Penang's position on the world map was bolstered when its city centre George Town and Melaka were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. A standard tourism experience could combine exploring the multicultural facets of the heritage zone in George Town, lazy days on the beach (usually on the northern coast, in Batu Ferringhi), and some vigorous "nature walks" in the Penang National Park. The view from Muka Lighthouse in the national park—on the northern tip of Penang—is certainly spectacular. If you like altitude, you can also go up Penang Hill (official name Bukit Bendera). Take the funicular train up one side, mooch around for a bit, then hire a taxi (four-wheel drive) to come down on another side—which will take you straight to the Penang Botanic Gardens. In a nutshell, that's the culture-and-nature way to enjoy Penang.
There are other ways, of course, and you can find out more by browsing the internet. While you're there, look up "food." Where food is concerned, Penang trades on its stereotypes. We do acknowledge that Penang offers a lot of dietary choice and you should take advantage of it. For first-time visitors, this would be the place to start training your palate for Malaysian cuisine (Malay, Indian-Muslim, Indian, Chinese, Peranakan, and a whole lot of "others"). There is quite a big expat community here, and some pretty good restaurants have sprung up to cater for their tastes.
Since the UNESCO listing, "heritage" has become the "in" thing, for good and bad. There is a lot of material on the web dedicated to the critique, description, or promotion of "heritage" in Penang; the best we can do is provide a few links. For a sense of place and politics, try this interesting video on affordable housing in George Town. (Full disclosure: the unnamed producer of that video is the designer of the CHAGS 12 logo template.) There are many other videos on youtube, some with better critical commentary than the usual run of tourist bait... Some standard sources of information:
my Penang, from the state tourism bureau. Has a calendar of events, and suggested activities and places to stay.
George Town Festival (2017). An annual arts festival, different from the heritage celebrations on the 7 July weekend.
Penang Monthly: magazine published by the Penang Institute that "aims to supply Penangites with information about significant issues in order to promote public participation, thus encouraging discussions about the various aspects of Penang’s fates and fortunes." Freely available online.
Satisfied parent Akira Takada with Ken at the Penang Butterfly Farm
Penang with children
Penang for children? It depends on the children, doesn't it. We wouldn't want to be the source of family quarrels—just try your luck. There seem to be a lot of recommendations on the web from battle-weary parents. Here's one.
Swimming: USM's 50-m pool has public swimming hours. It's located around the corner from the conference site, on the way out to the Batu Uban gate. We'll call for ticket orders closer to the date. You can google for other swimming possibilities (pools and beaches) on the island.