Similarly to Singapore, Penang Island has a long and interesting history .In1786 Captain Francis Light (Thomas Raffles’s brother in law) first set foot on Penang. It was almost completely uninhabited and the story goes that he loaded his ships cannons with silver dollars and fired them into the jungle to encourage the workers to clear it faster.
A trading port was established here and Light hoped to lure trade from the British East India Trading Companies rivals the Dutch.
By the mid 1800′s Penang was home to a large Chinese population. Its main economies included opium growing, gambling and prostitution and it had become a dangerous and violent place. In 1867 10 days of rioting by rival Chinese societies left 100′s of people dead. When British administrators finally took control they fined the societies heavily and used the proceeds to build police stations which subsequently kept the peace.
We are going to Penang Museum today. Although the kids have learnt the history of Penang we have found that visiting museums helps them to retain the knowledge and often use visual aids to reinforce information.
We have learnt the majority of facts about present day Malay politics, issues and culture by talking to taxi drivers. Although many of them seem quite surly and unfriendly when you first get in they will often start chattering away. The biggest bone of contention is the preferential treatment afforded to the Malay people. The Chinese and Indian people although they may be 3rd or 4th generation Malaysian born still have to pay many extra taxes including when buying a house, getting a business licence etc. ( around 10%)
Until the early 1980′s there weren’t any high rise hotels on Penang Island, now there are hundreds. I’m glad that we have visited now, as it continues to be promoted as one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations. I can see that it was probably once very pretty but for me it seems a shame that the trees have all been chopped down to make way for concrete.
It is really hot today probably I would guess around 35 degrees and the temperature seems to have shot up since yesterday. We catch a trishaw which is a type of bike powered rickshaw to the museum. Unfortunately the air con has been switched off on the top floor so we spend about 5 minutes flat there. The ground floor level is very interesting though and as well as explaining Penang’s history there is a gallery with Chinese wedding outfits and beautiful antique Chinese furniture including mahogany opium beds.
Opium smoking was legal until just before WW11 when the British outlawed it on moral grounds. There were also pictures showing men lying on the beds, with the opium pipes in hand getting off their faces.
From the museum we walked to The Eastern and Oriental Hotel, this fantastic old hotel was built by the Sarkie brothers who also built Raffles in Singapore and we have read that a visit to Penang isn’t complete until you have had tiffin on the lawn. As we hadn’t long eaten we had a ginger beer instead but it was a pleasant enough break from the burning sun sat under the umbrellas.
Next we got a taxi to The Snake Temple; apparently home too many poisonous snakes who laze around doped by the constant burning of incense and only venture down later in the day when it is cooler. We did see a few snakes coiled around candlesticks and Ali had his photo taken with one round his neck and one on his head but for me I thought it was a bit of a crap attraction lacking in both snakes and spirituality.
After a quick shower we decide to go out in search of some hawker food for dinner and don’t have to walk far before we find a really good place. We have chicken satay, crispy duck, fried rice and dim sum. I can’t remember when the kids last ate with a knife and fork and are expert chopstick users now.
Tomorrow we are moving on to Langkawi, originally we planned to skip it but we are very close and have heard lots of good reports so plan to go get a bit of beach for a few days. We booked our ferry tickets this morning which cost 170 ringitt (around 27 quid) and have arranged some beachside accommodation so I am looking forward to moving on and catching a few rays.