Malaysia is the very definition of multiethnic and multicultural: Its population is a mix of Chinese, Indians and ethnic Malays, and its art, food, culture and language are influenced by former Portuguese, Dutch and British colonizers. Nowhere is this more evident than in Penang, which was the British Empire’s first settlement in Southeast Asia—the beginning of more than 150 years of British rule, which ended in 1948.
Penang is divided by the Strait of Malacca into Penang Island and, on the Malay Peninsula, Seberang Perai. It’s easy to while away a day in George Town, the island’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visiting ornate historic houses, snapping pictures of its charming streets and breaking for spicy laksa (coconut-curry soup) and kopi peng (iced coffee with condensed milk).
Beyond George Town, Penang has a number of natural gems, including the idyllic Monkey Beach—with its white sand, clear waters and the occasional macaque—and Tropical Spice Garden, a must for anyone with an interest in South Asian cooking.
No matter where you go in Penang, you’ll find something delicious to eat, from the chicken wings at humble hawker centers to upmarket takes on Malaysian home cooking.