It's not exactly a big secret, but Penang is perhaps the most overlooked destination in Malaysia, if not all of Asia. Business people probably know Penang as a significant manufacturing base for high technology companies such as Dell Computer and Hewlett Packard. Maybe it's actually because of this that many leisure travelers don't even consider Penang as a destination.
In reality, Penang has more to offer than just about any other single destination in Southeast Asia. It has perhaps the largest and best preserved colonial-era old town, with excellent examples of Chinese clan houses, colonial homes, public buildings and private mansions. In addition, there are tropical beaches and huge temples.
Captain Light first established Fort Cornwallis on the northeastern corner of the island, and the city of Georgetown was laid out around it. The city was named after King George III, the ruler of England at the time, and Light actually renamed the island to 'Prince of Wales' island.
The city grew organically outward from Fort Cornwallis, with waves of immigrants coming to settle from all over Asia and Europe. Each ethnic group was assigned its own street, although this segregation was less rigid and formal than in other colonial outposts such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Anybody with the money could buy any piece of land from a willing seller.
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In the countryside around Georgetown, 'country estates' were established by gentlemen farmers for growing spices such as clove and nutmeg. Hill stations like Penang Hill were established on some of the mountains in the center of the island where city people could escape the heat - and pestilence - of the tropical summers.
The developed beaches lie west of Georgetown along the island's north and northwestern coasts. Recent development has expanded south of Georgetown towards the international airport and the long toll bridge to the mainland.