Touring the Straits Settlements: Penang, Malacca, and Singapore
The Straits Settlements, Tropical Jewels of the British Empire
The Straits Settlements were Britain's former prized crown colonies in Southeast Asia. Consisting primarily of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, their strategic positions at the north, middle and south of the Straits of Malacca once effectively ensured Britain's dominance in the region. Today, these former territories are fascinating gems of history and multi-ethnic heritage, visited daily by tourists from all over the world. Beginning with Penang, and ending with Singapore, here's a quick rundown of what to expect when visiting these enchanting tropical destinations.
Penang (or Pulau Pinang in Bahasa Malaysia)
It's challenging to describe Penang. Should I write about the exotic temples complexes, or highlight how the downtown area is one huge colonial architecture showpiece? Should I talk about Ferrengi beach and the sea-front attractions, or should I go the colonial route and introduce Penang Hill and the Waterfall Gardens? I think the best approach would be to invite you to discover the Pearl of the Orient yourself. My suggestion, take your time, or join a thematic tour, and explore at a leisurely pace. At the end of the day, soak in more atmosphere by feasting on Penang's famous street food at one of the many open-air hawker centres. A word of warning though, regarding dining. Food here is heavy on the palette. Like its heritage, Penang cuisine is a mix of many flavours. Frequently, very spicy too. These are flavours you are unlikely to forget for a long time.
Did You Know?
While it is often thought of as so, and even written in some older textbooks that way, there were actually more than three territories in the Straits Settlements, the other two being Dinding and Labuan. Dinding was incorporated in 1874 but returned to the Perak Sultanate after ten years. Labuan was incorporated late in 1907, after the British government extended the settlement boundaries to include North Borneo.
Malacca (Or Melaka in Bahasa Malaysia)
Compared to Penang and Singapore, there are fewer things to see or do in Malacca. This doesn't in any way imply it's a lesser destination, though, for having fewer "must-sees" is exactly where the appeal is. There is just the right amount of attractions from each culture to fill a day or two of travel. Visitors would never suffer the sort of "OMG! There's still so much I haven't seen!" pressure they would encounter in bigger cities. With the completion of the Kuala Lumpur - Singapore High Speed Railway, the city is sure to become even more attractive as a day trip destination. I believe many tourism operators are already gearing up for this.
Names could be confusing when visiting Penang and Malacca. And I don't mean the fact they are frequently called their Bahasa Malaysian counterparts of Pinang and Melaka. Penang generally refers to the modern Malaysian state, with Georgetown as the key city. Similarly, Malacca is also the name of a Malaysian state. The capital, where most visitors head to, is Malacca City.
I'm from Singapore. And so it's hard for me to do an introduction. In the sense of not going overboard.
Let me thus approach this by addressing a "fail" I've noticed from many travel articles. Practically every Singaporean travel article I've read over the past year raved about the Marina Bay area attractions. As in the city waterfront, the casino area, and Gardens by the Bay. These are indeed our latest and fanciest locations, but they are hardly the only attractions Singapore has. Way before Marina Bay was even conceptualised, Singapore already had a world-class zoo, the largest bird sanctuary in terms of numbers, and several distinctive ethnic areas. In addition is also our sprawling botanical gardens, which has been around for a century. This, incidentally, was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
My suggestion therefore is to step out of the downtown and waterfront areas. The country is so small and well-developed in transportation, it never takes more than an hour to get anywhere. In fact, it usually takes 30 minutes at most. Another reason why you ought to venture beyond the waterfront area is because prices start to drop. Not a drastic change, just, noticeable. Consider this example. A bowl of Teochew style noodles in town costs around five Singapore dollars. In most suburban areas, it costs three. Is that a good enough reason to check out our other areas?
If You Want to Know More About Straits Settlements History and Culture in Singapore ...
- 3 Singaporean Museums You Can Visit Within a Day
Not only are these three Singaporean museums within walking distance of one another, all feature elaborate exhibits depicting life during Singapore’s years as part of the Straits Settlements.
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© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong