Penang: Food and heritage travel place by Mzondi Lungu

Malaysia islandsDusk falls over Kapitan Keling Mosque in Penang’s capital, Georgetown.

The Pearl of the Orient has a long and illustrious history. “Discovered” by Captain Francis Light in 1786, Prince of Wales island, as it once was known, was for a long time one of the jewels of the British empire.

Alongside Melaka and Singapore it was known as one of the Straits Settlements, a string of outposts that dominated the sea trade between India and the rest of Asia.

However, its importance gradually waned over the centuries, before it was rediscovered as a Malaysia holiday destination and reinvented as an IT hub.

Today, under the close eye of Malaysian opposition and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, the island is proudly parading its past –- the UNESCO status granted to historic Georgetown in 2008 guarantees that.

But its greatest attraction is its street food -– from Penang laksa off Macalister Road to banana leaf in Little India to seafood on Gurney Drive –- you’ll find it all here.

Alongside a raft of improvements designed to attract even more visitors, including investment in public transport, a tree planting program, pedestrianization schemes and a schedule of new cultural festivals and fairs, this magnificent island –- only slightly smaller than Singapore –- is once again making its mark on the world stage.

Where to stay: Since 1948, the recently restored Lone Pine sits serenely on the north shore of the island, while for city digs look no further than the Hotel Penaga, heritage buildings in the heart of town. Attracting a lot of attention among luxury lovers is the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, a restored colonial property.

Getting there: Flights from around the world land at Penang International Airport. From there, inexpensive taxis can transport you to destinations around the island, or you can catch the airport bus into town.

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