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Visiting Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, the Former British Straits Settlements

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Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.

Touring the Straits Settlements, Tropical Jewels of the Former 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 in pre-modern times. Both militarily and economically.

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 well deserves its nickname of "Pearl of the Orient." This former Straits Settlements colony has everything an idyllic tropical vacation would need.

Penang well deserves its nickname of "Pearl of the Orient." This former Straits Settlements colony has everything an idyllic tropical vacation would need.

A. Penang (or Pulau Pinang in Bahasa Malaysia)

It's challenging to describe Penang. Should one write about exotic temple complexes or highlight how the downtown area is one huge colonial architecture showpiece?

Or should one talk about Ferrengi beach and the sea-front attractions? Or go the colonial route and introduce Penang Hill and the Waterfall Gardens?

Personally, I feel the best approach would be to invite you to discover the Pearl of the Orient yourself. Take your time to explore alone, or join a thematic tour. Whichever your choice, remember never to rush yourself when visiting Penang.

At the end of the day, soak in more ambiance by feasting at one of the many open-air hawker centers too.

Regarding dining, a word of warning here. Penang cuisine is heavy on the palette. Like its heritage, the food here is a mix of many flavors. Often, very spicy too.

These are flavors you are unlikely to forget for a long time.

Malacca is a perfect entry point for visitors new to Malaysia. There is a bit of everything for everyone. A slice of culture each from ethnic groups.

Malacca is a perfect entry point for visitors new to Malaysia. There is a bit of everything for everyone. A slice of culture each from ethnic groups.

B. 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 too.

With easy transportation from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, the city is an easy day-trip destination as well. But of course, to fully understand this Southeast Asian gem, you should consider staying overnight.

The richest city nowadays of the former Straits Settlements, the tiny nation of Singapore offers a dazzling myriad of activities for all visitors.

The richest city nowadays of the former Straits Settlements, the tiny nation of Singapore offers a dazzling myriad of activities for all visitors.

C. Singapore

Much has been written online about the wealthy city-state of Singapore. Therefore, I’ll approach this introduction in a different way.

Practically every Singaporean travel article I've read in recent years rave about the Marina Bay area attractions. As in, the city waterfront, the futuristic Marina Bay Sands complex, and Gardens by the Bay.

These are indeed Singapore’s fanciest attractions. However, they are hardly the only ones the city-state is proud of. Way before Marina Bay Sands was even conceptualized, Singapore already had a world-class zoo, the largest bird sanctuary in terms of avian numbers, and several distinct ethnic areas.

Furthermore, there is the sprawling Singapore Botanic Garden, which has been around for a century. This oasis right beside the glitzy Orchard Road shopping stretch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site too.

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.

Prices also become noticeably cheaper the further you’re away from the touristy areas. Consider this example. A bowl of Teochew-Style Fishball Noodles at Marina Bay Sands could cost more than five Singaporean dollars. In suburban neighborhoods, it would be but three dollars. Is that a good enough reason to venture and explore?

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.

© 2016 Ced Yong

Comments

Ced Yong (author) from Asia on August 19, 2016:

Thanks norlawrence! Glad you like the hub.

Norma Lawrence from California on August 18, 2016:

Great article and gorgeous pictures. I loved it. Thanks

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