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Gorgeous George Town

I've always wanted to go see Penang. This is because every time I visited old towns in the South such as Phuket or Songkhla, I would hear stories from the past about various aspects of the relationship between those Thai towns and this Malaysian island in the Strait of Malacca.

Over a century ago with the boom in tin mining, many Chinese traders and labourers came from Penang, a major base of the British Empire since 1786, to several locations in the southern part of Siam (Thailand's former name). Back then a variety of luxury goods had to be imported from the colony. Wealthy families, especially those of Chinese descent, sent their children to study there. When the Kingdom changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy in 1932 and in the aftermath of later political turmoil, Penang was one of the preferred destinations for Siamese asylum seekers. Because of this history, Penang has long been on my bucket list.

Recently when the long awaited promotional airfare was available, my plan to bike in Penang finally materialised. The island's capital George Town (also, popularly yet unofficially, spelled Georgetown), was my target. Its old town, listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, is rich with Sino-European architecture. There are many more beautiful old buildings in George Town than in Phuket or any Thai city.

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