Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Penang lost?

Looking over or overlooked? Posted by Hello

Brass diety at Kek Lok Si temple overlooking Georgetown (Komtar clearly seen at background), as if eternal eyes of the otherworld would forever safeguard this pearl of an island.

Recent comments have it that Penang, the pearl of the orient has lost it luster in the regional tourism race. Places like Langkawi, Phuket and even Malacca is overtaking Penang in terms of tourists’ arrivals. While it is true that other places are developing mass tourism attractions such as expensive marinas, underwater worlds, multi star hotels, giant amusement parks, large safari parks, etc. Penang has something that many other places lack, history and charm.

Yes people complain about the traffic and the pollution and maybe at time about the local populace, but that is beside the point. Penang does not need any large scale mass tourism magnet to promote itself, what can offer is Penang itself; the various classic buildings, it’s rich historical past, the convergence of cultures and religions that called this place home, great hawker food and it’s charming people (yeah right). The problems facing tourism now; the traffic, the environment, the lack of tourism information could be fixed if attention were given. Some problems may take longer and greater effort to overcome but tourism wise I figure that the Penang Tourism board is doing well off and that private efforts such as by Badan Warisan and Penang Heritage Trust are doing splendid jobs at helping preserve the very fabric of Penang that tourists want to see not some theme park “Penang lost world”.

Penang may not be high on tourists interests such as great sandy beaches, long and expensive malls for shoppers or theme parks but what is has is history and culture and that should be exploited and used as a selling point. My visits to the island state (ok so most people discount Seberang Prai when mentioning Penang), really made me appreciative of Georgetown. I found charm at the dirty back street allyways, the musty temples, rat infested food stalls, run down residential buildings and rickety quays but I fell in love with Penang. Now if only people who demolish heritage building in the wee hours of the night can be shot, we’ll all be better off. There is no question that Penang will have to modernize with the times, we can’t avoid the tinkers, the family traders, the old coffee house being replaced with RM 2 stores, dance clubs and Starbucks but we can help in ensuring that such trades does not die off in entire. Please avoid putting things like marinas, ocean parks, giant megabucks complexes, theme parks and theme hotels on the island, we don’t want to see it turned into Kl.

So said, Penang could do with some spiffing up but in my books, it’ll retain its old world charms and is a top notch destination anytime. Big time tourists might not like it but take a look around and you'll see the multitude of bagpackers around town, thats the only way to see Penang in all it's glory.

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