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Pulau Pinang
Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara

From upper right: George Town Skyline, Penang City Hall & Penang Bridge, Khoo Kongsi, Beach Street & Rapid Penang bus
Flag of PenangPulau Pinang槟城பினாங்கு
Coat of arms of PenangPulau Pinang槟城பினாங்கு
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient
Motto: Bersatu dan Setia (Malay)
United and Loyal
Let Penang Lead (unofficial)[1]
Anthem: Untuk Negeri Kita ("For Our State")
<span style=   '''Penang''' in    ''''''" src="" width="250">
   Penang in    Malaysia
Capital George Town
 • Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abdul Rahman Abbas
 • Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (DAP)
 • Total 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Total 1,520,143
 • Density 1,500/km2 (3,800/sq mi)
Human Development Index
 • HDI (2010) 0.773 (high) (3rd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 10xxx–14xxx
Calling code +604
Vehicle registration P
Ceded by Kedah to British 11 August 1786
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941
Accession into the Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence as part of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
^[a] 2,491 people per km² on Penang Island and 1,049 people per km² in Seberang Perai

Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca.

It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the eighth most populous. It is composed of two parts – Penang Island, where the seat of government is, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley in English) on the Malay Peninsula.

Highly urbanised and industrialised Penang is one of the most developed and economically important states in the country, as well as a thriving tourist destination.[4][5][6] Penang has the third-highest Human Development Index in Malaysia, after the state of Selangor and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. Its heterogeneous population is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language, and religion. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite.


  • Ethnonym 1
  • Origins 2
  • Population 3
    • Russia 3.1
    • Russians outside of Russia 3.2
  • Culture 4
    • Language 4.1
    • Religion 4.2
  • Genetics 5
    • Y-DNA 5.1
    • mtDNA 5.2
    • Autosomal DNA 5.3
  • Notable achievements 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Aerial evening scene of Penang Island

The name "Penang" comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means "island of the areca nut palm" ([7] named after the many ballnut trees (also known as Alexandrian laurels, Calophyllum inophyllum) on the coast, but now usually shortened as Tanjung (the Cape).[8][9]

Penang is often known as "The Pearl of the Orient", "东方花园" (Garden of the East) and Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara (Penang, Island of Pearls). Penang is shortened as "PG" or "PP" in Malay.[10]

Early Malays called it Pulau Ka-Satu or "First (or Single) Island" because it was the largest island encountered on the trading sea-route between [7]



Archaeological evidence shows that Penang (island and its mainland territory) was inhabited by the Semang-Pangan of the Juru and Yen lineage, both now considered extinct cultures. They were hunter-gatherers of the Negrito stock having short stature and dark complexion, and were dispersed by the Malays as far back as 900 years ago. The last recorded aboriginal settlement in Penang was in the 1920s in Kubang Semang.[15] The first evidence of prehistoric human settlement in what is now Penang were found in Guar Kepah, a cave in Seberang Perai in 1860. Based on mounds of sea shells with human skeletons, stone implements, broken ceramics, and food leftovers inside, the settlement was estimated to be between 3000 to 4000 years old. Other stone tools found in various places on the island of Penang pointed to the existence of Neolithic settlements dating to 5000 years ago.[16]

Early history and colonial period

The geographical term of "Penang Island" first appeared in the "The Nautical Charts of Zheng He" written on the expeditions of Zheng He (Cheng Ho) in Ming dynasty during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. In the 15th century, the Chinese navy using the record of nautical chart as navigation guide from "Con Dao Islands" (Pulo Condore) to Penang Island, Penang has been seen to trade with Ming dynasty (modern China) in the 15th century.

Kapitan Keling Mosque built in 1801.

One of the very first Englishmen to reach Penang was the navigator and privateer Sir James Lancaster who on 10 April 1591, commanding the Edward Bonadventure, set sail from Plymouth for the East Indies, reaching Penang in June 1592, remaining on the island until September of the same year and pillaging every vessel he encountered, only to return to England in May 1594.[17]

The history of modern Penang, originally part of the Malay Sultanate of the heir to the British throne but the name never caught on. Penang was Britain's first settlement in Southeast Asia, and was one of the first establishments of the second British Empire after the loss of its North American colonies.[19][20] In Malaysian history, the occasion marked the beginning of more than a century of British involvement in Malaya.

Unfortunately for the Sultan, the EAC's new governor-general Charles Cornwallis made it clear that he could not be party to the Sultan's disputes with the other Malay princes, or promise to protect him from the Siamese or Burmese.[21] Unbeknownst to Sultan Abdullah, Light had decided to conceal the facts of the agreement from both parties. When Light reneged on his promise of protection, the Sultan tried unsuccessfully to recapture the island in 1790, and the Sultan was forced to cede the island to the company for an honorarium of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum. Light established Penang as a free port to entice traders away from nearby Dutch trading posts. Trade in Penang grew exponentially soon after its founding - incoming ships and boats to Penang increased from 85 in 1786 to 3569 in 1802.[22]

He also encouraged immigrants by promising them as much land as they could clear and by reportedly firing silver dollars from his ship's cannons deep into the jungle. Many early settlers, including Light himself in 1794, succumbed to malaria, earning early Penang the epithet "the white man's grave".[23][24]

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

After Light's demise, Lieutenant-Colonel Seberang Perai). The annual payment to Sultan of Kedah was increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum after the acquisition. Today, the Penang state government still pays RM 18,800.00 to the Sultan of Kedah annually.[19]

In 1796 Penang was made a penal settlement when 700 convicts were transferred from the Andaman Islands.[25] In 1805 Penang was made a separate presidency (ranking with Bombay and Madras); and when in 1826 Singapore and Malacca were incorporated with it, Penang continued to be the seat of government of the Straits Settlements, an extension of the British Raj. In 1829 Penang was reduced from the rank of a presidency, and eight years later the fast-growing town of Singapore was made the capital of the Settlements. In 1867 the Straits Settlements were created a Crown colony under direct British rule, in which Penang was included.[26]

Colonial Penang thrived from trade in pepper and spices, Indian piece goods, betel nut, tin, opium, and rice. The Bengal Presidency realised of Penang's potential as an alternative to Dutch Moluccas as a source of spice production. Development of export crops became the chief means of covering administrative costs in Penang. The development of the spice economy drove the movement of Chinese settlers to the island, which was actively encouraged by the British. However, Penang port's initial pre-eminence was later supplanted by Singapore owing to its superior geographical location, but 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 in the mid-19th century cemented Penang's secondary importance after Singapore. Penang's most important trading partners were China, India, Siam, Sumatra, Java, Britain, as well as other Strait Settlements.[27]

The rapid population growth stemming from economic development created problems such as sanitation, inadequate urban infrastructure, transportation and public health. Main roads were extended from the capital into the fertile cultivated spice farms further inland. But to sate the severe labour shortages in public works, the government began the practice of employing Indian convict workers as low-cost labourers. A great number of them worked on Penang' streets, draining swamps and clearing forests, constructing drainage ditches, and laying pipeworks for clean water.[27] Indeed, convict labour was key to Penang's successful colonisation as many found employment in the civil service, military, and even as private servants to the colonial officials and private individuals.[27]

For ten days in August 1867, Penang was gripped with civil unrest during what was known as the Penang Riot which pitted rival secret societies Kean Teik Tong (the 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, which the British under newly appointed lieutenant-governor Col. Edward Anson put down with sepoy reinforcement after days of chaos.[28]

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.[29]

World Wars

Incorporated into Date
Straits Settlements 1826
Crown Colony 1867
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941
Malayan Union 1 April 1946
Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
Malaysia 16 September 1963

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 Russian cruiser Zhemchug in the North Channel, and as it was leaving the island, the French torpedo boat, Mosquet 10 miles off Muka Head.[30][31]

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.[32]


The iconic 65-storey Selangor and Johor.[104] Penang is the state with the highest GDP per capita in Malaysia in 2010 with RM 33,456.00 (USD $10,893.00).[105] Manufacturing is the most important component of the Penang economy, contributing 45.9% of the state's GDP (2000). The southern part of the island is highly industrialised with high-tech electronics plants (such as Dell, Intel, AMD, Altera, Motorola, Agilent, Renesas, Osram, Plexus Corporation, Bosch and Seagate) in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone – earning Penang the nickname Silicon Island.[106] 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.[107]

In recent years, however, the state is experiencing a gradual decline of foreign direct investments due to factors such as cheaper labour costs in China and India.[108][109] In 2010, Penang had the highest total of capital investments in the country. The state attracted RM 12.2 billion worth of investments, up fivefold from RM 2.2 billion the year before and a total increase of 465%. Other than that, Penang accounted 26% of Malaysia's total investments in 2010.[110]

In 2011, Penang became top in manufacturing investment in Malaysia for the second consecutive year, with RM9.1 billion in total. However, in a new measurement indicator of total investment introduced by MIDA, which comprises manufacturing, services and private sectors, Penang ranked second in Malaysia after Sarawak in total investments, with the total amount of RM14.038 billion. This was primarily due to not having sufficient primary sector investments. US media's Bloomberg described Penang's economic growth as Malaysia's "biggest economic success" despite the federal government focus on other states such as Johor and Sarawak.[111] Consequently, after the economic success due to increase in total investments, the public debt in Penang decreased by 95% from RM630 million in 2008 to RM30 million at the end of 2011.[112]

The entrepôt trade has greatly declined, due in part to the loss of Penang's free-port status and to the active development of Port Klang near the federal capital Kuala Lumpur. However, there is a container terminal in Butterworth which continues to service the northern area.

Other important sectors of Penang's economy include tourism, finance, shipping and other services.

The Penang Development Corporation (PDC) is a self-funding statutory body aiming enhance Penang's socio-economic development and to create employment opportunities[113] whereas InvestPenang is a non-profit entity of the state government with the sole purpose of promoting investments in Penang.[114]


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).[115] 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.[116]

View of Beach Street with the HSBC building at 1 Downing Street

Owing to limited land size and the highly industrialised 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 GDP in 2000.[116] The share of Penang's paddy area to the national paddy area accounts for only 4.9%.[116]


The Penang Museum and Art Gallery
Penang Nine Emperor Gods Festival
Public Holidays in Penang
New Year's Day
1 Jan
20 Jan
Chinese New Year
2 days in
Prophet Muhammad's
Labour Day
1 May
Wesak Day
King's Birthday
4 Jun
George Town World
Heritage City Day
7 Jul
Governor's Birthday
9 Jul
Revelation of
the Koran Day
2 days
National Day
31 Aug
Hari Raya Haji
Awal Muharram
25 Dec

Penang was the centre of banking of Malaysia at a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a small outpost. The oldest bank in Malaysia, Standard Chartered Bank (then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) opened its doors in 1875 to cater to the financial requirements of early European traders.[117] The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, now known as HSBC, opened its first branch in Penang in 1885.[106] This was followed by the UK-based Royal Bank of Scotland (then ABN AMRO) in 1888. Most of the older banks still maintain their local headquarters on Beach Street, the old commercial centre of George Town.

Today, Penang remains a banking hub with branches of Citibank, United Overseas Bank, Bank of China[118] and Bank Negara Malaysia (the Malaysian central bank) together with local banks such as Public Bank, Maybank, Ambank and CIMB Bank.

Culture and heritage


There are two major Western orchestras in Penang – the Penang Philharmonic (formerly Penang State Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (PESSOC), and the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO).[119][120] The ProArt Chinese Orchestra is an orchestra playing traditional Chinese musical instruments.[121] 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.[122] Dewan Sri Pinang at the Esplanade and the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (Penangpac) at Straits Quay are two of the major performing venues in Penang.

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.[123][124] Boria is another traditional dance drama indigenous to Penang featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.[125]

Chinese opera (usually the Teochew and Hokkien versions) is frequently performed in Penang, often in specially built platforms, especially during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival. There are also puppetry performances although they are less performed today.

Wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic are striking features on some of the old streets of George Town.

Museums and galleries


  • UNESCO World Heritage Listing
  • Penang State Government
  • Tourism Malaysia - Penang
  • Penang Discovery Website
  • Penang World Heritage Web

External links

  • 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
  • Yong Mun Sen


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  • List of streets in George Town, Penang

See also

  • 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.

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

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

Penang was the shooting location for a number of movies, most notably:

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

References in popular culture


Image gallery


  • Penang became the first British outpost in the then Malaya and Southeast Asia in 1786.
  • The country's first newspaper made its appearance in Penang in 1805 – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette. This was followed by the Penang Gazette, first published in 1837.[226]
  • The Royal Malaysian Police was established when King George III awarded Penang a "Charter of Justice" in 1807 to form the police force and the Court of Justice.
  • Penang Free School founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings in 1816, is the first and oldest English School in Southeast Asia. But the very first school was a Malay-language school begun by Father Antonio Garnault in 1786 which is known today as St. Xavier's Institution.[227]
  • St George's Anglican Church on Farquhar Street, established in 1816, is the oldest Anglican Church in South East Asia and the only building from Penang that was declared one of the 50 National Treasures by the Malaysian Government.
  • The Sekolah Kebangsaan Gelugor in Penang founded in 1826 is the first Malay school to be established in Malaysia.[228]
  • The St Xavier's Institution established in 1852, is the first school established in Malaysia to be administered and fully owned by the La Salle Brothers.[229]
  • Convent Light Street or the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, a girls' school established by a French Sisters' Mission in 1852, is the oldest girls' school in Southeast Asia.
  • Chung Hwa Confucian School founded by Cheong Fatt Tze in 1904, is one of the oldest formal Chinese schools established in South-east Asia as a result of influence by the educational reforms in China in early 1900s. Mandarin is the school's medium of instruction.
  • The Municipal Council of Penang Island (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang), is the successor of the Municipal Council of George Town, which was established in 1857 as Malaysia's first local council.
  • The Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.
  • Standard Chartered Bank, the oldest bank in Malaysia, opened its doors in 1875.
  • In 1905 Penang completed its first hydroelectric scheme.[230]
  • In 1906 Penang's first electric tramway made its appearance.[230]
  • Malaysia's oldest Chinese newspaper still in circulation today, Kwong Wah Yit Poh or Kwong Wah Daily (光华日报) was founded on 20 December 1910 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Penang.
  • St. Nicholas' Home Penang,a social outreach ministry under the Anglican Church founded in 1926, is first charitable organisation serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired community of Malaysia. St. Nicholas' Home also started the first blind school in Malaysia.
  • The Penang Players Music and Drama Society, the oldest English amateur theatre group in Malaysia, was founded in the early 1950s by a group of expatriates residing in Penang.
  • Municipal Council of Penang Island.)
  • George Town together with Malacca Town are the first cities in Malaysia to be granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
  • Penang's water rates/tariffs are amongst the lowest in Malaysia (the other being Kelantan).
  • Covering 738 km2 (285 sq mi), the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai) is the largest local council in Malaysia.
  • The 2,562-hectare (6,330-acre) Penang National Park in Teluk Bahang gazetted in 2003 is the world's smallest national park.[231]
  • Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884, is the first botanic gardens in Malaysia.
  • Phor Tay High School, founded in 1940, is the first Buddhist school in Malaysia.
  • Diocese of Penang, together with Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur in 1955 is the first Catholic diocese to have a local bishop at helm.
  • College General is the only Catholic seminary in Peninsular Malaysia founded in 1665 in Ayutthya, Thailand and then relocated to Penang in 1808.
  • Penang Island is the only island in Malaysia to be connected to the mainland through land transport when the Penang Bridge was completed in 1985.
  • The Butterworth in Seberang Perai.
  • The Penang Hill Railway, opened in 1923, is the first funicular hill railway in Malaysia.
  • George Town Dispensary is the earliest dispensary in the then Malaya. It was opened in 1895.
  • Penang is the first state in Malaysia to launch the "No Plastic Bag Day" campaign.
  • Penang Butterfly Farm, established in 1986, is the world's first butterfly and insect sanctuary to be set up in the tropical world.
  • The Camera Museum, newly established in 2012, is South East Asia's first and only Camera Museum with extensive collections & the origin of the invention.
  • Federation School for the Deaf, is the first deaf school in Federation of Malaya in April 1954.
  • Penang is the first state to have a state funded agency (Penang Women's Development Corporation, PWDC) dedicated to mainstreaming gender into the policies and programmes of all sectors to achieve gender and social justice in the State.
  • Penang is the first state to adopt a state policy for Childcare : Penang Childcare Policy by PWDC
The Standard Chartered Bank building at 2 Beach Street
St. George's Church, first Anglican church in Southeast Asia
Fort Cornwallis in George Town, British outpost

Penang's firsts

Penang has hosted several major sport events include the 2000 Sukma Games, the 2013 Women's World Open Squash Championship and the annual Penang Bridge International Marathon.

Penang also hosts the unique Chingay procession which began with its first parade in 1919.[225] It is held in celebration of the birthdays of the Chinese deities or in the procession of the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin). The procession can be seen yearly on Christmas night or during Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year or other major events in Penang.

The Penang Bridge Marathon is a popular annual event. The full marathon route starts from near Queensbay Mall, to the Bayan Lepas Expressway, then on to the 13.5 km (8.4 mi) length of the Penang Bridge, and finally back to the starting point for the finish. This event hosted 24 000 runners in 2010.[224]

The international dragon boat festival is held in Penang annually since 1979 around the fifth day of the fifth moon of the lunar calendar.[223] The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival (PIDBF) which leads the development of the sports successfully held the World Club Crew Championship 2008 at Teluk Bahang Dam. Normally, the state will hold two races in a year, the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival in the month of June and Penang Pesta Dragon Boat race around early December.

Sports clubs in Penang 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. The Tanjung City Marina which can accommodate up to 140 yachts and boats of various sizes is located at the historic Weld Quay. The Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.[222]

Penang has 4 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 state has good sporting facilities which include two major stadia – the City Stadium in George Town and the Batu Kawan Stadium in Southern Seberang Perai. The Penang International Sports Arena (PISA) in Relau has an indoor stadium and an aquatics centre.

Tanjung City Marina (foreground), with a Star Cruise Liner docking at the Swettenham Pier, George Town


Aliran is a national reform and human rights movement which began in 1977 in Penang. It publishes the Aliran Monthly.[221]

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.[220] It publishes the Penang Economic Monthly.

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.[219]

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.[218]

[217] Penang is one of the hotbeds of social activism in the country.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

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.[213][214]

Air Force

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

The Tun Razak Camp (Rejimen Askar Wataniah.


Military installations

International partnerships

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.[203]

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. Currently, Penang is undergoing a statewide Wi-Fi installation. The Wi-Fi internet connection will be provided by the Penang State Government for free. The Wi-Fi service, named "Penang Free Wi-Fi" has covered some commercial spots and some areas including the state government office, KOMTAR in Penang Island, and some commercial spots on Seberang Prai. When completed, Penang will be the first state in Malaysia to provide residents with free Internet connection.[202]

Penang was among the first states in Malaya to be electrified in 1905 upon the completion of the first hydroelectric scheme.[19] At present, electricity for industrial and domestic consumption is provided by the national electricity utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

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.[200] PBA's water rates are also one of the lowest in the world[201] 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.


Panorama of Penang Port as seen from Seberang Prai

The Port of Penang is operated by the Penang Port Commission. There are four terminals, one on Penang island (Swettenham Pier) and three on the mainland, namely North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT), Butterworth Deep Water Wharves (BDWW), and Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal (PBCT). With Malaysia being one of the largest exporting nations in the world,[199] the Port of Penang plays a leading role in the nation's shipping industry, linking Penang to more than 200 ports worldwide. The Swettenham Pier Port also accommodates cruise ships and on occasions, warships.

are also available daily. Medan in the north as well as to Kedah, Langkawi High-speed ferries to the resort island of [198] Cross-channel ferry services, provided by the

Ferry and seaports

The airport also serves as an important cargo hub due to the large presence of multinational factories in the Free Trade Zones as well as catering to the northern states of peninsular Malaysia.

Penang Airport has direct flights to other Malaysian cities, namely Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Johor Bahru, Langkawi, Kota Bharu and regular connections to major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and Guangzhou.

Penang International Airport (PEN) is located at Bayan Lepas in the south of the island. The airport serves as the northern gateway to Malaysia and is the secondary hub of Firefly, a low-cost carrier wholly owned by Malaysia Airlines as well as AirAsia, a pioneer low-cost carrier from Malaysia. Other airlines operating at Penang are national flag carrier Malaysia Airlines, SilkAir (a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines), Thai Airways International, Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia Airways, Hong Kong-based Dragonair and Hong Kong Express Airways, Taiwan-based China Airlines, China Southern Airlines, together with Indonesian airlines Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air and Wings Air.


Penang had a monorail proposal under consideration since 1999. The Penang Monorail project was finally approved on 31 March 2006 under the Ninth Malaysia Plan but was then deferred indefinitely by the federal government.[197]

The Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the top of Penang Hill, was an engineering feat of sorts when it was completed in 1923. The railway underwent an extensive upgrading in 2010 and was reopened in early 2011.[196]

Penang has 34.9 km (21.7 mi) of rail track within its border.[195] The Butterworth railway station is serviced by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) or Malayan Railway West Coast line which runs from Padang Besar on the Malaysia-Thailand Border in Perlis to Singapore. Senandung Langkawi is the daily night express running from Kuala Lumpur to Haadyai via Butterworth.

Rail and monorail

Taxis in Penang do not use the meter as required by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board but instead charge fixed fares.[194]

There are two main bus terminals for inter-state express coaches. One is located at the ferry terminal in Seberang Perai, and another at Sungai Nibong on the island.

Rapid Penang started on 31 July 2007 with 150 buses covering 28 routes on the island and mainland. This services has since been extended. After Rapid Penang came in, the public transportation in Penang has improved and is now better. 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.[192] Currently, there are 350 buses plying 41 routes around the state (30 routes on Penang Island, 9 routes on Seberang Prai and 2 routes connecting Penang Island and Seberang Prai). However, usage of public transport remains low, contributing to traffic jams in the city during rush hours.[193] In light of this, the city council has introduced free shuttle bus services for short intra-city travel to lessen the congestion.[189]

For a long time, the Penang public bus service was deemed unsatisfactory.[189][190][191] On 1 April 2006, the Penang state government revamped the entire bus network in the hope of improving the bus service in the state. Under the revamped routes, bigger buses were made to run along "trunk" routes while minibuses ran "feeder" routes which branched off trunk routes, but conditions did not improve. On 20 February 2007, the government announced that Rapid KL would operate the public bus service in Penang under the new entity called Rapid Penang which is formed for this purpose.

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.[187][188]

[186][16] 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

Rapid Penang in Jetty Bus Terminal

Public transport

The Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway formerly known as the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) is a 14-km tolled expressway that serves primarily Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam to ameliorate the upsurge in vehicular traffic due to intense urban and industrial development.

The proposed Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) was mooted to cut travelling time on the eastern part of the island but was subsequently shelved. Concerned citizens voiced protests over the designated route which will cut across quiet residential areas and may also adversely affect the environments.[185]

Penang on the side of Seberang Perai is connected to the North-South Expressway (Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan), the 966-km long expressway which traverses the western part of Peninsular Malaysia linking major cities and towns. The expressway also comprises the Penang Bridge.

Penang Island is connected to the mainland by the 13.5 km (8.4 mi), three-lane, dual carriageway Penang Bridge (completed in 1985), one of the longest bridges in Asia. A second bridge, the 24-km long Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, linking Batu Maung on the southeastern part of the island to Batu Kawan on the mainland, was opened to the public in early 2014.

The 13.5 km (8.4 mi) long Penang Bridge

Bridges, roads and highways

Getting to Penang both from within and outside Malaysia is easy as Penang is well-connected by road, rail, sea and air. Flights are available from Kuala Lumpur to Penang by local carriers such as AirAsia and Berjaya Air.[184]


Public hospitals

Penang Island

  • Penang General Hospital (main)
  • Balik Pulau Hospital

Seberang Perai

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

Private hospitals

Penang Island

Seberang Perai

  • Bukit Mertajam Specialist Hospital
  • Bagan Specialist Centre
  • KPJ Hospital Penang
Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre, a private hospital
The Ambulatory Care Centre of the 1000-bed Penang Hospital (known as the GH)

Today public hospitals are funded and administered by the Ministry of Health. The Penang Hospital is a tertiary-care regional referral centre. In addition to public hospitals are numerous smaller community clinics (klinik kesihatan) and private practices. 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 health tourists from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia.[181] Penang is actively promoting health tourism. In 2010, 250,000 foreign patients were treated. The state earned an estimated RM 230 million through medical tourism in 2010, up from RM 162 million in 2009. Penang also contributed 70% to Malaysia's medical tourism revenue.[182] Hospices are also increasingly becoming the choice for long-term and terminal care. Infant mortality rate at present is 0.4% while life expectancy at birth is 71.8 years for men and 76.3 years for women.[183]

Health care in Penang is provided by public as well as private hospitals. The public health care system first established by the colonial authorities was supplemented by health care provided by local Chinese charities, and Christian missionaries such as the Roman Catholic and the Seventh-day Adventist.

Health care

The mainstream newspapers in Penang include the English dailies The Star, The New Straits Times, and the free The Sun; the Malay dailies Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia, Harian Metro, and Kosmo!; the Chinese dailies Kwong Wah Yit Poh, Sin Chew Daily, China Press, and Oriental Daily News; and the Tamil dailies Tamil Nesan, Malaysia Nanban, and Makkal Osai. The Malay Mail is an English weekly. Nanyang Siang Pau is a Chinese-language financial daily while The Edge is an English-language financial weekly newspaper. All of them are in national circulation. In 2011, Chief Minister of Penang Lim Guan Eng officiated the launch of Time Out Penang.[179] The Penang edition of the international listings magazine is currently published in three versions: a yearly printed guide, a regularly updated website, and mobile app.[180]


The Penang Public Library Corporation in 1973 replaced the Penang Library which in turn was set up in 1817.[177] It operates the main Penang Public Library in Seberang Prai, the George Town Branch Library, the Children's Library, and three smaller libraries.[178]


Penang is home to two medical schools (Penang Medical College and Allianze College of Medical Sciences), a nursing college, a dental training college, two Institute of Teacher Education Malaysia campuses (Bukit Chombee Campus and Tuanku Bainun Campus), and numerous private and community colleges. The two public universities in Penang are Universiti Sains Malaysia at Gelugor and its Engineering campus at Nibong Tebal, and Universiti Teknologi MARA at Permatang Pauh.[174][175] The former, popularly known by its acronym USM, is one of Malaysia's earliest universities, and is today accorded the status of apex university dedicated to research. Wawasan Open University is a private university which has both distance-learning and on campus programs.[176] Penang also hosts SEAMEO RECSAM, a research and training facility for the enhancement of the science and mathematics education in Southeast Asia. Some of the colleges in Penang include Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TARC), Han Chiang College, KDU College, Inti College, DISTED College, and Olympia College.

The Wawasan Open University in George Town, housed at the Homestead

Colleges and universities

National schools use Malay as their medium of instruction. Unlike early Chinese and missionary schools, national schools are mostly built and funded by the government. The student population in these schools tend to be more multiracial. Examples 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.

National, vocational, and religious schools

Formal education in Penang stretches back to the early days of British administration. Many of the public schools in Penang are among the oldest in the country and even in the region as a whole but has since been turned into national schools. They educated generations of important personages in the country's history, which included royalty, ministers, lawmakers, sportsmen, artists, and musicians. Most notable of these are Penang Free School (est. 1816, the oldest English school in the country),[173] Methodist Girls' School (est. 1891), Methodist Boys' School (est. 1891), St. Xavier's Institution (est. 1852), and Convent Light Street (est. 1852, the first school for girls in Malaysia).

Formerly missionary schools

Penang has long been the centre of a well-developed Chinese-language schooling system. These schools were set up by local Chinese associations with donations from philanthropists, and have historically attracted students from Chinese communities in Thailand and Indonesia, where Chinese education was banned. These schools are well-supported by the community and many consistently produce good results, thus attracting non-Chinese students too. There are 90 Chinese primary schools and 10 Chinese secondary schools in Penang. Among them are Chung Ling High School (established 1917), Penang Chinese Girls' High School (est. 1920), Union High School (est. 1928), Chung Hwa Confucian School (est. 1904), Phor Tay High School (est. 1940, the first Buddhist school in Malaysia), Jit Sin High School (est. 1949), Han Chiang School (est. 1919) and Heng Ee High School (1957).

Chinese schools

Penang was a pioneer in education in Malaysia, having some of the earliest established schools in the country. The public school system comprises national schools, vernacular (Chinese and Tamil) schools, vocational schools, and religious schools. There are also a few international schools, such as Dalat International School, Tenby International School, Prince of Wales Island International School, The International School of Penang, the Penang Japanese School, and St. Christopher's International Primary School for both expatriates' and Malaysian children. The state has five Chinese Independent High Schools:[172] Penang Chinese Girls' Private High School[1], Chung Ling Private High School, Phor Tay Private High School, Han Chiang School and Jit Sin Independent High School.



Traditional bazaars such as the Chowrasta Market and Campbell Street, and makeshift open-air night markets known as pasar malam were the precursors to today's shopping malls. They offer goods ranging from modern electronics and textiles to foodstuffs and local produce.

Penang is a major shopping destination in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia. It has several modern shopping malls offering a wide range of merchandise. Among the more popular ones on Penang island are Queensbay Mall (Penang's largest), Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon at the famed Gurney Drive, 1st Avenue Penang a brand new mall in the heart of the Penang, KOMTAR (Penang's first modern shopping mall) and Penang Times Square (an integrated commercial and residential complex near Komtar). As one of the earliest shopping mall around, Kompleks Bukit Jambul is still a household name and renowned for mobile phone, IT technology and trendiest boutiques in the market. Notable shopping malls in Seberang Perai are Sunway Carnival Mall at Seberang Jaya and AEON Seberang Prai City at Bandar Perda.


A small bushy tree, Alchornea rhodophylla, the almost-extinct tree Maingaya malayana, and the toad Ansonia penangensis are endemic only to the island of Penang.[165][166][167] Some of the commonly seen birds in Penang include the migratory greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga), the blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus) and the Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis), and the endemic chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti), the Brahmniy kite (Haliastur indus), the common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), and the White-bellied Sea Eagle.[168][169][170] The sandy beaches of the 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.[170] 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))[170][171]

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.[162] 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 few of its kind in the world, is a walk-in free-ranging butterfly habitat, breeding and conservation centre.[163] The Penang Bird Park in Seberang Jaya is the first aviary in Malaysia.[164] 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.

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 7524 hectares was forested.[160] Located at the fringe of George Town, at the foot of Penang Hill are two adjacent green areas – the Penang Municipal Park (popularly known as Youth Park) and the Penang Botanic Gardens. Penang Hill, despite encroaching development, remains thickly forested and lush in vegetation.[161] The Relau Metropolitan Park was opened in 2003. Robina Beach Park is a park by the beach near Butterworth.

Parks, gardens and natural history

The Penang War Museum 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. [159]



The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is the former residence and office of Chinese Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, and incorporates various Chinese architecture. Here you can find more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles.[157]

Also known as 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 (Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas) and 30.2m bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.[156]

The Cheong Fatt Tze, and was built with 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows and possesses splendid Chinese timber carvings, Gothic louvre windows, russet brick walls and porcelain cut & paste decorative shard works, art nouveau stained glass panels, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles and Scottish cast iron work. It is filled with rare a collection of sculptures, carvings, tapestries and other antiques.[155]

Heritage and culture

Famed for its food, Penang is a food haven visited by the Malaysian locals as well as foreign tourists. Touted the food capital of Malaysia, some of the best of Penang food can be found at Gurney Drive. The popular seafront promenade offers both delightful street and high-end cuisine. At the food court, you can find local favourites such as Penang Laksa, Bak Kuk Teh (a herbal stew of pork ribs and meat), Oh Chien (fried oyster omelette), grilled squid, and nasi lemak. The food court has both a halal and non-halal section.[154]


Pollution which has been going on for years taints the beauty of the beaches and increasingly turns tourists away to places like Langkawi and Pangkor. Among the identified sources of pollution include inefficient sewage disposal and unchecked commercial activities.[152][153]

The most popular beaches in Penang are located at Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi, and Teluk Bahang, and these contiguous beaches are home to Penang's famed hotel and resort belt. 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.


Penang has been ranked by Yahoo! Travel as one of the "10 Islands to Explore Before You Die"[150] and listed in Patricia Schultz's best-selling 1,000 Places to See Before You Die travel book.[151]

Visited by Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward and Queen Elizabeth II among many others, Penang has always been a popular tourist destination, both domestically and internationally.[145][146][147] In 2009, Penang attracted 5.96 million tourists, ranking third in tourist arrivals in Malaysia.[148] Penang is known for its rich heritage, multicultural society and its vibrant culture, its hills, parks, and beaches, shopping, and good food. There are a variety of accommodation options from guest houses and budget hotels to four- and five-star hotels. For staying at a room for one night, guests are required to pay a bed tax around RM2 to RM3.[149]

Free Rapid Penang KOMTAR–Weld Quay shuttle bus at Weld Quay in February 2011.
Pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple
The Penang Botanic Gardens


Penang, long known as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied food.[138][139][140][141] 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".[142] Penang's cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but also shows some influence of Thailand. Its especially famous "hawker food", many served al fresco, strongly features noodles, spices, and fresh seafood. The best places to savour Penang's food include Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, New Lane, New World Park, Penang Road and Chulia Street, as well as Raja Uda and Chai Leng Park over on the mainland. Penang is also famed for its traditional biscuits such as the tau sar pneah (bean paste biscuit). Aside from that, Penang is also ranked among top ten greatest street food cities in Asia, according to CNN Go.[143] In 2014, Penang has been voted by Lonely Planet as the top food destination.[144]

Hawker food centre at Gurney Drive.
A hawker stall selling rojak, a fruit dish in shrimp and chilli paste


The cultural mosaic of Penang naturally means that they are a great many number of festivals to celebrate. The Chinese celebrate, among others, the World Heritage Site status with arts and live cultural performances throughout the month of July. The famous Pesta Pulau Pinang (Penang Fest) 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.[137]

The Songkran Festival as celebrated in Wat Chayamangkalaram, a Thai Theravada Buddhist temple in George Town.


The architecture of Penang is a durable testament of her history – a culmination of over a century and a half of British presence, as well as the confluence of immigrants and the culture they brought with them. UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Suffolk House, the former residence of Penang's British governors, on the banks of the Air Itam river is an example of the Anglo-Indian garden house.[132] The stately Seri Mutiara (formerly known as the Residency), completed in 1890 as the residence of Penang's British Resident Councillors, is today the official residence of the Governor.[133] Chinese influence is visible at the many ornate clan houses, temples, pre-war shophouses, and mansions such as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. The Clan Jetties are a collection of water villages at Weld Quay. The Indian community built many elaborate temples such as the Mahamariamman temple, while Muslim influence can be seen at the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Acheh Mosque, and the Penang Islamic Museum. The P. Ramlee Museum is an excellent example of traditional Malay stilt houses. Siamese and Burmese architecture can be appreciated at the Sleeping Buddha and Dharmikarama temples. Modern structures and skyscrapers also abound in Penang, sometimes side by side with heritage buildings. Notable examples include the KOMTAR tower, the UMNO tower and the Mutiara Mesiniaga building.[134]

A colonial-era house (Anson House) with a Straits-Chinese art deco eclectic architecture


. Sun Yat-sen Museum and Batik Painting Museum, Camera Museum Penang also houses other museums such as the [129] has been restored and turned into a museum.P. Ramlee showcases a permanent collection of local artists as well as special exhibitions. The birthplace of Malaysia's legendary singer-actor Dewan Sri Pinang at Penang State Art Gallery The [128].Teluk Bahang Forest Park and there is a forestry museum within the Tanjung Bungah is located at Penang Toy Museum Also, [127] Museum and Gallery, located within the university campus contains an extensive exhibition relating to ethnographic and performing arts, and features various art works by Malaysian artists.Universiti Sains Malaysia, a former fortress constructed by the British in anticipation of an amphibious invasion by the Japanese that never materialised. The Penang War Museum is vividly depicted in the Second World War Mansion highlights the history of Islam in Penang from its beginnings until today. The tragedy of the Syed Alatas at the former Penang Islamic Museum The [126]


Employment by industry (%) in Penang, 2008–2009 (Q3)[103]
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


The Malaysian legal system had its roots in 19th-century Penang. 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.[102] Post-independence, the Malaysian judiciary has become largely centralised. The courts in Penang consist of the Magistrates, Sessions, and High Court. The Syariah court is a parallel court which hears matters concerning Islamic jurisprudence.


The Penang State Constitution embodies the state's highest laws which was codified since Independence. Amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds majority support from members of the 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.[100][101]

In the Malaysian Parliament, Penang is represented by 13 elected members of parliament in the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives), serving a five-year term, and has two senators in the Dewan Negara (Senate), both appointed by the state Legislative Assembly to serve a three-year term.

The unicameral state legislature, whose members are called state assemblymen, convenes at the neoclassical Penang State Assembly Building (Dewan Undangan Negeri) at Light Street. It has 40 seats, 30 held by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition (of which 19 are held by the Democratic Action Party, ten by Parti Keadilan Rakyat, one by PAS), and 10 by the state opposition Barisan Nasional since the 2013 general elections. This was a one-seat improvement from the 2008 General Elections for the incumbent Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition government and has thus cemented PR's grip on the state. As in the national Parliament, Penang practises the Westminster system whereby members of the executive are appointed from amongst the elected assemblymen.

The High Court building in George Town


The state is divided into five administrative regions, each headed by a district officer:

Though Penang in 1951 was the first state in the then Malaya to hold local elections, local councillors have been appointed by the state government ever since local elections were abolished in Malaysia in 1965 as a result of the Indonesian Confrontation.[98] There are two local authorities in Penang, the Municipal Council of Penang Island (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang) and the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai (Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai). Both municipal councils are made up of a president, a municipal secretary and 24 councillors. The president is appointed by the state government for a two-year term while the councillors are appointed for one-year terms of office.[99] 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.

A Committee of Assessors was formed in 1801 as the first town-planning agency.[93][94] The Enactment of Act XXVII "An Act For Appointing Municipal Commissioners And For Levying Rates And Taxes in the Several Stations of the Settlement of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore And Malacca" was considered to be the establishment of the first local government in Penang.[94][95] The first Municipal Council in Malaya, the "Municipal Council of George Town" was established in 1857,[96] later becoming the City Council of George Town in 1957. In 1974, the City Council of George Town and the Rural District Council of Penang Island were merged into one local council.[97]

The State Assembly Building
The City Hall housing the Municipal Council of Penang Island

Local authorities

The Chief Minister of Penang is Lim Guan Eng from the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Following the 12th general elections of 8 March 2008, the coalition of DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) formed the state government with the chief ministership going to the former for being the single largest party in the state legislature. Mr Lim Guan Eng is currently serving his second consecutive term as Chief Minister following his coalition's victory with two-thirds majority in the state legislature in the 2013 elections. Penang holds the distinction of being the sole state in Malaysia whose chief ministership has been continuously held by an ethnic Chinese since independence.

The head of the state executive is the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (Governor) appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia). The present Governor is Tun Dato' Seri Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Abbas. His consent is required to dissolve the Legislative Assembly. In practice the Governor is a figurehead whose functions are chiefly symbolic and ceremonial. Actual executive powers lie with the Chief Minister and the State Executive Council whose members he appoints from the Legislative Assembly. The Chief Minister is in theory appointed by the Governor from among the elected assemblymen whom in his opinion commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly, but in practice is invariably the leader of the party that wins the most seats in the state elections. The State Secretariat heads and coordinates the various departments and agencies of Penang's civil service.

Penang, being a former British settlement, is one of only four states in Malaysia not to have a hereditary Malay Ruler or Sultan. The other three are Malacca, also a British settlement whose sultanate was ended by the Portuguese conquest in 1511, and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.


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

The Dewan Sri Pinang, the assembly house of Penang

Governance and law

This reflects Penang's diverse ethnic and socio-cultural amalgamation. There was also a tiny and little-known community of Jews in Penang, mainly along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Jalan Yahudi or Jewish Street).[90] The last known native Jew died in 2011, rendering the centuries-old Jewish community in Penang effectively extinct.[91][92]

As of 2010 the population of Penang is

Religion in Penang – 2010 Census[87]
religion percent
Chinese Ethnic Religion
No religion


Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Penang, is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia
Kong Hock Keong Temple, also known as the Goddess of Mercy temple, a major Taoist temple in Penang

English, a colonial legacy, is a working language widely used in commerce, education, and the arts. English used in an official or formal context is predominantly British English with American influences. Spoken English, as in the rest of Malaysia, is often in the form of Manglish (Malaysian colloquial English).

Malay, the language of the indigenous population, the official language of the state, as well as the medium of instruction of national schools, is spoken in the northern accent, with characteristic words such as "hang", "depa", and "kupang". Syllables ending with "a" are typically stressed.

Penang Hokkien is a variant of Minnan and is widely spoken by a substantial proportion of the Penang populace who are descendants of Chinese settlers. Many police officers also take a course in Hokkien.[85] It bears strong resemblance to the language spoken by Chinese living in the Indonesian city of Medan and is based on the Minnan dialect of Zhangzhou, Fujian. It incorporates a large number of loanwords from Malay and English. Most Penang Hokkien speakers are not literate in Hokkien but instead read and write in standard (Mandarin) Chinese, English and/or Malay.[86] Other Chinese dialects, including Hakka spoken in state and mostly Balik Pulau, Cantonese are also spoken in the state. Teochew is heard more in Seberang Perai than on Penang island.

The common languages of Penang, depending on social classes, social circles, and ethnic backgrounds are Malay, Mandarin, English, Penang Hokkien and Tamil. Mandarin, which is taught in Chinese-medium schools in the state, is increasingly spoken.[84]


The Peranakan, also known as the Straits Chinese or Baba-Nyonya, are the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to Penang, Malacca and Singapore.[78] 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" which means Mister, referring to a man as "Baba"). The Peranakan community possesses a distinct identity in terms of food, dress, rites, crafts and culture. Most of the Peranakan Chinese are not Muslims but practise an eclectic form of ancestor worship and Chinese religion, while some were Christians.[79] They prided themselves as being Anglophone and distinguished themselves from the newly arrived Chinamen or sinkheh. The Peranakan as a living culture, however, are almost extinct today due to their re-absorption into the mainstream Chinese community, otherwise being Westernised. Still, their legacy lives on in their distinctive architecture (exemplified by the Pinang Peranakan Mansion[80] and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion[81]), cuisine, elaborate nyonya kebaya costume and exquisite handicrafts.[82][83]

A restaurant serving Baba-Nyonya cuisine.


In retrospect, colonial Penang was truly a cosmopolitan place. Apart from the Europeans and the already multiracial citizenry, there were communities of Siamese, Burmese, Filipino, Ceylonese, Eurasian, Japanese, Sumatran, Arab, Armenian, and Parsee people.[71][72][73] A small but commercially significant community of German merchants also existed in Penang.[74] Even though most of these communities are no longer extant, they lent their legacy to street and place names such as the Burmese Buddhist Temple, Crag Hotel, Siam Rd, Armenian St, Acheen St, and Gottlieb Rd. There was a Jewish enclave in Penang before World War II, but few Jews if any remain today.[75][76] Penang currently has a sizeable expatriate population especially from Japan, various Asian countries and Britain, many of whom settle in Penang after their retirement as part of the Malaysia My Second Home programme.[77]

Jewish Cemetery in George Town

Penang hosts an estimated 70 000 to 80 000 of migrant workers, especially from Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Asian nations who are mostly involved in domestic help, services, manufacturing, construction, plantations, and agriculture.[70]

The ethnic composition in 2010[69] was:

  • Penang Island has a population of 704,376 in 2010 and a density of 2,372 people per square kilometre. Penang Island is the most populated island in Malaysia, and also an island which has the highest density in the country.
  • Seberang Perai is the hinterland portion of Penang State populated by 815,767 people in the 2010 Census, and has a density of 1,086 people per square kilometre.
Historical Population of Penang
1786[61] less than 100
1812[62] 26,107 26107
1820[62] 35,035 35035
1842[62] 40,499 40499
1860[62] 124,772 124772
1871[62] 133,230 133230
1881[62] 188,245 188245
1891[62] 232,003 232003
1901[63] 248,207 248207
1911[64] 278,000 278000
1921[65] 292,484 292484
1931[66] 340,259 340259
1941[67] 419,047 419047
1947[67] 446,321 446321
1957[66] 572,100 572100
1970[68] 776,124 776124
1980[68] 900,772 900772
1991[68] 1,064,166 1064166
2000[68] 1,313,449 1313449
2010[68] 1,520,143 1520143

The state has the highest population density in Malaysia with 1,450.5 people per square kilometre[2] which would make it the 5th most densely populated in the country if Penang were a district. The population of Penang is 1,520,143 as of 2010.[3]


George Town has been ranked as the most liveable city in Malaysia, eighth most liveable in Asia and the 62nd in the world in 2010 by ECA International, an improvement in ranking from recent years.[60]

This urban area is coterminous with the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER), one of three development regions identified in Peninsular Malaysia, under a repackaging of the Ninth Malaysian Plan (a five-year national development plan). NCER encompasses Penang (Penang Island and Seberang Prai), Kedah (Alor Star, Sungai Petani and Kulim), Perlis (Kangar) and Northern Perak.[58] However the Barisan Nasional-controlled federal government decided to defer the Penang Outer Ring Road and Penang Monorail projects following the change of state government in 2008, attributing the decision to economic considerations.[59]

The National Physical Plan of Malaysia envisages a Sungai Petani, Kulim and the surrounding areas. With a population of approximately two million, it is the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia after the Conurbation of Kuala Lumpur (Klang Valley).[57]

Greater Penang (conurbation of George Town)

There are a number of small islets off the coast of Penang, the biggest of which, Pulau Jerejak, is located in the narrow channel between Penang Island and the mainland. Starting as a leper asylum in 1868 and later a maximum-security penal colony (till 1993), Jerejak is now a tourist attraction offering jungle trails and a spa resort.[56] Other islands include Pulau Aman, Pulau Betong, Pulau Gedung, Pulau Kendi (Coral Island) and Pulau Rimau.

Outlying islets

Pulau Jerejak, off the southeast coast of Penang, is the largest among the outlying islets. It is accessible by a boat service.
Aerial view of George Town on the northeastern part of Penang island.

AlmaBagan AjamBagan LuarBatu KawanBukit MertajamBukit MinyakBukit TambunButterworthCeruk Tok KunJawiJuruKepala BatasMak MandinNibong TebalPermatang PauhPeraiSeberang JayaSimpang AmpatSungai BakapBukit TambunPenagaPermatang Tinggi

Seberang Perai

Gertak Sanggul – Green LaneGurney DriveTanjung TokongJelutongMount ErskinePantai AcehPaya TerubongPulau TikusPulau BetongRelauSungai AraSungai DuaSungai NibongSungai PinangTanjung BungahTanjung TokongTeluk BahangTeluk Kumbar

Penang Island

Towns and neighbourhoods

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
Rainfall mm (inches) 68.7
Avg. rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5 6 9 14 14 11 12 14 18 19 15 9 146
Mean monthly sunshine hours 248.0 234.5 235.6 225.0 204.6 201.0 204.6 189.1 162.0 170.5 183.0 207.7 2,465.6
Source #1: National Environment Agency
Source #2: Hong Kong Observatory[55]

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

The Bayan Lepas Regional Meteorological Office is the primary weather forecast facility for northern Peninsular Malaysia.[54]

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.[53]

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


The major rivers in Penang include the Pinang River, Air Itam River, Gelugor River, Dondang River, Teluk Bahang River, Tukun River, Betung River, and Prai River. The Muda River separates Penang from Kedah in the north, while the Kerian River forms the boundary between Penang, Kedah, and Perak. The latter is known for its firefly colonies.[52]

Drainage system

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[50] 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.[51]


Due to the lack of land for development in Penang, a few land reclamation projects had been undertaken to provide suitable low-lying land in high-demand areas such as Tanjung Tokong, Jelutong (construction of Jelutong Expressway) and Queensbay. These projects had been implicated in the change of tidal flow along coastal areas of Penang Island and were postulated to have caused the silting of Gurney Drive after the Tanjung Tokong reclamation.[49]

Seberang Perai is subdivided into three districts:

The island of Penang is composed of two districts:

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.[48] It has a long coastline, the majority of which is lined with mangrove. Butterworth, the main town in Seberang Perai, lies along the Perai River estuary and faces George Town at a distance of 3 km (1.9 mi) across the channel to the east.

  • The northeastern plains form a triangular promontory where the state capital is situated. This densely populated inner 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.
  • The northwest consists of a coastal fringe of sandy beaches lined with resort hotels and 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.[47]

The body of water between Penang Island and Seberang Perai consists of the to the north of South Channel to the south of it. 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 northeast. In general, the island can be distinguished into five areas:

  • Penang Island (Pulau Pinang in Malay): an island of 293 km2 (113 sq mi) located in the Straits of Malacca; and
  • Seberang Perai: a narrow hinterland of 753 km2 (291 sq mi) on the peninsula across a narrow channel whose smallest width is 4 km (2.5 mi). It is bordered by Kedah in the east and north (demarcated by the Muda River), and by Perak in the south.

Penang is a geographically divided into two sections:


The five districts that make up the state of Penang.
State of Penang map with the George Town capital labelled


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).[46]

The pre-War houses in the historic centre of George Town was for half a century until January 2001 protected from urban development due to the Rent Control Act which prohibited landlords from arbitrarily raising rentals as a measure to provide affordable housing to the low-income population.[44] Its eventual repeal visibly changed the landscape of Penang's demographic pattern and economic activity: it led to overnight appreciation of house and real estate prices, forcing out tenants of multiple generations out of their homes to the city outskirts and the development of new townships and hitherto sparsely populated areas of Penang; the demolition of many pre-War houses and the mushrooming of high-rise residences and office buildings; and the emptying out and dilapidation of many areas in the city centre. Unperturbed development sparked concerns of the continued existence of heritage buildings and Penang's collection of pre-War houses (southeast Asia's largest), leading to more vigorous conservation efforts. This was paid handsomely when on 7 July 2008, World Heritage Site, alongside Malacca. It is officially recognised as having "a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[45]

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

The island was, since colonial times, a free port until its sudden revocation by the federal government in 1969.[42] Despite this abrupt setback, from the 1970s to the late 1990s the state under the administration of Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu built up one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, the Free Trade Zone in Bayan Lepas located at the southeastern part of the island.[43]

Penang, with the rest of Malaya gained independence in 1957, and subsequently became a member state of Malaysia in 1963.[19] Wong Pow Nee of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party was Penang's first Chief Minister.[40] He presided during the period of the Communist insurgency and the formation of Malaysia.[41]

The British returned at the end of the war and was intent to consolidate its rule over its possessions in British Malaya into a single administrative entity called the Malayan Union, but by then British prestige and image of invincibility were already severely dented. The Malayan Union was vehemently rejected by the people, and the Federation of Malaya was formed in its place in 1948, uniting the then Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States, and the Straits Settlements of which Penang was a part. Independence seemed an inevitable conclusion. Nonetheless, the idea of the absorption of the British colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland alarmed some quarters of the population. The Penang Secessionist Movement (active from 1948 to 1951) was formed to preclude Penang's merger with Malaya, but was ultimately unsuccessful due to British disapproval. Another attempt by the secessionists to join Singapore as a Crown Colony was also unfruitful.[38] The movement was spearheaded by, among others, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Penang Clerical and Administrative Staff Union.[39]

Independence and after

[37] landed and occupied the island on 3 September. A formal ceremony to signify British repossession of Penang took place on Swettenham Pier on 5 September 1945.Royal Marines and Rear-Admiral Uzumi on 2 September, a detachment of the East Indies Fleet. The official British party reached Penang on 1 September, and after a meeting between the Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor published the statement of capitulation issued by the Penang Shimbun Following Japanese surrender in the War, on 21 August 1945 the [37] 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.Allied The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by [36] in the Indian Ocean for Japan's ally, Germany during the War.Monsun boats Penang also served as a U-boat base for the [35] and its network of informants. Penang was administered by four successive Japanese governors, beginning with Lt-Gen Shotaro Katayama.Kempeitai Especially feared was the Japanese military police [34][33] Penang under Japanese occupation was marked by widespread fear, hunger, and massacres which targeted the local Chinese populace.[33]

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