Think of Penang and it’s easy to get yourself tied in knots. It’s an amalgamation of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dutch, and British cultures, all intertwined and bonded through historical trade pacts and a colonial lust for empire. On the streets of the island’s capital George Town, there are Chinese temples and clan houses, Tamil temples and bustling Indian bazaars that blare Bollywood bhangra, and star-shaped forts from where the British East India Company once ruled the Straits of Malacca. It is as multicultural, idiosyncratic, and pluralistic as Southeast Asia gets.
Beyond the capital, some describe the 28 sq km tropical island as Malaysia in miniature. It has the crescent-shaped, palm-backed beaches to rival the Perhentian Islands off Malaysia’s eastern coast, the teeming street food markets and industrious high-tech ambition to make Kuala Lumpur jealous, and the teeming mangroves and clouded forests to match Malaysian Borneo. Just make sure you have time to see it all.