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Many travellers know Penang as a food paradise, with delectable dishes to devour at every turn and every hour. It is also the second smallest state in Malaysia, even though it is the third largest economic centre of the country (after Selangor and Johor). Besides Malacca, its capital George Town is the only other city in Malaysia to be earmarked as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
And if travelling foodies can put your chopsticks down long enough, you’d also realise it is a hub for culture and the arts. Walking down old town, you could not miss the postcard-famous wall murals that begs for audience participation. It is also home to myriad festivals, exhibitions, fairs and cultural events so you get to feed your soul as well as your hunger.
Get ready to be schooled in the arts of Penang, with these seven festivals you’d know only if you’re a Penangite.
1. Don Buri Festival
Penang is more than just a hot pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Peranakan cultures. It also welcomes the way of life of neighouring countries. Japanophiles should plan their visits to coincide with the Penang Bon Odori Festival. Held at the Penang Esplanade, visitors can bring home a piece of Japan with a quirky souvenir, sample authentic Japanese food or be entertained with lively performances. End the night with a thrilling firework display. Find out more at www.visitpenang.gov.my.
2. George Town Festival
In celebration of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage standing, the month-long George Town Festival curates literary readings, art exhibitions, stage and street performances, and film screenings from all over the world. Learn about the arts from notable panelists in various forums during the festival. It usually ends on Malaysia’s National Day so you can expect a jubilant atmosphere throughout the month.
Check out www.georgetownfestival.com for updates on this year’s programme.
3. Nine Emperor Gods Festival
A major celebration in the largely Chinese populated state, devotees observe a strict vegetarian diet over the nine-day festival to purify themselves. Visitors may sample these creative meatless fare from the 24-hour street stalls. During the celebrations, mediums enter a deep trance and engage in mind-boggling feats such as immersing themselves in hot oil, piercing themselves with long spears and walking on fire. On the last day, a procession will be held to escort deities back to heaven (from the temple to the shore) in a boat decorated with gold paper. Between 1 to 9 October.
4. Once A Month JAZZ @ The Philharmonic
Jazz lovers are in for a treat. To raise awareness and celebrate the genre, The Penang Philharmonic showcases a medley of light and easy Jazz at The Star Building. On occasion, the concerts may feature special invited guests. Held on the last Wednesday of the month from January through November, the series gathers working adults, students and professional musicians for an evening of rhythmic experimentation.
Visit www.penangphilharmonic.org for showtimes, or get in on the rehearsal sessions.
5. International Chinese Kungfu Festival 2016
Remember the old kungfu films where pugilists gather to challenge the leader of the pugilistic world? When we heard of this festival, that’s the image that came to mind. Senior masters throughout Malaysia, Hong Kong and China gather to share the “secret application” in Kungfu over this exciting weekend. Sounds awesome. Guests can expect film stars such as Chan Koon Tai, Anthony Wong Chau Sang, Ngo Ka Kin in a demonstrative showcase of the myriad martial arts schools. Get your more details from www.penangkungfu.org</>.
6. Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
Take to the skies in the most colourful way possible: Take a hot air balloon ride! Get a bird’s eye view of Penang from gaudy, bizarrely-shaped gasbags. Seen last year were Trump, Darth Vader and Humpty Dumpty hot air representations. Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately), the balloons do not float willy-nilly and rides only offer a tethered view of the Padang Polo grounds. Check www.penanghotairballoonfiesta for details.
7. Penang Bridge International Marathon
Work off some of the food guilt with the Penang Bridge International Marathon. Listed in the Malaysian Book of Records as the “Largest Marathon in Malaysia” for the last four years, participants can run, walk, even dance across the 13.5-kilometre Penang Bridge at this annual event. Non-serious runners can look forward to catching the sun rise over the majestic bridge over a carnival atmosphere. The Penang Bridge International Marathon will be held on November 27; sign up at www.penangmarathon.gov.my.
This list is just a tip of the iceberg for fun and interesting things to do for the culture buff. For a full list of events and festivals, as well as how to get around in Penang, check with our knowledgeable concierge at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel Penang. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +60 4 892 3333.