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State of Penang
Other transcription(s)
 • Malay Pulau Pinang
 • Chinese 槟城
 • Tamil பினாங்கு
Flag of Penang
Coat of arms of Penang
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient
Motto(s): Bersatu dan Setia
United and Loyal
(Unofficial motto: Let Penang Lead)[1]
Anthem: Untuk Negeri Kita
For Our State
   Penang in    Malaysia
   Penang in    Malaysia
Coordinates: 5°24′52.2″N 100°19′45.12″E / 5.414500°N 100.3292000°E / 5.414500; 100.3292000Coordinates: 5°24′52.2″N 100°19′45.12″E / 5.414500°N 100.3292000°E / 5.414500; 100.3292000
Capital George Town
 • Governor Abdul Rahman Abbas
 • Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (DAP)
 • Total 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi)
Population (2017)[3]
 • Total 1,746,300
 • Density 1,666.32/km2 (4,315.7/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Penangite
Human Development Index
 • HDI (2017) 0.827 (very high) (2nd)[4]
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 10xxx–14xxx
Calling code +604
ISO 3166 code MY-07
Vehicle registration P
Founded by the British East India Company 11 August 1786
British crown colony as part of the Straits Settlements 1 April 1867 - 1 April 1946
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941 - 3 September 1945
Accession into the Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence as part of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
^[a] 2,465.47/km2 (6,385.5/sq mi) on Penang Island and 1,117.18/km2 (2,893.5/sq mi) in Seberang Perai

Penang is a Malaysian state located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, by the Malacca Strait. It has two parts: Penang Island, where the capital city, George Town, is located, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley) on the Malay Peninsula. The second smallest Malaysian state by land mass, Penang is bordered by Kedah to the north and the east, and Perak to the south.[2]

Penang's population stood at nearly 1.75 million as of 2017, while its population density rose to 1,666.3/km2 (4,316/sq mi).[3] It has among the highest population densities in Malaysia and is one of the country's most urbanised states.[5] Penang Island, which includes George Town, is Malaysia's second largest city by population.[6] George Town, in particular, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a thriving tourist destination.

Penang's modern history began in 1786, when Francis Light founded George Town as a trading post of the British East India Company.[7] Penang formed part of the Straits Settlements in 1826, which became a British crown colony in 1867. Direct British rule was only briefly interrupted during World War II, when Japan occupied Penang; the British retook Penang in 1945.[8] Penang was later merged with the Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia), which gained independence from the British Empire in 1957. Following the decline of its entrepôt trade towards the 1970s, Penang's economy was reoriented towards hi-tech manufacturing.[9]

Known as the 'Silicon Valley of the East' for its industries, Penang is one of the most vital economic powerhouses in Malaysia; Penang has the highest GDP per capita among all Malaysian states.[10][11][12][13][14] In addition, Penang recorded the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia, after the State of Selangor and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.[15] Correspondingly, the state has a relatively well-educated population, with a youth literacy rate of 99.5% as of 2014.[16]

Its heterogeneous population is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and religion. Aside from the three main races, the Chinese, Malays and Indians, Penang is home to significant Eurasian, Siamese and expatriate communities.[17][18][19] A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite (in English), Penang Lâng (in Penang Hokkien) or Penangkaran (in Tamil).



The name of Penang comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means 'the island of the areca nut palm' (Areca catechu of the Palmae family).[20] The name Penang may refer either to Penang Island or the State of Penang.

Penang is also known as the Pearl of the Orient and Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara (Penang Island, The Island of Pearls). Penang is shortened as "PG" in English, or "PP" in Malay.[21]

Early Malays called Penang Island Pulau Ka-Satu, meaning 'The First Island', because it was the largest island encountered on the trading sea-route between Lingga and Kedah.[22] The Siamese, then the overlord of Kedah, referred to the island as Koh Maak (Thai: เกาะหมาก), which meant the 'Areca Nut Palm Island'.[23][24] In the 15th century, Penang Island was referred to as Bīnláng Yù (simplified Chinese: 槟榔屿; traditional Chinese: 檳榔嶼) in the navigational drawings used by Admiral Zheng He of Ming China in his expeditions to the South Seas.[23][25] The 16th-century Portuguese historian Emanuel Godinho de Eredia's map of the Malay Peninsula in his 'Description of Malacca' in 1613 referred to the island as Pulo Pinaom.[26]


Historical affiliations Period
Kedah Sultanate 1136–1786
British East India Company 1786–1867
Straits Settlements Straits Settlements 1826–1941; 1945–1946
Empire of Japan Empire of Japan 1941–1945
Malayan Union Malayan Union 1946–1948
Federation of Malaya Federation of Malaya 1948–1963
Malaysia Malaysia 1963–Present


Archaeological evidence shows that Penang had been inhabited as early as the Neolithic era. Human remains, dating back to about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, have been uncovered in Seberang Perai, along with seashells, pottery and hunting tools. These artifacts indicate that the earliest inhabitants in the area Seberang Perai were nomadic Melanesians.[27][28][29]

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

Early history

The Cherok Tok Kun megalith in Bukit Mertajam, uncovered in 1845, contains Pali inscriptions, indicating that the Hindu-Buddhist Bujang Valley civilisation based in what is now Kedah had established control over parts of Seberang Perai by the 6th century.[30] The entirety of what is now Penang would later become part of the Sultanate of Kedah up to the late 18th century.

Meanwhile, the use of the term 'Penang Island' was first documented by Chinese sailors of the Ming dynasty in the 15th century. Sent by the Ming Emperor Yongle as part of a series of long-range Chinese naval expeditions, the sailors, who were led by Admiral Zheng He, labelled the island as Bīnláng Yù (simplified Chinese: 梹榔屿; traditional Chinese: 梹榔嶼) in the 'Nautical Charts of Zheng He'. Penang Island was also recorded as Pulo Pinaom by Portuguese historian Emanuel Godinho de Eredia.[26]

A bronze statue of Captain Francis Light still stands within Fort Cornwallis in George Town.
Fort Cornwallis was originally built on the spot where Captain Francis Light first set foot on Penang Island in 1786.
British acquisition and expansion of Penang (in yellow) occurred between 1786 and 1874, when the final alterations to Penang's boundaries was enacted.[31][32][33][34]

Founding of Penang

However, the modern history of Penang only began in 1786. On 17 July that year, Captain Francis Light, an English trader-adventurer of the British East India Company, landed on Penang Island, which was then part of Kedah. Fort Cornwallis was later built at the site where he first set foot.

For Light, Penang Island, situated in the middle of the maritime trade route along the Malacca Straits between China and India, was a "convenient magazine for trade", and an ideal location to curtail French and Dutch territorial expansion in Southeast Asia.[35] The British East India Company was also seeking a naval base in the region for the maintenance of Royal Navy ships. Meanwhile, Kedah was facing threats from its stronger northern rivals, Siam and Burma, as well as an internal Bugis revolt. Thus, Light endeavoured to negotiate with Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah of Kedah regarding the cession of Penang Island to the British East India Company, in exchange for military assistance against Kedah's foes.

With the negotiations successfully concluded, Light took formal possession of the island on 11 August 1786 "in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III and the Honourable East India Company". He then renamed the island the Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the British throne, and established the settlement of George Town at the northeastern tip of the island in honour of King George III. George Town was Britain's first settlement in Southeast Asia, and was one of the first establishments of the British Empire after the loss of its North American colonies.[7][36] In Malaysian history, the occasion marked the beginning of more than a century of British imperialism in Malaya.

Unfortunately for Sultan Abdullah, Light had been acting without the authority or the consent of his superiors in India.[35][37] When Light reneged on his promise of protection, the Kedah Sultan attempted to recapture the Prince of Wales Island in 1791, but his forces were ultimately defeated by the British East India Company.

Many early settlers, including Light himself in 1794, succumbed to malaria, earning early Penang the epithet 'the white man's grave'.[38][39]

In 1800, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Leith secured a strip of hinterland across the Penang Strait and named it Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai). After the acquisition, Province Wellesley was then gradually expanded up to its present-day boundaries in 1874.[34][31][33] In exchange to the acquisition, the annual payment to the Sultan of Kedah was increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum. To this day, the Malaysian federal government still pays Kedah, on behalf of Penang, RM 10,000 annually as a symbolic gesture.[40][41]

Colonial Penang

A 1799 map of George Town.
1811 painting of George Town
1818 painting of the Prince of Wales Island. George Town, jutting out into the Penang Strait, can be seen to the left.
St. George's Church, the first Anglican church in Southeast Asia, was opened in 1819.

Light founded George Town as a free port to entice traders away from nearby Dutch trading posts. As a result, trade in Penang grew exponentially soon after its founding – incoming ships and boats to Penang increased from 85 in 1786 to 3569 in 1802.[42]

In 1796, Penang was made a penal settlement when 700 Indian convicts were transferred from the Andaman Islands.[43] In 1805, Penang became a separate presidency of British India, sharing similar status with Bombay and Madras. When Singapore and Malacca were incorporated with Penang to form the Straits Settlements in 1826, George Town continued to serve as the seat of government. However, in 1829, Penang was reduced from the rank of a presidency, and in 1832, the capital of the Straits Settlements was shifted from George Town to the rapidly-booming town of Singapore.[44] In 1867, the Straits Settlements became a crown colony under direct British rule.[45]

During the early 19th century, colonial Penang thrived from trade in pepper and spices, Indian piece goods, betel nut, tin, opium and rice. The Bengal Presidency was aware of Penang's potential as an alternative to Dutch Moluccas as a source of spice production. Spice cultivation on Penang Island became the chief means of covering administrative costs in Penang.[46] The development of the spice economy drove the movement of Chinese settlers to Penang Island, which was actively encouraged by the British.

However, the Port of Penang's initial pre-eminence was later supplanted by Singapore owing to the latter's superior geographical location. In spite of this, Penang remained an important feeder to Singapore – funnelling the exports meant for global shipping lines by ocean-going ships which had bypassed other regional ports. The replacement of sailing vessels by steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal in the mid-19th century cemented the Port of Penang's importance. The tin mining boom in neighbouring Perak towards the end of the 19th century also transformed the Port of Penang into a major tin-exporting entrepôt competing directly against the Port of Singapore, whilst also ushering in an influx of mercantile firms and banks.[47][48] By the end of the century, George Town became a leading financial centre in British Malaya.

In August 1867, George Town was gripped with civil unrest during what was known as the Penang Riot which pitted rival secret societies Kean Teik Tong (Tua Pek Kong Hoey), led by Khoo Thean Teik and the Red Flag, against the alliance of the Ghee Hin Kongsi and the White Flag. The British under newly appointed lieutenant-governor Col. Edward Anson put down the violence with sepoy reinforcements after days of chaos.[49] After the elevation of the Straits Settlements into a British crown colony in 1867, the rule of law in Penang was better enforced, gradually putting an end to the Chinese triad activities that had plagued the settlement.[50][51]

At the turn of the century, Penang, with her large population of Chinese immigrants, was a natural place for the Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen to raise funds for his revolutionary efforts in Qing China. These frequent visits culminated in the famous 1910 Penang conference which paved the way to the ultimately triumphant Wuchang uprising which overthrew the Manchu government.[52]

World wars

The Cenotaph at the Esplanade, erected after World War I, commemorates fallen Allied soldiers.

During World War I, in the Battle of Penang, the German cruiser SMS Emden surreptitiously sailed to Penang and sank two Allied warships off its coast – the Imperial Russian Navy cruiser Zhemchug in the Penang Strait, and as it was leaving the island, the French destroyer, Mosquet, 10 miles off Muka Head.[53][54]

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

In the interwar years and during the Great Depression, the Penang business elites suffered numerous setbacks but also witnessed the rise of the nouveau-riche such as the legendary Lim Lean Teng. Rice-milling, opium syndicates, and pawnbroking were among the most lucrative businesses. In 1922, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited Penang amid much splendour.[55]

During World War II, Penang, then a British garrison, suffered devastating aerial bombardments and finally fell to invading Japanese forces on 19 December 1941 as the British withdrew to Singapore after declaring George Town an open city.[8] The British also covertly evacuated Penang's European population, leaving behind the majority Asian populace to the mercy of the invading Japanese.[56] Historians would later argue that the withdrawal and the silent evacuation of the white race led to the loss of the British prestige, and that "the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang".[57]

Penang under Japanese occupation was marked by widespread fear, hunger, and the Sook Ching massacres which targeted the local Chinese populace.[8][58] Especially feared was the Japanese military police Kempeitai and its network of informants. Penang was administered by four successive Japanese governors, beginning with Lt-Gen Shotaro Katayama.[59] George Town also served as a vital U-boat base for Japan's ally, Nazi Germany, during the war, allowing the Monsun Gruppe to operate in the Indian Ocean.[60]

British Royal Marines liberating George Town on 3 September 1945.

Between 1944 and 1945, the Allies launched bombing raids throughout Southeast Asia, including in Penang. The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by Allied bombing in the final months of the Occupation caused the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning the island, causing enormous difficulties to compile a comprehensive history of Penang.[61]

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, the Penang Shimbun published on 21 August the proclamation of surrender issued by the Emperor of Japan. Under Operation Jurist, the British Royal Marines accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrison in Penang on 2 September and retook Penang Island the following day.[61] Thus, George Town became the first city in Malaya to be liberated by British forces; the British would go on to recapture Singapore and the rest of Malaya in the weeks that followed.

Post-war years

Flag of the Crown Colony of Penang between 1946 and 1949. Penang became a separate crown colony upon the dissolution of the Straits Settlements.

Penang was put under military administration until 1946. Subsequently, the Straits Settlements was abolished, as the British sought to consolidate the different political entities in British Malaya under a single polity named the Malayan Union. The now separate crown colonies of Penang and Malacca were merged into the Malayan Union along with the Federated Malay States and Unfederated Malay States, while Singapore was excluded from this union.

However, by then, British prestige and their image of invincibility were severely dented. After heated public opposition, the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948. The independence of Malaya as a united political entity seemed an inevitable conclusion.

Nonetheless, the idea of the absorption of the British crown colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland alarmed some quarters of Penang's population over economic and ethnic concerns.[62] The Penang Secessionist Committee was formed in 1948 under the leadership of D.A. Mackay, who was also the chairman of the Penang Chamber of Commerce, and included Penang Muslim Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Straits Chinese Association, the Penang Eurasian Association and the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce.[63][64][65] The committee proposed to exclude Penang from the Federation of Malaya, which would allow Penang to either maintain its links with the British Empire or form a political union with Singapore. The movement ultimately failed; a secession motion tabled in the Penang Settlement Council in 1949 was narrowly defeated by British official votes, while another petition sent to London in 1951 also met with British disapproval.[9][66][67]

George Town, the capital of Penang, was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, 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 also obtained city status.

Penang, with the rest of the Federation of Malaya, gained independence from the British Empire in August 1957, and subsequently became a member state of Malaysia in 1963.[7]

The Komtar Tower, Penang's tallest skyscraper, was built in the 1970s.

Post-independence era

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit parts of Penang Island, killing 52 people (out of 68 in all of Malaysia).

George Town was, since colonial times, a free port - until its sudden revocation by the Malaysian federal government in 1969.[9][68][69][70] Penang subsequently suffered economic decline, with the loss of trade resulting in massive unemployment and brain drain.

Despite this abrupt setback, the then Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu built up the Free Trade Zone in Bayan Lepas at the southeastern part of Penang Island, turning the area into one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia and the 'Silicon Valley of the East'.[71][72][73][74] This measure proved instrumental in pulling Penang out of its economic slump and led to the state's rapid economic growth as one of Malaysia's economic powerhouses, until the late 1990s.

During Lim's tenure, a number of major infrastructural projects were undertaken. In 1985, the Penang Bridge that links George Town and Seberang Perai was completed; it was the longest bridge in Southeast Asia until 2014 when it was superseded by the Second Penang Bridge. Somewhat less successful was the Komtar project, launched in 1974 as part of his vision to reverse George Town's then declining fortunes. The tallest skyscraper in Penang was constructed in the expense of hundreds of shophouses, schools and temples, as well as whole streets.[75] However, instead of arresting George Town's decline, Komtar itself became a white elephant by the early 2000s.[76][77][78]

The symbiotic coexistence of a heritage building with a modern high-rise in George Town reflects the conflicting urban hunger for space to develop and the deep-rooted respect for the past.

By the early 2000s, Penang's slowing economy, coupled with the generally deteriorating state of affairs in Penang including environmental pollution, lack of a consistent urban planning policy and a continuing brain drain, led to simmering discontent within Penang's society.[79][80][81][82][83] These were compounded by the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 2001, which led to the hollowing out of the historical core of George Town.[84] Low-income residents and small businesses, unable to cope with rental increases, moved out, leaving several colonial-era heritage buildings in the state of disrepair. Unscrupulous private developers, taking advantage of the situation, demolished some of the heritage buildings in the name of redevelopment.

Alarmed by the neglect of George Town's collection of pre-war buildings, the city's vocal non-governmental organisations began intensifying efforts to conserve the heritage buildings within the city centre.[70] A media campaign was also launched in 2004 to restore Penang to its former glory in 2004.[82][85][86][87][88] The public outcry over the neglect of the city once known as the 'Pearl of the Orient', combined with Penang's relatively lively political scene, contributed to the federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, being voted into power in Penang in the 2008 State Election.[89][80][90]

On 7 July 2008, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside Malacca. It is recognised as having "a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[91] The new Pakatan Rakyat state government also spearheaded the subsequent efforts to clean up of George Town, and improve traffic flow, pedestrianisation, cultural and environmental aspects.[92][93][93][94] As a result, George Town was also ranked as the most liveable city in Malaysia, the eighth most liveable in Asia and the 62nd worldwide by ECA International in 2010.[95][96][97][98]

The Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on Boxing Day of 2004 hit the western and northern coasts of Penang Island, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).[99]

Whilst George Town had been declared a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1957,[100] Penang Island as a whole was also awarded city status by the Malaysian federal government in 2015.[101]

Skyline of George Town, as seen from Gurney Drive.


With a total land area of just 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi), Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia by land mass, after Perlis. Penang, situated at the northwestern coastline of Peninsular Malaysia, consists of Penang Island, a narrow strip of the Malay Peninsula and a handful of smaller islets. Its capital city, George Town, lies at the northeastern tip of Penang Island; it is approximately 294 km (183 mi) northwest of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's federal capital, and 123 km (76 mi) south of Bukit Kayu Hitam on the Malaysia-Thailand international border.


Penang is geographically divided into two halves physically divided by the Penang Strait.

The Penang Strait is the body of water separating Penang Island and Seberang Perai, and is divided into the North Channel (north of George Town) and the South Channel (south of George Town). At the channel's narrowest section, George Town on Penang Island is separated from Butterworth on the mainland by a mere 3 km (1.9 mi).

Penang Island is irregularly shaped, with a granitic, hilly and mostly forested interior. The coastal plains are narrow, the most extensive of which is in the northeastern cape. In general, the island can be distinguished into five areas:

  • The northeastern plains form a triangular promontory where the capital city, George Town, is situated. This densely populated city is the administrative, commercial, and cultural centre of Penang.
  • The southeast, once consisting of rice fields and mangroves, has been completely transformed into new townships and industrial areas, such as the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.
  • The northwest consists of a coastal fringe of sandy beaches lined with resort hotels and high-rise residences.
  • The southwest contains the only large pockets of scenic countryside with fishing villages, fruit orchards, and mangroves.
  • The central hill range, with the highest point being Western Hill (part of Penang Hill) at 830 metres above sea level, is an important forested catchment area.[102]
    Aerial view of George Town. The city is physically separated from Butterworth (bottom) by the Penang Strait.

From a small settlement at the northeastern tip of Penang Island, George Town has expanded outward over the centuries, eventually linking up with Bayan Lepas at the southeastern part of Penang Island, and in the process, urbanising the entire eastern coast of the island.

The topography of Seberang Perai, comprising more than half of the land area of Penang, is mostly flat save for Bukit Mertajam, the name of the hillock and the eponymous town at its foot. It has a long coastline, the majority of which is lined with mangrove. Butterworth, the main town in Seberang Perai, lies along the estuary of the Perai River and faces George Town at a distance of 3 km (1.9 mi) across the Penang Strait.

As Penang is relatively land-scarce, land reclamation projects have been undertaken to provide suitable low-lying land in high-demand areas such as Tanjung Tokong, Jelutong and Queensbay. These projects were implicated in the change of tidal flow along some coastal areas of Penang Island and the silting of Gurney Drive.[103]


There are three main geological formations in Penang, i.e. the orthoclase to intermediate microcline granite, microcline granite, and the Mahang formation (mainly ferruginous spotted slate). Penang Island has no sedimentary rocks[104] and most of the island is underlain by igneous rocks which are granites in the IUGS or Streckeisen classification.

On the basis of proportions of alkali feldspar to total feldspar, granites on Penang Island are further distinguished into two main groups: the North Penang Pluton (approximately north of latitude 5° 23'), and the South Penang Pluton. The former group is subdivided into the Ferringhi Granite, the Tanjung Bungah Granite and the Muka Head Microgranite, whereas the latter is subdivided into the Batu Maung Granite and the Sungai Ara Granite. A study of three disparate locations on the island show that the soil profile in Batu Ferringhi (of early Jurassic age) is silty whereas those in Paya Terubong (early Permian – late Carboniferous) and Tanjung Bungah (early Jurassic) are clayey.[105]

Jerejak Island, off the southeast coast of Penang Island, is the largest among the outlying islets. It is accessible by a boat service.

Outlying islets

Penang also consists of nine other islets off its coasts. The biggest of all, Jerejak Island, is located in the South Channel of the Penang Strait. Once the site of a leper asylum built in 1868, which was later converted into a maximum-security penitentiary, Jerejak Island is now a tourist attraction offering jungle trails and a spa resort.[106] The other islets under the jurisdiction of Penang include Aman, Betong, Gedung, Kendi and Rimau.

Drainage system

The major rivers within Penang include the Pinang River, Air Itam River, Gelugor River, Dondang River, Teluk Bahang River, Tukun River, Betung River, and Perai River.

The Muda River separates Penang from Kedah to the north, while the Kerian River forms the southern boundary between Penang, Kedah, and Perak. The latter is known for its firefly colonies.[107]


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[108]
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: Bayan Lepas Regional Meteorological Office

Like the rest of Malaysia, Penang has a tropical climate, specifically a tropical rainforest climate bordering on a tropical monsoon climate, though Penang does experience slightly drier conditions from December to February of the following year. The climate is very much dictated by the surrounding sea and the wind system.

Penang's proximity with Sumatra, Indonesia makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from perennial but transient forest fires, creating a phenomenon known as the haze.[109]

The Bayan Lepas Regional Meteorological Office is the primary weather forecast facility for northern Peninsular Malaysia.[110]

Temperature (day) 30–32 °C
Temperature (night) 23–25 °C
Ave annual rainfall 2670 mm
Relative humidity 0%–50%

Urban and suburban areas

Greater Penang

Penang is located in Greater Penang
Map of Greater Penang, which encompasses Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak.

Penang forms the heart of Malaysia's second biggest conurbation, Greater Penang. Centred in George Town, the metropolitan area encompasses the entire State of Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak. As of 2010, Greater Penang had nearly 2.5 million residents, second only to Greater Kuala Lumpur (Klang Valley).[111] Greater Penang also generated a GDP of US$13,596,418 in 2010, making the conurbation the second biggest contributor of Malaysia's GDP after Greater Kuala Lumpur.[112]


Population distribution (2010)

  Penang Island (46.27%)
  Seberang Perai (53.73%)
Historical population of Penang
1786[113] less than 100
1812[114] 26,107 26107
1860[114] 124,772 124772
1901[115] 248,207 248207
1941[58] 419,047 419047
1957[116] 572,100 572100
1970[117] 776,124 776124
1980[117] 900,772 900772
1991[117] 1,064,166 1064166
2010[118] 1,561,383 1561383

Source of interstate immigrants to Penang in 2016[119]

   Perak (28.22%)
   Selangor (20.86%)
   Kedah (19.63%)
   Johor (10.43%)
   Kuala Lumpur (10.43%)
   Sarawak (3.68%)
   Negeri Sembilan (3.68%)
  Other states (3.07%)

Penang, with an estimated population of 1,746,300 as of 2017, has the highest population density of all Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur), at 1,666.32/km2 (4,315.7/sq mi).[3] In addition, Penang is one of the most urbanised Malaysian states, with an urbanisation level of 90.8% as of 2015.[120]

Due to its vibrant economy, Penang is also one of the major recipients of interstate migrants within Malaysia.[121] Between 2015 and 2016, Penang attracted about 12,000 interstate immigrants and achieved the highest migration effectiveness ratio among Malaysian states; for every 100 Malaysians that migrated into and out of Penang, the state's population increased by 58 persons.[119][122] The bulk of the interstate immigrants came from Perak, Selangor, Kedah, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.

Penang's population is almost equally distributed between the island and the mainland.

While Seberang Perai is the second most populous local government area in Malaysia, the municipality has yet to attain city status. Thus, in terms of cities proper, Penang Island, which includes George Town, is the second largest in the country by population.

The Greater Penang Conurbation, which also covers parts of neighbouring Kedah and Perak, is the second most populous metropolitan area in the nation, with almost 2.5 million inhabitants as of 2010.


Ethnic composition of Penang (2017)[3]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Ethnic composition of Penang Island (2010)[118]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras
Ethnic composition of Seberang Perai (2010)[118]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras

Whilst Penang has historically been regarded as a predominantly Chinese state, in recent years, the proportion of Bumiputeras within the state, which include ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous races, has reached parity with that of the Chinese.[123][124] 2017 estimates from Malaysia's Department of Statistics showed that the Bumiputeras constituted nearly 42% of Penang's population, whereas the Chinese made up another 40%.[3] Ethnic Indians comprised 9.5% of the state's populace.

Within the state, Penang Island, where the capital city of George Town is situated, has been traditionally known for its more cosmopolitan population. According to the 2010 Census, ethnic Chinese still composed the majority of the island's population, whereas the Malays have now formed the plurality in Seberang Perai. In addition, there is a greater concentration of various minority ethnicities on Penang Island, including indigenous East Malaysians, the Eurasians and the Siamese.[118] Most Eurasians and Siamese, in particular, still reside at the Pulau Tikus suburb.[18][17][125]

Penang is also home to a sizeable expatriate population, especially from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries, as well as other Commonwealth nations. Almost 9% of Penang's population consisted of foreigners, reflecting the well-established allure of Penang amongst expatriates.[3][123] Most expatriates settle within the vicinity of George Town; the city's northern suburbs, such as Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi, are particularly popular.[19][126]


The Peranakans, also known as the Straits Chinese or Baba Nyonya, are the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to Penang, Malacca and Singapore.[127] They have partially adopted Malay customs and speak a Chinese-Malay creole of which many words contributed to Penang Hokkien as well (such as "Ah Bah" or "Baba" which refers to a man). The Peranakan community possesses a distinct identity in terms of food, dress, rites, crafts and culture. Most of the Peranakans are not Muslims but practise an eclectic form of ancestor worship and Chinese religion, while some were Christians.[128] They prided themselves as being Anglophone and distinguished themselves from the newly arrived Chinamen or sinkheh.

While the Peranakan culture is still a living one, it is almost extinct today, due to Malaysia's ethnic policies that classify the Peranakans as Chinese.[129] Although many have been reabsorbed into the mainstream Chinese community, others have opted for more Westernised ways of life. Still, their legacy lives on in their distinctive architecture, as exemplified by the Pinang Peranakan Mansion and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, as well as their cuisine, elaborate costumes like the nyonya kebaya, and exquisite handicrafts.[130][131]


The common languages of Penang, depending on social classes, social circles and ethnicities, are Malay, English, Penang Hokkien, Mandarin and Tamil.

During the British colonial era, English was the official language in Penang. This was helped by the mushrooming of missionary schools throughout George Town, all of which used English as their medium of instruction and were held in high esteem by the locals.[132] Most Penangites still maintain reasonable command of the language. While British English is formally used, spoken English usually takes the form of Manglish.[133] Notably, George Town 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 in the rest of Malaysia, Malay is now the official language of the state, as well as the medium of instruction of national schools. Penangite Malays typically speak a variant of the Kedah Malay dialect, which has been slightly modified to suit the conditions of a multi-ethnic city.[134] Words of Indian origin are used, as well as the alteration of the final l syllable into i.

Penang's Indian community is predominantly Tamil-speaking. Telugu and Punjabi are also spoken by smaller numbers of Indians.[135][136]

Meanwhile, Penangites of Chinese descent use a variety of Chinese dialects, reflective of their forebears' different places of origins in southern China. These include Hakka, Cantonese and Teochew (the latter more so in Seberang Perai), while Mandarin, more widely used by the younger generations, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout Penang.[137]

However, it is Penang Hokkien, the mother tongue of 63.9% of Penang's Chinese, that serves as the unofficial lingua franca of Penang.[135] Originally a variant of the Minnan dialect, Penang Hokkien has incorporated 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 communication purposes, so much so that even police officers take courses in Penang Hokkien.[138][139][140] In recent years, steps are being taken to maintain the dialect's relevance in the face of increasing influence of Mandarin and English among the younger populace, including through books, dictionaries and movies.[141][142][143]


Religions in Penang (2010)[118]
Religion Percentage
Chinese folk religion
No religion
The Goddess of Mercy Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in George Town.
The Sri Mahamariamman Temple in George Town is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia.

As with other Peninsular states, Islam is the official religion of the State of Penang.[144] Even so, other religions are allowed to be practised within the state, contributing to its cosmopolitan society.

As of 2010, Muslims constituted over 44% of Penang's population, followed by the Buddhists at nearly 36% and the Hindus at almost 9%. Notably, smaller communities of Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims have long existed within George Town, while most Buddhists in Penang follow either Theravada or Mahayana traditions, although the Vajrayana school is becoming increasingly popular.[145][146][147] A significant multiracial community of Christians, of both Catholic and Protestant sects, also exist in Penang, consisting of ethnic Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, East Malaysian migrants and expatriates.[118] Meanwhile, more than 10% of the state's Chinese populace adhere to Taoism and other Chinese folk religions.

One particular street in George Town exemplifies the harmonious coexistence of the various religions in Penang. Along Pitt Street, Muslim, Taoist, Hindu and Christian places of worship are situated just metres away from one another, earning the street its nickname, the 'Street of Harmony'.[148][149] This reflects Penang's diverse ethnic and socio-cultural amalgamation.

There was once a tiny and little-known community of Jews in Penang, who mainly resided along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Yahudi Road).[150] The last known native Jew died in 2011, rendering the centuries-old Jewish community in Penang effectively extinct.[151][152]


Residential high-rises now dot the landscape of George Town's suburbs.

As of December 2016, Penang had 407,107 existing housing units, of which almost 57% consisted of high-rises, such as condominiums, apartments and lower-cost flats.[153] Penang Island had a higher concentration of high-rises due to its inherent scarcity of land; more than 80% of all housing units on the island were composed of high-rises.

Penang also has a relatively high home ownership rate, which stood at 82% as of 2014, higher than the national average of 76.1%.[154] This also puts Penang on par with European nations like Norway and Estonia in terms of home ownership. By 2010, 87.3% of Penang's owned homes were under individual ownerships, the second highest percentage amongst Malaysian states.

Governance and law

The Penang state government has its own legislature and executive council, but they have relatively limited powers in comparison with those of the Malaysian federal government, chiefly in areas of revenues and taxation.


The 68-storey Komtar tower in the heart of George Town also houses the Office of the Chief Minister of Penang.

Penang, being a former British crown colony, is one of only four states in Malaysia not to have a hereditary Malay Ruler or Sultan. The other three are Malacca, a former fellow British Straits Settlement, and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

The ceremonial head of the State of Penang is the Governor (Malay: Yang di-Pertua Negeri), who is appointed by the King of Malaysia (Malay: Yang di-Pertuan Agong). The present Governor of Penang, Abdul Rahman Abbas, assumed office in 2001. His consent is required to dissolve the Penang State Legislative Assembly. In practice, the Governor is a figurehead whose functions are chiefly symbolic and ceremonial.[155]

The current and fourth Chief Minister of Penang is Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Following the 2008 State Election, a coalition of the DAP and the People's Justice Party (PKR) formed the Penang state government, with the chief ministership going to the former for being the single largest party in the state legislature. Lim is now serving his second consecutive term as the state's Chief Minister following his coalition's victory in the 2013 State Election.

Penang holds the distinction of being the sole state in Malaysia whose chief ministership has been continuously held by an ethnic Chinese since the nation's independence in 1957.


Political Party/
State Legislative


Pakatan Harapan (DAP & PKR) 29 (72.5%) 10 (76.9%)
Barisan Nasional 10 (25%) 3 (23.1%)
PAS 1 (2.5%) 0

The unicameral 40-seat Penang State Legislative Assembly, whose members are called State Assemblymen, convenes at the neoclassical Penang State Assembly Building in George Town.

As of 2017, 29 of the seats are held by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, of which 19 are retained by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the other 10 by the People's Justice Party (PKR). The state opposition is formed by the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which holds 10 seats, and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which occupies one seat. As in the Malaysian Parliament, Penang practises the Westminster system whereby members of the state executive are appointed from amongst the elected assemblymen.

In the Malaysian Parliament, Penang is represented by 13 elected Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives (Malay: Dewan Rakyat), serving a five-year term. In addition, the two senators that represent Penang in the Senate (Malay: Dewan Negara) are appointed by the Penang State Legislative Assembly for three-year terms.

The Penang State Constitution, codified in 1957, embodies the state's highest laws. Amendments to the Constitution require the support of two-thirds of the Penang State Legislative Assembly. The Malaysian Federal Constitution enumerates matters which come under federal, state and joint jurisdictions. The state may legislate on matters pertaining to Malay customs, land, agriculture and forestry, local government, civil and water works, and state administration, whereas matters that fall under joint purview include social welfare, wildlife protection and national parks, scholarships, husbandry, town planning, drainage and irrigation, and public health and health regulations.[156][157]

Local governments

The City Hall in George Town serves as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council.

A committee of assessors was established in George Town in 1800 and became the first local authority established in Malaya.

On 1 January 1957, George Town became a city by a royal charter granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the very first city in the Federation of Malaya and subsequently, Malaysia (other than Singapore between the 1963 merger and its 1965 separation).

Although in 1951, Penang became the first state in Malaya to hold local elections, local elections were abolished in Malaysia in 1965 as a result of the Indonesian Confrontation.[158] Local councillors have been appointed by the Penang state government ever since.

There are currently two local councils in Penang.

Both the Mayor and the President are appointed by the state government for a two-year term, while the councillors are appointed for one-year terms of office.[159] The local councils are responsible, among others, for regulating traffic and parking, maintaining public parks, upkeeping cleanliness and drainage, managing waste disposal, issuing business licenses, and overseeing public health.


The state is also divided into five administrative districts, each headed by a district officer. The lands and district office in each district deals with land administration and revenue; thus it differs from the local governments (city or municipal council) which oversee the provision and maintenance of urban infrastructure.


The Malaysian legal system had its roots in 19th-century George Town. By 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 housed at Fort Cornwallis and was opened 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 in Penang in 1808. The legal establishment in Penang was later progressively extended to the whole of British Malaya by 1951.[160]

Post-independence, the Malaysian judiciary has become largely centralised. Penang's courts now consist of the Magistrates and Sessions Courts, and the High Court. The court that is the highest up in the hierarchy of courts in Penang is the Penang High Court.

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


Employment by industry (%) in Penang, 2008–2009 (Q3)[161]
Agriculture, hunting & forestry 1.4 1.3
Fishing 1.0 1.0
Mining & quarrying 0.1 0.2
Manufacturing 34.7 29.9
Electricity, gas & water supply 0.6 0.4
Construction 7.8 6.4
Wholesale & retail trade; repair of motor
vehicles, and personal & household goods
14.0 17.6
Hotels & restaurants 9.4 8.7
Transport, storage & communication 5.1 7.2
Financial intermediation 2.2 3.0
Real estate, renting & business activities 5.5 6.7
Public administration & defence;
compulsory social security
4.2 3.8
Education 4.9 5.1
Health & social work 3.5 2.8
Other community, social & personal service 2.9 2.6
Private households with employed persons 2.8 3.4
Total 100.0 100.0

Economic sectors in Penang (2016)[162]

  Services (49.2%)
  Manufacturing (44.6%)
  Construction (3.1%)
  Agriculture (2.0%)
  Mining (0.1%)

In spite of its tiny size, Penang, well known as the 'Silicon Valley of the East', has one of the largest economies amongst the states of Malaysia, contributing as much as RM7 billion of Malaysia's tax income in 2015.[163][164][165][166] Penang also has the highest GDP per capita among all Malaysian states, at RM47,322 as of 2016.[167]

Furthermore, Penang consistently records one of the lowest unemployment rates among all Malaysian states - 1.5% as of 2015.[168][169] The state also recorded one of the lowest Gini coefficients in the country, at 0.356 in 2016.[170]

In 2010, Penang recorded the highest total of capital investments in Malaysia, attracting RM12.2 billion worth of investments, a total increase of 465%. On top of that, Penang accounted 26% of Malaysia's total investments in that year.[171] Penang's stunning economic growth, particularly since 2008, was described by the American media firm, Bloomberg, as Malaysia's "biggest economic success" despite the federal government's focus on other states such as Johor and Sarawak.[172] Consequently, the Penang state government was able to decrease Penang's public debt by 95% from RM630 million in 2008 to RM30 million by the end of 2011.[173] In 2016, George Town was ranked Malaysia's most attractive destination for commercial property investment by Knight Frank, surpassing even Kuala Lumpur.[174] According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, George Town also contributed close to 8% of Malaysia's personal disposable income in 2015, second only to Kuala Lumpur.[175]

The Penang Development Corporation (PDC) is a self-funding statutory body, aimed at enhancing Penang's socio-economic development and to create employment opportunities, whereas InvestPenang is a non-profit entity of the Penang state government with the sole purpose of promoting investments in Penang.[176][177]


Since the late 20th century, manufacturing has formed the backbone of Penang's economy, contributing 44.6% of the state's GDP as of 2016 and attracting as many as 3,000 firms to set up their plants within the state.[178][162] Indeed, Penang is known as the 'Silicon Valley of the East' due to the presence of several electronics, engineering and other technology-related multinational firms in the state, making it one of the main electronics manufacturing hub in Malaysia. Also, of Penang's total exports during the first nine months in 2014, machinery and transport equipment accounted for 71%.

The southeastern part of Penang Island is highly industrialised, with a concentration of high-tech electronics plants, including Dell, Intel, AMD, Altera, Motorola, Agilent, Keysight, Renesas, Osram, Plexus Corporation, Bosch and Seagate forming the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone – earning Penang the nickname 'Silicon Island'.[179]

Mainland Seberang Perai has also witnessed massive industrialisation, with industrial estates and oil refineries being established in the late 20th century in areas like Mak Mandin and Perai. The major local firms already operating in Seberang Perai, including Malayan Sugar, Malayawata Steel, Southern Steel, Harvik Rubber and Soon Soon Oilmills, have been joined by multinational companies, such as Sony, Mattel, Pensonic, Hitachi, Mitsuoka, Chevron and Honeywell Aerospace.[180] In addition, a small automotive industry is also based in Butterworth, specialising in the reconditioning and reassembly of heavy commercial vehicles.[181][182]

In January 2005, Penang was formally accorded the Multimedia Super Corridor Cyber City status, the first outside of Cyberjaya, with the aim of becoming a high-technology industrial park that conducts cutting-edge research.[183]

Aside from electronics and engineering manufacturing, Penang is Malaysia's main jewellery finishing hub, contributing as much as RM6.1 billion or 85% of Malaysia's gold and jewellery exports as of 2016.[184] Penang's jewellery finishing industry is relatively well-established, dating back to the founding of the Penang Goldsmith Association in 1832.[185] Penang companies also export these precious metal jewellery to over 20 foreign markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the United States.[184][185][186]


Loh Guan Lye Medical Centre is one of the many private hospitals in George Town.
1st Avenue Mall, one of the several shopping malls in George Town
Shophouses in George Town's Little India sell Indian fabrics and textile, as well as Hindu prayer paraphernalia.

Due to Penang's reputation as one of the popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, the state has a booming services sector. In recent years, this sector has grown to become the largest economic sector in Penang, accounting for 49.2% of Penang's GDP as of 2016, slightly greater than that of the manufacturing sector which contributed 44.6% of Penang's GDP within the same year.[162] In addition, almost two-thirds of Penang's workforce are employed in services-related industries, which include retail, accommodation, medical tourism, and food and beverages (F&B) sub-sectors.

The numerous private hospitals on Penang Island, cheaper treatment and living costs, well-trained professionals, advanced equipment and Penang's laid-back lifestyle have all contributed to medical tourism becoming an integral component of Penang's services sector.[187] George Town, in particular, has become the medical tourism hub of Malaysia, attracting approximately half of the nation's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generating about 70% of Malaysia's medical tourism revenue.[188][189][187]

The state also has a vibrant retail sub-sector, which employs as many as 24% of Penang's workforce.[190] As the main shopping destination in northern Malaysia, Penang is home to several shopping malls within its compact land size, such as Gurney Plaza, Gurney Paragon, Queensbay Mall, 1st Avenue Mall, Straits Quay and Design Village. Since 2001, shopping complexes in George Town registered the biggest increases in Malaysia.[191] While shopping malls now dominate the retail scene, centuries-old shophouses are still operating alongside George Town's flea markets and wet markets, all of which cater more to local products, including spices, nutmegs and tau sar pneah, a famous Penang delicacy. This combination of both old and new creates a unique bustling retail scene unlike anywhere else in Malaysia.

More recently, Penang has been intensifying efforts to diversify its economic sectors, including its services sector. The Penang state government intends to turn Penang into a shared services and outsourcing (SSO) hub; this particular sub-sector has provided over 8,000 high-income jobs in Penang and contributed RM12.79 billion of revenue in 2013.[178] As recently as 2015, Penang entered a joint venture with Singapore's state investment arm, Temasek Holdings, to develop a RM1.3 billion mixed-use project near the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.[192] Other major firms that have already established their presence in Penang's SSO sub-sector include AirAsia, Citigroup and Dell.[193]

HSBC at Beach Street, George Town. This Penang branch has been operating since 1885.


George Town was the centre of banking of Malaysia at a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a small outpost. The first international bank to open a branch in George Town (and by extension, Malaysia) was Standard Chartered Bank, then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) in 1875.[194] This was followed by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and the Royal Bank of Scotland (then ABN AMRO), also in George Town, in 1885 and 1888 respectively.[195]

To this day, George Town remains the banking centre of northern Malaysia, where branches of Malaysian and international banks, including Citibank, United Overseas Bank, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, Bank of China and Bank Negara Malaysia (Malaysian central bank), are situated. Most of the international banks still retain their Penang headquarters at Beach Street, which also serves as George Town's main Central Business District.

Since the 1990s, Northam Road, along with Gurney Drive, has also emerged as the city's second Central Business District.[196] A cluster of financial services, including those of Citibank and the Malaysian Employees Provident Fund, now operate within this prime seafront area.[197][198]

A ship off the Port of Penang in Butterworth.

Entrepôt trade and shipping

The entrepôt trade (duty-free trading of imported goods for direct export) has greatly declined, due in part to the loss of Penang's free-port status in 1969 and to the active development of Port Klang near the federal capital Kuala Lumpur.[75] These factors have contributed to the reduction of maritime trade in Penang, which was once one of the major entrepôts in Malaya.

In spite of this, the Port of Penang remains the main harbour within northern Malaysia. The Port of Penang handled more than 1.44 million TEUs of cargo in 2016, making it the third busiest seaport by volume in Malaysia.[199] The Port's strategic location enabled it to service not just northern Malaysia, but also southern Thailand.

The Port of Penang has been operating its cargo and container terminals, as well as other shore facilities, in Butterworth since its relocation from George Town in 1974.[200][201] The sole remaining Port facility in George Town, Swettenham Pier, now accommodates cruise ships and, occasionally, warships, serving as one of the main entry points into Penang for foreign tourists other than the airport.[202]


Agricultural land in 2008 is used for (in descending total area) oil palm (13,504 hectares), paddy (12,782), rubber (10,838), fruits (7,009), coconut (1,966), vegetables (489), cash crops (198), spices (197), cocoa (9), and others (41).[203] The two local produce for which Penang is famous for are durians and nutmegs. Livestock is dominated by poultry and domestic pigs. Other sectors include fisheries and aquaculture, and new emerging industries such as ornamental fish and floriculture.[204]

Owing to limited land size and the highly advanced nature of Penang's economy, agriculture is given little emphasis. In fact, agriculture is the only sector to record negative growth in the state, contributing only 1.3% to the state's GDP in 2000.[204] The share of Penang's paddy area to the national paddy area also accounts for only 4.9%.[204]

Culture and heritage

Public Holidays in Penang
New Year's Day
1 Jan
Chinese New Year
2 days in
Labour Day
1 May
Wesak Day
King's Birthday
1st Sat of Jun
George Town World
Heritage City Day
7 Jul
Governor's Birthday
2nd Sat of Jul
Revelation of
the Koran Day
2 days
National Day
31 Aug
Hari Raya Haji
Awal Muharram
Prophet Muhammad's
25 Dec

Performance arts

A Chingay troupe in George Town

There are two major Western orchestras in Penang – the Penang Philharmonic (formerly Penang State Symphony Orchestra and Chorus), and the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO).[205][206] The ProArt Chinese Orchestra is an orchestra playing traditional Chinese musical instruments.[207] There are also many other chamber and school-based musical ensembles. The Actors Studio at Straits Quay is a theatre group which started in 2002.[208]

Dewan Sri Pinang and the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (Penangpac) at Straits Quay are two of the major performing venues in Penang.

Penang is also the birthplace of the Chingay procession, which began with its first parade in 1919.[209] Although Chingay parades are now 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, on Chinese New Year and during the year-end Chingay parade in George Town.[210]

Bangsawan is a Malay theatre art form (often referred to as the Malay opera) which originated from India, developed in Penang with Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian influences. It went into decline in the latter decades of the 20th century and is a dying art form today.[211][212] Boria is another traditional dance drama indigenous to Penang featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.[213]

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

Ernest Zacharevic's 'Little Children on a Bicycle' at Armenian Street, George Town

Street art

In 2012, as part of the George Town Festival of Arts and Culture, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of 6 wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles.[214] 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 centre.

One of the several wrought iron caricatures that now dot George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The street art scene in Penang has blossomed considerably since then. Cultural centres such as the Hin Bus Depot in George Town 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. In addition, several wrought iron caricatures detailing the daily lives and history of George Town have been set up within the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Museums and galleries

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery at Farquhar Street, George Town, houses relics, photographs, maps, and other artefacts that document the history and culture of Penang and its people.[215]

Other museums in George Town 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.[216] Besides that, the birthplace of Malaysia's legendary singer-actor, P. Ramlee, has been restored and turned into a museum.[217]

In recent years, private-run museums have sprung up throughout George Town, such as the Camera Museum at Muntri Street and Penang Toy Museum at Tanjung Bungah. A handful of newer 3D visual and interactive museums have also been established, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel.[218][219]

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a Thai Buddhist temple built in the mid-19th century at Pulau Tikus.
Anson House, a colonial-era mansion, with a Straits Chinese Art Deco Eclectic architecture


Centuries of development have brought a mix of architectural styles to Penang, 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'.[220] Just outside the UNESCO zone lies the modern cityscape, with skyscrapers, residential high-rises, office blocks and shopping malls built all over Penang Island.

The Standard Chartered Bank Building at Beach Street, George Town, was completed in 1930.

Fort Cornwallis was the first structure built by the British in Penang.[221][222] Outstanding examples of colonial buildings in George Town include the City Hall and the Town Hall, the Supreme Court, the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, and St George's Anglican Church – all of which are within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most bank headquarters along Beach Street, such as Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC were also constructed in the late 19th century in the Art Deco styles.[223]

The Moorish-style Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower is among the most prominent clock towers in George Town.
Skyscrapers along Gurney Drive in George Town
The built-up skyline along Northam Road in George Town.

In addition, various Asian architectural styles can be seen throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site, some of them merging different cultural influences. For instance, 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 combine Chinese architecture and European interior design, while the Sun Yat-sen Museum is one of the countless examples of a typical Peranakan townhouse.[224][225] Other unique examples of Chinese architecture include Khoo Kongsi, Kong Hock Keong and the Clan Jetties. Little India contains more Hindu and Indian Muslim architecture, such as the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Nagore Durgha Shrine. Meanwhile, the Siamese and Burmese have also left their mark on Penang's landscape, with fine examples including Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, Dhammikarama Burmese Temple and Kek Lok Si, the latter combining Chinese influence as well.

Outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site, colonial-era bungalows built by the Europeans and nouveau riche Chinese tycoons of the 19th century can be found as well, such as along Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), and stately bungalows like The Residency and Suffolk House. The Residency, also known as Seri Mutiara in Malay, is today the official residence of the Governor.

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. Notable examples include Komtar, Setia V, Gurney Paragon and BHL Tower. Continuing urbanisation has also led to the mushrooming of residential high-rises in the suburbs of George Town.

New Year celebrations at Karpal Singh Drive


The cultural mosaic of Penang naturally means that they are a great many number of festivals to celebrate.

The Chinese celebrate, among others, the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, Qing Ming, and the feast days of various deities. The Malays and Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Hari Raya Haji, and Maulidur Rasul while the Indians observe Deepavali, Thaipusam and Thai Pongal. Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are celebrated by Christians. The annual Saint Anne's Novena and Feast Day draws thousands of Catholics to St. Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam.[226][227] Buddhists observe Wesak Day while the Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi. Many of these festivals are celebrated in a large scale and are also public holidays in Penang.

Bon Odori is an annual event held at the Esplanade by the expatriate Japanese population, while the small Thai community in George Town celebrates Songkran as well.

In recent years, the annual George Town Festival, held by the Penang state government each August, has evolved into one of the most highly anticipated arts event in Malaysia.[228] Another well-known festival is the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, which is held every February at the Polo Ground in George Town.[229][230] Meanwhile, the famous Penang Festival (Malay: Pesta Pulau Pinang) is a combination of trade expo, family-oriented carnival and cultural events held throughout the month of December since the 1960s primarily at the Pesta site in Sungai Nibong and other locations in the state.[231]


Gurney Drive Hawker Centre
A hawker stall selling rojak, a fruit dish in shrimp and chilli paste

Penang, long known as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied food.[232][233][234][235] Penang's cuisine reflects the Chinese, Peranakan, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but also shows some Thai influences. Its especially famous hawker food, many served al fresco, strongly features noodles, spices, and fresh seafood.

Penang was recognised as having the best street food in Asia by Time magazine in 2004, citing that "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap".[236] In addition, Penang 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.[237][238] According to Barton, Penang's "food 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".

A bowl of Penang's asam laksa

The various street dishes and delicacies of Penang, feature a combination of Chinese, Peranakan, Malay, Indian and Thai influences, include (but not limited to) asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, oh chien (fried oyster omelette), rojak, tau sar pneah and chendol. Penang is also famed for its traditional pastries, such as the tau sar pneah (bean paste biscuit).

These dishes and delicacies are ubiquitous throughout Penang, and served at very cheap costs at any of the countless roadside hawker stalls, hawker centres and kopitiams (coffee shops) all over the state.

By far, Gurney Drive has been touted as the most popular food destination in Penang, offering a wide variety of Penang dishes and seafood snacks. However, in recent years, prices at the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre have burgeoned due to its increasing popularity among tourists from outside Penang.[239] The other notable places within George Town to sample Penang cuisine include New Lane, Kimberley Street, Chulia Street and Penang Road, with the latter famous for the two chendol stalls nestled at one of the side streets.[240][241] Burmah Road at Pulau Tikus is also famous for a number of dishes, such as Hokkien mee.[242] Meanwhile, the old market at Air Itam has become one of the more well-known places to sample asam laksa.[243][244] Another popular Penang dish, char kway teow, can be found all over the city, with the varying opinions on the best-tasting char kway teow include Siam Road, Burmah Road and Carnavon Street.[245][246][244]

Between May and August, tourists from all over Malaysia and Singapore flock to Balik Pulau to taste freshly picked durians.[247][248]


Visited by Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, Queen Elizabeth II and Lee Kuan Yew among many others, Penang has always been a popular tourist destination, both domestically and internationally.[249][250][251] As of 2014, Penang attracted about 6.84 million tourists.[202]

Penang is known for its rich heritage and architecture, its vibrant multicultural society, a wide range of modern entertainment and retail choices, natural features such as beaches and hills, and the world-famous Penang cuisine.

Penang Island, in particular, has been ranked by Yahoo! Travel as one of the '10 Islands to Explore Before You Die'[252] and was listed in Patricia Schultz's best-selling 1,000 Places to See Before You Die travel guidebook.[253] 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.[254][255] CNN followed suit by listing Penang Island as one of the 17 best destinations of 2017.[256] Forbes also listed George Town as one of the best budget tourist destinations in 2016, while the Time magazine in 2017 included Penang as one of the 10 most budget-friendly Asian destinations.[257][258]

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.[237]


Romantic sunset on a beach at Batu Ferringhi
Beaches of Batu Ferringhi

The most popular beaches in Penang are located at the northwestern edge of George Town - at Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang. These contiguous beaches are home to Penang's famed hotel and resort belt, which includes a Hard Rock Hotel. However, decades of sea pollution have degraded the beauty of the beaches and led to the infestation of jellyfishes along the northern coast of Penang Island.[259]

More secluded Muka Head, which hosts a lighthouse and a marine research station, and Monkey Beach – both within the Penang National Park – offer more pristine water.

History and culture

Fort Cornwallis, named after Charles Cornwallis, is one of the oldest historical landmarks in George Town. The fort's walls are roughly 10 feet tall and shaped like a star. Some of the original structures built over a century ago are still standing, such as a chapel, prison cells, ammunitions storage area, a harbour light once used to signal incoming ships, the original flagstaff and several old bronze cannons, one of which is a Dutch cannon called the Seri Rambai, dated 1603.[260]

Adjacent to Fort Cornwallis lies the Esplanade, a waterfront civic promenade. Immediately west of the Esplanade are two colonial administrative buildings - the City Hall and the Town Hall. Today, the City Hall serves as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council. Also within the Esplanade is the Cenotaph, which was built to commemorate the Allied dead of World War I. To this day, a remembrance ceremony is still being held every Remembrance Day on 11 November, attended by war veterans and foreign diplomats.[261][262]

Another landmark near Fort Cornwallis is the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, one of the most prominent clock towers in George Town. This Moorish-style jubilee clock tower was built by a local Chinese tycoon to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery at Farquhar Street, George Town, is also an architectural gem on its own right. It was originally built to house the Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Southeast Asia. The school moved out to its present grounds at Green Lane in 1927, but the building was still being used to house the Hutchings School until 1960. It was then converted into a museum for the State of Penang, being opened to the public in 1965.

Pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion at Leith Street, George Town, was built in the 1880s by master craftsmen brought in especially from China. The famous indigo-blue Chinese mansion, formerly the residence of Cheong Fatt Tze, contains 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows, and possesses splendid Chinese timber carvings, Gothic louvre windows, russet brick walls, art nouveau stained glass panels, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles and Scottish cast iron work. It is filled with a rare collection of sculptures, carvings, tapestries and other antiques, befitting the lifestyles of rich Chinese tycoons in the olden days like Cheong Fatt Tze, who served as the Chinese Consul in Penang.[263]

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was once the residence and office of the Chinese Kapitan Chung Keng Quee, and incorporates various Chinese architecture. Here, more than 1,000 Peranakan antiques and collectibles can be found.[264] The green-hued mansion, with its Peranakan-inspired interior design, was also used as one of the sets of the famous Singaporean television series, The Little Nyonya.

Khoo Kongsi at Cannon Square, George Town, is one of the several Chinese clan houses in the city. As ethnic Chinese arrived in George Town throughout the 19th century, each clan established its own clan associations.

Another site to explore the deeply rooted Chinese culture in George Town is the Khoo Kongsi, a large Chinese clan house at Cannon Square. Originally built as a meeting place for the Khoo clan, the Khoo Kongsi still retains its authentic Chinese architecture, with its granite-paved courtyard surrounded by an intricately-built association building, a theatre stage and rows of smaller houses inhabited by the clan members in the past. The Khoo Kongsi is actually one of the numerous clan houses that are scattered in the city, which were built by separate surname-based clan associations established to assist the newly arrived Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.

Also called the 'Temple of Supreme Bliss', Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Its main draw is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI, also known as the 'Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas', which combines Chinese, Thai and Burmese architectural styles. A 30.2-metre (99 ft) bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy in Chinese folklore, was also added in 2002.[265]

On the other end of Penang Island, the Penang War Museum in Batu Maung was erected on the original defence complex built by British before World War II and is dedicated to those who have served and died, defending the country. Many war paraphernalias and relics, as well as historical timelines of events are on exhibit at the museum.[266]

Parks, gardens and natural history

Penang Hill (background) is a popular tourist attraction, typically accessible via the Penang Hill Railway.
Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884 as an extension of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The City Park, also known as the Youth Park, is a recreational urban park in George Town.

Despite its limited land size and dense population, Penang has managed to retain a considerable area of natural environment. As of 2011, 7% of the state's total surface area, or 7,524 hectares, was forested.[267]

Located at the fringe of George Town, at the foot of Penang Hill are two adjacent green areas – the City Park and the Penang Botanic Gardens, the latter being the oldest botanical garden in Malaysia. Penang Hill, despite encroaching development, remains thickly forested and lush in vegetation.[268] The Relau Metropolitan Park was opened in 2003. Robina Beach Park is a park by the beach near Butterworth.

Small waterfall in Penang

Gazetted in 2003, the Penang National Park (the country's smallest at 2,562 hectares) at the northwestern tip of Penang Island boasts of a lowland dipterocarp forest, mangroves, wetlands, a meromictic lake, mud flats, coral reefs and turtle nesting beaches in addition to a rich diversity of birdlife.[citation needed] In addition to this, there are nature preserves in Bukit Relau, Teluk Bahang, Bukit Penara, Bukit Mertajam, Bukit Panchor, and Sungai Tukun.

The Penang Butterfly Farm in Teluk Bahang, one of the few such establishments worldwide, is a walk-in free-ranging butterfly habitat, breeding and conservation centre.[269] Meanwhile, the Penang Bird Park in Seberang Jaya is the first aviary in Malaysia.[270] Other places of special interest include the Tropical Spice Garden and the Tropical Fruit Farm in Teluk Bahang, and the Bukit Jambul Orchid and Hibiscus Garden.

A small bushy tree, Alchornea rhodophylla, the almost-extinct Maingaya malayana tree and the Ansonia penangensis toad are endemic to Penang Island.[271][272][273] Some of the commonly seen birds in Penang include the migratory greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), the blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus), the blue-throated bee-eater (Merops viridis), the endemic chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti), the brahmniy kite (Haliastur indus), the common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), and the white-bellied sea eagle.[274][275][276]

The sandy beaches of Penang National Park are the nesting grounds for the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) from April to August, and the olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidocchelys olivacea) between September and February. The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) are occasionally sighted in the coastal seas off the park.[276] Also living in the park are the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), the flying lemur (Galeopterus variegatus) and one of the world's largest arboreal rodents, the cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis))[276][277]


Universiti Sains Malaysia has its main campus at Gelugor on Penang Island, and an engineering campus in Nibong Tebal on the mainland.

George Town is home to some of Malaysia's oldest schools, making it a pioneer of the nation's education system. Under British rule, missionary schools, starting with Penang Free School in 1816, were established across George Town. These English-medium schools produced some of the most influential figures in Malaysian and Singaporean history, including lawmakers, politicians, professionals and businessmen.

Subsequently, the first Chinese schools in Malaysia were also founded in George Town, thus making the city a nucleus of Chinese education in South-east Asia.

International schools have been established to cater to the growing expatriate population, and they are also becoming increasingly popular amongst local Penangites as well.[278] These schools offer primary to secondary education up to A Levels and International Baccalaureate.

Penang is also home to one of the best Malaysian public universities - Universiti Sains Malaysia, as well as several private colleges and institutions.

These educational institutions have contributed to Penang's relatively well-educated population and led to the state having the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia.[279] Penang's literacy rate stood at 98.2% as of 2010, whilst specifically, the literacy rate of Penang's youth between 15 and 24 years of age rose to 99.5% in 2014, behind only Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.[16][280]

Secondary education

Missionary schools

During British rule, Penang boasted a good education system that educated generations of rulers, lawmakers, politicians, professionals and people of social standing. Some of these schools are also among the oldest in Southeast Asia.

Since the 1970s, these missionary schools have been converted into national schools, although they still retain their English traditions.

Chinese schools

With the establishment of the first Chinese school in the 1900s (Chung Hwa Confucian in 1904), George Town became the nucleus of Chinese education in Southeast Asia. These schools were founded by local Chinese associations with donations from philanthropists, and have historically attracted ethnic Chinese students from Thailand and Indonesia, where Chinese education was banned. These schools are well-supported by the community and have a reputation for consistent academic results, thus attracting non-Chinese students too.

Public Schools Private Schools
  • Chung Ling (Private) High School
  • Han Chiang High School
  • Jit Sin Independent High School
  • Penang Chinese Girls' Private High School
  • Phor Tay Private High School

National, vocational and religious schools

National schools (Malay: Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan, or SMK) use Malay as their medium of instruction. Unlike early Chinese and missionary schools, national schools are mostly built and funded by the government. Examples of national schools are Bukit Jambul Secondary School, Sri Mutiara Secondary School and Air Itam Secondary School.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Technical Institute and the Batu Lanchang Vocational School are two of Penang's vocational schools.

The Al-Mashoor School is a religious school in Penang.

International schools

Penang has a high concentration of international schools, which cater to the sizeable expatriate population and Penangites who wish to eventually further their studies abroad.[278] These schools offer primary to secondary education up to A Levels and International Baccalaureate.

Tertiary education

Wawasan Open University in George Town is a private institution specialising in open-distance learning.[282]

Universiti Sains Malaysia, with its main campus at Gelugor, is one of the top public universities in Malaysia. Other than the main campus, the university also has an engineering campus in Nibong Tebal. Established in 1969 as the second university in Malaysia, it was originally named Universiti Pulau Pinang (University of Penang).[283] As of 2017, it is ranked 264th in the QS World University Rankings, the fifth highest in the country. The only other public university within Penang is Universiti Teknologi MARA in Permatang Pauh.[284]

Several private institutions have also been established across Penang, most of which are concentrated within Penang Island.

In the field of medicine, Penang is also home to two medical schools, Penang Medical College and Allianze University College of Medical Sciences, as well as Lam Wah Ee Nursing College and Penang International Dental College.

Penang also hosts SEAMEO RECSAM, a research and training facility for the enhancement of the science and mathematics education in Southeast Asia.


Penang Digital Library in George Town

The Penang Public Library Corporation in 1973 replaced the Penang Library, which, in turn, was set up in 1817.[285] It operates the main Penang Public Library in Seberang Prai, the George Town Branch Library, the Children's Library and three smaller libraries.[286]

In 2016, the Penang state government opened the Penang Digital Library in George Town, making it the first digital library in Malaysia.[287][288] The library currently houses a digitalised collection of more than 3,000 books, magazines and journals, and is accessible by the general public for free.[289]

Health care

Health care in Penang is adequately provided by the numerous public and private hospitals throughout the state. These hospitals have also helped Penang 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, this hospital in George Town also serves as the reference hospital within the northern region of Malaysia.[290] A medical school within the hospital is expected to be completed by 2017.

The Penang General Hospital is also supported by the other public hospitals in Penang, namely the Balik Pulau Hospital, Seberang Jaya Hospital, Bukit Mertajam Hospital, Sungai Bakap Hospital and Kepala Batas Hospital.[291]

Private hospitals supplement the system with better facilities and speedier care. These hospitals cater not only to the local population, but also to patients from other states and foreign health tourists.[292] Penang is also actively promoting health tourism, given its considerable contribution to the state's economy. George Town, in particular, has attracted approximately half of the nation's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generated about 70% of Malaysia's medical tourism revenue.[187][188][189] It was estimated that about 1,000 patients arrive on Penang Island daily, mostly from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

Hospices are also increasingly becoming the choice for long-term and terminal care.

Infant mortality rate within the state dropped by 85% between 1970 and 2000 to 5.7 per 1,000 live births, while neonatal mortality rate also decreased by 84.7% within this corresponding period to 4.1 per 1,000 live births.[117] As of 2016, Penang's life expectancy at birth stood at 72.4 years for men and 77.6 years for women.[293]

Public hospitals[291]

Penang Island

Seberang Perai

  • Seberang Jaya Hospital (main)
  • Bukit Mertajam Hospital
  • Sungai Bakap Hospital
  • Kepala Batas Hospital

Private hospitals

Penang Island

Seberang Perai

  • KPJ Penang Specialist Hospital
  • Bagan Specialist Centre



George Town was once the nucleus of Malaysia's print press. The nation's first newspaper was founded in the city – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette in 1805.[294] One of Malaysia's top selling dailies today, The Star, has its origins as a regional newspaper founded in George Town in the 1970s, while the country's oldest Chinese newspaper, Kwong Wah Yit Poh, was also established in the city in 1910.

The mainstream newspapers in Penang include the English dailies The Star, The New Straits Times, and 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-language weekly. Nanyang Siang Pau is a Chinese financial daily while The Edge is an English financial weekly newspaper. All of them are in nationwide circulation.

In 2011, the Penang version of Time Out was launched.[295] This edition of the international listings magazine is now published in three versions: a yearly printed guide, a regularly updated website and a mobile app.[296] The Penang state government also publishes its own multilingual newspaper, Buletin Mutiara, which is distributed for free every fortnight. The Penang-centric newspaper focuses on the current state affairs and policies.


The television stations channels available in Penang 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 state, 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 colonial-era 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 movie to be filmed entirely in Penang Hokkien. Singaporean drama series, The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also filmed within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Furthermore, 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 in Penang, 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
94.5 988 FM Star RFM Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
94.9 Klasik FM RTM Malay
95.7 Mutiara 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[297] Astro Radio Mandarin, Cantonese


As one of the major metropoles in Peninsular Malaysia, Penang has a well-developed transportation network and infrastructure. The state is comprehensively connected by land, sea and air; within the state, both Penang Island and mainland Seberang Perai are linked via two bridges and a ferry service. The State of Penang also has a well-established sea port and one of the busiest airports in Malaysia; with the latter providing extensive connections with several major regional cities.

In the case of George Town, the city's compact size, its well-developed road network and a relatively well-run public bus system all allow for the ease of commute within the city and out towards its suburbs.

Land transportation

Bridges, expressways and ring roads

The 13.5 km-long (8.4 mi) Penang Bridge runs between Gelugor on Penang Island and Perai on the mainland.
The Second Penang Bridge, 24 km-long (15 mi), is the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.

Penang Island is connected to the mainland by two bridges. The first one is the 13.5-kilometre (8.4 mi), three-lane, dual carriageway Penang Bridge, which was completed in 1985. Spanning 24 km (15 mi), the Second Penang Bridge is located further south, linking Batu Maung near the southeastern tip of Penang Island to Batu Kawan on the mainland. It was opened to the public in early 2014 and is currently the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.

The North–South Expressway, a 966 km-long (600 mi) expressway through the western part of Peninsular Malaysia, passes through Seberang Perai. After exiting either one of both bridges, commuters can directly use the expressway to get to the other major cities and towns along the western states of Peninsular Malaysia.

The Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) is a 14 km (8.7 mi) tolled expressway that serves primarily Butterworth, Perai and Seberang Jaya to ameliorate the upsurge in vehicular traffic due to intense urban and industrial development.

On Penang Island, the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway is a coastal highway that runs along the eastern coast of the island. It runs between George Town and Batu Maung to the south, passing through the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the suburbs of Jelutong and Gelugor; a bypass also links the expressway with the Penang Bridge. Meanwhile, the Federal Route 6 is a winding trunk road that circles Penang Island, hugging the island's coastline to connect, in clockwise direction, George Town, Bayan Lepas, Balik Pulau and Teluk Bahang.

The two major ring roads within George Town are the George Town Inner Ring Road and the Penang Middle Ring Road. These major road networks serve to alleviate traffic congestion by allowing vehicular traffic to bypass the busier streets within the city centre.

The Butterworth railway station is the major train station within northern Peninsular Malaysia, with services by both the Malayan Railway and the State Railway of Thailand.


About 34.9 km (21.7 mi) of the Malayan Railway's West Coast Line runs through Seberang Perai, with the Butterworth railway station station serving as the main railway station in northern Malaysia, due to its transportation links to Penang Island. As with the North–South Expressway, the West Coast Line, which also runs through Bukit Mertajam and Nibong Tebal, links Seberang Perai with the other cities and towns along the western states of Peninsular Malaysia, as well as Singapore.

Aside from the regular Malayan Railway services along the western states of Peninsular Malaysia, the Butterworth railway station is the southernmost terminus of the State Railway of Thailand's Southern Line (via Padang Besar) and the International Express from Bangkok. Notably, the train station is also one of the main stops of the Eastern and Oriental Express service between Bangkok and Singapore.

Public transportation

A trishaw, known locally as beca, on a street in George Town.

One of the earliest modes of transportation in Penang was the horse hackney carriage, which was popular throughout the last quarter of the 18th century until 1935, when the rickshaw (jinriksha) gained popularity, until it, in turn, was rapidly superseded by the trishaw beginning in 1941. To this day, the trishaw is still in use in George Town, albeit mostly for sightseeing rides.[298][299]

A trolleybus in George Town in the 1920s

Horse trams, steam trams, electric trams, trolleybuses and double-deckers used to ply the streets of Penang. The first steam tramway started operations in the 1880s and for a time horse-drawn cars were also introduced. Electrical trams were launched in 1905. Trolleybuses commenced in 1925 and they gradually supplanted the trams but they in turn were discontinued in 1961 and regular buses henceforth became the only form of public transport to this day.[300][301]

For a long time, public bus services were deemed unsatisfactory.[302][303][304] In 2007, the government announced that Prasarana, which runs Rapid KL, would take over all public bus services in Penang under a new entity, Rapid Penang, which is formed for this purpose.

Rapid Penang started out with 150 buses covering 28 routes on Penang Island and Seberang Perai. This service has since been extended. After Rapid Penang entered the local public bus scene, public transportation in Penang has improved. Public transportation usage in the state has also increased from a lowly 30,000 commuters a day in 2007 to 75,000 commuters a day in 2010.[305] As of 2016, there were 406 buses plying 56 routes throughout Greater Penang, including 53 within Penang itself.[306] However, usage of public transport remains low, contributing to traffic jams in the city during rush hours.[307]

The Penang Hill Railway, the only functional funicular railway system in Malaysia, runs between its base station at Air Itam and the peak of Penang Hill.

In light of this, the Penang Island City Council has introduced free shuttle bus services for short intra-city commute to lessen the congestion.[302] This bus service, which runs within George Town, also serves tourists seeking cheap and quick transport throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recently, open-air double-decker buses, known as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, have also been introduced for tourists in George Town.[308]

Penang Island is also notable for operating the only funicular railway system in Malaysia - the Penang Hill Railway. An engineering feat of sorts when completed in 1923, the railway underwent an extensive upgrading in 2010 and was reopened in early 2011.[309] It now serves visitors travelling up the Penang Hill, providing quick and direct access to the hill's peak.

A LinkBike station in George Town. The city became the first in Southeast Asia to operate a public bicycle-sharing system.

Currently, the Penang state government, in collaboration with the Penang Island City Council and private parties, are intensifying efforts to improve pedestrianisation within George Town and promote Penang as the first cycling state in Malaysia.[310][311] Dedicated cycling lanes have been marked throughout the city, while in 2016, LinkBike, a public bicycle-sharing system, was launched, making George Town the first city in Malaysia to operate such a system.[312][313] Aside from LinkBike, a number of private companies are also marketing bicycle-rental services within the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For inter-city travel into and out of Penang, there are two main bus terminals within the state for the express buses. Penang Sentral, located in Butterworth, primarily serves Seberang Perai, whereas the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal in Sungai Nibong on Penang Island caters to express buses travelling into and out of the island.

In recent years, the Penang Sentral project has been underway at a site adjacent to both the Butterworth railway station and Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal. Mooted as the main transportation hub within the State of Penang and as Penang's answer to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, Penang Sentral is intended to serve as the termini for ferry, Rapid Penang, express bus and train services.[314] The first phase of the project is slated for completion by 2017.[314]

Penang Transport Master Plan

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 state's worsening traffic congestion, which is compounded by Penang's abnormally high vehicle ownership rate and the state's limited space for urban development.[315]

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.


Penang International Airport (PEN) is located in Bayan Lepas at the southeastern part of Penang Island, 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town. One of the busiest airports in Malaysia, the airport serves as the main gateway to northern Malaysia, offering frequent, direct flights with several major Asian cities including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Taipei and Doha.

Some of the international airlines operating at Penang International Airport include SilkAir (a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines), Singapore-based Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia Airways, Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Wings Air, Thai Airways International, Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon, Taiwan-based China Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Qatar Airways. In addition, the airport serves as one of the main hubs of the Malaysian low-cost carrier, Firefly, and one of the secondary hubs of its domestic rival, AirAsia.[321]

The airport also serves as an important cargo hub due to the large presence of multinational factories in the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, as well as catering to the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia. As of 2013, it handled the second largest cargo tonnage of all Malaysian airports.

Ferry and seaports

The Port of Penang with George Town in the background, as seen from Butterworth

The Port of Penang, the main harbour in northern Malaysia, is operated by the Penang Port Commission. The Port consists of seven facilities, with six of them on mainland Seberang Perai, including the North Butterworth Container Terminal, Butterworth Deep Water Wharves and the Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal.[201]

Since the 1960s, the loss of George Town's free port status and the development of Port Klang, near Kuala Lumpur, have somewhat reduced the Port of Penang's trade volume.[75][322] Nonetheless, the Port still plays an important role for northern Malaysia, as it links Penang with more than 200 ports worldwide.[323] As of 2016, the Port of Penang handled over 1.44 million TEUs of cargo, making it the third busiest seaport in Malaysia by volume.[199] The Port's strategic location enabled it to service not just northern Malaysia, but also southern Thailand.

A Rapid Ferry crossing the Penang Strait towards George Town.

Meanwhile, the sole Port facility on Penang Island, Swettenham Pier at Weld Quay, George Town, now accommodates cruise ships, making it one of the major entry points into Penang.[324] This makes cruise tourism a major component of tourist arrivals into Penang, other than airport arrivals. As of 2017, Swettenham Pier recorded 1.35 million tourist arrivals, thereby surpassing Port Klang as the busiest seaport in Malaysia for cruise shipping; the pier has also attracted some of the world's largest cruise liners, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2.[202][325][326] A handful of cruise ships call Swettenham Pier as their homeport as well, bringing tourists into and out of George Town towards regional destinations like Phuket and Singapore.

Occasionally, the Port of Penang hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, Thailand, the United States and most recently, China.[327][328][329][330]

The cross-strait Rapid Ferry service connects George Town and Butterworth, and was once the only link between Penang Island and the mainland until the completion of the Penang Bridge in 1985.[331] At the time of writing, six ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth daily.[332]


The City Stadium in George Town was the site where Mohd Faiz Subri scored the goal that won him the FIFA Puskás Award in 2017.

The state has good sporting facilities which include two major stadia – the City Stadium in George Town and the Batu Kawan Stadium in Seberang Perai. Another major sporting venue in the state, the SPICE Arena in the township of Bayan Baru consists of an indoor stadium and an aquatics centre.

The SPICE Arena is also one of the major venues in Penang for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).

The Nicol David International Squash Centre at Gelugor is one of the major squash training facilities in Malaysia and was reportedly where squash legend Nicol David first trained during her childhood years.[333] As for horse racing, George Town is home to Malaysia's oldest equestrian centre, the Penang Turf Club.[334] It was established in 1864.

Penang also has four golf courses, namely the 18-hole Bukit Jambul Country Club (on the island), the 36-hole Bukit Jawi Golf Resort, the 36-hole Penang Golf Resort and the 18-hole Kristal Golf Resort.

The various Penang-based sports clubs include the Bukit Mertajam Country Club, 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.

One of the major annual sporting events in Penang is dragon boat racing. The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival is held annually since 1979 around the fifth day of the fifth moon of the lunar calendar.[335] Aside from that event, the state also organises the year-end Penang Pesta Dragon Boat race. In addition, Penang successfully held the World Club Crew Championship in Teluk Bahang in 2008.

The Penang Bridge International Marathon is another popular annual event. The full marathon route starts from near Queensbay Mall, traversing along the Bayan Lepas Expressway and onto the 13.5 km (8.4 mi) long Penang Bridge, before returning via the same route to the starting point near Queensbay Mall. This event attracted 24 000 runners in 2010.[336]

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


Water supply which comes under the state jurisdiction, 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 reliable, round-the-clock drinking water throughout the state. Penang was cited by the World Development Movement as a case study in successful public water scheme.[337] PBA's water rates are also one of the lowest in the world; at RM0.32 per 1,000 litres, Penang's water tariff is the cheapest in Malaysia.[338][339] Penang's water supply is sourced from the Air Itam Dam, Mengkuang Dam, Teluk Bahang Dam, Bukit Panchor Dam, Berapit Dam, Cherok Tok Kun Dam, Waterfall Reservoir (at the Penang Botanic Gardens), Guillemard Reservoir, and also from the Muda River of Kedah.

Penang was among the first states in Malaya to be electrified in 1905 upon the completion of the first hydroelectric scheme.[7] At present, electricity for industrial and domestic consumption is provided by the national electricity utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

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

As of 2014, Penang had a recorded broadband penetration rate of 80.3%, the highest among all Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur).[340] Currently, the Penang state government is in the process of implementing a statewide Wi-Fi service. Known as Penang Free Wi-Fi, it aims to boost internet penetration throughout Penang and is provided free-of-charge.[341] Its bandwidth speeds within the centre of George Town were increased to 3Mbit/s, while 1,560 hotspots have been installed throughout the state.[342] When completed, Penang will be the first state in Malaysia to provide its citizens with free Internet connection.[343]

Sewage treatment in Penang 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 coastal water degradation.[344]

Military installations


The Tun Razak Camp (Malay: Kem Tun Razak) at Bukit Gedong on Penang Island is home to the 2nd Infantry Division of the Malaysian Army, while the Peel Avenue Camp (Malay: Kem Lebuhraya Peel) in George Town houses the 509th Regiment of the Territorial Army Regiment, the Malaysian Army's reserve force.

Minden Barracks at Gelugor, which is now the site of Universiti Sains Malaysia, was formerly a base of the Overseas Commonwealth Land Forces (Malaya) from 1939 to 1971.

Air Force

RMAF Butterworth (Malay: TUDM Butterworth) in Butterworth is a Royal Malaysian Air Force base. The installation is also the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) command centre of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA). The airbase stations four RMAF squadrons and hosts a Royal Australian Air Force squadron as part of Australia's commitment to the FPDA.[345][346]

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

Penang is one of the hotbeds of social activism in the country. Anwar Fazal, one of the world's leading social advocate, together with several individuals, founded the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) in 1969.[347] The country's most vocal and active consumer protection group, CAP strives to protect the interests of consumers. It publishes the Utusan Konsumer, Utusan Pengguna, Utusan Cina, Utusan Tamil, and Majalah Pengguna Kanak-kanak. It established the Third World Network (TWN) in 1984 to connect NGOs in developing countries.[348] The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action is an organisation based in Penang whose objectives are to protect, promote and support breastfeeding globally.[349]

The Penang Heritage Trust is an NGO whose objective is to promote the conservation of Penang's heritage, and to foster cultural education about the history and heritage of Penang. PHT worked to enlist the historic enclave of George Town as a World Heritage Site and had played an important role in saving many heritage buildings in Penang from demolition.[350]

Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens Society is a voluntary organisation dedicated to supporting the botanic, horticultural, educational and recreational objectives of the Penang Botanic Gardens.[351]

The Penang Institute (formerly the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute) is a non-profit Penang-based think tank and research institute with a focus on facilitating dynamic and sustainable development for Penang.[352] It publishes the Penang Monthly.[353]

Aliran is a national reform and human rights movement which began in 1977 in Penang. It publishes the Aliran Monthly.[354]

International partnerships

The State of Penang has inked a sister area agreement with Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan in 1991.[355] In addition, it has a friendship state agreement with Hainan Province in China, which was signed in 2013.[356][357]

Sister/Friendship states

Sister cities

Penang Island

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

Seberang Perai

The Seberang Perai Municipal Council, which governs the mainland halve of Penang, also has a sister city agreement with Fremantle in Australia.[366][367]

Friendship cities

In addition to the sister cities, George Town, and by extension, Penang Island, has five friendship cities.


The Royal Thai Consulate-General in George Town

Several nations have either established their consulates or appointed honorary-consulates within the State of Penang. Most are based on Penang Island, a major city with various multi-national economic and social interests.

Penang's firsts (in chronological order)

Notable people

Some of the notable people who were born in Penang, and are either former or current residents of Penang, are listed below.

Image gallery


As one lands on Penang one is impressed even before reaching the shore by the blaze of colour in the costumes of the crowds which throng the jetty.

— Isabella Bird, 19th-century English traveller and writer.

The spell which makes those who never been, wish to go there, those who live there want to stay, and fills those who have spent their appointed hour or two with a longing to return.

— J.W. Clark, George Town, Penang Illustrated Guide, Margaret Adams 1952[405]

References in popular culture

Penang was the shooting location for numerous movies and television series, most notably:

Other than that, Penang was also the featured location on an insightful and touching episode of the BBC series Tribe, hosted by Bruce Parry, about the indigenous peoples whose lives are being ruined by logging.

Penang was featured in or alluded to in books such as:

Penang was featured in or alluded to in musicals such as:

  • P. Ramlee The Musical, staged in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore by ENFINITI Vision Media.
  • The Secret Life of Nora, 2011, a musical set in 1960s Penang, telling the tale of a spy who masqueradees as a cabaret singer on a reconnaissance mission to acquire intelligence on a ring involved in human trafficking.

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  406. ^ s:Phantom Ship/Chapter XXXIX
  407. ^ s:Two Years Before the Mast/Twenty Four Years Later: Part III
  408. ^ s:A Retrospect
  409. ^ s:An Outcast of the Islands/Part III/Chapter II
  410. ^ s:The Hound of the Baskervilles/Chapter I
  411. ^ s:Around the World in Seventy-Two Days/Chapter X
  412. ^ s:The Man Who Could Work Miracles


  • The Penang Tourism Action Council. The "Light" Years and Beyond. Retrieved 2005-07-26.
  • Khoo Salma Nasution: More Than Merchants: A History of the German-speaking Community in Penang, 1800s–1940s, Areca Books, 2006:

External links

  • UNESCO World Heritage Listing
  • Penang State Government
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