A fascinating colonial city
Batu Ferringhi’s Beach
Shophouses and unusual temples

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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.

Must see places in Penang

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    Suspended between past and future
    Suspended between past and future

    Malaysia has something to offer every MSC Grand Voyages cruiser – from heady bar- and club-hopping in the capital, historical buildings in towns rich in colonial history and countless regional delicacies, to trekking and wildlife-watching in the world’s oldest tropical rainforest and diving at some of the world’s best sites off the white-sand beaches of its many islands.

    On a cruise to Malaysia you’ll encounter much charm and beauty; its rich cultural heritage is apparent in both traditional village areas and in its commitment to religious plurality.

    The dominant cultural force is undoubtedly Islam, but the country’s diverse population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Borneo’s indigenous tribes has created a fabulous juxtaposition of mosques, temples and churches, a panoply of festivals, and a wonderful mixture of cuisines. The Malays insist that their food combines the best flavours and dishes of the surrounding countries – and after a few meals from a sizzling street stall, you’re likely to agree.

    A First impressions of Malaysia’s high-tech, fast-growing capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), are likely to be of a vibrant and colourful modern metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers. Pulau Langkawi is a popular, palm-fringed, duty-free island north of Penang, while routes down the Peninsula’s east coast include stops at the truly stunning islands of Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Tioman.