Penang (Malay: Pulau Pinang, [pi.naŋ]) 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 on the Malay Peninsula. These two halves are physically connected by the Penang Bridge and the Second Penang Bridge. The state shares borders with Kedah to the north and east, and Perak to the south.

Pulau Pinang
Other transcription(s)
 • Mandarin槟城 (Simplified)
檳城 (Traditional)
Bīn chéng (Pinyin)
 • Hokkien庇能
Pī-néeng (Tâi-lô)
Pī-né͘ng (Pe̍͘h-ōa-jī)
 • Tamilபினாங்கு
Piṉāṅku (Transliteration)
 • Thaiปีนัง
Pinang (RTGS)
Etymology: Island of areca nut
Pulau Mutiara
Pearl of the Orient
Bersatu dan Setia
United and Loyal
Anthem: Untuk Negeri Kita
For Our State
   Penang in    Malaysia
Sovereign stateMalaysia
Founded by the British East India Company11 August 1786
Straits Settlements1 April 1867 – 1 April 1946
Japanese occupation19 December 1941 – 3 September 1945
Malayan Union1 April 1946
Federation of Malaya31 August 1957
Proclamation of Malaysia16 September 1963
CapitalGeorge Town
Largest citySeberang Perai
Ethnic groups
Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak
Chow Kon Yeow (PH-DAP)
Law Choo Kiang (PH-PKR)
LegislatureLegislative Assembly
• Total
1,049 km2 (405 sq mi) (12th)
24 m (79 ft)
Highest elevation833 m (2,733 ft)
• 2020 census
• Density
1,659.11/km2 (4,297.1/sq mi) (3rd)
GDP (PPP)2022 estimate
• Total
$70.966 billion (5th)
• Per capita
$44,104 (4th)
GDP (nominal)2022 estimate
• Total
$27.535 billion (6th)
• Per capita
$15,837 (4th)
Gini (2022)Negative increase 0.371[3]
HDI (2021)Decrease 0.836
very high · 3rd
CurrencyMalaysian ringgit (RM/MYR)
Time zoneUTC+8 (Malaysian Time)
Date formatdd-mm-yyyy
Driving sideleft
Calling code+604-2, +604-6, +604-8 (George Town)
+604-3, +604-5 (Seberang Perai)
Postal code
10xxx–11xxx (George Town)
12xxx-14xxx (Seberang Perai)
ISO 3166 codeMY-07

With 1.74 million residents and a population density of 1,659/km2 (4,300/sq mi) as of 2020, Penang is one of Malaysia's most densely populated and urbanised states.[5] Seberang Perai is Malaysia's third largest city by population. Penang is culturally diverse with a population that includes Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, Siamese and expatriates.[6]

Established by Francis Light in 1786, Penang became part of the Straits Settlements, a British crown colony also comprising Malacca and Singapore. During World War II, Japan occupied Penang, but the British regained control in 1945. Penang was later merged with the Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia), which gained independence in 1957.

Penang's economy shifted from entrepôt trade to electronics manufacturing and the tertiary sector in the late 20th century.[7] Today, it is one of the country's most developed economic powerhouses, with the second highest GDP per capita among Malaysian states, and the third highest Human Development Index after Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.[8] Penang is also Malaysia's leading exporter with nearly RM451 billion in exports in 2022, primarily through the Penang International Airport, the nation's third busiest.

Etymology edit

The name Penang comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang which means 'areca nut island'.[9] The State of Penang is also colloquially referred to as the 'Pearl of the Orient' and 'The Island of Pearls' (Malay: Pulau Mutiara).[10][11]

Over the course of history, Penang Island had been known by different names by seafarers from various regions. The locals named it Pulo Ka Satu, meaning The First Island, as it was the largest island on the maritime route between Lingga and Kedah.[12] The Siamese, who were the overlords of Kedah, called it Ko Mak (Thai: เกาะหมาก).[13]

Maritime explorers also took note of the island's abundance of areca nut. During the 15th century, Admiral Zheng He of Ming China referred to the island as Bīngláng Yǔ (traditional Chinese: 檳榔嶼; simplified Chinese: 槟榔屿; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Pin-nn̂g-sū; lit. 'areca nut island') in his navigational charts.[14] In the Description of Malacca, Portuguese cartographer Manuel Godinho de Erédia named it Pulo Pinaom.[15]

History edit

Historical affiliations

  British East India Company 1786–1858
  British Raj 1858–1867
  Straits Settlements 1826–1941; 1945–1946
  Empire of Japan 1941–1945
  Malayan Union 1946–1948
  Federation of Malaya 1948–1963
  Malaysia 1963–present

Prehistory edit

Archaeologists have discovered human remains, along with seashells, pottery and hunting tools, in Seberang Perai. The artifacts indicate that around 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, Penang was inhabited by nomadic Melanesians during the Neolithic era.[16][17][18]

Early history edit

The Cherok Tok Kun megalith, uncovered at Bukit Mertajam in 1845, features Pali inscriptions that suggest the Hindu-Buddhist Bujang Valley civilisation, which was based in present-day Kedah, had established its authority over certain parts of Seberang Perai by the 6th century.[19] The entirety of Penang later formed part of Kedah, which came under Siamese suzerainty by the late 18th century.[20]

Establishment and British colonisation edit

Fort Cornwallis marks the spot where Francis Light first set foot in George Town in 1786.
British acquisition and expansion of Penang (in yellow) occurred between 1786 and 1874, when the final alterations to Penang's boundaries were enacted.[21][22][23][24]
A 1799 map of George Town
The Port of Penang in George Town c. 1910. Port functions were eventually relocated to Seberang Perai in 1974.[25]

Penang's modern history began in 1786 when Francis Light, a representative of the British East India Company (EIC), obtained Penang Island from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah of Kedah in exchange for military aid. Light had been sent to the Malay Peninsula by the EIC to build trade relations in the region, where he saw the strategic potential of Penang Island as a "convenient magazine for trade" that could enable the British to check Dutch and French territorial ambitions in Southeast Asia.[26]

After negotiating an agreement with the Sultan, Light and his entourage landed on Penang Island on 17 July that year and took formal possession of the island "in the name of King George III of England" on 11 August.[27][28][29] The island was renamed Prince of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne and the new settlement of George Town was established in honour of King George III.[30][31]

Unbeknownst to Sultan Abdullah, Light had acted without the authority or the consent of his superiors in India.[32] When Light reneged on his promise of military protection, the Sultan launched an attempt to recapture the Prince of Wales Island in 1791. However, the attempt was defeated by EIC forces and the Sultan sued for peace.[6] An annual payment of 6000 Spanish dollars was agreed in exchange for British sovereignty over the island.[33]

In 1800, Lieutenant-Governor George Leith secured a strip of hinterland across the Penang Strait, which was subsequently named Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai).[34][35] The new treaty for the acquisition of Province Wellesley superseded Light's earlier agreement, and gave the British permanent sovereignty over both Prince of Wales Island and the newly ceded mainland territory.[36][37][38] The annual payment to the Sultan of Kedah was increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars. The British authorities and its successor, the Malaysian federal government, maintained the sum of annual payments to Kedah until 2018, when the federal government increased the amount by RM10 million yearly.[39][40]

George Town grew rapidly as a free port and a centre of spice production, taking maritime trade from Dutch posts in the region.[41][42][43] In 1805, Penang became a separate presidency of British India, sharing similar status with Bombay and Madras.[44] By 1808, a local government for George Town was in place, whilst the establishment of the Supreme Court of Penang marked the birth of Malaysia's modern judiciary.[45]

In 1826, Penang, Singapore and Malacca were incorporated into the Straits Settlements, with George Town as the capital. However, Singapore soon supplanted George Town as Southeast Asia's premier entrepôt. In 1832, Singapore replaced George Town as the capital of the Straits Settlements.[46]

Even so, the Port of Penang retained its importance as a vital British entrepôt.[47][48] Towards the end of the 19th century, George Town became a major tin exporter and Malaya's primary financial centre.[29][49][50] Penang's prosperity attracted a cosmopolitan population comprising Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, Eurasian, Siamese and other ethnicities, and led to the development of hitherto rural areas such as Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam.[51][52] The population growth also created social problems, such as inadequate sanitation and health facilities, as well as rampant crime, with the latter culminating in the Penang Riots of 1867.[53][54]

However, in the same year, the Straits Settlements became a British crown colony,[55][56] leading to improved law enforcement, and investments in health care and public transportation in Penang under direct British rule.[44][47][54] Owing to enhanced access to education, active participation of Asian residents in municipal affairs and substantial press freedom, George Town was perceived as being more intellectually receptive than Singapore.[44][47][57] The settlement became a magnet for intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Sun Yat-sen.[58][59][60] Sun, in particular, chose George Town as the headquarters for the Tongmenghui in Southeast Asia that eventually sparked the Wuchang Uprising, a precursor towards the Xinhai Revolution which led to the beginning of Republican China.[61][62]

Penang emerged from World War I relatively unscathed, apart from the Battle of Penang that saw the Imperial German Navy cruiser SMS Emden sinking two Allied warships off George Town.[63]

British Royal Marines liberating George Town on 3 September 1945.

Japanese occupation edit

World War II, on the other hand, led to unparallelled social and political upheaval. Although Penang Island had been designated as a fortress, Penang fell without struggle to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941, after suffering devastating aerial attacks.[64] The British covertly evacuated Penang's European populace; historians have since contended that "the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang".[65][66]

Penang Island was subsequently renamed Tojo-to after Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.[66] The Japanese occupiers notoriously massacred Chinese residents under the Sook Ching policy and forced women into sexual slavery.[67][68] The Port of Penang was put to use as a major submarine base by the Axis Powers.[69][70][71]

Between 1944 and 1945, Allied bombers from India targeted naval and administrative buildings in George Town, damaging and destroying several colonial buildings in the process.[50][64] The Penang Strait was mined to restrict Japanese shipping.[72] After Japan's surrender, the British marines launched Operation Jurist on 3 September 1945 to retake Penang Island, making George Town the first settlement in Malaya to be liberated from the Japanese.[64]

Post-war years edit

Penang was placed under British military administration until 1946, after which the Straits Settlements was abolished. The British sought to consolidate the various political entities in British Malaya under a single polity known as the Malayan Union. Consequently, the Crown Colony of Penang was merged into the Malayan Union and its successor, the Federation of Malaya.

Initially, the impending annexation of Penang into the vast Malay heartland proved unpopular among Penangites.[73] The Penang Secessionist Committee was formed in 1948 due to economic and ethnic concerns, but their attempt to avert Penang's merger with Malaya was unsuccessful due to British disapproval.[7][74][75]

To allay the concerns raised by the secessionists, the British government guaranteed George Town's free port status and reintroduced municipal elections in 1951.[74] George Town became the first fully-elected municipality in Malaya by 1956 and was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II in the following year.[76] This made George Town the first city within the Federation of Malaya, and by extension, Malaysia.

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

Post-independence era edit

George Town was a free port since colonial times, but its status was rescinded by the Malaysian federal government in 1969.[7][57][77] This led to a loss of maritime trade, causing massive unemployment and brain drain.[57][78][79]

To revive the economy, the then Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu masterminded the creation of the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone. Regarded by many as the Silicon Valley of the East, the zone proved instrumental in reversing Penang's economic slump and led to the state's rapid economic growth until the late 1990s.[78][80] During Lim's tenure, the Penang Bridge, the first road link between Penang Island and the Malay Peninsula, was also built.

However, the persistent brain drain, exacerbated by federal policies that favoured the development of Kuala Lumpur, meant that Penang was no longer at the forefront of the country's economy by the 2000s.[57][80] This, coupled with the deteriorating state of affairs in general, such as incoherent urban planning, poor traffic management and the dilapidation of George Town's heritage buildings due to the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 2001, led to simmering discontent within Penang's society.[81][80][25]

In response, George Town's non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the national press galvanised public support and formed partnerships to restore the city to its former glory.[57][82][83] The widespread resentment also resulted in the then opposition Pakatan Rakyat bloc (now Pakatan Harapan) wresting power from the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) administration in the 2008 state election.[80][81][84] Meanwhile, efforts to conserve George Town's heritage architecture paid off when in 2008, the city's historical core was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[85]

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit the western and northern coasts of Penang Island, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).[86]

Skyline of George Town, as seen from the Penang Strait

Geography edit

Aerial view of George Town. The city is physically separated from Butterworth (bottom) by the Penang Strait.
View of George Town as seen from Seberang Perai, with Penang Hill in the background

Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia by size after Perlis, with a total land area of just 1,049 km2 (405 sq mi). It is located on the northwestern coastline of Peninsular Malaysia, lying between latitudes 5.59° and 5.12°N, and longitudes 100.17° and 100.56°E. The state is roughly divided into two major halves by the Penang Strait, which measures a mere 3 km (1.9 mi) wide at the narrowest point.[87]

The capital city of George Town encompasses the entirety of Penang Island and a few surrounding islets, including Jerejak, Betong, Kendi, Rimau and Andaman islands.[88] On the other hand, the city of Seberang Perai covers the whole mainland half of Penang.[89]

Topography edit

The ongoing Silicon Island reclamation project off George Town's southern coast as of December 2023. Reclamation allows the creation of valuable land for urban development, particularly in land-scarce Penang.[90]

Penang Island is irregularly shaped, with a hilly and mostly forested interior.The island's coastal plains are narrow, with the most extensive plain located at the northeastern cape.[91] George Town, which started off as a small settlement at the northeastern tip of the island, has expanded over the centuries to encompass the entire island, although the marshy western coast remains relatively underdeveloped.[92] The highest point within Penang is Penang Hill, which stands at a height of 833 m (2,733 ft) at the centre of the island. Seberang Perai, on the other hand, has a mostly flat topography, save for a few hills such as at Bukit Mertajam.[93]

The major rivers within Penang include the Pinang, Perai, Muda and Kerian rivers. The Muda River serves as the northern border between Seberang Perai and Kedah, while the Kerian River forms part of the southern boundary between Seberang Perai, Kedah and Perak.

Due to land scarcity, land reclamation projects have been undertaken at high-demand areas.[90][94][95] In 2023, a massive reclamation project commenced off George Town's southern coast to build the 920 ha (2,300-acre) Silicon Island, envisioned as a new hub for high tech manufacturing and commerce.[96] Following years of reclamation works, the shoreline off Gurney Drive is also being transformed into Gurney Bay, intended as "a new iconic waterfront destination for Penang".[97]

Climate edit

Climate data for Penang
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 31.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.9
Mean daily minimum °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[98]
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: Bayan Lepas Regional Meteorological Office
Imperial conversion
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches

As in the rest of Malaysia, Penang has a tropical rainforest climate bordering on a tropical monsoon climate, although the state 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 prevailing wind system.

Penang's proximity to Sumatra makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from transient forest fires that create the perennial Southeast Asian haze.[99]

The Penang Meteorological Office at Bayan Lepas is the primary weather forecast facility for northwestern Malaysia.[100]

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

Nature and parks edit

The Penang Botanic Gardens was established in 1884.[101]

In spite of rapid urbanisation, Penang has still managed to preserve a significant portion of its natural environment. Within the state, 7,761 ha (77.61 km2) have been designated as protected forest reserves.[102] The central hills of Penang Island, including Penang Hill, are a vital green lung for George Town.[103] In 2021, the 12,481 ha (124.81 km2) Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as a recognition of the area's biodiversity.[104]

George Town is home to a handful of other protected environments that show considerable potential for ecotourism. The smallest national park in the world, Penang National Park, covers 2,562 ha (25.62 km2) of the northwestern tip of Penang Island, and is home to mangrove swamps, hiking trails and tranquil beaches.[105] This forest reserve has been identified as one of the city's key ecotourism destinations, alongside the Penang Botanic Gardens and Tropical Spice Garden.[106] Seberang Perai is also home to the Penang Bird Park, which was established in 1988 and is the first aviary in Malaysia.[107]

Cities and suburbs edit

Governance and politics edit

Seri Mutiara, the official residence of the Governor of Penang.

Penang, a former British crown colony, is one of the four Malaysian states without hereditary monarchies. The head of state is the Governor (Malay: Yang di-Pertua Negeri), who is appointed by the King of Malaysia (Malay: Yang di-Pertuan Agong). Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak is the current Governor of Penang, having assumed office in 2021. In practice, the Governor's role is largely symbolic and ceremonial. This includes the authority to appoint the head of government and approve legislation that has been passed by the state's legislature.[108]

The Penang state government has its own executive body and legislature, but their powers are limited compared to the Malaysian federal government. According to the Federal Constitution, the state can legislate on matters pertaining to Malay customs, land, agriculture and forestry, local government, civil and water works, and state administration. Matters falling under the joint purview of state and federal authorities include social welfare, wildlife protection and national parks, scholarships, husbandry, town planning, drainage and irrigation, and public health regulations.[109]

The Constitution of Penang, codified in 1957, is the state's highest law, consisting of 42 articles that govern the proceedings and powers of the state government.[2]

The 40-member Penang State Legislative Assembly forms the state's legislature and is elected for a maximum term of five years from single-member constituencies through state elections. Compared to the rest of Peninsular Malaysia, Penang's electoral landscape is often viewed as being more liberal and unique due to the state's ethnic diversity and socio-economic development.[110][111] Unlike other Peninsular states, ethnic Chinese have formed the plurality in Penang for decades, and the state's economic infrastructure is based primarily on commerce and trade, rather than agriculture.[111] As of 2023, non-Malays formed the majority in 25 of the 40 state constituencies.[112] Thus, non-Malay electoral support is crucial to any political coalition aiming for power in Penang.[111][112]

Executive edit

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

The Penang State Executive Council is the executive authority of the Penang state government, similar in function to the federal Cabinet. It is led by the Chief Minister, who serves as the head of government in Penang. To this day, Penang remains the only Malaysian state where the position of the head of government has been continuously held by an ethnic Chinese since the nation's independence in 1957.[77] Additionally, Penang was the first state to impose a two-term limit for the head of government's tenure.[113]

The current Chief Minister of Penang is Chow Kon Yeow of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), having assumed office after the 2018 state election.[114] Since the 2008 state election, the DAP, part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, has been the single largest party in the state's legislature, thereby holding the position of the head of government.

The State Assembly Building in George Town, where the Penang State Legislative Assembly convenes.

Legislature edit

Political Party/
Penang State
Legislative Assembly
Pakatan Harapan 27 (67.5%) 10 (76.92%)
Barisan Nasional 2 (5.0%) 0
Perikatan Nasional 11 (27.5%) 3 (23.08%)

The unicameral 40-seat Penang State Legislative Assembly, whose members are called State Assemblymen, convenes at the neoclassical State Assembly Building in George Town. Penang practises the Westminster system whereby the State Executive Council members are appointed from the elected State Assemblymen. Any amendment to Penang's Constitution requires the support of at least two-thirds of the State Legislative Assembly.[2] Prior to a state election, it is customary to dissolve the legislature, which necessitates the consent of the Governor.[108]

The 2023 state election witnessed an unprecedented alliance between Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its erstwhile adversaries Barisan Nasional (BN).[115] The PH-BN alliance currently commands a supermajority in the State Legislative Assembly, controlling 29 out of the 40 seats. However, the election also saw the far-right Perikatan Nasional (PN) opposition bloc gaining ground in the rural Malay-majority constituencies, occupying the remaining 11 seats in the legislature.[112]

Affiliation Coalition/Party Leader Status Seats
2023 election Current
Pakatan Harapan
Barisan Nasional
Chow Kon Yeow Government 29 29
  Perikatan Nasional Muhammad Fauzi Yusoff[116] Opposition 11 11
Total 40 40
Government majority 18 18

Local governments edit

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

Penang is further divided into two city-level municipalities, each administered by a local government. The local governments exercise power in areas such as planning and development control, public housing, public spaces, waste disposal, business licensing, markets, local transport, and municipal roads.[117]

The Penang state government appoints both mayors of Penang Island and Seberang Perai for two-year terms, while the councillors are appointed for one-year terms of office.[118]

Penang is also divided into five administrative districts - two in George Town and three in Seberang Perai. Each district is 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 that oversee the provision and maintenance of urban infrastructure.[119]

After Pakatan Rakyat (predecessor to the present-day Pakatan Harapan) was voted into power in 2008, the newly-elected state government attempted to reinstate local government elections within Penang, which have been suspended since the 1960s.[120][121] At the time, the Barisan Nasional-controlled federal government objected to the move, which eventually led to the Federal Court's decision that local government elections do not fall under the jurisdiction of state governments.[120][122]

Judiciary edit

The Penang High Court building in George Town was built in 1903.[123]

The present-day Malaysian judicial system traces its roots to 19th-century George Town. In 1807, Penang was granted a Royal Charter which paved the way for the establishment of a Supreme Court.[6] In the following year, the Supreme Court of Penang was inaugurated at Fort Cornwallis with the appointment of Edmond Stanley as the first Recorder; he thus became Malaysia's first de facto Supreme Court judge.[6][123] Penang's legal system was progressively extended to the whole of Malaya by 1951.[124]

Today, the Penang High Court in George Town serves as the highest court within the state. Notable lawyers who served the Penang High Court include Tunku Abdul Rahman, Cecil Rajendra and Karpal Singh.[29] There are also four Magistrates Courts and two Sessions Courts throughout Penang.[125]

Foreign relations edit

Penang is home to the largest contingent of foreign diplomatic missions among Malaysian states. As of 2023, a total of 27 countries have either established consulates or appointed honorary consuls within Penang.[126] The Penang state government has also inked a sister state agreement with Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture and a friendship state partnership with China's Hainan Province.[127][128] Moreover, George Town is twinned with five sister cities and six friendship cities, while Seberang Perai has formed partnerships with one sister city and one friendship city.[129][130]

Consulates edit

This list is based on information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, unless otherwise cited.[126]

Demographics edit

Historical population
1881 190,597—    
1891 231,224+21.3%
1901 247,808+7.2%
1911 270,537+9.2%
1921 292,485+8.1%
1931 340,259+16.3%
1947 446,321+31.2%
1957 572,100+28.2%
1970 776,124+35.7%
1980 954,638+23.0%
1991 1,116,801+17.0%
2000 1,313,449+17.6%
2010 1,526,324+16.2%
2020 1,740,405+14.0%
Source: [1][133][134][135]

Source of interstate immigrants to Penang in 2016[136]

    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%)
Map of the George Town Conurbation, which includes Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak.

Penang, with a population of 1,740,405 as of 2020, has the highest population density of all Malaysian states (excluding the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya), at 1,659/km2 (4,300/sq mi).[1] In addition, Penang is the country's second most urbanised state after Selangor, with an urbanisation level of 92.5% in the same year.[5] Residents of the state are colloquially known as Penangites or "Penang-lang".[137]

The state's diversified economy has made it one of the major recipients of interstate migrants within Malaysia.[138] Between 2015 and 2016, Penang 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.[139][136] The bulk of the interstate immigrants came from Perak, Selangor, Kedah, Johor and Kuala Lumpur.[136]

Seberang Perai, Malaysia's third largest city, was home to a population of 946,092 as of 2020, or over 54% of Penang's population.[140] The city had a population density of 1,264.8/km2 (3,276/sq mi).

Meanwhile, George Town had a population of 794,313, which accounted for nearly 46% of the state's popution.[140] Due to its more compact land area, the city's population density of 2,595.8/km2 (6,723/sq mi) was double that of Seberang Perai.

George Town serves as the core city of the George Town Conurbation, Malaysia's second largest metropolitan area after the Klang Valley.[141] As of 2020, the conurbation, which encompasses the whole of Penang, southern Kedah and northern Perak, was home to over 2.84 million residents.[1]

Ethnicities edit

Ethnic composition of Penang (2020)[140]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town features distinct Peranakan-style architecture and interior design.

Penang has undergone a demographic shift in the decades since independence, with the proportion of Bumiputeras (consisting of ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous races) reaching parity with that of the Chinese, traditionally regarded as the state's majority ethnicity.[142] According to Malaysia's 2020 census, the Chinese and the Bumiputeras each constituted about 41% of Penang's population, while ethnic Indians made up nearly 9% of the state's populace.[1]

In particular, George Town remains a Chinese-majority city with over half of its population being Chinese as of 2020.[140] This includes the Peranakan Chinese, a hybrid ethnicity known for their distinctive architecture, costumes and cuisine. The city is also home to a cosmopolitan mix of indigenous East Malaysians, ethnic Eurasians and Siamese.[142][143][144] On the other hand, Seberang Perai has a Malay plurality, making up almost half of the city's population.[140]

Penang is also home to a significant expatriate community, primarily from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries, as well as other Commonwealth nations. George Town's northern suburbs, such as Tanjong Tokong, Tanjong Bungah and Batu Ferringhi, are particularly popular amongst expatriates.[145][146] As of 2020, foreigners comprised 8% of Penang's population.[140]

There was once a tiny community of Jews in George Town, who mainly resided along Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Yahudi Road).[43] The last known native Jew died in 2011, rendering the centuries-old Jewish community in Penang effectively extinct.[147]

Languages edit

A bilingual street sign at Victoria Street in George Town. Bilingual street signs that display either English, Chinese, Tamil or Arabic names have been installed throughout the city since 2008.[148]

Penang is an urban multilingual society, where the major languages commonly in use are Malay, English, Hokkien, Mandarin and Tamil.[149] In particular, Penang is well known for its distinctive Hokkien dialect known as Penang Hokkien.[150]

During British rule, English was the official language in Penang. The growth of English and mission schools throughout George Town contributed significantly to the widespread use of the language in the state.[6] The importance of English for global trade has also encouraged its use among some within the Chinese and Indian communities.[149] In recent years, there have been calls to reinstate English as one of Penang's official languages.[151][152]

Like the rest of Malaysia, Malay is currently the official language in Penang. The Jawi Peranakans in the state also use a variant of the Kedah Malay dialect, slightly modified to suit the conditions of a cosmopolitan society.[153]

Tamil is the most widely spoken language amongst ethnic Indians. In addition to Tamil, the other Indian languages used by minority Indians are Telugu, Malayalam and Punjabi, who hailed from diverse ancestries in the Indian subcontinent.[154][155]

On the other hand, Penang's Chinese population uses a variety of Chinese dialects, including Teochew, Hakka and Cantonese.[149] Mandarin, which is more commonly used by youths for pragmatic reasons, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout the state.[156]

Penang Hokkien serves as the lingua franca between the various ethnicities in Penang.[150][157][158] Originally a variant of the Southern Min group of languages, the dialect has absorbed numerous loanwords from Malay and English, yet another legacy of the Peranakan Chinese culture. Greater emphasis has been placed on preserving Penang Hokkien's relevance in the face of the increasing prevalence of Mandarin and English among youths.[159][160]

Religions edit

Religions in Penang (2020)[1]
Religion Percentage
No religion

Penang, like other Peninsular states, has Islam as its official religion.[2] Even so, the state allows freedom of religion and religious assembly, which contributes to its cosmopolitan society. Penang is unique among the Peninsular states in that no single religion commands an absolute majority among the populace.

As of 2020, Muslims constituted over 45% of Penang's population, followed by Buddhists at nearly 38% and Hindus at more than 8%.[1] Notably, George Town contains small communities of Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims, while most Buddhists in Penang follow either Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana traditions.[161][162][163]

Pitt Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a prime example of the peaceful coexistence of various religions in Penang. The street is home to several places of worship belonging to Muslim, Taoist, Hindu and Christian communities, all located within close proximity to each other. This unique arrangement has earned Pitt Street the nickname Street of Harmony, a testament to Penang's rich cultural and ethnic diversity.[164]

Economy edit

Economic indicators
GDP RM121.154 billion (2022) [8]
GDP per capita RM69,591 (2022) [8]
Real GDP growth 13.1% (2022) [8]
Unemployment 2.8% (2022) [8]
Labour force
participation rate
70.3% (2022) [8]
Government debt RM41.11 million (2022) [165]

Economic sectors in Penang by GDP share (2022)[8]

  Services (46.7%)
  Manufacturing (48.3%)
  Construction (2.4%)
  Agriculture (1.8%)
  Mining (0.1%)

Despite its tiny size, Penang has one of the most robust economies in Malaysia.[166] The state's tertiary-based economy is largely driven by the manufacturing and services sectors.[8] In 2022, Penang's GDP was worth RM121.154 billion with a growth rate of 13%, the fastest in the country. Penang's GDP per capita of RM69,591 was the second highest among Malaysian states, surpassing the World Bank's threshold of US$13,205 to be considered a high-income economy.[8][167] Within Malaysia, only Penang and Sarawak, along with the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, are categorised as high-income territories.[167] In addition, the George Town Conurbation had a GDP worth US$13.5 billion in 2010, making it the second largest contributor of Malaysia's total GDP.[141]

Penang contributed approximately RM7 billion of Malaysia's yearly tax revenue and consistently records one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation – at 2.8% as of 2022.[8][168][169] Monthly median household income rose to RM6,502, while the state had a labour force participation rate of 70.3% in 2022, an increase from 69.7% in the previous year.[8]

Penang is the top destination within Malaysia for foreign investors, capturing 25 of the country's inbound foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2021.[170] The bulk of Penang's FDI that year originated from The Netherlands, China and Singapore.[8] The state has also attracted hundreds of multinational corporations (MNCs) to its shores and plays a growing role in the global electronics supply chain, holding a significant share of more than 5% in the world's semiconductor sales.[171][172] Penang is concurrently Malaysia's largest exporter, accounting for almost RM451 billion – or 29% – of the country's exports in 2022.[173] The services sector has been growing in tandem as well, with Penang being the second most popular hub in Malaysia for Global Business Services (GBS) and the financial heart of the country's northwestern region, complemented by the state's traditional popularity as a destination for tourism, business events and healthcare.[174][175]

Penang's economic renaissance, particularly since 2008, was described by Bloomberg as Malaysia's "biggest economic success", in spite of the federal government's focus on other states such as Johor and Sarawak.[176] The Penang state government's financial prudence has also allowed it to pare down public debt to RM41.1 million by 2022.[165] In addition, Penang's Human Development Index (HDI) value stood at 0.836, the third highest in the country after Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, and on par with Turkey.[177]

The booming economy has also led to a considerable interest in real estate in Penang. In 2016, George Town was ranked Malaysia's most attractive destination for commercial property investment by Knight Frank, surpassing even Kuala Lumpur.[178] In 2023, Penang's residential market was ranked the second most popular in Southeast Asia after Singapore.[179]

Manufacturing edit

Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, known as the Silicon Valley of the East, was the first designated free-trade zone in post-independence Malaysia and is now a major electronics manufacturing hub.[171][180]

In the early years following Malaya's independence, Penang's industrialisation efforts were limited to import substitution.[181] This was a time when George Town still enjoyed its free port status.[57] The first industrial estates were built in the 1960s at Mak Mandin and Perai during the tenure of Penang's first Chief Minister Wong Pow Nee.[182]

However, the revocation of George Town's free port status and the fall of Wong's administration in 1969 marked a turning point in Penang's economic fortunes.[57][181] Wong's successor, Lim Chong Eu, initiated a massive transformation of Penang's economy.[181] Under Lim's leadership, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone (Bayan Lepas FIZ) in George Town was established in 1972.[181][183] The zone played a critical role in reviving Penang's economy and driving the state's economic growth in the late 20th century.[78][80]

Today, the Bayan Lepas FIZ is known as the Silicon Valley of the East, home to more than 300 multinational corporations (MNCs) including 39 Fortune 1000 companies.[171][184] Among the MNCs within the zone are major technology players such as AMD, Bosch, Dell, HP Inc., Intel, Motorola, Osram and Renesas.[185][186][187] Since the 1970s, manufacturing has formed the backbone of Penang's economy, contributing 48.3% of its GDP as of 2022 and cementing the state's position as Malaysia's leading exporter.[8][173][188] In 2022 alone, integrated circuitry accounted for more than 40% of Penang's total exports, followed by piezoelectric crystals, scientific and measuring equipment, and other electric and electronic products.[8] The success of the Bayan Lepas FIZ has spurred the Penang state government to embark on building newer industrial parks at several parts of Seberang Perai where land is more readily available, such as at Seberang Jaya, Bukit Minyak and Batu Kawan.[185][189]

Aside from electronics and engineering manufacturing, Penang is Malaysia's main jewellery finishing hub, contributing 85% of the nation's gold and jewellery exports as of 2016.[190] The state's gold and jewellery industry dates back to the founding of the Penang Goldsmith Association in 1832. Jewellery from Penang is exported to over 20 foreign markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the United States.

Services edit

Design Village at Batu Kawan is the largest outlet mall in Malaysia by size.
The sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi has made the suburb among the more popular destinations within the state.[191]

The services sector contributed 46.7% of Penang's GDP as of 2022, employing almost 35 of the state's workforce.[8] Major subsectors in the state include logistics, communications, retail, food and beverages (F&B), tourism, financial, real estate and business services. Penang's well-developed infrastructure has traditionally allowed it to punch above its weight as one of Malaysia's vital logistics hubs. The Penang International Airport (PIA) is the country's third busiest in passenger volume and in 2022, handled RM385,034 million worth of exports, the largest of all entry points nationwide. Meanwhile, the Port of Penang processed over 1.3 million TEUs of cargo in 2022, the third highest among Malaysia's seaports.[8][192]

Regarded as one of the nation's most popular tourist destinations, Penang has welcomed influential personalities of renown such as W. Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Lee Kuan Yew, Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III.[193][194][195] The state is well-known for its rich heritage and architecture, a vibrant cosmopolitan society, natural attractions such as beaches and hills, and its famous culinary scene.[196] In 2017, Penang contributed close to RM3.9 million of Malaysia's tourism tax revenue, the third highest after Kuala Lumpur and Sabah.[197]

In recent years, Penang has begun to carve its niche in specific areas of tourism, such as healthcare, business events, ecotourism, retail and cruise arrivals.[191] Unlike most Malaysian cities, George Town does not solely rely on air transportation for tourist arrivals. Swettenham Pier is the busiest port-of-call in Malaysia for cruise shipping and serves as one of the major entry points into the city, apart from the PIA.

Penang has also emerged as the leading destination within Malaysia for medical tourism, accounting for over half of the nation's medical tourism revenue before the COVID-19 outbreak.[198][199] While the pandemic caused a temporary setback to the medical tourism industry, it has been gradually recovering, with Penang generating a revenue of more than RM356 million in 2022 from medical tourist arrivals.[200] Furthermore, George Town is Malaysia's second most popular destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) after Kuala Lumpur.[201] In 2017, Penang hosted 2,511 business events with an estimated economic impact of RM1.002 billion.[202] Among the major venues for business events in the state are SPICE Arena, Straits Quay and Prangin Mall.[203]

The state's vibrant retail subsector employed as much as 15% of its workforce as of 2019.[204] As the main shopping destination in northwestern Malaysia, Penang boasts several shopping centres such as Gurney Plaza, Gurney Paragon, 1st Avenue Mall, Straits Quay, Queensbay Mall and Design Village. George Town's shophouses and flea markets also offer a unique shopping experience for local products such as spices, nutmegs and Tambun biscuits, a delicacy unique to the state.[205][206]

As part of measures to diversify the economy, the Penang state government has been promoting the state as a shared services and outsourcing (SSO) hub, attracting the second largest share of investments for Global Business Services (GBS) within Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur.[174] The SSO industry in Penang has provided over 8,000 high-income jobs and contributed RM12.79 billion of revenue in 2013.[188][207] In addition, the state's startup community is growing, driven by home-grown companies like Piktochart and DeliverEat.[208] Boosted by the presence of multinational technology firms and the advantage of lower business costs, Penang's startups have taken the lead in encouraging entrepreneurship and the implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) within the state.[209][210]

Finance edit

Northam Road, part of George Town's Central Business District

George Town has a rich financial history, having served as the financial centre of British Malaya in the past. Standard Chartered was the first international bank to open a branch in the city in 1875, followed by HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1885 and 1888, respectively.[43][50]

Today, George Town continues to be the financial hub of northwestern Malaysia, with its Central Business District (CBD) housing several international banks such as Standard Chartered, HSBC, Citibank, United Overseas Bank, OCBC and Bank of China. In addition, the city is also home to various insurance providers, ancillary financial services and federal agencies like Bank Negara and the Employees Provident Fund.[211][212][213] As of 2022, finance and ancillary services such as insurance, auditing and real estate contribute 9.1% of Penang's GDP.[8]

Mining edit

Penang's minuscule mining sector contributed a mere 0.1% of the state's GDP in 2022.[8] The state mainly produces granite, sand and limestone. However, in 2023, it was reported that Penang holds an estimated RM100 billion worth of untapped rare-earth elements.[214]

Culture edit

Public holidays in Penang
Holiday Date
New Year's Day
1 Jan
2 days in
Labour Day
1 May
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
Malaysia Day
16 Sep
25 Dec

Festivals edit

A Chingay troupe in George Town. To this day, the Chingay parade continues to be a major expression of Penang Chinese identity.[215]

Penang's cosmopolitan society results in a great number of celebrations and festivities throughout any given year. The state hosts major cultural and religious events, including but not limited to, Chinese New Year, Eid al-Fitri, Diwali, Thaipusam, Vaisakhi, Christmas, Vesak and Songkran. In particular, Chinese New Year is celebrated with much enthusiasm by Penang's Chinese community. Celebrations last for 15 days and are marked with festivities unique to the state, such as the birthday of the Jade Emperor, and the annual opening of Chinese ancestral halls and associations in George Town.[216][217] The 15th and final day of Chinese New Year is celebrated with a Peranakan Chinese-inspired Lantern Festival.[217]

Expatriates living in Penang have also brought their own celebrations to the state. Bon Odori, a Japanese festival celebrated annually in George Town, has gained popularity among locals.[218] St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest, traditionally celebrated by ethnic Irish and German communities respectively, are also celebrated in the city.[219][220]

Penang also hosts several major festivals each year, such as the George Town Festival, which has become one of the largest arts events in Southeast Asia since its first edition in 2010.[221] The Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is another popular event that attracts nearly 200,000 visitors from all over the world.[222] In 2018, the George Town Literary Festival became the first Southeast Asian literary event to bag the international Literary Festival Award at the London Book Fair.[223]

Performing arts edit

George Town is the birthplace of a unique form of the Chingay procession. Introduced in 1919, Penang's variant of Chingay includes the act of balancing gigantic flags on one's head or hands.[224] A state-held Chingay parade takes place in George Town annually, although Chingay performances are also frequently included in Chinese festivals and significant state events in throughout Penang.[225]

Bangsawan is a form of Malay theatre that originated in Penang at the end of the 19th century, and incorporates Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian influences. It was a popular outdoor performance in the 1920s.[226] Another unique form of theatre that began in Penang is boria, which features singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla. Boria reached the height of its popularity in the 1930s and was typically used to satirise the British authorities at the time.[227] Interestingly, while the British imposed a ban on boria in Singapore and Malacca, the art form was never banned in Penang.

Apart from traditional forms of art, the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra, funded by the state, was established in 2010 to elevate the standard of classical music in Penang. Dewan Sri Pinang and SPICE Arena in George Town are the main venues for performing arts and concerts within the state.[203]

Ernest Zacharevic's Children on a Bicycle at Armenian Street in George Town. This mural was recognised by The Guardian as one of the world's most iconic street art in 2013.[228]

Street art edit

George Town is a hub for the arts and culture scene in Malaysia. In 2012, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of six wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles as part of the George Town Festival. The city is also adorned with 52 wrought iron caricatures and 18 wall murals that showcase the city's history and the daily lives of the local community.[228] Additionally, event spaces in George Town, such as the Hin Bus Depot and Sia Boey, frequently host art exhibitions, further contributing to the city's vibrant art scene.[229][230]

Wat Chayamangkalaram in George Town stands as a prime example of Thai architecture in the city.

Architecture edit

The city centre of George Town has a distinct character, where colonial-era shophouses, townhouses and religious buildings harmoniously exist alongside Victorian architecture built by the British.[231] 259 ha (2.59 km2) within the city centre have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[85][231]

Inside the UNESCO-designated zone, shophouses sit alongside Anglo-Indian bungalows, mosques, temples, churches, and European-style administrative and commercial complexes, providing the city's multicultural framework.[50][232] Among the landmarks within the zone that were built in various Asian architectural styles are Goddess of Mercy Temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque and Sri Mahamariamman Temple.[233] Elsewhere in George Town, the influence of Siamese and Burmese cultures can be seen at places of worship like Wat Chayamangkalaram, Dhammikarama Burmese Temple and Kek Lok Si.[234]

Aside from the colonial-era architecture, George Town is also home to most of Penang's skyscrapers. Some of the tallest skyscrapers in George Town, and by extension, Penang, include the Komtar Tower, Marriott Residences and Muze @ PICC. The demand for residential high-rises in George Town's suburbs has also surged, driven by the growing need for strata housing and a bustling economy.[235]

Cuisine edit

A bowl of Penang Hokkien mee

George Town, popularly regarded as "the food capital of Malaysia", is renowned for its cuisine that incorporates Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European influences.[236] The city has been acclaimed as one of the best in Asia for street food by various publications, such as Time, CNN and Lonely Planet.[237][238][239] According to Time in 2004, "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap", whilst Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet described George Town as the "culinary epicentre 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".[238][239]

The various dishes and delicacies of Penang include – but not limited to – asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, lor bak, rojak, pasembur, cendol and Tambun biscuits.[240][241] Over the years, Penang's culinary scene has expanded to include fine dining establishments, adding to its already diverse array of street food options.[242][243] In 2022, the Michelin Guide made its debut in Penang, specifically recognising the state for its "small-scale restaurants and street food that embodies Malaysia's distinctive streetside dining culture".[244] The 2024 edition of the Michelin Guide features 61 eateries throughout Penang, further cementing the state's reputation as a top culinary destination.[245]

Sports edit

SPICE Arena is also one of the major venues in Penang for business events.[203]

In spite of its small area, Penang has hosted regional and international sporting events, such as the 2001 SEA Games, 2013 Women's World Open Squash Championship and Asia's first Masters Games in 2018.[246] The state represents itself with its own sports teams in the interstate Sukma Games.

Penang is home to a variety of sports facilities. The Penang State Stadium in Seberang Perai is the state's main stadium, while the City Stadium in George Town is the home ground of Penang FC.[203][247] SPICE Arena in George Town is another major sporting venue, consisting of an indoor arena and an aquatics centre.[248] The city is also home to Malaysia's oldest equestrian centre – the Penang Turf Club, which was established in 1864.[29]

Major annual sporting events in Penang include the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival and the Penang Bridge International Marathon. The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival, held every December, is a highly competitive dragon boat event that has attracted participants from all over the world, including those from Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, China, South Korea and Australia.[249] The Penang Bridge International Marathon, which features the iconic Penang Bridge as its route, has also gained international recognition, with a record 35,000 participants from 85 countries taking part in 2017.[250]

Penang holds the distinction of being the birthplace of several accomplished athletes in both Malaysia and Singapore, including former world number one squash player Nicol David, Olympic silver medallist Chan Peng Soon and Singapore's Loh Kean Yew.[251][252][253]

Education edit

The main campus of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang's premier public university and Malaysia's second oldest tertiary institution.[254]
Penang Free School, founded in 1816, is the oldest English school in Southeast Asia.

Penang's literacy rate is the third highest in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, standing at 99.5% as of 2014.[255] Moreover, the state's Human Development Index (HDI) value of 0.836 is also the third highest in the country, after the two aforementioned territories.[177]

As of 2020, Penang is home to 49 tertiary institutions (including universities, colleges, medical colleges, industrial training institutes and teaching schools), 13 international and expatriate schools, 128 secondary schools, 271 primary schools and 609 kindergartens.[256][257][258] George Town, in particular, has some of Malaysia's oldest schools. Established in 1816, Penang Free School (PFS) is the oldest English school in Southeast Asia. British colonial rule had also encouraged the growth of mission schools in George Town such as St. Xavier's Institution, St. George's Girls' School and Methodist Boys' School.[6]

Penang is also a pioneer in Malaysia's present-day Chinese education system, with the establishment of its first Chinese school in 1819.[259][260] Prominent Chinese schools in the state include Chung Ling High School, Penang Chinese Girls' High School, Heng Ee High School and Jit Sin High School, among others.

In addition, George Town is home to 13 international and expatriate schools that cater to the city's expatriate community. These schools offer either British, American or International Baccalaureate syllabuses, and have seen an increase in intake among Malaysian citizens.[261]

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is the premier public university in Penang. As of 2024, it is ranked 137th in the QS World University Rankings, second in Malaysia only to Universiti Malaya.[262] Most of the other tertiary institutions in the state are privately-run, including Wawasan Open University, Han Chiang University College of Communication, DISTED College and RCSI & UCD Malaysia Campus.[256] RECSAM, one of the 26 specialist institutions of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, is also headquarted in George Town.[263]

The Penang Public Library Corporation is the state government body tasked with the operation of public libraries throughout the state.[264] In 2016, the Penang state government also launched Malaysia's first digital library, situated within the grounds of PFS.[265]

Health care edit

Penang General Hospital in George Town is a 1,100-bedded tertiary referral hospital within northwestern Malaysia.[266]

Healthcare in Penang is provided by a two-tier system consisting of public and private hospitals. The Penang General Hospital, administered and funded by the Malaysian Ministry of Health, is the main tertiary referral hospital within northwestern Malaysia.[266] It is supported by five other public hospitals in Penang, all of which also come under the administration of the country's Ministry of Health.[267]

In addition, Penang has 19 private hospitals that offer specialist services, making the state the leading hub for medical tourism in Malaysia.[200][268] The total number of beds in public and private hospitals in Penang is 4,329, or nearly 248.7 beds per 10,000 people, higher than the national average.[268] While private hospitals in Penang operate independently of the Ministry of Health, there have been instances of public-private cooperation, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic which saw private hospitals sharing equipment and taking in non-COVID-19 patients in need of urgent medical procedures.[269]

The infant mortality rate in Penang has decreased significantly, dropping by 85% between 1970 and 2000 to 5.7 per 1,000 live births.[270] Similarly, the neonatal mortality rate has also decreased by 84.7% during the corresponding period to 4.1 per 1,000 live births. As of 2023, the life expectancy at birth in Penang is 71.9 years for men and 77.2 years for women.[271]

Media edit

The Star's Northern Hub in George Town. Currently one of the major English dailies in Malaysia, it had been known for its "liberal flavour" prior to a government crackdown in 1987.[272]

George Town was once the nucleus of Malaysia's print press. The nation's first newspaper, the Prince of Wales Island Gazette, was founded in the city in 1806.[273] The Star, currently one of Malaysia's top English dailies, started as a regional newspaper that was first published 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.

In addition, the Penang state government publishes its own multi-lingual newspaper, Buletin Mutiara, which is distributed for free every fortnight.[274] The newspaper focuses on current issues within Penang, providing valuable information and insights for the local community.

Film and television edit

George Town is known for its well-preserved colonial-era architecture, which has made it a popular location for filming movies and television shows. Some of the notable films shot in the city include Crazy Rich Asians, Anna and the King, Lust, Caution, and You Mean the World to Me; the latter was also touted as the first movie to be filmed entirely in Penang Hokkien.[275] Singaporean drama series, The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also filmed within the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, George Town was featured as a pit-stop in several seasons of The Amazing Race, including The Amazing Race 16, The Amazing Race Asia 4 and The Amazing Race Asia 5.

Transportation edit

The 24 km-long (15 mi) Second Penang Bridge, as seen from Batu Maung, George Town.
With a height of 61.5 m (202 ft) above ground, the Jalan Bukit Kukus Paired Road is touted as the tallest expressway in Malaysia.[276]

Land edit

George Town is connected to mainland Seberang Perai by two road bridges. The 13.5 km (8.4 mi) Penang Bridge connects the suburb of Gelugor with Perai on the mainland.[277] On the other hand, the Second Penang Bridge, which spans 24 km (15 mi), was opened in 2014, linking Batu Maung on the island to Batu Kawan on the mainland.

Seberang Perai is accessible through the North-South Expressway, which is a 966 km-long (600 mi) expressway that stretches along the western part of Peninsular Malaysia. Furthermore, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) West Coast Line runs through the city, with the Butterworth railway station serving as the principal terminal in northwestern Malaysia.[278] Aside from the regular KTM services, Butterworth is also one of the main stops of the Eastern and Oriental Express service between Bangkok and Singapore.[279]

Within George Town, the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway is a vital coastal highway that runs along the city's eastern seaboard, connecting the city centre with the Penang Bridge, the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Second Penang Bridge.[280] The Federal Route 6 is a pan-island trunk road that circles the city, while the George Town Inner Ring Road serves as the main thoroughfare of the city centre.[281][282] Meanwhile, the major toll routes within Seberang Perai include the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) and the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway.[283]

Public transportation edit

The Penang Hill Railway, Malaysia's only funicular railway system, ascends slopes that are said to be the steepest in the world at an angle of 27.9°.[284]

Under British rule, George Town was a pioneer in public transportation within Malaya. The city's first tram system, originally powered by steam, began operations in the 1880s.[285][286] Although trams are no longer in use, another colonial legacy, the trishaw, still plies the city's streets, albeit catering primarily for tourists.[287]

Public buses are now the primary mode of transportation in Penang. Established in 2007, Rapid Penang is the state's main public transport operator, with 46 active routes throughout the George Town Conurbation including interstate routes into the neighbouring towns of Sungai Petani, Kulim and Kerian.[288]

The only rail-based transportation system within Penang is the century-old Penang Hill Railway, a funicular service to the peak of Penang Hill. The Penang state government plans to introduce urban rail throughout the state as part of the Penang Transport Master Plan.[80] The 29 km (18 mi) Bayan Lepas LRT line in George Town, stretching between Tanjong Bungah and Bayan Lepas with an interchange station at Komtar, is being prioritised for construction.[289][290]

Efforts are also being undertaken to promote pedestrianisation and the use of bicycles as an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.[291][292] Dedicated cycling lanes have been paved throughout George Town and in 2016, the city became the first in Malaysia to operate a public bicycle-sharing service, with the inauguration of LinkBike.[293][294]

The Penang Sentral at Butterworth is the main transit hub within Penang, located in close proximity to the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal and the Butterworth railway station.[295]

The Penang International Airport (PIA) at Bayan Lepas, George Town has an annual capacity of 6.5 million passengers, but passenger traffic had already exceeded its capacity even before the COVID-19 pandemic.[296][297]

Air edit

The Penang International Airport (PIA) is located 16 km (9.9 mi) south of downtown George Town. It serves as the main airport for northwestern Malaysia, with services to major regional cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong, Xiamen, Shanghai, Doha and Dubai.[191][298] PIA is the third busiest airport in the country for passenger traffic, recording nearly 4.3 million passengers in 2022.[299] The airport is also the Malaysia's second busiest in terms of cargo tonnage and handles the largest export volume of all entry points nationwide, with exports worth RM385 billion passing through PIA in 2022 alone.[173] The airport is also a hub for two Malaysian low-cost carriers – AirAsia and Firefly.[300][301]

Sea edit

The Port of Penang at Butterworth, Seberang Perai. The seaport was declared a Free Commercial Zone (FCZ) in 2021.[302]
A ferry departing the Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal in George Town.

Formerly a vital British entrepôt, Penang's maritime trade has significantly declined due to the loss of George Town's free-port status in 1969 and the concurrent development of Port Klang near the federal capital Kuala Lumpur.[57] Despite this, the Port of Penang remains the primary harbour for northwestern Malaysia and southern Thailand.[303] Operated by the Penang Port Commission, it handled more than 1.3 million TEUs of cargo in 2022, the third highest among Malaysia's seaports.[8][192] The Port of Penang occasionally hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, the United States and China.[304][305][306]

Swettenham Pier, situated within downtown George Town, is the only Port facility in the city. It accommodates cruise ships and is one of the major entry points into George Town. In 2017, Swettenham Pier recorded 125 port calls, surpassing Port Klang as the busiest cruise shipping terminal in Malaysia.[307] The pier has also attracted some of the world's largest cruise liners, such as the Queen Mary 2, and serves as a homeport for regional-based cruise ships.[308][309][310]

The cross-strait Penang ferry service connects George Town and Seberang Perai, and was formerly the only transportation link between the island city and the mainland until the completion of the Penang Bridge in 1985. At present, three ferries ply the Penang Strait between both cities daily.[311]

Utilities edit

Water supply, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Penang state government, is wholly managed by the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP). The state enjoys the lowest domestic water tariff in Malaysia, at RM0.32 per 1,000 litres.[312] However, it is heavily dependent on one single raw water resource – the Muda River, which forms the northern border between Seberang Perai and Kedah, and provides over 80% of Penang's water supply.[313] This leaves the state vulnerable to effluents from upstream Kedah, as well as incessant political disputes between the neighbouring states over the river.[314][315] To counter water supply disruptions, PBAPP has contingency plans in place to draw water from alternative sources such as Ayer Itam Dam, Teluk Bahang Dam and Mengkuang Dam.[316] The state government has also been negotiating with neighbouring Perak to secure additional water supply.[317]

In 1904, George Town became the first city within British Malaya to be supplied with electricity, upon the completion of a hydroelectric scheme.[318] Currently, electricity for industrial and domestic consumption is provided by Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), which operates a 398MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) power plant at Gelugor.[319] A new RM500 million overhead power grid across the Penang Strait is being constructed ahead of the scheduled retirement of the Gelugor power plant in 2024.[320][321] Collaboration between TNB and the two city governments in Penang to replace existing street lighting with energy-efficient LED street lights is currently ongoing.[322]

In 2020, Penang had become the first Malaysian state to require the installation of fibre-optic communication infrastructure for all development projects.[323] As of September 2023, 5G coverage had reached 73.4% of the populated areas in the state.[324] In 2024, DE-CIX inaugurated the Penang Internet Exchange (PIX), with internet traffic being routed through a data centre at Bayan Baru.[325][326] State government agencies have been promoting the digital economy and intensifying efforts to attract high-value technology players to further boost the state's economic growth.[327]

Notable people edit

Penang was the birthplace of illustrious Malaysian and Singaporean personalities, professionals and politicians, including:

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