Penang’s past is a boon to its future


Getting off a plane at Penang’s newly renovated international airport, one cannot help noticing the welcome sign saying, “Welcome to the pearl of the orient.” Since the early days of the British Empire, Penang has been part of the chain stretching from England to Hong Kong and beyond. A military garrison it was but definitely not a hardship area as it has always been a much sought after destination by the British, looking forward to some hard earned R & R.

Today, no longer a military garrison, Penang is also home to several world-class resorts that have their vestiges in the past. The island is in the throes of what seems to be an unrelenting property boom fueled by tourism and wealthy Singaporeans seeking second homes. Looking north toward Gurney Drive and beyond the coastline is dotted with skyscrapers, evoking a miniature Hong Kong, rather then a pure pearl.

This, being Asia, few questions the un- bridled prosperity that real estate offers. Indeed traveling to the north end of the island to Batu Ferringhi, once a sleepy and picturesque beach town, where Penangites would travel to escape the hustle and bustle of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, the area has transformed itself into a cross between the Costa Brava and Phuket. A tourist mecca catering to all ages and tastes, with The Hard Rock Hotel on one end and the Shangri-la on the other. Somewhere in between, under the Casuarina trees, lies the Lone Pine. No it’s not a ranch; it was, according to general manager Marco Battistotti, Penang’s (and perhaps South East Asia’s) first resort hotel.

Lone Pine opened its doors to the public in 1948, as a modest three star hotel, more reminiscent of a Mediterranean resort than an Asian one. Amidst today’s hustle and bustle of Batu Ferringhi, The Lone Pine is an oasis of tranquility. The property has just undergone a well deserved makeover by its parent company E & O, which incidentally owns the charming, turn of the century E&O (Eastern and Oriental) Hotel in Georgetown. A new block was added, perfectly blending in with the original, bringing the number or rooms up to 90.Trip Advisor has included Lone Pine in its top ten list of Boutique Resorts under USD$ 200.

The meticulous makeover saw several food and beverage outlets, notably the only Japanese restaurant in Batu Ferringhi, Matsu. With renovations completed just over a year ago, Lone Pine has made a niche for itself on the Batu Ferringhi scene. Catering to a sophisticated traveler seeking a more individual experience, the hotel is infused with the same colonial spirit that existed over half a century ago.

If it’s a colonial past you are after, E&O is a name that is synonymous with history and luxury and the mother ship, the famed E&O Hotel in Georgetown, is now classified as a world heritage site. The E&O oozes charm and evokes a colonial past. It has often been compared to The Raffles in Singapore or the Strand in Rangoon. The hotel was first established by the Sarkies brothers in 1885. In the 90’s E&O undertook a meticulous refurbishment and upgrading of the entire hotel. Modern conveniences were added but none of its charm removed. Sitting out on the verandah today, one can almost imagine what Tiffin was like in 1885.