My favourite place: Penang, Malaysia

In the March 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine, Susan Law selects Penang, Malaysia as her favourite historical destination. History Extra caught up with her to find out more...

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si temple, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. (Photo by Inti St Clair/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

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Q: When did you last travel to Penang and why were you there?

A: It’s been more than five years since I was last there – I really must go back again soon. I flew in to escape the chill of an English February, for a family holiday. A meagre two weeks wasn’t nearly long enough, but I loved wandering around George Town’s backstreets and lazy meals at beach restaurants.

Q: Why do you love the location?

A: For me it has to be the amazing contrasts to be found on Penang – the cultures, architecture, people and food are all so diverse. The island also has a natural beauty, with gorgeous exotic flowers (and hundreds of monkeys) best seen in the lush Botanic Gardens.

Q: What top three sights would you recommend people visit and why?

A: That’s difficult to answer as there are so many memorable places, but I suggest Khoo Kongsi, the Snake Temple, and the massive golden reclining Buddha (at 33 metres long reputedly the world’s third largest) in Wat Chayamangkalaram. Each is impressive in its own right, but collectively make you think about how different cultures can live together.

Q: During what period of history would you most want to have visited Penang and why?

A: Definitely during the 1920s to experience all the luxury and elegance of colonial life, with cocktails on the impressive seafront verandah at the E&O Hotel, followed by dinner with some of its best-known guests Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.

Q: Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

A: I’m always drawn to islands and haven’t yet made it to the volcanic Greek island Santorini, ‘the black pearl of the Aegean’, with its iconic whitewashed cube houses and blue-domed churches. I want to see the excavated Minoan city buried in the 1613 BC eruption at Akrotiri, the old port of Ormos, and enjoy sunsets from the village of Oia.

Dr Susan Law is a journalist and historian whose latest book is Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House (History Press, 2015).

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You can read more about Susan’s experiences in Penang in the March 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine.