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Hotels of George Town

A hotel in George Town is an establishment that provides lodging paid on a short-term basis. Facilities provided may range from a basic bed and storage for clothing, to luxury features like en-suite bathrooms. Larger in George Town hotels may provide additional guest facilities such as a swimming pool, business centre, childcare, conference facilities and social function services. Hotel rooms in George Town are usually numbered (or named in some smaller hotels and B&Bs) to allow guests to identify their room. Some George Town hotels offer meals as part of a room and board arrangement. Hotel operations vary in size, function, and cost. Most George Town hotels and major hospitality companies that operate hotels in George Town have set widely accepted industry standards to classify hotel types. General categories include the following:

Upscale luxury hotels in George Town
An upscale full service hotel facility in George Town that offers luxury amenities, full service accommodations, on-site full service restaurant(s), and the highest level of personalized and professional service. Luxury George Town hotels are normally classified with at least a Four Diamond or Five Diamond status or a Four or Five Star rating depending on classification standards.

Full service hotels in George Town
Full service George Town hotels often contain upscale full-service facilities with a large volume of full service accommodations, on-site full service restaurant(s), and a variety of on-site amenities such as swimming pools, a health club, children's activities, ballrooms, on-site conference facilities, etc.

Historic inns and boutique hotels in George Town
Boutique hotels of George Town are smaller independent non-branded hotels that often contain upscale facilities of varying size in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations. George Town boutique hotels are generally 100 rooms or less. Some historic inns and boutique hotels in George Town may be classified as luxury hotels.

Focused or select service hotels in George Town
Small to medium-sized hotel establishments that offer a limited amount of on-site amenities that only cater and market to a specific demographic of George Town travelers, such as the single business traveler. Most George Town focused or select service hotels may still offer full service accommodations but may lack leisure amenities such as an on-site restaurant or a swimming pool.

Economy and limited service hotels in George Town
Small to medium-sized George Town hotel establishments that offer a very limited amount of on-site amenities and often only offer basic accommodations with little to no services, these facilities normally only cater and market to a specific demographic of travelers, such as the budget-minded George Town traveler seeking a "no frills" accommodation. Limited service George Town hotels often lack an on-site restaurant but in return may offer a limited complimentary food and beverage amenity such as on-site continental breakfast service.

Guest houses and B&Bs in George Town
A bed and breakfast in George Town is a small lodging establishment that offers overnight accommodation and inclusive breakfast. Usually, George Town bed and breakfasts are private homes or family homes offering accommodations. The typical George Town B&B has between 4 and 11 rooms, with 6 being the average. Generally, guests are accommodated in private bedrooms with private bathrooms, or in a suite of rooms including an en suite bathroom. Some homes have private bedrooms with a bathroom which is shared with other guests. Breakfast is served in the bedroom, a dining room, or the host's kitchen. Often the owners of guest house themselves prepare the breakfast and clean the rooms.

Hostels in George Town
George Town hostels provide budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge, and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may also be available. Hostels are often cheaper for both the operator and occupants; many George Town hostels have long-term residents whom they employ as desk agents or housekeeping staff in exchange for experience or discounted accommodation.

Apartment hotels, extended stay hotels in George Town
Extended stay hotels are small to medium-sized George Town hotels that offer longer term full service accommodations compared to a traditional hotel. Extended stay hotels may offer non-traditional pricing methods such as a weekly rate that cater towards travelers in need of short-term accommodations for an extended period of time. Similar to limited and select service hotels, on-site amenities are normally limited and most extended stay hotels in George Town lack an on-site restaurant.

Timeshare and destination clubs in George Town
George Town timeshare and destination clubs are a form of property ownership also referred to as a vacation ownership involving the purchase and ownership of an individual unit of accommodation for seasonal usage during a specified period of time. Timeshare resorts in George Town often offer amenities similar that of a Full service hotel with on-site restaurant(s), swimming pools, recreation grounds, and other leisure-oriented amenities. Destination clubs of George Town on the other hand may offer more exclusive private accommodations such as private houses in a neighborhood-style setting.

Motels in George Town
A George Town motel is a small-sized low-rise lodging establishment similar to that of a limited service hotel, but with direct access to individual rooms from the car park. Common during the 1950s and 1960s, motels were often located adjacent to a major road, where they were built on inexpensive land at the edge of towns or along stretches of highways. They are still useful in less populated areas of George Town for driving travelers, but the more populated an area becomes the more hotels fill the need. Many of George Town motels which remain in operation have joined national franchise chains, rebranding themselves as hotels, inns or lodges.

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Travelling and vacation in George Town

George Town
City and State Capital
Other transcription(s)
• Malay Tanjung Penaga
• Chinese 乔治市 (in Simplified)
喬治市 (in Traditional)
• Tamil ஜோர்ஜ் டவுன்
Clockwise from top: Skyline of George Town, St. George's Church, Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, high-rises at Gurney Drive, Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Clockwise from top: Skyline of George Town, St. George's Church, Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, high-rises at Gurney Drive, Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Flag of George Town
Official seal of George Town
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient
George Town is located in Penang
George Town
George Town
George Town is located in Peninsular Malaysia
George Town
George Town
Coordinates:  / 5.414500; 100.3292000  / 5.414500; 100.3292000
Country Malaysia
State Penang
Administrative Areas
Founded 11 August 1786
Incorporated 1857
British crown colony 1 April 1867 - 31 August 1957
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941 - 3 September 1945
Granted city status 1 January 1957
• Local government Penang Island City Council
• Mayor of Penang Island Patahiyah Ismail
• City and State Capital 122.79 km (47.41 sq mi)
• Metro 2,563.15 km (989.64 sq mi)
Elevation 14 m (46 ft)
Population (2010)
• City and State Capital 708,127 (2nd)
• Metro 2,412,616 (2nd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
• Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code

100xx to 108xx

111xx to 118xx
Area code(s) +604
Vehicle registration P


UNESCO World Heritage Site
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Designated 2008 (32nd session)
Reference no. 1223
Region Asia-Pacific

George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, is located at the northeastern tip of Penang Island. It is the second largest city in Malaysia, with 708,127 inhabitants as of 2010, while its metropolitan area, Greater Penang, is the second largest conurbation in Malaysia with an estimated population of 2.5 million. One of the oldest cities in Malaysia, the historical core of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

Established by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786, George Town was one of the first British settlements in South-East Asia. Together with Singapore and Malacca, George Town was governed under the Straits Settlements, which later became a British crown colony in 1867. It was subjugated by the Empire of Japan during World War II, before being recaptured by the British at war's end. Shortly before Malaya attained independence from the British Empire in 1957, George Town was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II, the first city in the country's modern history. In 2015, the entire Penang Island was also granted city status.

Due to the intermingling of the various ethnicities and religions that arrived on its shores during its heyday as a British entrepôt, George Town acquired a large eclectic assortment of colonial and Asian architectural styles. It also gained a reputation as Malaysia's gastronomic capital, due to its distinct and ubiquitous street food. Moreover, the city hosts unique cultural heritage, such as the Peranakans (formerly known as the 'Straits Chinese'), a hybrid ethnicity which has left its mark on Penang's architecture and cuisine.

Additionally, George Town is Malaysia's most vital medical tourism hub, receiving approximately half of Malaysia's medical tourists, many from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Singapore. It also serves as the financial hub within northern Malaysia, with numerous Malaysian and international banks operating branches in the city.

Logistically, George Town is a well-connected city, with the Penang International Airport 16 km (9.9 mi) to the south linking it to several major cities in the region including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei and Hong Kong. An enduring legacy from the British colonial era is the Port of Penang, which still serves the northern region of Malaysia by connecting George Town with over 200 ports worldwide. George Town is also connected to the rest of Peninsular Malaysia via a ferry service and the Penang Bridge.

George Town was named after King George III, who ruled the British Empire from 1760 until 1801.

George Town, Penang: History

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

George Town, Penang: Founding of George Town

A bronze statue of Captain Francis Light still stands within Fort Cornwallis.

Towards the late 18th century, the Dutch East India Company dominated the Far East spice trade by controlling the East Indies (now Indonesia). Eager to establish a foothold and build up trading links in Southeast Asia, in the 1770s, the British East India Company instructed Francis Light to form trade relations in the Malay Peninsula. Light subsequently landed in Kedah, where he established friendly relations with the then Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah.

At the time, Kedah, a Siamese vassal state, was threatened by both the Siamese and the Burmese, whilst internally, it faced a growing Bugis insurrection. Thus, Light promised British military protection, while Sultan Abdullah offered Penang Island, then part of Kedah, to the British. Light then wrote to his superiors regarding this offer, stating that Penang Island would be a convenient magazine for the Eastern trade.

However, nothing materialised until 1786, when by that point, the British were fighting the Thirteen American Colonies, which were backed by France and the Netherlands. Faced with Dutch preeminence in Southeast Asia and a growing French threat, Light, who by then had risen to the rank of Captain, was ordered to obtain Penang Island from Kedah. The British East India Company sought control of Penang Island as a Royal Navy repair base and a trading post between China and the Indian subcontinent.

Light negotiated with Sultan Abdullah regarding the cession of Penang Island to the British East India Company in exchange for British military aid. After an agreement was signed between Light and the Kedah Sultan, Light and his entourage sailed on to Penang Island, where they arrived on 17 July 1786. Fort Cornwallis would later be erected at the spot where Light first set foot.

The area where Light first landed was originally a swamp covered in thick jungle; to expedite the clearing of the vegetation, Light ordered his vessels to fire silver coins into the jungle. Once enough land was cleared, creating what is now the Esplanade, a simple ceremony was held on 11 August, during which the Union Jack was raised. This signified the formal possession of the island by the British East India Company in the name of King George III. Penang Island was renamed the Prince of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne, while the new settlement of George Town was created in honour of King George III.

Light developed George Town as a free port, thus allowing merchants to trade without having to pay any form of tax or duties. In effect, this measure was intended to entice traders from the Dutch ports in the region. The number of incoming vessels rose from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802; George Town's population had also increased to 10,000 by 1792.

A 1799 map of George Town.

In its early years, George Town was developed in a haphazard manner, as buildings and streets were created on an ad hoc basis. The new settlement was bounded by four streets - Light Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street. The segregation of George Town's commercial and administrative centres, as well as ethnic enclaves, can still be seen to this day; banks and warehouses are arranged along George Town's central business district at Beach Street, whereas administrative and judicial buildings are concentrated around Light Street, which functions as a government precinct.

Fort Cornwallis was built in 1786 to protect Penang Island from amphibious invasion.
Panoramic view of George Town from the sea, drawn in 1811.

Light died from malaria in 1794 and was buried within the Old Protestant Cemetery at Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah). To this day, Light is honoured as the founding father of Penang.

Grave of Captain Francis Light in the Old Protestant Cemetery.
The Old Malayan Railway Station at Weld Quay, built in the early 1900s.
The Chinese Clan Jetties at Weld Quay have existed since the late 19th century.

A committee of assessors was established in 1800. It was the first local council to be established in British Malaya.

George Town, Penang: Colonial era

Sun Yat-sen Museum at Armenian Street, one of the typical Peranakan townhouses in the city, was where Sun plotted his plans against the Qing dynasty.

In 1826, George Town was made the capital of the Straits Settlements, an administrative polity that was also composed of Singapore and Malacca. However, the capital was then shifted to Singapore in 1832, as the Port of Singapore was more strategically located along the India-China naval route and had already surpassed George Town as the preeminent harbour in the region.

Nonetheless, George Town retained its importance as a vital British entrepôt. The booming spice trade had led to the opening of spice farms all over Penang Island, making the island a centre of spice production in Southeast Asia; the export of spices also allowed the British East India Company to cover the administrative costs of Penang. Apart from funnelling the exports meant for global shipping lines which had bypassed other regional ports, the tin mining boom in neighbouring Perak towards the end of the 19th. century transformed the Port of Penang into a major tin-exporting port in the Malay Peninsula, directly challenging the Port of Singapore. Simultaneously, George Town grew wealthier as mercantile firms and banks, including the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered) and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (now HSBC), flocked into the city.

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 George Town into the spice farms further inland, leading to the gradual expansion of George Town. But to sate the severe labour shortages in public works, the government began the practice of employing Indian convict workers as low-cost labourers. Most worked on the streets of George Town, draining swamps and clearing jungles, digging drainage ditches, and laying pipeworks for clean water.

For ten days in August 1867, George Town was gripped with civil unrest during what was known as the Penang Riots which pitted rival secret societies Kean Teik Tong (Tua Pek Kong Hoey), led by Khoo Thean Teik and the Red Flag, against the alliance of the Ghee Hin Kongsi and the White Flag. The British authorities under newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor Edward Anson, assisted by George Town's European community and reinforcements from Singapore, quelled the rioting.

Also in the same year, the Straits Settlements was made a British crown colony, thereby transferring the administration of Penang, Singapore and Malacca from the hands of the British East India Company into the Colonial Office in London. For George Town, direct British rule meant better enforcement of the rule of law, as Penang's police force was vastly improved and the secret societies that had plagued George Town during the preceding decades were gradually outlawed.

At the turn of the century, George Town, with a large Chinese population, 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 that overthrew the Manchu government of China.

George Town, Penang: World Wars

A 1914 map from the New York Times depicting the Battle of Penang.
The Cenotaph was built in honour of fallen Allied servicemen of World War I.
Women in Penang were rounded up by the Imperial Japanese Army as comfort women. The women in this picture, taken in 1945, had been shipped to the Andaman Islands.
Japanese officials signing the surrender of Penang documents on board HMS Nelson on 2 September 1945.
British Royal Marines liberating George Town on 3 September 1945.

At the start of World War I in 1914, SMS Emden, an Imperial German Navy cruiser, sank two Allied warships off the coast of George Town, in what would become known as the Battle of Penang. 147 French and Russian sailors lost their lives, while the others were rescued by local Malay fishermen.

World War II, on the other hand, brought unparalleled social and political upheaval to Penang. Between 9 and 18 December 1941, Japanese warplanes indiscriminately strafed and bombed George Town, as well as wiping out the outdated Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force squadrons defending Penang. It was estimated that 600 civilians perished as a result of the Japanese bombardment, with an additional 1,100 wounded.

Eighty Japanese fighters and bombers had flown over Georgetown unopposed ... Thousands of people had filled the streets to watch the spectacle, which turned to tragedy when the bombs began to fall. Aircraft had then wheeled down to dive-bomb and strafe. Mass panic was the result of the bombing, and Penang had no anti-aircraft guns and few air raid shelters. Most of the bombs fell by design on Georgetown's densely populated Chinatown ...

- Allen Warren, British historian.

While the British Army had earlier designated Penang Island as a fortress, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival then ordered a withdrawal from Penang. Not only did the British Army abandon the Batu Maung Fort at the southeastern tip of Penang Island, they also covertly evacuated Penang's European population, leaving the rest of Penang's populace to their fates. Historians have since argued that the withdrawal and the silent evacuation of the white race led to the loss of the British sense of invincibility, and that the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not in Singapore, but in Penang.

George Town fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941, marking the start of a brutal period of Japanese occupation. Penang Island was renamed Tojo-to, after the then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. This period was renowned for the Imperial Japanese Army's massacres of Penang's Chinese populace, also known as Sook Ching to the locals. Especially feared was the Japanese military police Kempeitai and its network of informants. Women in George Town were also coerced to work as comfort women by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Another little known aspect of the Japanese occupation was the use of George Town's harbour facilities as a major U-boat base by Nazi Germany. Between 1942 and 1944, the Port of Penang was utilised by submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine and the Regia Marina (of the Kingdom of Italy).

Between 1944 and 1945, Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force bomber squadrons based in British India repeatedly bombed George Town, seeking to destroy the naval facilities and administrative centres. The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by the Allied bombardment caused the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning Penang Island, leading to enormous difficulties to compile a comprehensive history of Penang. The Penang Strait was also mined to impede Japanese shipping.

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, the Penang Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, published on 21 August the proclamation of surrender issued by the Emperor of Japan. Under Operation Jurist, the British Royal Marines accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrison in Penang and retook Penang Island on 3 September 1945.

George Town, Penang: Post-war

After a period of military administration, the British dissolved the Straits Settlements in 1946 and proceeded to merge the crown colonies of Penang and Malacca into the Malayan Union, which was then replaced with the Federation of Malaya in 1948. However, the absorption of the British colony of Penang into Malaya alarmed Penang's population over economic and ethnic concerns. The Penang Secessionist Movement (active from 1948 to 1951) was formed to preclude Penang's merger with Malaya, but ultimately petered out due to British disapproval.

Coat of arms of the George Town City Council, inaugurated in 1957.

The British government responded to the concerns raised by the Penang Secessionist Movement by guaranteeing George Town's free port status, as well as reintroducing municipal elections in George Town in 1951. By 1956, George Town had become the first municipality in the Malayan Federation to have a fully elected local council.

On 1 January 1957, George Town was accorded city status by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya. George Town continued to be the only city within Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur was granted city status.

George Town, Penang: Post-independence

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

In the following years, George Town retained its free port status, as guaranteed by the British colonial authorities before granting independence to Malaya. This was not to last, however - in 1969, the Malaysian federal government revoked George Town's free port status, sparking massive unemployment in the city. The economic downturn was only alleviated with the development of the town of Bayan Lepas to the south as a Free Industrial Zone by the then Chief Minister of Penang Lim Chong Eu.

This also marked the start of George Town's decline, which lasted up to the early 2000s. As the Malaysian federal government continued to develop Kuala Lumpur and nearby Port Klang by controlling investments in communication, transport, education and health, Penang began to suffer considerable brain drain as younger Penangites started emigrating for better employment opportunities. In 1976, the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Island Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council, sparking a decades-long debate over George Town's city status.

In a bid to revitalise George Town, the Komtar project was launched in 1974. Hundreds of shophouses, schools and temples, as well as whole streets, were erased from the map in order to make way for the construction of Penang's tallest skyscraper. However, instead of arresting George Town's decline, Komtar itself became a white elephant by the 2000s.

George Town, Penang: Renaissance

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit the northern coastline of George Town, affecting Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive.
The historic centre of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

Until 2001, the pre-war houses in the historic centre of George Town was protected from urban development by the Rent Control Act, which prohibited landlords from arbitrarily raising rentals as a measure to provide affordable housing to the low-income population. Its eventual repeal visibly changed Penang's demographic pattern and economic activity; overnight appreciation of real estate prices forced tenants of multiple generations out of their heritage homes to the city's outskirts, where new townships were being developed. Unperturbed development of modern high-rises, usually in the expense of the heritage houses, also caused the abandonment and dilapidation of parts of the city centre. These 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.

In 2008, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Malacca. It was a recognition of the conservation efforts of the "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia". The subsequent cleaning up of George Town and other measures to improve traffic flow, pedestrianisation, cultural and environmental aspects by the newly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government also led to George Town being ranked the 8th most liveable city in Asia by ECA International in 2010.

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

Whilst George Town had been declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, Penang Island as a whole was also granted city status by the Malaysian federal government in 2015.

George Town, Penang: Geography

Satellite view of George Town.

As Penang Island is only slightly more than 3 the size of Singapore with a population density of 2,372/km (6,140/sq mi), George Town has the highest population density of all Malaysian cities. From a small settlement at the northeastern tip of Penang Island, George Town has expanded in all directions, eventually linking up with the industrial town of Bayan Lepas to the south, and in the process, urbanising the entire eastern coast of the island.

The contiguous hotel and resort belts of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong along the northern beaches of Penang Island form the northwestern fringes of George Town. The central hills of Penang Island, including Penang Hill, serve as a giant green lung for George Town and an important forested catchment area. While the central hills have somewhat limited the westward urban sprawl, George Town's expansion is more evident southward along the eastern seaboard of Penang Island, creating the suburbs of Jelutong and Gelugor, the latter merging with the northward development of Bayan Lepas.

As with most island cities, land scarcity is a pressing issue in George Town. Land reclamation projects have been carried out to provide more low-lying land at high-demand areas, such as at Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong and Jelutong.

George Town, Penang: Cityscape

Cityscape of George Town, as seen from Jelutong.
Panoramic view of George Town, as seen from Jelutong.
Malacca and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca
George Town, Penang (UNESCO).svg
Str of George Town, Malaysia.JPG
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Location Malaysia
Area 305,773,000 m (3.29131×10 sq ft)
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Reference 1223
Coordinates  / 5.4145; 100.3292
Inscription 2008 (32nd Session)
Website www.mbpp.gov.my
George Town, Penang is located in Malaysia
George Town, Penang
Location of George Town, Penang
[edit on Wikidata]

George Town, Penang: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Street map of George Town city centre, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site in purple

The oldest portion of the city centre has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2008. Recognised as having a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia, George Town contains one of the largest collections of pre-War buildings in Southeast Asia and is considered an architectural gem.

The World Heritage Site covers nearly 260 hectares (640 acres) of the city centre, roughly bounded by Transfer Road to the west and Prangin Road to the south. It is further divided into two - the core and buffer zones. The core zone includes the oldest quarter of George Town, where the most historic landmarks like Fort Cornwallis, City Hall, Penang State Museum and the Central Business District along Beach Street are located. This particular area dates all the way back to the settlement's establishment by Captain Francis Light in 1786, thereby predating most cities within Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

The core zone is surrounded by the buffer zone, which is delineated along George Town's 19th century boundaries. Chinese shophouses, Hindu temples, Indian Muslim mosques and two of the city's oldest wet markets are located within this zone, as are Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

Among the restrictions in force within both zones is a ban on the construction of any structure exceeding 18 metres in height, and that any new building which is located adjacent to a historically important structure must not exceed the height of the latter. Certain extensions for the purpose of renovation works, such as basements, are not allowed as well.

George Town, Penang: Street names

A bilingual road sign at Victoria Street.

Unlike other cities in Malaysia, George Town still retains most of its English street names. Even for roads that have been renamed in Malay, such as Jalan Masjid Negeri, Penangites in general still prefer to use the road's former colonial name, which in this particular case is Green Lane. This is partly because the new names are often unwieldy (e.g. Pitt Street vs Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Northam Road vs Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), but also reflects a strong conservatism in the local population, who see Penang's colonial history as part of their local identity.

In addition, since 2008, Penang's multi-lingual road signs have been in use throughout Penang Island. Each of the new road signs has the street's official Malay name and either the street's English, Chinese, Tamil or Arabic name. To this day, George Town is the only city in Peninsular Malaysia to have multi-lingual road signs.

George Town, Penang is located in Penang
George Town
George Town
Batu Ferringhi
Batu Ferringhi
Tanjung Tokong
Tanjung Tokong
Tanjung Bungah
Tanjung Bungah
Pulau Tikus
Pulau Tikus
Batu Lanchang
Batu Lanchang
Air Itam
Air Itam
Paya Terubong
Paya Terubong
Locations of George Town and its suburbs
Aerial view of Tanjung Tokong looking towards Gurney Drive, George Town.

George Town, Penang: Suburbs

A Rapid Penang bus navigating the narrow streets of Air Itam, west of George Town proper.
A beach at Batu Ferringhi

The expansion of George Town has created suburbs to its northwest, west and south. The northwestern suburbs are somewhat more affluent, given their seafront locations which attract tourists and expatriates. The southern suburbs, such as Jelutong, grew due to industrial activities. On the other hand, Air Itam and Paya Terubong emerged to the west of George Town as a result of agricultural plantations on the central hills of Penang Island.

The suburbs are as follows.

  • Batu Ferringhi
  • Tanjung Tokong
  • Tanjung Bungah
  • Pulau Tikus
  • Air Itam
  • Paya Terubong
  • Batu Lanchang
  • Jelutong
  • Gelugor

George Town, Penang: Beaches and seafronts

Gurney Drive, the most famous promenade on Penang Island, is shaping up to be the city's next Central Business District.

The most popular beaches of George Town are situated along the city's northwestern suburbs, specifically Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong. Several hotels and resorts have been established along these locations, including Hard Rock Hotel.

Other than that, the most famous promenades in George Town are Gurney Drive, the Esplanade and Karpal Singh Drive. In particular, Gurney Drive is home to a concentration of skyscrapers and high-rises, and is a shopping haven with two upmarket shopping malls - Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon. Plans are afoot to turn Gurney Drive into the city's next Central Business District.

As of 2016, land reclamation is ongoing off Gurney Drive in a state-led effort to create a major seafront public park, named Gurney Wharf.

View of George Town from the peak of Penang Hill, the tallest hill on Penang Island.

George Town, Penang: Hills

The central hills of Penang Island, situated to the west of George Town, serve as a gigantic green lung and water catchment area for the urbanised island.

Penang Hill, the tallest peak on Penang Island, lies near the centre of the island and west of Air Itam. Rising 833 m (2,733 ft) above sea level, the hill's peak is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway from its base station off Hill Railway Road at Air Itam. Once a retreat used by British officials and Queen Elizabeth II, the peak of Penang Hill is one of Penang's most well-known tourist attractions, with 1.36 million tourist arrivals in 2014.

George Town, Penang: Parks

Penang Botanic Gardens Waterfall
Air Itam Dam

The main parks within George Town are the Penang Botanic Gardens, located off Waterfall Road to the west of Pulau Tikus, and the nearby Penang Municipal Park.

Founded in 1884 as an offshoot of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Penang Botanic Gardens is Malaysia's oldest botanical garden. Today, it serves as a major recreational area, receiving about 5,000 visitors every weekend. This botanical garden also encompasses Penang's biggest waterfall, which contributes a small amount of George Town's water supply.

The Penang Municipal Park at Quarry Drive, a short distance away from the Penang Botanic Gardens, was officially opened in 1972. This 172-acre (70 ha) urban park now consists of a water park, a skating rink, a childrens' playground and a street art corner, and has also become a popular place for recreational activities.

Several other smaller parks dot the entire city, serving the surrounding neighbourhoods. These include the Armenian Street Park, TPO Friendship Park and Relau Metropolitan Park.

George Town, Penang: Drainage system

Major rivers within George Town include the Pinang River, Air Itam River and Gelugor River. The Teluk Bahang and Air Itam dams, along with the Penang Botanic Gardens Waterfall, form a small portion of state land which is set aside as water catchment areas.

George Town, Penang: Climate

The city features a tropical rainforest climate, under the Köppen climate classification (Af). George Town experiences relatively consistent temperatures throughout the course of the year, with an average high temperature of about 32 °C (90 °F) and an average low of 21 °C (70 °F). Its driest months are between December and February. The city sees on average about 2,477 millimetres (97.5 in) of precipitation annually with the lowest being 60 millimetres (2.4 in) in February, while the highest is around 210 millimetres (8.3 in) between August and October.

George Town's proximity to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from the perennial but transient forest fires, creating a yearly phenomenon known as the Southeast Asian haze. The haze season typically hits between July and October.

Weather forecast in George Town is served by the Penang Meteorological Office in Bayan Lepas, which acts as the primary weather forecast facility for northern Peninsular Malaysia.

Climate data for George Town (Bayan Lepas)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 35.2
Average high °C (°F) 31.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.9
Average low °C (°F) 23.2
Record low °C (°F) 19.0
Average rainfall mm (inches) 68.7
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 9 9 14 19 19 15 17 18 24 24 22 15 205
Average relative humidity (%) 75 78 81 84 85 84 84 85 86 87 85 78 83
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 #1: NOAA
Source #2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes and humidity)

George Town, Penang: Government and politics

George Town, Penang: Local government

The City Hall, built in 1903, now serves as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council.

Local administration of George Town and all of Penang Island is carried out by the Penang Island City Council, an agency under the Penang state government. With a history dating back to 1800, it is Malaysia's oldest local authority and the successor to the nation's first city council - the George Town City Council.

Headquartered in the City Hall, the city council is responsible for urban planning, heritage preservation, public health, sanitation, waste management, traffic management, environmental protection, building control, social and economic development, and general maintenance of urban infrastructure.

The Mayor is appointed by the Penang state government every two years, while each of the 24 councillors is appointed for a one-year term. The current Mayor of Penang Island is Patahiyah Ismail, who took office in 2015. Penang-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are allocated four of the 24 councillor positions to allow for the participation in the city's policy-making by the local civil societies.

George Town, Penang: State government

Penang State Assembly Building at Light Street, home to Penang's legislature.
Federal and State constituencies within the Northeast Penang Island District, which includes George Town.

In the unicameral Penang State Legislative Assembly, George Town is represented by 13 state constituencies. The members of the State Legislative Assembly, known as State Assemblymen, are elected into office via the Penang-level elections, which by convention is held simultaneously with the Malaysian General Election every five years.

Since the 2013 Election, the elected State Assemblymen in George Town are as listed below.

State Seat State Assemblyman Party
Tanjong Bunga (N22) Teh Yee Cheu DAP
Air Putih (N23) Lim Guan Eng DAP
Kebun Bunga (N24) Cheah Kah Peng PKR
Pulau Tikus (N25) Yap Soo Huey DAP
Padang Kota (N26) Chow Kon Yeow DAP
Pengkalan Kota (N27) Lau Keng Ee DAP
Komtar (N28) Teh Lai Heng DAP
Datok Keramat (N29) Jagdeep Singh Deo DAP
Sungai Pinang (N30) Lim Siew Khim DAP
Batu Lancang (N31) Law Heng Kiang DAP
Seri Delima (N32) RSN Rayer DAP
Air Itam (N33) Wong Hon Wai DAP
Paya Terubong (N34) Yeoh Soon Hin DAP

The State Legislative Assembly convenes inside the State Assembly Building at Light Street. Built in the early 19th century, the building once served as the central police station for George Town, before being converted for its current use in 1959.

In addition, as the capital of Penang, George Town also houses the Office of the Chief Minister of Penang. The Chief Minister's Office is located at the 28th floor inside Komtar Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Penang.

George Town, Penang: Federal constituencies and agencies

George Town is represented by four Members of Parliament in the Malaysian Parliament. The Members of Parliament are elected via the Malaysian General Election, which is held every five years.

Since the 2013 Malaysian General Election, the Members of Parliament representing George Town are as follows.

Parliamentary Seat Member of Parliament Party
Bukit Bendera (P048) Zairil Khir Johari DAP
Tanjong (P049) Ng Wei Aik DAP
Jelutong (P050) Jeff Ooi Chuan Aun DAP
Bukit Gelugor (P051) Ramkarpal Singh DAP

As the capital of Penang, George Town also hosts federal government agencies and departments. Most of the federal government agencies are located within Bangunan Persekutuan (Federal Building) at Anson Road. In addition, several nations have set up or appointed consulates within George Town.

George Town, Penang: Judiciary

The High Court of Penang, based at Light Street, occupies the top of the hierarchy of Penang courts.

The Malaysian legal system had its roots in George Town. In 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 (now High Court of Penang) was first opened at Fort Cornwallis 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 of Penang in 1808. The Supreme Court was then relocated a short distance away to Light Street, where the present building was built in the 1903.

The legal establishment in George Town was later progressively extended to the whole of British Malaya by 1951. Post-independence, the Malaysian judiciary has become largely centralised. The courts in Penang consist of the Magistrates, Sessions and the High Court, which sits at the top of Penang's judicial system. The High Court remains at Light Street to this day, along with the Magistrates and Sessions Court across the street.

The Syariah court, at Jalan Batu Gantung, is a parallel court which hears matters concerning Islamic jurisprudence.

George Town, Penang: Demographics

Penangites celebrating Songkran in George Town.

By 1792, merely six years after the founding of George Town by Captain Francis Light, the new settlement had a population of about 10,000. In the decades that followed, Chinese immigrants continued to flood into George Town, causing the Chinese population to outnumber the Malays by the 1850s. George Town's population rose 101,182 by 1911 according to a census conducted by the Straits Settlements authorities.

According to the 2010 Census conducted by the Malaysian federal government, George Town had a population of 708,127. More recent estimates from the Malaysian Department of Statistics indicated that 738,500 inhabitants lived within this cosmopolitan city by 2012. These figures placed George Town as Malaysia's second largest city by population.

In addition, approximately 2.5 million people live within the Greater Penang conurbation, which also covers Seberang Perai (the mainland halve of Penang), and parts of neighbouring Kedah and Perak. Thus, Greater Penang is the largest metropolitan area in Malaysia outside of the Klang Valley (Greater Kuala Lumpur).

Penang is one of the most urbanised Malaysian states, with an urbanisation level of 90.8% as of 2015.

George Town, Penang: Ethnicities

Ethnic composition of George Town (2010)
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras
The Jewish Cemetery at Jalan Zainal Abidin is believed to be the oldest in Southeast Asia.
Penangites at a hawker centre in George Town

According to the Malaysian Department of Statistics, George Town is a Chinese-majority city; as of 2010, over 53% of the urban population consisted of ethnic Chinese. The Bumiputeras, which include ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous races like the Dayaks and Kadazans, collectively made up almost 31.7% of the city's population. Ethnic Indians comprised another 9% of George Town's population. These are in addition to small, but prominent, Eurasian and Siamese minorities. In particular, most of the nearly 1,500 Eurasians remain concentrated at Pulau Tikus.

The Peranakans, descendants of mixed Malay and Chinese ancestries, had simultaneously lived throughout the Straits Settlements for generations. The Peranakan community in George Town, which included affluent members such as Chung Thye Phin, Lim Boon Keng and Khoo Sian Ewe, would go on to wield considerable influence in protecting Penang's commercial and political interests. The Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Penang Straits Chinese British Association were headed by the Peranakans, who simultaneously represented Penang in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council. As the Peranakans tended to be more loyal to the British Crown than to China, they were also known as the King's Chinese. To this day, Peranakan influence is still visible in the form of Straits Chinese architectural styles and dishes like asam laksa.

George Town currently has a sizeable expatriate population, especially from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries as well as the United Kingdom, many of whom chose to retire in Penang as part of 'Malaysia My Second Home' programme. In recent years, George Town has been acknowledged as one of the best cities for retirement within Southeast Asia by the likes of CNN and Forbes. As of 2010, expatriates made up nearly 6% of George Town's population, reflecting the city's popularity amongst foreigners.

During the colonial era, apart from the Europeans, Eurasians, Siamese and the already multiracial citizenry, there were communities of Burmese, Filipino, Sinhalese, Japanese, Sumatran, Arab, Armenian and Persian origins. A small but commercially significant community of German merchants also existed in George Town, as was a Jewish enclave. Even though most of these other communities, including the Jews, are no longer extant, they lent their legacy to numerous street and place names such as the Dhammikarama Temple, Burmah Road, Armenian Street, Jewish Cemetery and Gottlieb Road.

George Town, Penang: Languages

As with other multi-ethnic cities in Malaysia, all four major languages are widely spoken in George Town - Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. However, George Town, and by extension Penang, is best known for its distinct Hokkien dialect, known as Penang Hokkien.

During the British colonial era, English was the official language. This was helped by the mushrooming of missionary schools throughout George Town, including Penang Free School, St. Xavier's Institution, St. George's Girls' School, Catholic Convent schools and Methodist schools, all of which used English as their medium of instruction and were held in high esteem by the locals. Most Penangites still maintain reasonable command of the language; while British English is formally used, spoken English usually takes the form of Manglish. Notably, George Town is the only city in Malaysia that retains most of its English street names, as can be seen on the multi-lingual street signs in the city.

As with the rest of Malaysia, Malay is currently the official language in George Town. The Malays of George Town also use a variant of the Kedah Malay dialect, with slight modifications made to the original dialect to suit the conditions of a cosmopolitan city. These modifications include the use of words of Indian origin and the alteration of the final l syllable into i.

Due to their Tamil ancestry, most Indians in George Town speak Tamil. Punjabi and Telugu are also spoken by smaller numbers of Indians.

Meanwhile, George Town's Chinese population uses a variety of Chinese dialects, reflective of their forebears' different places of origins in southern China. These include Hakka and Cantonese, while Mandarin, more widely used by youths, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout Penang.

However, it is Penang Hokkien that serves as the lingua franca of George Town. Originally a variant of the Minnan dialect, over the centuries, Penang Hokkien has incorporated a large number of loanwords from Malay and English, yet another legacy of the Peranakan culture. It is spoken by many Penangites regardless of race for communication purposes, so much so that even police officers also take courses in Penang Hokkien. In recent years, steps are being taken to maintain the dialect's relevance in the face of increasing influence of Mandarin and English among the younger populace, including through books, dictionaries and movies.

George Town, Penang: Housing

Residential high-rises now dot the landscape of George Town's suburbs. Also visible in the horizon is the Penang Bridge.

George Town has more than 210,000 existing housing units, of which over 80% consist of residential high-rises, such as condominiums, apartments and lower-cost flats. This reflects the inherent scarcity of land on Penang Island, which necessitates the construction of high-rise housing. In spite of this, George Town and its suburbs remain the areas of choice for homeowners, due to the city's various amenities and its popularity as a tourist haven, as well as the closer commuting distances to work. As a result, George Town's population density has risen to 2,372/km (6,140/sq mi), one of the highest population densities among the cities in Malaysia.

Overall, Penang has an average household size of 3.7 persons.

George Town, Penang: Economy

View of George Town from the Penang Strait. George Town serves as the main economic pole for northern Malaysia.

As the capital city of Penang, one of the most urbanised and industrialised states in Malaysia, George Town is one of the top contributors of Malaysia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and tax income. Originally established as an entrepôt by the British, the economic sectors of George Town now vary from finance to tourism, whilst other newer industries, including entrepreneural startups, are taking root within the city as well.

George Town also acts as the economic pole of northern Malaysia, with relatively wide logistical connectivity. The Penang International Airport is one of the nation's busiest in terms of cargo tonnage and passenger traffic, while the Port of Penang remains the top entrepôt in northern Malaysia, handling the second largest total container throughput (TEU) among all Malaysian ports.

In addition, Penang Island serves as the 'Silicon Valley of the East', as many multinational firms such as Dell, Intel, Motorola and Bosch have established electronic plants within the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone to the south. Massive industrialisation since the 1970s has led to manufacturing becoming one of Penang's top economic sectors, contributing as much as 47.4% of Penang's total GDP in 2015.

Overall, Penang has the third largest economy of all Malaysian states, contributing as much as RM7 billion of Malaysia's tax income in 2014. As of 2015, Penang's GDP per capita has risen to RM44,847, the highest among Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur). Furthermore, Penang constantly records one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country - 1.5% in 2015. Penang's Gini coefficient is also one of the nation's lowest, standing at 0.364 in 2014, which was lower than the national mean of 0.401. In terms of foreign direct investment, Penang attracted nearly RM4.5 billion in 2015, the largest amount in Malaysia; this underlines Penang's potential as a favourite for foreign investors.

Standard Chartered and HSBC (left) at Beach Street.
The skyscrapers along Northam Road houses financial activities as well.

George Town, Penang: Commerce

Beach Street still serves as the commercial heart of George Town. Seen here is the HSBC Building (centre right).

George Town was the centre of banking in 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 main branch in George Town in 1875 to cater to the financial requirements of early European traders. This was followed by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in 1885 and the Royal Bank of Scotland (then ABN AMRO) in 1888.

Today, George Town remains the banking hub of northern Malaysia, with branches of major banks such as Citibank, United Overseas Bank, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, Bank of China and Bank Negara Malaysia (Malaysian central bank), together with Malaysian banks such as Public Bank, Maybank, Ambank and CIMB Bank. Most of the older foreign banks still maintain their Penang headquarters at Beach Street, which serves as George Town's financial centre.

Northam Road is also home to a concentration of financial and other related services, with a number of accounting, auditing and insurance firms based along this coastal road. In addition to these, the Employees Provident Fund run by the Malaysian federal government operates an office at Northam Road as well.

The financial sector and its related industries, such as insurance, auditing and real estate transactions, accounted for about 13.5% of Penang's economy as of 2010.

George Town, Penang: Tourism

A cruise ship at Swettenham Pier, Weld Quay
The Rainbow Skywalk at the summit of Komtar, launched in 2016, is the highest outdoor glass footwalk in Malaysia.
The Goddess of Mercy Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Penang, is one of the major attractions along Pitt Street.

George Town has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia. Throughout history, the city has even welcomed some of the most influential personalities, including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, Lee Kuan Yew and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2014, Penang attracted 6.84 million tourists.

George Town's various attractions include the impressive array of heritage architecture, its multicultural society, a wide range of modern entertainment and retail choices, natural features such as beaches and verdant hills, and the world-famous Penang cuisine. The city's low cost of living and relatively well-developed infrastructure have also been cited as pull factors.

In recent years, George Town has received numerous international accolades, further putting the city on the world stage. In 2016, George Town was recommended as one of the 16 must-see destinations by the Los Angeles Times, as well as one of the top ten by the Lonely Planet. CNN followed suit by listing Penang Island as one of the 17 best places to visit in 2017. Forbes also listed George Town as one of the best budget tourist destinations in 2016.

These are in addition to George Town's reputation as a gastronomic haven, with CNN placing the city as one of Asia's best street food cities.

Unlike most other Malaysian cities, George Town does not just rely on air transportation for tourist arrivals. Aside from the Penang International Airport, Swettenham Pier has emerged as one of the major tourist entry points into Penang. As of 2014, Swettenham Pier recorded 1.2 million tourist arrivals and attracted some of the world's largest cruise liners, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2. With the number of annual port calls at Swettenham Pier continuing to increase in recent years, it was announced in 2017 that the pier will be extended in the near future to accommodate two mega cruise ships simultaneously.

George Town, Penang: Services

In recent years, the services sector, driven mainly by tourist arrivals into George Town, has become one of the top economic sectors in Penang. With nearly two thirds of Penang's workforce employed in services-related industries, this particular sector has also marginally overtaken manufacturing as Penang's biggest economic sector, contributing 48.6% of Penang's total GDP in 2015.

Within Penang's services sector, the greatest number of employment was recorded in the retail, accommodation, and food and beverages (F&B) sub-sectors, clearly depicting the influence of tourist arrivals on service-related industries. A substantial percentage of the services workforce are also employed in the logistics, education, health, and administrative and support services as well.

This services sector has also been boosted by firms seeking to establish shared services outsourcing (SSO) operations within or around George Town, including AirAsia, Citigroup, Dell and Temasek Holdings. The SSO sub-sector has raked in a yearly revenue of RM12.79 billion by 2013 and created over 8,000 jobs.

Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre, at Macalister Road, is one of the many private hospitals located within the city.

George Town, Penang: Medical tourism

An integral part of Penang's services sector is medical tourism, which has made George Town the medical tourism hub of Malaysia. The city has attracted approximately half of Malaysia's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generated about 70% of the nation's medical tourism revenue. About 1,000 patients arrive in George Town daily, mostly from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

The success of George Town's medical tourism industry is mainly due to the specialised medical treatments offered at more affordable costs by the city's numerous private hospitals, coupled with well-trained professionals and advanced equipment. Indirect factors that were cited include the relatively low cost of living, the laid-back lifestyle and the ease of travel facilitated by the well-developed logistical infrastructure.

Gurney Plaza, one of the more popular shopping malls in George Town.

George Town, Penang: Retail

Due to the numerous shopping malls and hypermarkets in George Town, the city is the main shopping hub of northern Malaysia. This is supported by the large number of tourist arrivals, and Penang's well-developed logistical connections and infrastructure, which facilitated the import of goods. Since 2001, shopping complexes in George Town registered the biggest increases in Malaysia.

Shophouses along George Town's Little India sell Indian fabrics and textile, as well as Hindu prayer paraphernalia.

In particular, the shopping malls around Komtar and Gurney Drive are the major draws for shoppers. Within the vicinity of Komtar are 1st. Avenue Mall, Prangin Mall and Penang Times Square. Meanwhile, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon are located next to each other along Gurney Drive.

Suburban shopping malls have also been built in recent decades, including Straits Quay and Island Plaza at Tanjung Tokong, Udini Square at Gelugor and All Seasons Place at Air Itam.

While shopping malls now dominate the retail scene in George Town, many centuries-old shophouses are still operating alongside the city's flea markets and wet markets like Chowrasta Market. These smaller retail establishments cater more to locally made products, including spices, nutmegs and tau sar pneah, a famous Penang delicacy.

This combination of both old and new creates a unique bustling retail sector in George Town. In addition, as many as 24% of Penang's workforce are employed in the retail sub-sector, the largest of all economic sub-sectors in Penang.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is also known as the 'Blue Mansion' due to its distinctive blue hue.
St. George's Church was built in the Palladian architectural style.

George Town, Penang: Architecture

Centuries of development have brought a mix of architectural styles to George Town, both historical and modern. The city centre of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its 'unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia'. Just outside the UNESCO zone lies the modern cityscape, with skyscrapers, residential high-rises, office blocks and shopping malls built all over the city.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, opened in 1885, also features colonial architecture.
The Moorish-style Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower is among the most prominent clock towers in the city.

In particular, the older architecture reflects the legacy of 171 years of British presence on Penang Island, coalescing Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Siamese, Burmese and other cultural influences. This blend of architectural styles is also visible in Malacca and Singapore, two fellow Straits Settlements which shared similar British colonial legacies. However, unlike Singapore, where many heritage buildings had to make way for modern skyscrapers and high-rise apartments, George Town's architectural heritage has enjoyed a better fate. Conservation efforts since the 2000s have brought previously derelict heritage buildings such as the famous Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion back to life.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple, with a history dating back to 1801, is the focal point of George Town's Little India.

George Town, Penang: Historic architecture

Most of George Town's famous heritage landmarks are located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the first structures to be built in George Town was Fort Cornwallis, which began to be constructed just weeks after Captain Francis Light had first landed in 1786.

Kapitan Keling Mosque was built by Indian Muslims in the early 1800s, one of the first in the city.
Wat Chayamangkalaram at Pulau Tikus was constructed in 1845 by the Thai community in George Town.

The administrative buildings along Light Street and Farquhar Street, which form the heart of the city, were built in various colonial architectural styles. For instance, the City Hall was built in the Edwardian Baroque style, whereas the Supreme Court features a Palladian architectural style, similar to that of St. George's Church. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a sister of Singapore's Raffles Hotel; both were founded by the Sarkies Brothers and feature colonial architecture.

Kek Lok Si, with its main pagoda incorporating Chinese, Burmese and Siamese influences, is a major tourist attraction at Air Itam.

Many of the bank headquarters along Beach Street, such as Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC were also erected in the Art Deco styles.

In addition, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is full of various Asian architectural styles, some of them combining different cultural influences. Kapitan Keling Mosque, the biggest mosque within the zone, combines Moorish, Mughal and Islamic styles. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan Mansion both mix Chinese architectural styles and European interior design, while the Sun Yat-sen Museum is one of the countless examples of a typical Peranakan (Straits Chinese) townhouse, which dominates the cityscape. Other unique examples of Chinese architecture include the Clan Jetties and Khoo Kongsi. Little India contains more Hindu and Indian Muslim architecture, as can be seen at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Nagore Durgha Shrine.

Impressive heritage architecture can also be found outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes the colonial bungalows built by nouveau riche Chinese tycoons in the 19th. century along Northam Road, and stately mansions along the roads leading out of the city centre, such as The Residency and Suffolk House.

The Thai and Burmese communities have left their mark on George Town's landscape. At Pulau Tikus, Wat Chayamangkalaram, constructed by the Thais, is well known for its reclining Buddha statue, while Dhammikarama Burmese Temple is located nearby.

Further out into the suburbs, stands Kek Lok Si at Air Itam. The temple, completed in the 1930s, merge Chinese, Siamese and Burmese architectural styles into its main pagoda.

George Town, Penang: Modern architecture

Skyscrapers along Northam Road
Skyscrapers along Northam Road and Gurney Drive at dusk

Since the mid 20th century, modern urbanisation has transformed much of George Town. Skyscrapers and high-rises have sprung up all over the city, sometimes side-by-side with heritage buildings.

Just south of the UNESCO World Heritage Site stands Komtar, the tallest skyscraper in Penang at nearly 250 m (820 ft) tall. It forms the core of the modern city centre, surrounded by residential high-rises like Hotel Jen, St. Giles Wembley Hotel, Neo+ Hotel and Penang Times Square, as well as shopping centres including Prangin Mall, 1st. Avenue and Gama.

Skyscrapers and high-rises have also been built along George Town's northern shoreline from Northam Road to Gurney Drive. Notably, Gurney Paragon, opened in 2013, includes the twin East and West Towers, the second tallest skyscrapers in Penang at 155 m (509 ft). With increasing urbanisation, high-rises are also springing up within the suburbs of George Town.

A roadside rojak stall in George Town. Roadside hawker stalls are ubiquitous throughout the city.
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

George Town, Penang: Culture

George Town, Penang: Food

A bowl of asam laksa, Penang's most famous hawker dish. It was ranked 7th. in CNN's list of the world's 50 best foods.

George Town, long known as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied street food, incorporating Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European influences into its literal melting pot.

The city has been recognised as one of Asia's top street food cities by the CNN, as well the top culinary destination in the world by Robin Barton of the Lonely Planet in 2014. According to Barton, Penang cuisine "reflects the intermingling of the many cultures that arrived after it was set up as a trading port in 1786, from Malays to Indians, Acehenese to Chinese, Burmese to Thais. State capital George Town is its culinary epicentre". These were in addition to the Time magazine in 2004, which acclaimed Penang as having the best street food in Asia, citing that "nowhere else can such great tasting food be so cheap".

The best places to savour Penang cuisine include Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, Chulia Street, Kimberley Street, New Lane, New World Park, Penang Road and Air Itam. The more prominent Penang dishes include asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, oh chien (fried oyster omelette), rojak and chendol. Certain places throughout George Town are more renowned for particular local dishes, such as chendol at Penang Road, Hokkien mee at Pulau Tikus, asam laksa at Air Itam, and char kway teow at Siam Road and Carnavon Street.

Besides that, several tau sar pneah shops can be found throughout the city, selling delectable bean paste biscuits.

George Town, Penang: Performance arts

George Town hosts a unique form of Chingay procession, which began with its first parade in 1919. Although Chingay parades are held throughout Malaysia and Singapore, Penang's Chingay is unique in that the balancing of enormous flags on one's forehead or hands is an essential component. It was said that Singapore even copied Penang's Chingay processions in order to spice up its own Chinese New Year festivities. Today, an annual year-end Chingay parade is held in George Town every December, though Chingay parades are also a common feature of Chinese festivities and major state celebrations 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. Boria is another traditional dance drama indigenous to Penang featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.

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

There are also two Western orchestras based in George Town – the Penang Philharmonic (formerly Penang State Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (PESSOC), and the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO), as well as several chamber and school-based musical ensembles. Dewan Sri Pinang and the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (Penangpac) at Straits Quay are two of the major performing venues in George Town.

Ernest Zacharevic's Children on a Bicycle, at Armenian Street.

George Town, Penang: Street art

One of the dozens of wrought iron caricatures that have been put up within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. This one is located at Cintra Street.

In 2012, as part of the George Town Festival, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of 6 wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles. They now stand as celebrated cultural landmarks of George Town, with Children on a Bicycle being one of the most photographed spots in the city.

Since then, the street art scene has blossomed. Cultural centres such as the Hin Bus Depot are now curating exciting exhibitions and inviting international artists to visit and paint murals, building on the existing reputation the city has as a vibrant arts and culture centre. Aside from wall art, several wrought iron caricatures, each depicting a unique aspect of George Town's history and culture, have been installed thorughout the city centre.

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery at Farquhar Street is also an architectural gem on its own right. This colonial building formerly housed Penang Free School before it moved out in 1927.

George Town, Penang: Museums

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery at Farquhar Street houses relics, photographs, maps, and other artefacts that document the history and culture of Penang and its people. Other museums within the city focuses on religious and cultural aspects, as well as famous personalities, including the Penang Islamic Museum, Sun Yat-sen Museum, Batik Painting Museum and Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery.

Other than that, the birthplace of Malaysia's legendary singer-actor, P. Ramlee, has been restored and turned into a museum.

In recent years, private-run museums have sprung up all over George Town, such as the Camera Museum at Muntri Street and Penang Toy Museum at Tanjung Bungah. A handful of newer 3D visual museums have also opened, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel.

George Town, Penang: Festivals

Ethnic Indians celebrating Thaipusam in George Town.
New Year celebrations at Karpal Singh Drive.

George Town's cultural melting pot of various races and religions means that there are a great many celebrations and festivities in any given year.

Ethnic Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. In addition to these, the Taoists observe the Hungry Ghost Festival, Qing Ming, and the feast days of various deities.

Meanwhile, the Muslims observe Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Hari Raya Haji, and Maulidur Rasul with open houses throughout the city. The Hindus celebrate Deepavali, Thaipusam and Thai Pongal, while the Sikhs commemorate Vaisakhi. Christian celebrations of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are also widely celebrated. Vesak Day is observed by both major schools of Buddhism.

Bon Odori is an annual event held at the Esplanade by the Japanese expatriate community, while the Siamese in George Town celebrate Songkran.

In recent years, the Penang state government has been organising the annual George Town Festival each August. The George Town Festival has grown into one of the most highly anticipated cultural events in Malaysia, with an estimated annual participation of over 200,000 people from all over the world.

Another well-known festival is the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, typically held every February at the Polo Ground. This particular festival has attracted Malaysian and international balloonists, such as from Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States.

George Town, Penang: Sports

Chan Peng Soon, a mixed doubles badminton player, won a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Nicol David (currently ranked world number 3 - as of September 2016) hailed from George Town.

George Town has produced some of Malaysia's sporting greats. Nicol David, considered by some to be the world's greatest female squash player of all time, was born in George Town and had trained at Gelugor at a young age. Fellow squash players Low Wee Wern and Ong Beng Hee also hailed from George Town, as is Chan Peng Soon, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in mixed doubles badminton.

The City Stadium in George Town was where Mohd Faiz Subri, a Penang FA player, scored the goal that won him the prestigious FIFA Puskás Award in 2017.

The city also houses relatively well-developed sporting infrastructure. The City Stadium at Dato' Keramat Road is Penang Island's main football stadium, with a capacity of around 25,000. The stadium is the home ground of Penang FA, and was where Penang footballer, Mohd Faiz Subri, scored a physics-defying goal that won him the 2016 FIFA Puskás Award. The SPICE Arena at Relau has an indoor stadium and an aquatics centre, while the Nicol David International Squash Centre at Gelugor is a major squash training facility. In addition, the Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.

The Penang Bridge Marathon is a popular annual event. The full marathon route starts from near Queensbay Mall, 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.

Sports clubs in George Town include the 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.

George Town has also hosted national and international sport events include the 2000 Sukma Games and the 2013 Women's World Open Squash Championship. In addition, George Town will host the Asia Pacific Masters Games in 2018, the first Malaysian city to be selected to host this regional multi-sports tournament.

George Town, Penang: Education

Universiti Sains Malaysia, at Gelugor, is the only public university in George Town.

George Town is home to some of the oldest schools in Malaysia, making it a pioneer in Malaysia's education system. Under British rule, missionary schools, beginning with Penang Free School in 1816, were set up across George Town. These English-medium schools educated some of Malaysia's most influential figures, including lawmakers, politicians, professionals and businessmen. They were followed by Chinese schools, some of which are also among the oldest in the country, thus making George Town the nucleus of Chinese education in Southeast Asia.

More recently, international schools have been established to cater to the growing expatriate population. These international schools offer primary to secondary education up to A Levels and International Baccalaureate.

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

These educational institutions have contributed to George Town's relatively educated populace and led to Penang having the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia. Overall, Penang had a recorded literacy rate of 98.2% in 2010, and its youth literacy rate rose to 99.5% as of 2014.

George Town, Penang: Secondary education

George Town, Penang: Missionary schools

Penang Free School at Green Lane
St. Xavier's Institution at Farquhar Street

During the colonial era, George Town boasted a good education system which stretched back to the early years of British rule. Some of these schools are among the oldest in South-east Asia, and have educated generations of rulers, lawmakers, politicians, professionals and people of social standing.

  • Penang Free School, founded in 1816, is the oldest English school in South-east Asia. Notable alumni include Tunku Abdul Rahman, P. Ramlee, Wu Lien-teh and Lim Chong Eu.
  • St. Xavier's Institution, established in 1852, is the oldest Catholic La Sallian school in Malaysia. Notable alumni include Karpal Singh, Wong Pow Nee and Hon Sui Sen.
  • Convent Light Street, also founded in 1852, is the oldest girls' school in Malaysia.
  • Convent Green Lane
  • Convent Pulau Tikus
  • St. George's Girls' School
  • Methodist Boys' School
  • Methodist Girls' School

Today, these missionary schools have been converted into national schools, although they still maintain their English traditions.

Chung Ling High School at Air Itam Road

George Town, Penang: Chinese schools

George Town became the nucleus of Chinese education in Southeast Asia, when the first Chinese school was established in the 1900s. Since then, the city has been the centre of Malaysia's 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.

  • Chung Hwa Confucian School, established in 1904, is one of the oldest formal Chinese schools in South-east Asia. It also became the first to use Mandarin as the medium of instruction instead of other Chinese dialects.
  • Chung Ling High School, founded in 1917, was the alma mater of Khaw Boon Wan, Lee Khoon Choy and Koh Tsu Koon.
  • Han Chiang High School
  • Penang Chinese Girls' High School
  • Union High School
  • Convent Datuk Keramat
  • Phor Tay High School, established in 1940, was the first Buddhist school in Malaysia.
  • Heng Ee High School

George Town, Penang: National, vocational and Islamic schools

National schools use Malay as their medium of instruction. Unlike early Chinese and missionary schools, national schools are mostly built and funded by the Malaysian federal government. Examples include Hamid Khan High School, Sri Mutiara Girls' High School and Air Itam High School.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Technical Institute and the Batu Lanchang Vocational School are two of George Town's government-run vocational schools.

The Al-Mashoor High School is an Islamic religious school in the city.

George Town, Penang: International schools

  • Dalat International School
  • Uplands International School
  • Tenby International School
  • Pelita International School
  • Penang Japanese School
Wawasan Open University, at Northam Road, is a private institution specialising in open-distance learning.

George Town, Penang: Tertiary education

Universiti Sains Malaysia, situated at Gelugor, is one of the best Malaysian public universities. Established in 1969 as Malaysia's second university, it was originally named Universiti Pulau Pinang (University of Penang). As of 2016, it is ranked 330th in the QS World University Rankings, the fifth highest in Malaysia.

Several private institutions have also been set up across George Town.

  • Wawasan Open University
  • SEGi College
  • KDU College
  • DISTED College
  • PTPL College
  • INTI International College
  • Penang Medical College
  • Lam Wah Ee Nursing College
  • Adventist College of Nursing and Health Sciences
  • Han Chiang College
  • Tunku Abdul Rahman University College
  • Sentral College
  • Equator Academy of Arts
  • Olympia College
  • The One Academy
  • Cosmopoint College

George Town, Penang: Libraries

The Penang State Library has a branch at Scotland Road. Other private libraries can be found in schools, colleges, or universities.

In 2016, the Penang state government launched the Penang Digital Library at Green Lane. The first such digital library in Malaysia, it currently houses a digitalised collection of more than 3,000 books, magazines and journals, and is accessible by the general public for free.

George Town, Penang: Language institutions

George Town is also home to a handful of language institutions.

  • United Kingdom British Council
  • France Alliance Française
  • Germany Malaysian German Society
  • Japan Penang Japanese Language Society

George Town, Penang: Health care

Penang General Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital in Penang.

The numerous public and private hospitals in George Town has helped the city to emerge as the centre of medical tourism in Malaysia. The public health care system first established by the British authorities was supplemented by health care provided by local Chinese philanthropists and Christian missionaries.

The Penang General Hospital, administered and funded by the Ministry of Health, is the main public hospital for George Town. Built in 1882, it now also serves as the reference hospital within the northern region of Malaysia. A medical school within the hospital is slated for completion by 2017.

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 and Singapore. Penang is actively promoting health tourism, given its considerable contribution to the state's economy. The city has attracted approximately half of Malaysia's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generated about 70% of the nation's medical tourism revenue.

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

Public hospital
  • Penang General Hospital
Private hospitals
  • Island Hospital
  • Gleneagles Medical Centre
  • Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre
  • Lam Wah Ee Hospital
  • Penang Adventist Hospital
  • Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital
  • Carl Corrynton Medical Centre
  • Optimax Eye Specialist Hospital

George Town, Penang: Media

George Town, Penang: Print

George Town was once the centre of Malaysian print media. The country's first newspaper was established in the city – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette in 1806.

One of Malaysia's top newspapers in circulation today, The Star, has its origins as a regional daily founded in George Town in the 1970s, while the oldest Chinese newspaper in the country, Kwong Wah Yit Poh, was also founded in the city in 1910.

The mainstream newspapers in George Town 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. 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. The Penang state government also publishes its own multi-lingual newspaper, Buletin Mutiara, which is circulated for free every fortnight. The Penang-centric newspaper focuses on the current issues affecting Penang.

George Town, Penang: Television

The television stations available in George Town are national media RTM's TV1 and TV2, and privately owned TV3, NTV7, 8TV and TV9. Programmes are broadcast in Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. A pay television service, Astro, is also widely in subscription in the city, as it broadcasts international television channels such as CNN International Asia Pacific, BBC World News, Channel News Asia, STAR World, FOX Movies Premium and HBO Asia.

Due to its well-preserved heritage cityscape, George Town has been used as a backdrop in a number of movies, such as Anna and the King, Lust, Caution and You Mean the World to Me, the latter of which is the first movie to be filmed entirely in Penang Hokkien. Singaporean drama series, The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also shot within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, George Town was one of the pit-stops of The Amazing Race 16, The Amazing Race Asia 4 and The Amazing Race Asia 5.

George Town, Penang: Radio

The available FM radio stations in George Town, both government (including Penang-based Mutiara FM) and commercial, are as listed below.

Frequency Station Operator Language
87.8 One FM Media Prima Mandarin, Cantonese
88.2 Hot FM Media Prima Malay
89.9 Fly FM Media Prima English
91.0 Mix FM AMP Radio Networks English
92.8 Hitz FM AMP Radio Networks English
93.9 Mutiara FM RTM Malay
94.5 988 FM Star RFM Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
94.9 Klasik FM RTM Malay
96.7 Minnal FM RTM Tamil
97.1 Sinar FM AMP Radio Networks Malay
98.1 Red FM Star RFM Radio English
98.7 TraXX FM RTM English
99.3 THR FM AMP Radio Networks Tamil
99.7 My FM AMP Radio Networks Mandarin, Cantonese
101.3 Ai FM RTM Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien
102.4 Suria FM Star RFM Radio Malay
103.6 Era FM AMP Radio Networks Malay
104.4 Lite FM AMP Radio Networks English
107.6 Capital FM Star RFM Radio English

George Town, Penang: Transportation

As one of Malaysia's major cities, George Town's logistical infrastructure is well-developed, enabling extensive connections via land, air and sea. Within the city, George Town's compact size, a well-developed road network and a relatively well-established public bus service allow for ease of commute for locals and tourists alike.

The Penang Bridge was completed in 1985. It was the longest bridge in South-east Asia until superseded by the Second Penang Bridge further to the south in 2014.
Penang Road is one of the busy thoroughfares in the heart of George Town.

George Town, Penang: Land

Development of George Town's streets and roads is an ongoing process that dates back to the early years of British rule. Today, the city has inherited an extensive road network. Outside the narrow streets of the city centre, more modern roads link the city centre with the surrounding suburbs of Tanjung Tokong, Air Itam, Jelutong and Gelugor.

The Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway runs along the eastern coastline of Penang Island between the city centre and the Penang International Airport, linking both locations with the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Penang Bridge. The Penang Middle Ring Road, consisting of a number of major roads like Scotland Road and Green Lane, was also created to alleviate traffic congestion around the city centre during rush hours. Meanwhile, the city proper is also linked with the western parts of Penang Island, such as Balik Pulau, via the pan-island Federal Route 6, a circuitous route that winds along the island's coastline.

The 13.5 km (8.4 mi)-long Penang Bridge, completed in 1985, links George Town with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia.

A trolleybus in George Town, circa 1926.

George Town, Penang: Public transportation

The earliest mode of transportation in George Town was the horse hackney carriage, which was popular throughout the last quarter of the 18th century until the 1900s, when the rickshaw gained popularity, until it in turn was rapidly superseded by the trishaw beginning in 1941. To this day, trishaws still ply the streets of George Town, primarily catering for tourists.

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

Horse trams, steam trams, electric trams, trolleybuses and double deckers used to ply the streets of George Town. 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.

Rapid Penang buses at the Weld Quay Bus Terminal.

For a long time, public bus services, plagued by intense rivalry between the different bus companies, were deemed unsatisfactory. In 2007, the Malaysian federal government announced that Prasarana Malaysia, which runs Rapid KL, would take over all public bus services in Penang under a new entity named Rapid Penang. Rapid Penang started out with 150 buses covering 28 routes on Penang Island. This service has since been extended and in the process, public transportation has improved. Public bus usage within Penang has also increased from a lowly 30,000 commuters a day in 2007 to 75,000 commuters a day in 2010. As of 2016, there were 406 buses plying 56 routes throughout Greater Penang, with 30 of the routes on Penang Island. Besides that, the Penang Island City Council, in collaboration with Rapid Penang, has introduced free shuttle bus services for short commutes within the centre of George Town to lessen traffic congestion. Recently, open-air double decker buses, known as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, have also been introduced for tourists in the city.

Old Swiss-made Penang Hill Railway coach, which was in use between 1923 and 1977.

Express long-haul buses linking George Town with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand utilise the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, south of the city, as their Penang Island terminus.

The new Penang Hill Railway funicular train, which has been in use since 2011.
The LinkBike public bicycle-sharing service was launched in 2016, making George Town the first city in Malaysia to operate such a system.

The only rail-based transportation system in George Town is the Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the peak of Penang Hill. When completed in 1923, the railway, then utilising Swiss-made coaches, was considered an engineering feat of sorts. It underwent an extensive upgrading in 2010 and was reopened in early 2011.

Within the city centre, efforts are being undertaken to promote pedestrianisation and the use of bicycles as a greener alternative transportation mode. Rental bicycles are being introduced and marketed by several companies within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, while dedicated cycling lanes have been marked throughout the city. In 2016, a public bicycle-sharing system, LinkBike, was launched; this electronically-operated system requires the use of smartphones to rent a bicycle at any one of the 25 LinkBike stations in George Town.

Since 2015, Uber, a private car hailing service, has been made available throughout Penang. Uber revealed in 2017 that Penang was its fastest growing market in Malaysia, with "thousands of drivers" and over 100,000 users within the state.

There are plans by the Penang state government to introduce more rail-based transportation systems throughout Penang. The Penang Transport Master Plan envisages the following long-term solutions to counter George Town's increasing traffic congestion.

  • Light Rail Transit line between Komtar and the Penang International Airport
  • Monorail lines linking Komtar with the suburbs of Air Itam, Paya Terubong and Tanjung Tokong
  • Return of the trams, limited to within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Overhead cross-strait cable car linking Komtar and Penang Sentral in Butterworth

With the completion of the plan slated in 2030, the Penang state government aims to have multiple public transportation systems on the ground, at sea and even in the air.

George Town, Penang: Air

View of Penang International Airport and the Second Penang Bridge in 2017

The Penang International Airport, 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town proper, was opened in 1935 while Penang was part of the Straits Settlements, making it the oldest airport in Malaysia. It serves as the main airport for the northern region of Malaysia, with extensive links to major regional cities.

The airport connects Penang with several major Asian cities, including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Medan, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon. It is also the hub for two Malaysian low-cost carriers - AirAsia and Firefly.

The airport is one of the nation's busiest, with the second largest cargo traffic and the third highest passenger traffic as of 2013. This reflects Penang Island's role as a major tourism attraction and a manufacturing hub. Due to its proximity to the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, the airport plays a vital part in facilitating the transport of goods and products to and from the factories in Bayan Lepas.

George Town, Penang: Sea

A cruise liner docked at Swettenham Pier.
Swettenham Pier is one of only two Port of Penang facilities in George Town.

The Port of Penang is one of the major ports of Malaysia and the most important harbour within the northern region of the country. The Port consists of nine facilities along the Penang Strait; while the main container and cargo terminals are located in Butterworth on the mainland, the two Port facilities in George Town are Swettenham Pier and the Penang Ferry Terminal. Both are situated at Weld Quay.

Swettenham Pier is designed to accommodate cruise ships, making it one of the major tourist entry points into George Town (and the most direct one, as it is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site). This also makes cruise tourism a major component of tourism arrivals into Penang. A number of cruise ships call Swettenham Pier as their homeport, bringing tourists into and out of George Town towards regional destinations like Phuket and Singapore.

A Penang Ferry crossing the Penang Strait towards George Town.

Occasionally, Swettenham Pier hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

George Town, Penang: Ferry

The Penang Ferry Service connects George Town with the town of Butterworth on the Malay Peninsula, serving as a convenient mode of transportation across the Penang Strait for the residents of George Town. It is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia, having been in operation since 1920. Currently, four ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth daily. There have been concerns in recent years over the loss-making Penang Port Commission, a Malaysian federal government agency that runs the ferry service.

George Town, Penang: Utilities

Water supply in George Town, which comes under the purview of the Penang state government, is wholly managed by the state-owned but privatised 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. PBA's water rates are also one of the lowest in the world; at RM0.32 per 1,000 litres, Penang enjoys the cheapest water tariff in Malaysia.

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

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

As of the first quarter of 2014, Penang had a recorded broadband penetration rate of 80.3%, the highest among all Malaysian states (excluding Kuala Lumpur). Currently, the Penang state government is in the process of implementing a statewide Wi-Fi service. Known as Penang Free Wi-Fi, it aims to improve internet penetration throughout Penang and is provided free-of-charge. As of 2015, its bandwidth speeds are being increased to 3Mbit/s within the centre of George Town, while 1,560 hotspots have been installed throughout Penang. When completed, Penang will be the first state in Malaysia to provide its citizens with free Internet connection.

Sewage treatment in George Town is managed by the national sewerage company, Indah Water Konsortium. Prior to systematic sewerage piping and treatment, waste water was haphazardly disposed, mostly into the sea, causing coastal water degradation.

George Town, Penang: International relations

George Town, Penang: Consulates

Befitting George Town's status as a major Malaysian city with various multi-national economic and social interests, several nations have either established their consulates or appointed honorary-consulates within George Town.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Norway
  • Pakistan
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom

George Town, Penang: Sister cities

George Town has seven sister cities.

  • Australia Adelaide, Australia.
  • China Xiamen, China.
  • China Xi'an, China
  • Indonesia Medan, Indonesia.
  • Taiwan Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Thailand Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Thailand Phuket, Thailand.

The state of Penang also has a sister area partnership with Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, which was signed in 1991.

Sister subdivision

  • Japan Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

George Town, Penang: Friendship cities

In addition to the sister cities and areas, George Town has inked five other friendship city agreements.

  • China Sanya, China
  • China Zhongshan, China
  • South Korea Busan, South Korea
  • South Korea Changwon, South Korea
  • Taiwan Kaohsiung, Taiwan

In 2013, the state of Penang signed a friendship state agreement with Hainan Province in China.

Friendship subdivision

  • China Hainan Province, China

George Town, Penang: City firsts

Penang State Mosque at Air Itam Road serves as the main mosque in Penang.
Khoo Kongsi, a large Chinese clan house at Cannon Square, features detailed Chinese decorative styles.
Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Temple at Penang Hill is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang.
The Church of the Assumption at Farquhar Street is the oldest Catholic church in George Town.
  • George Town became the first British settlement in South-east Asia in 1786.
  • The first newspaper in Malaysia made its appearance in George Town in 1805 – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette.
  • 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.
  • The Supreme Court of Penang, established in 1808, was the first to be established in British Malaya and formed the foundations of Malaysia's legal system.
  • College General is the only Catholic seminary in Peninsular Malaysia founded in 1665 in Ayutthya, Thailand and then relocated to Penang in 1808.
  • St. George's Church, established in 1816, is the oldest Anglican Church in South-east Asia.
  • Penang Free School, founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings in 1816, is the first and oldest English School in South-east Asia.
  • Sekolah Kebangsaan Gelugor, founded in 1826, is the first Malay school to be established in Malaysia.
  • 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.
  • Convent Light Street, a girls' school established by a French Sisters' Mission in 1852, is the oldest girls' school in South-east Asia.
  • The Penang Island City Council is the successor of the Municipal Council of George Town, which was established in 1857 as the first local council in British Malaya.
  • 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.
  • Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884, is the first botanic gardens in Malaysia.
  • George Town Dispensary is the earliest dispensary in British Malaya. It was opened in 1895.
  • Chung Hwa Confucian School, founded in 1904, is one of the oldest formal Chinese schools established in South-east Asia.
  • In 1905, Penang completed its first hydroelectric scheme.
  • In 1906, George Town's first electric tramway made its appearance.
  • Malaysia's oldest Chinese newspaper still in circulation today, Kwong Wah Yit Poh, was founded in 1910 by Sun Yat-sen in George Town.
  • The Penang Ferry Service, which began operations in 1920, is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia.
  • The Penang Hill Railway, opened in 1923, is the first funicular hill railway in Malaysia.
  • St. Nicholas' Home, 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.
  • Phor Tay High School, founded in 1940, is the first Buddhist school in Malaysia.
  • Federation School for the Deaf, is the first deaf school in the Federation of Malaya in April 1954.
  • Diocese of Penang in 1955 is the first Catholic diocese in Malaysia to have a local bishop at helm.
  • George Town, the capital of Penang, was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 January 1957, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya and subsequently, Malaysia.
  • Penang Island is the only island in Malaysia to be connected to the Malay Peninsula through land transport when the Penang Bridge was completed in 1985.
  • Penang is the first state in Malaysia to ban plastic bags and polystyrene containers, with the ruling in effect since 2011.
  • The Camera Museum, newly established in 2012, is South-east Asia's first and only museum dedicated to cameras, with extensive collections & the origin of the invention.
  • The Penang Digital Library at Green Lane, opened in 2016, is the first digital library in Malaysia.
  • George Town is the first city in Malaysia to have a bicycle-sharing system, with the launch of LinkBike in 2016.
  • The Rainbow Skywalk at the top of Komtar is the highest outdoor glass skywalk in Malaysia.
  • George Town and Malacca are the first cities in Malaysia to be granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site status on 8 July 2008.
  • Penang's water tariff is the lowest in Malaysia.

George Town, Penang: See also

  • George Town CBD
  • Penang Island
  • Penang
  • Greater George Town
  • International rankings of George Town

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George Town, Penang: Literature

  • Suet Leng Khoo; Narimah Samat; Nurwati Badarulzaman; Sharifah Rohayah Sheikh Dawood The Promise and Perils of the Island City of George Town (Penang) as a Creative City (archive link). Urban Island Studies. (2015).
  • Francis, Ric; Ganley, Colin. Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s–1963. Penang: Areca Books. (2006, 2nd ed. 2012) Buy book ISBN 983-42834-0-7.
  • Khoo Salma Nasution. More Than Merchants: A History of the German-speaking Community in Penang, 1800s–1940s. Areca Books. (2006). Buy book ISBN 978-983-42834-1-4
  • Ooi Cheng Ghee. Portraits of Penang: Little India. Areca Books. (2011). Buy book ISBN 978-967-5719-05-9
  • Penang Island (George Town) City Council
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