11/12/2014 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Penang Continues to Make the Most of Its Heritage


Installation at The Star Pitt Street. The building was originally an opium depot

Heritage and huge meals have been an inseparable duo in Penang since 2008 when George Town (with Melaka) received its UNESCO listing, and more visitors started to appreciate the state capital's multicultural mix of cuisines and architecture. New attractions on the Malaysian island are giving tourists even more reasons to visit.

The Star Pitt Street opened in September and is a multipurpose venue, a place to browse volumes from Penang-based publisher Areca Books, examine The Penang Story installation, see exhibitions, shop, attend talks, do crafts and meet up for heritage walks.

This "center for arts, culture and heritage" was once the offices for The Star, Malaysia's daily English-language newspaper, and was originally constructed to be an opium depot. Located on George Town's multicultural "Street of Harmony", the Penang Philharmonic will be striving for harmony of a musical kind on the top floor.

Tourism Malaysia recently collaborated with the Penang Tourist Guide Association to offer packages to help travelers explore "Penang's Little India Heritage Trail". A number of options (booked through Speedmex Travel & Tours, email combine walks through the saree-swathed sights and Bollywood sounds of the colorful quarter with street snacks, fortune-telling, henna painting and lunch served on a banana leaf. One restaurant taking part is Chettiar's Indian Kopitiam (39 Penang Street), which offers South Indian staples such as idli and dosas (thosai), along with local vegetables and meat or fish curries. There is also a night tour and cooking classes.

Penang National Park is currently the world's smallest. Its forest is popular with walkers, and its remote beaches are considered some of the island's best. An excursion popular with many travelers consists of walking through the park to Monkey Beach, then getting a local with a boat to ferry you back.

The more glamorous (and relaxing) way to do it is to sail there on a yacht. Blue Whale Cruises do daytime and sunset voyages, along with exploring other parts of the island. Eileen, the friendly owner, can organize special events, and meals can be provided on board.

George Town has also become known for its street art and is set to get more as 15 artists gather for Malaysia's first "Urban Xchange - International Street Art Festival". They will add another 14 murals to Penang streetscapes before the end of this month, mostly, but not all in George Town. The event was organized by Urban Nation, a Berlin-based urban arts center, and Hin Bus Art Depot, a local arts collective.

Finding innovative ways of appreciating Penang's assets are vital for both sharing and preserving them. Partnerships of old and new is an effective way of maintaining fresh perspectives and ensuring the island makes the most of its surge in popularity as a tourist destination in Southeast Asia.