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Thai island vs Malaysian island – Phuket vs Penang

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Thai island vs Malaysian island – Phuket vs Penang | The Thaiger

Two ‘pearls’ go head to head, including some reflections by guest writer TravellingMitch who’s from the UK

Penang was once the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, for most western travellers the only ‘orient’ they would know outside of Singapore and maybe Hong Kong. At the time Phuket wasn’t even known on the tourist map. It was the 1950s and 60s when jet travel had just started making the world smaller and the western middle class were in search of new and exotic locations.

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

But Penang’s popularity just fell off the map sometime in the 70s and 80s. In the mid 1970s people started to visit the little Thai island of Phuket and a new ‘pearl’ would go on to being a tourist favourite, and still is – Phuket, ‘The Pearl of the Andaman’.

The two islands are, geographically, very close and share a similar history of both European and Chinese trading heritage. Walking around Phuket Town and Georgetown you’ll see a lot of the same style of sino-porteuguese architecture although Penang has always had a lot more grand colonial buildings due to the British colonisation of Malaya.

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

The most obvious difference is that Phuket has great beaches. Penang has few and the water isn’t clear. Phuket has Patong and there’s really no equivalent in Penang (many would argue that’s a good thing).

Penang has much better roads and organised infrastructure, probably due to some early colonial planning and the large flat spaces for residential areas and towns.

And Phuket is Thai and Penang is Malaysian with all the cultural and religious differences that provide each island it’s own distinct personality.

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

If you want to drive from one island to the other it will take about 9-10 hours and you’ll cover 647 Km. There are now direct flights between the two islands with Firefly and Air Asia (it varies at different times of the year). As the crow flies, the islands are 357 kilometres apart. Firefly Airlines use a turbo prop aircraft and the flight is with Air Asia in an Airbus 320. In both cases the flight will take you around an hour, a bit faster in the jet. (Firefly is usually five days a week)

‘TravellingMitch’ travelled to the two islands back in 2010 and penned an article which, with permission, we’ve re-printed in bold.

Compared to Phuket, Penang is very low key. There is not the choice or variety of areas and scenery to stay in Penang as there are in Phuket. Penang is limited with its tourist areas, the town of Georgetown, and the beach resorts of Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringi, and the fact that the sea is not clear.

Having said that nothing is manic, like say Patong in Phuket, and Batu Ferringhi feels a bit like a small and quiet Karon or Kata. Tanjung Bungah is very quiet indeed. The hotels in the beach resorts in Penang are right on the beach.

Nothing much has changed since 2010, then…

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

Phuket is a place where you can just about find it all. You want mega busy with bars, shops coming out of your ears, Phuket has it. You want to be partying all night, Phuket has it. You want remote 5* luxury, Phuket has it. You want something in between, Phuket has it.

I hate to say Phuket has it all, but will say that Phuket has a huge range and choice of hotels and locations when compared to Penang. Many of the more remote beaches have hotels right on the sand, and as they are only 20mins from places like Patong, are very popular.

Think that the 20 minute travelling time has blown out a bit since 2010…

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

Penang is more sedate, and at the moment happy with being Penang. Only has 1, maybe 2 beach areas and the sea is a bit iffy but Penang is still a food heaven, has a much more laid back quality and does not have that really busy feel [even if it is] that you get in Phuket. Not much in the way of night life for those wanting to party until the early hours but there are a couple of night clubs in Georgetown. The only worry is if people try to turn Batu Ferringhi into Patong.

That hasn’t happened, yet…

Phuket wins hands down on beaches. Penang does not compare. The water is clean and clear and snorkelling possible right off hotel beach even in the busiest resorts in Phuket whilst Penang is not so lucky.

And Penang doesn’t have the assortment of islands off the main island that Phuket has…

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

Both are equal contenders for food. There is a good choice of cheap local food around in both but in Penang you get a wonderful eclectic mix of Malaysia, Thai, South East Asian, Chinese and Indian. All are very, very tasty.

Penang’s food scene is legendary and on-par with anywhere in the world offering excellent quality street and restaurant food. Phuket’s street food tends to be more exclusively Thai.

Shopping, well, Phuket gets it, but only just, and that is because of there are more markets – a thing that Penang is limited in. Although the modern malls are the same the world round, and most modern malls you could be anywhere, Bluewater in the UK, or the Gurney Plaza / Queensbay in Penang or Central shopping malls or Jungceylon in Phuket. The brands and shops are pretty global and in the modern malls only the signs give the indication where you are.

Generally we found that the cost of clothes is about the same as the UK throughout both Malaysia and Thailand, be it the hi-end or mid range original items or replicas.

Bargaining is a necessity in SE Asia, and you will get a better deal the more you buy. There are some great replica products and some absolute rotters in both countries, shop wisely and expect to pay more for the better stuff, again prices are about the same.

Given the cheap price of clothes and other products in the UK and the weak pound when travelling, we often found we were actually paying more than we could at home.

That also hasn’t changed but with the Thai baht surging it’s making costs higher for international tourists than before. They both have great shopping options at both ends of the price spectrum.

There are some lovely souvenirs in both, and the usual household stuff like cushion covers and table runners, which are popular, throughout both Phuket and Penang. Although I would say that Phuket, with the larger number of markets does seem to have a larger choice.

But there’s also a lot of copy-brand rubbish floating around Phuket markets. Turn your brain on before paying for your 150 baht Gucci T-shirt.

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

We always use local laundries to avoid the expensive hotel laundry fees. You will get a really good deal by the kilo for washing, and washing and ironing in both Penang and Phuket. Came back clean and fresh.

Hotels are pretty standard for both places, and not much to choose, a bad 3* and a wonderful 5* are pretty much the same the world round. There is a huge number of hotels in Phuket to pick from compared to the number in Penang. You do find many more really nice smaller boutique hotels in Phuket – and they are a real pleasure.

The ’boutique hotel’ scene and the newer high rise ‘residences’ are a growing trend in Penang with superior planning and development controls than the haphazard condo boom in Phuket.

Both island have amazing sights both natural and man made. Both have the culture of their old towns, Georgetown and Phuket Town. There is a great choice of things to see and do, and as what to see and do is a very personal thing no one could get bored in either as long as they have done their homework.

Georgetown is a lot larger than Phuket Town and is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. This has dampened a lot of the renovation of the old shop houses in Georgetown compared to what we’ve seen around Phuket in the past decade. But you could wander around Georgetown for days whereas Old Phuket Town might take you an afternoon at best.

So, I guess there is no real comparison, they are both very different, and it will depend on what each person wants for their experience to which is the better option. Please don’t go to one expecting the other. But if you do plenty of reading and research you will see which one is for you. Or you might be like us and love them both for what they are.

Couldn’t agree more, thanks TravellingMitch.

AREA Phuket 576 Sq Km, Penang 1,048 Sq Km

POPULATION Phuket 480,000, Penang 1.7 million

Thai island vs Malaysian island - Phuket vs Penang | News by The Thaiger

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Air Pollution

Southern Thailand smog well above safe levels

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Southern Thailand smog well above safe levels | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Charoon Thongnual – The Nation

Hat Yai, the main city in Songkhla, has been among the worst hit by the smog engulfing parts of southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

The business district of Hat Yai has been hard hit with PM2.5 particles exceeding the safety standards of 50 (set by the World Health Organisation). But some rain yesterday afternoon provided a short respite. This morning it is up to 158 again.

Southern Thailand smog well above safe levels | News by The Thaiger

Two other areas facing similarly poor air quality are Yala and Satun provinces, according to Tananchai Wansuk, the chief of the area’s environment office.

“The smog from the Indonesian island of Sumatra is expected to cloud southern Thailand for at least the next three days.”

Meanwhile, measures have been put in place to protect public health in southern Krabi province amid a seasonal recurrence of haze drifting from Indonesia, the chief of the provincial health office said yesterday.

Dr Aphichai Limanont said hospitals of all sizes had been instructed to communicate information about coping with the smog, with those at most risk, such as children, the elderly, and people with chronic respiratory problems are being warned to be especially vigilant.

Aphichai acknowledged that Krabi had witnessed dense smog every year recently, but said the authorities had been able to cope.

The southern Thai provinces struggle perennially with the smoke from forest fires burning on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island and Kalimantan and it reappeared this week in Yala and Songkhla. Malaysia and Singapore have been suffering for several weeks with government environmental officials pointing fingers and trading insults.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s President Jokowi has acknowledged the problem while 30,000 Indonesian army, firefighters and emergency responders are in the fire zones battling the intentionally-lit plantation fires.

SOURCE: The Nation

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Air Pollution

Smoke from Indonesian illegal plantation burn-offs causing acute problems for south east Asian neighbours

The Thaiger

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Smoke from Indonesian illegal plantation burn-offs causing acute problems for south east Asian neighbours | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Visibility down to less than a kilometre at KL airport yesterday

Flights cancelled, schools closed and regional environmental ministers trading insults. The minister’s fiddle whilst Indonesian islands burn.

Parts of Indonesia are now opening temporary clinics to treat thousands of people suffering from acute respiratory illnesses in the smoke haze stricken regions around Sumatra island as authorities stepped up efforts to douse forest and peatland fires.

Dangerous smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations is prompting school closures and disrupting travel in the region. But the air quality in Singapore, which slipped to unhealthy levels over the weekend, is now forecast to improve in the next few days.

The fires, an annual burn-off of plantations to prepare for the new year crops, is causing major disruptions and a health hazard for other south east asian countries in the wake of the smoke, including Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand.

More than 300 schools in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor were closed on the weekend after the Air Pollutant Index hit very unhealthy levels. (Johor’s weekend is Friday and Saturday with Sunday being a normal work day.)

Authorities have distributed perfunctory face masks to people in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Kalimantan as the ash and smoke from more than 2,500 hotspots blanket the region. Authorities now say they have deployed more than 9,000 personnel, with the help of 42 helicopters, to fight the fires.

The total number of hotspots in Indonesia fell to 2,583 on Monday from 2,862 on Sunday, with the Indonesian part of the Borneo island alone accounting for almost 1,200 forest fires. The hotspots have affected 328,724 hectares of forest and farm land this year, data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency show. The agency stands ready to undertake cloud-seeding to douse the fire, it said.

Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Hanoi and Jakarta were among the world’s top 10 cities with the poorest air quality, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data yesterday. The air quality index in Kuching in haze-hit Sarawak state was 241 yesterday, a level well in excess of the WHO upper level of 50.

In KL yesterday the levels reached 130.

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Air Pollution

Malaysia demands Indonesia acts on smog-belching fires

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Malaysia demands Indonesia acts on smog-belching fires | The Thaiger

“An official in Sarawak state on Borneo is demanding Indonesia send face masks and medical supplies to Malaysia for those affected by the pollution.”

Malaysia is stepping up pressure on neighbouring Indonesia to tackle huge blazes tearing through its rainforests and smothering Southeast Asia in smog, as fires typically started to clear land for crops send diplomatic tensions soaring.

Burning forests to make way for farming is also thought to be behind the enormous fires currently ripping through the Amazon in South America, and experts believe they could have a serious impact on the global climate.

Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin expressed concerns about the impact of the smog and offered assistance to Jakarta to fight the fires during a meeting with Indonesian officials Tuesday, according to a statement.

An official in Sarawak state on Borneo – where air quality dropped to very unhealthy levels this week – was less diplomatic, demanding Indonesia send face masks and medical supplies to Malaysia for those affected by the pollution.

“Until they suffer economically, they will not take our complaints seriously,” Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing was cited as saying by the Malay Mail news portal on Wednesday.

“The Indonesian government must bear the full brunt of responsibility of the haze in Sarawak.”

Air quality also plummeted to unhealthy levels in Kuala Lumpur this week as toxic smog drifted in and shrouded the skyline, while over 400 schools were closed in the Malaysian part of Borneo due to the smoke.

Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Despite the pressure from its neighbour, Indonesia insists the smog in Malaysia was caused by fires there.

A statement from the environment ministry and weather agency said the number of “hotspots” – areas of intense heat detected by satellite which typically indicate fires – on the Malaysia peninsula had risen significantly. But the facts suggested otherwise.

The Malaysian environment ministry referred journalists to information on hotspots published by the Singapore-based ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre. According to the centre, there were 861 hotspots on Indonesian Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra as of September 10, and just seven in the whole of Malaysia.

Indonesia has deployed thousands of security forces who are fighting a desperate battle against the blazes, which have reduced once-verdant areas of forest to charred wastelands and darkened the skies with acrid smoke.

Indonesian forest fires are an annual problem during the dry season but this year’s are the worst since 2015, when the region was choked by toxic smoke for weeks.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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