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 effectively ensured Britain's dominance in the region. Today, these former territories are visited by tourists from all over the world for intricate histories and multi-ethnic heritage. Beginning with Penang, and ending with Singapore, here's a quick rundown of what to expect when visiting these enchanting tropical locations.
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. 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 certainly would not suffer the sort of "OMG! There's still so much I haven't done!" 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 go to, is Malacca City.
I'm from Singapore. And so it's a little hard for me to introduce it. In the sense of not going overboard.
So I'd concentrate on a recent "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 attractions. But they are hardly the only things we have. 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. We also have a sprawling botanical gardens, one that has been around for a century. This, incidentally, was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
My suggestion therefore, 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. It's not drastic. Just, noticeable. Consider this example. A bowl of Teochew style noodles in town would cost around five Singapore dollars. In most suburban areas, it costs three. Is that a good enough reason to check out our other areas?
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong