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Touring the Straits Settlements: Penang, Malacca, and Singapore

ScribblingGeek 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 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)

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

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

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.

Malacca (Or Melaka in Bahasa Malaysia)

Malacca is a perfect entry point for visitors new to Malaysia. There is a bit of everything. The best of three distinct cultures brought together by the Straits Settlements.

Malacca is a perfect entry point for visitors new to Malaysia. There is a bit of everything. The best of three distinct cultures brought together by the Straits Settlements.

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.

Singapore

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

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

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.

© 2016 Scribbling Geek

Comments

Scribbling Geek (author) from Singapore 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