As a multicultural destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is difficult to define Penang in just one word. As such, knowing the local culture beforehand will help you to understand Penang better.
Most signs are written in Bahasa Malaysia and English, with some in Chinese as well. Although English is widely spoken in many areas, it would be helpful to know basic Malay as well as the Malay names for roads and main destinations.
Penang Peranakan culture
The Peranakans or Straits Chinese are a unique community found along the Straits of Malacca especially Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Arriving from China centuries ago, the immigrants assimilated the local language, cuisine and fashion.
Straits Chinese influence is still apparent in Penang and lives on in the spicy local dishes, the language (Peranakans speak a mixture of Hokkien spiced with English and Malay words), architecture and traditional attire.
‘Ramadan’ is a major Muslim event that occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims fast daily and refrain from drinking water during this time. Out of respect for those fasting, try not to waste large amounts of food or behave imprudently in front of Muslims during Ramadan.
Penang’s vibrant festivals are a colourful reflection of the state’s multiculturalism. Traditional festivals such as Thaipusam, Hungry Ghost Festival, Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Chingay Parade and Chinese New Year have retained an authenticity that is unmatched in Asia.
Things to note for pedestrians
Pedestrians have to take extra care around town as some areas in Penang do not have well-maintained pavements. As pedestrian crossings are uncommon, people often resort to jaywalking. There are many one-way roads, so do check the direction of traffic when crossing roads and look out for motorcycles which may travel very fast and sometimes may not respect traffic rules. There are many open drains lined along the roads, so do be wary of your surroundings when walking around Penang.