of 2013, this reflects Penang Island's role as a famous tourist attraction and a manufacturing hub. Due to its proximity to the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, the airport is an important logistical link that facilitates the transport of goods and products to and from the factories in Bayan Lepas.


A cruise liner docked at Swettenham Pier, George Town.

The Port of Penang is one of the major ports of Malaysia and the most important harbour within the northern region of the nation, the Port consists of seven facilities along the Penang Strait; while the main container and cargo terminals are located in Butterworth on the mainland, the sole Port facility on Penang Island is Swettenham Pier at Weld Quay, George Town.[289]

Developed into a cruise shipping terminal in 2009, Swettenham Pier also serves as the most direct entry point into George Town, as the pier is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site.[153] This also makes cruise tourism a crucial component of tourist arrivals into Penang, as of 2017, Swettenham Pier recorded 1.35 million tourist arrivals, making it the busiest port-of-call in Malaysia for cruise shipping, and has attracted some of the world's biggest cruise liners, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2.[8][9][290] A number of cruise ships call Swettenham Pier as their homeport, bringing tourists into and out of George Town towards other destinations like Phuket and Singapore.

On occasion, Swettenham Pier hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, Thailand and the United States.


A Rapid Ferry crossing the Penang Strait towards George Town.

Rapid Ferry is a cross-strait shuttle ferry service that connects George Town with the town of Butterworth on the Malay Peninsula, it is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia, dating back to 1894 when the first passenger ferry began operations.[291]

In 2017, Prasarana, which already runs Rapid Penang, took over the ferry service from the Penang Port Commission. Following the transfer, the ferry service has been rebranded as Rapid Ferry.[292][293] Plans to introduce catamarans to complement the existing fleet are on the cards as well.

As of 2017, six ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth daily, serving as a convenient mode of cross-strait transportation for the residents of George Town.[294] The roll-on/roll-off ferries are designed to carry both passengers and automobiles.


Water supply on Penang Island, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Penang state government, is wholly managed by the state-owned but autonomous PBA Holdings Bhd, whose sole subsidiary is the Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang Sdn Bhd (PBAPP). This public limited company provides uninterrupted, round-the-clock drinking water throughout the state. Penang was cited by the World Development Movement as a case study in successful public water schemes.[295] PBA's water rates are also among the lowest in the world; at RM0.32 per 1,000 litres, Penang's domestic water tariff is the cheapest in Malaysia.[296][297]

George Town was one of the first towns in British Malaya to be electrified in 1905 upon the completion of the first hydroelectric scheme.[298] At present, electricity is provided by the national electricity utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

Telekom Malaysia Berhad is the landline telephone service provider and one of the Internet service providers (ISP) in Penang. Mobile network operators and mobile ISPs include Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U Mobile.

As of the first quarter of 2014, Penang's broadband penetration rate stood at 80.3%, the highest among all Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur).[299] Currently, the Penang state government is in the process of rolling out a statewide Wi-Fi service. Known as Penang Free Wi-Fi, it aims to improve internet penetration throughout Penang and is provided for free,[300] as of 2015, its bandwidth speeds are being increased to 3Mbit/s within the centre of George Town, while 1,560 hotspots have been installed throughout the state.[301] When completed, Penang will be the first state in Malaysia to provide its citizens with free Internet connection.[302]

Sewage treatment on Penang Island is managed by the national sewerage company, Indah Water Konsortium. Prior to systematic sewerage piping and treatment, waste water was haphazardly disposed, mostly in the sea, causing the pollution of seawater.[303]

International relations[edit]


The Royal Thai Consulate-General in George Town

Befitting Penang Island's status as a major Malaysian city with various multi-national economic and social interests, several nations have either established their consulates or appointed honorary-consulates within the island.

Sister cities[edit]

George Town, and by extension, Penang Island, has seven sister cities.

The state of Penang also has a sister area partnership with Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, which was signed in 1991.[329][330][331]

Sister subdivision

Friendship cities[edit]

In addition to the sister cities and areas, Penang Island has the following friendship cities.

In 2013, the state of Penang signed a friendship state agreement with Hainan Province in China.[336][337]

Friendship subdivision

Island Firsts[edit]

The Penang State Mosque in George Town serves as the main mosque in Penang.
The Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas is believed to be the only Chinese temple in the world that is inhabited by snakes.
Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Temple at Penang Hill is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang.
The Church of the Assumption in George Town is the oldest Catholic church on Penang Island.

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Coordinates: 5°24′00″N 100°14′20″E / 5.40000°N 100.23889°E / 5.40000; 100.23889