The Pearl of the Orient – and Malaysia’s Northern Corridor
From a backwater island, to a thriving British colony, to being dubbed the `Silicone Valley of Asia’, there is more to Penang than meets the eye – even to the casual visitor
An Introduction to Penang
Touted as the “Pearl of the Orient”, Penang is truly one of a kind, with its glorious past and promising future. Locals and foreigners alike have never failed to fall for its idyllic, serene beaches, and fast-developing state capital, Georgetown.
Away from the state-of-the-art skyscrapers in the city are the stretches of pristine beaches. Truly, Penang is a mixture of industrial development and exotic heritage.
Founded by Sir Francis Light in 1771, “Pulau Pinang” as it is known in Malay, is a turtle-shaped island of 292 square kilometres - including a strip of land called Seberang Prai on Peninsula Malaysia, about 48 kilometres wide. “Pulau” means “island” in Malay and “Pinang” means “betel nut”.
Prior to the arrival of the British, the island was owned by the Sultanate of Kedah. A decade later, the Sultan’s heir, Abdullah, took the throne. He asked to have the island taken away for the then-equivalent of Straits Settlement Dollars $30,000 per year in rental.
Francis Light established Penang as a British colony and entreport in 1786, although at that time, the British occupation of Penang was not legally ratified until five years later when `gunboat diplomacy’ forged a treaty in 1791. This treaty imposed on the Sultanate of Kedah a reduced annual rental of $6,000.
The Evolution of Penang
Light renamed Penang “Prince of Wales Island”, with its administrative capital, Georgetown, named after King George III.
After Light’s death, the Pangkor Agreement in 1874 allowed Sir Frank Swettenham to be appointed the first British Resident-General of the Federation of Malay States. In 1885, the first railway line in (the then) Malaya started servicing the 8.5 miles, from Port Weld to Taiping in the state of Perak.
From then on, Penang began to flourish and the industrious entrepreneurs from China who made it big - called “taokays” built themselves grand temples of wealth along what is today known as Millionaire’s Row. In 1826, Penang, along with Malacca and Singapore, became part of the Straits Settlements under the British administration in India, before coming under direct British colonial rule in 1867.
With the onset of World War II, the British temporarily abdicated Penang and the rest of Malaya, to the occupying Japanese armed forces. After the War ended, Penang became part of the Malayan Union in 1946, before becoming a state of the Federation of Malaya, two years later.
Malaya subsequently gained independence in 1957, and changed its name to “Malaysia” in 1963. And with this transition, Penang lost is free-port status which was an invaluable legacy of the colonial era.
The island was linked to the mainland by the Penang Bridge – Asia’s longest bridge - in 1985. Today, Penang is a fast-paced, developing city with its industrial free trade zone (FTZ) earning it the honour of being the “Silicon Valley of the East”. A world-class international airport in Bayan Lepas, on the southern part of the island, aptly seals Penang’s future as a global investment – and property - hub.
Places of Interest
Most, if not all, visitors will immediately identify Penang as a famous tourism spot.
Places of interest include Khoo Kongsi, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple, Fort Cornwallis and Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, the Buddhist temple with one of the world’s longest reclining statues of the Buddha. At nightfall, trendy restaurants, sidewalk cafes, "nasi kandar" stalls, discotheques, night markets, department stores and quaint pre-war shops together with a host of other places all combine to give the city its lively and vibrant character.
The Khoo Kongsi is a clan house built by master craftsmen from China; featuring a magnificent hall embellished with intricate carvings and richly ornamented beams of the finest wood. This unique architectural heritage gives Georgetown its charming appeal and distinctive character.
Sun worshippers and sea lovers will find Penang’s divine beaches perfect for all types for activities – be it water sports, swimming or simply lounging around on the beach. Hugging the coastline are international resorts that offer full facilities for rest and recreation.
Other attractions include Penang Hill, the Kek Lok Si Temple, Butterfly Farm, Botanical Gardens, Snake Temple and Penang Bird Park on the mainland. Those raring to get up close-and-personal with the sights and sounds of Penang may find the colourfully decorated trishaws an interesting way of doing so.
To add some excitement into your trip, cross over to the mainland by the Penang Bridge, or experience travelling on the ferry - once the only link with the mainland. Take a scenic drive up densely forested hills to soak up the sights of the island. And to make your trip all the more memorable, stop by Balik Pulau on your way back, to taste its famous durians and nutmegs.
Penang: An Economic Outlook
The economy of Penang is thriving with its growth in the electronics, semi-conductor and high-tech industries, in particular.
In fact, Penang has the third largest economy among the Malaysian states, after Selangor and Johor. In 2000, manufacturing was the most important component of the Penang economy, contributing 45.9% of the State’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). High-tech electronics plants such as Dell, Intel, AMD, Altera, Motorola, Agilent, Hitachi, Osram, Plexus, Bosch and Seagate are all located within the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.
Penang was declared a Multimedia Super Corridor Cyber City - the first outside of Cyberjaya - in January 2005, with the goal of making the state a high-tech industrial park. Tourism, finance and shipping are among the other important sectors of Penang’s economy.
The National Physical Plan of Malaysia envisages a Conurbation of Georgetown, which includes Georgetown and surrounding areas. The Conurbation of Georgetown is designated a Regional Growth Conurbation. The greater metropolitan area of Penang consists of highly urbanized Penang Island, Province Wellesley (Seberang Prai), Sungai Petani, Kulim and the surrounding areas. Under the 9th Malaysian Plan, this entire area is referred to as the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER).
Investing in Penang Property
Investing in property is very rewarding especially when done in Penang, as property prices tend to appreciate over a relatively short period of time. Prime property locations in Penang include beachfront property in Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong, which are all located on the Northeast of the island. Along Batu Ferringhi are numerous large hotels, restaurants, transport rental services and souvenir stores. Adjacent vicinities include Teluk Bahang and Tanjung Bungah.
Tanjung Bungah is another popular place for beachfront property. Many hotels in Tanjung Bungah offer rates to suit budget travellers. Indeed, the development of mid-class to high-end apartments and condominiums are rampant in Tanjung Bungah. It is an ideal residential spot for foreigners due to its proximity to the Dalat School and The Uplands International School of Penang. The Penang Branch Campus of Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) is also situated here.
Just minutes’ drive away is Tanjung Tokong, where the sea-fronting, exclusive Seri Tanjung Pinang villas developed by E & O Property Development Bhd have just been launched. The group has launched about 500 units of landed residential properties, priced from about RM800,000 onwards. It is now getting ready to launch the new bungalows for the Seri Tanjung Pinang project at the end of 2008, priced from RM2.8 million.
Pulau Tikus - located in Georgetown, central Penang - is also one of the upcoming prime property locations on the island. One of the luxury condominiums is the Silverton situated along Gurney Drive. This freehold property is priced from RM1 million.
Lying towards the Southeast of the island is Batu Maung. Around 20 years ago, Batu Maung was only a small fishing village accessible only from Bayan Lepas. However, in the past few years, Batu Maung has been experiencing rapid development due to its proximity to the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone. In 1994, a new four-lane highway – known as the coastal highway - was opened, linking Batu Maung to Gelugor. This shortened the journey from Batu Maung to Penang Bridge to around 15 minutes, from almost an hour previously.
In August 2006, Malaysian Government has announced that Penang's Second Bridge will be built from Batu Kawan, on the mainland, to Batu Maung, on the island. This infrastructure is expected to lend impetus for more development of property in that area. In fact, local developer Mah Sing’s RM1.28 billion Southbay Penang project in Batu Maung registered some 1,500 interested buyers for its first phase - scheduled for launching in early 2008.
Penang, towards the future
Economists and the Malaysian Government alike foresee a growth in property development with the proposed Second Bridge Link, monorail, and Penang Outer Ring Road projects, to be implemented soon.
Many foreigners, especially Japanese, Australian and British nationals, have invested in second homes on Penang island. In a recent survey, Penang was voted one of the best Asian cities to live in, by Asiaweek. It ranked 6th in 1998 and 9th in 2000. In 2007, Penang ranked as the 10th most liveable city in Asia according to a survey involving 255 cities in Asia by Employment Conditions Abroad Limited (ECA International). Some of the barometers by which these cities were gauged include weather, air quality, infrastructure, health services, housing, security and politics.
Property prices in the south of Penang have increased by approximately 20%, compared to only a year ago. Generally speaking, Penang properties generate good investment value because of their location, concept, design and quality.
“Investing in property is very rewarding especially when done in Penang, as property prices tend to appreciate over a relatively short period of time.”