A colourful history
In the far northwest of Peninsular Malaysia, Penang is the most ambiguously named part of the Malaysia: depending on context, the moniker may refer to the island (Pulau Pinang in Malay, pinang being what Malays call the betel-nut palm), or the state (the island plus a blob of mainland opposite, around the town of Butterworth), or even just the state capital – properly Georgetown, waiting to be appreciated on an MSC Grand Voyages cruise excursion.
This was where the British established their first Malay port in the late eighteenth century, laying the foundations for the Georgetown of today, a fascinating blend of colonial, Indian, Malay and – especially – Chinese and Peranakan heritage. A shore excursion on your MSC Grand Voyages cruise can be the opportunity to visit this city that has seen a renaissance since its central old quarter, along with that of Melaka, were jointly made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, and makes a wonderful base to see all of Penang. Elsewhere on the 285-square-kilometre island are a coastal national park where you might see nesting turtles, a couple of unusual temples and a rather overdeveloped beach at Batu Ferringhi.
Filling a triangular cape at the island’s northeastern corner is Georgetown’s centre, its historical core of which is essentially the area south and east of Lebuh Farquhar, Lebuh Cinta (Love Lane) and Lebuh Melayu. It’s a surprisingly harmonious maze of lanes lined with shophouses in various states of repair and liberally sprinkled with religious buildings, impressive clan associations or kongsi – a blend of Chinese welfare organization, social club and temple and other monuments. Dating to 1884, Georgetown’s Botanical Gardens boast extensive lawns, a stream and little jungly waterfall, and several (rather paltry) plant houses. Weekend mornings it’s packed with groups of exercising Chinese, who storm around the circuit trail in about thirty minutes.