Penang is an island off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is also the name of the Malaysian state which is made up of Penang Island and the facing strip of territory on the mainland called Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley).
Penang's beaches are nice, though a little lackluster when compared to those in some other Malaysian states, but this is more than compensated for by the island's rich multicultural history which is full of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences. Penang is also well known for being the "food paradise" of Malaysia.
The state of Penang is made up of two parts, Penang Island, a turtle-shaped island in the Straits of Malacca 8 km west of Peninsular Malaysia, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), a rectangular-shaped district that is part of the mainland.
Georgetown is Penang's largest city. Development of the eastern coast of the island is slowly linking Georgetown, in the northeast, to the city of Bayan Lepas in the southeast. The northern coast, including Batu Ferringhi, is also being heavily developed and features the island's best beaches and resorts. The island's western side is still relatively undeveloped and has a serene "kampung" lifestyle (village) feel about it.
Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang (who form the majority) usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay. Most ethnic Chinese are also able to speak Mandarin, and many are also able to speak Cantonese. Ethnic Indians usually converse with each other in Tamil and ethnic Malays usually converse with each other in Malay, but quite a good number of Indian and Malay Penangites can converse in Hokkien.
English is spoken fluently by most professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions. Most other locals under the age of 50 will be able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing. When in doubt, gravitate toward younger locals, as English is a required subject in Malaysian schools. Nearly all teenagers or adults in their 20s or 30s should be able to speak reasonably fluent English.