To study herbs and what other islands in beautiful Malaysia have to offer, I drove 4 days through Penang Island. I am a very lucky to travel a lot and like to compare different cities with each other. For example, let’s review ‘my’ great city of San Francisco. Don’t Hong Kong and Vancouver possess lot of similarities with San Francisco? Of course it does. But how about a small rainforest island all the way in Southeast Asia? Well… be prepared to be surprised!
Stunningly beautiful Penang Island in Malaysia is only less than an hour flight from the capital Kuala Lumpur. And less than 30 minutes flight from Langkawi UNESCO Geopark island… two small tropical islands with mountains, wildlife, the ocean flowing around them bringing cooling air, a diversity of races and cultures, and… yet Penang island reminds me more of San Francisco than any other city I have seen so far. More than Vancouver and more than Hong Kong as well, and no, I am not losing my mind. Let me try to make a compelling case in 3 blog stories.
Arriving at Penang
When one drives north from the mainland to Penang, the coast line of Penang island unfolds with an impressive view that could be the same as seeing the shore line with the huge buildings of New York City or Chicago. A very long bridge connects Penang island with the mainland Malaysia and for sure that bridge reminds me of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Also ferries that sail every 15 minutes is giving the same impression as leaving Sausolito to San Francisco. And arriving by air, planes fly over the ocean almost touching the water like San Francisco airport… flying so low one thinks the plane is going to hit the water before reaching the landing strip.
But arriving in Penang by boat is the most exciting way of all to arrive at Penang island. Almost the same as Fisherman’s Wharf, with a marina, small eateries including many fish restaurants. Visitors enter an international island with a rich history plus the capital Georgetown as a modern city where the colonial past is being preserved among high rise buildings, luxury shopping malls and – when one is interested – museums, temples and much and much more!
People are very friendly and many speak English… Just ask for directions while stopping your car parked partly on a busy road, and you’ll definitely get answers with a smile. Maybe that part is little bit too much to compare with San Francisco because over there you would have a traffic ticket to deal with in no time! 🙂
Penang, like in certain parts of San Francisco is permeated with particular smells of food…each part there is a different flavor of food in the air. I learned by experience that during traveling, where one smells food, it means hospitality is in the air as well. Maybe food helps keep people happier by living together? Because in Penang, like in San Francisco as well, religions and ethnic background such as Chinese, Malay, Indian, Portuguese, Caucasian (you will find them all over there) live together respectfully and in peace.
Georgetown, the capital of Penang
This fast moving city contains lots of greenery, same like San Francisco. Even in Georgetown you see the lush mountains from almost everywhere, yet also breathtaking views of beaches because the ocean flows all around the island. Yes, the crazy traffic in Georgetown is absolutely horrendous. But many streets going one way makes it still rather easy to drive. Large international corporations have branches in Penang and I noticed few well-known high-tech companies that are from south San Francisco.
People are health conscious and Penang has a dozen of the very best hospitals in the world. People from Europe and US travel to Penang for high quality health care and operations that are done for a fraction of the cost in the US. What more?
Penang is an architectural gem of the first order. Part of the city is renovated under UNESCO and the diverse cultural past provides wonderful and unique forms of food, art, music and craft to enjoy.