Penang: Pearl of the Orient ….

Penang Duty Free ShoppingPenang International Airport • PEN for short • is in a scenic spot on the island’s southeast corner, just off Malaysia’s west coast. It overlooks the Malacca Strait and is located in (and used to be called) Bayan Lepas. It is 16km • a 20 minute taxi ride • from the island capital of George Town, and the frequent bus journey takes 45 minutes. Visitors for the mainland would head east over the Penang Bridge expressway.

Penang is no longer a duty-free island, as Langkawi has this status instead. This does not detract from Penang’s vibrant shopping culture, with nationwide shopping festivals, malls like the 65-storey Komtar complex, and bargain-packed night markets.PEN is a well planned, well connected airport. It acts as the main gateway into northern Malaysia and for key destinations across South East Asia. In 2009, it won two best in class industry awards, for ‘Best Emerging Airport’ and ‘Airport of the Year’.

With over four million passengers annually, PEN is the country’s third busiest after Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. It is a hub for no-frills airlines Firefly and AirAsia. With budget travel on the increase thanks to operators like JetStar, SilkAir and Tiger Airways, plans are on the table to build Malaysia’s third low-cost carrier terminal here. Major carriers using Penang International include Cathay Pacific, China Airlines and Malaysia Airlines. Work is underway to increase capacity to five million passengers per year.

PEN’s domestic and international terminals are housed in one single complex. Passengers will find banking, ATM and currency exchange and pharmacy services there. There’s also WiFi internet access; a massage centre; a travel agency; and a tourist information centre on Level 1 in the Arrivals Concourse. Its eateries offer regional and international cuisine and fast food outlets like Kenny Rogers and McDonald’s. It is advisable to drink or eat before check-in, as there are fewer options airside.

Duty free shopping is the obvious perk to flying, and Penang International doesn’t disappoint. It has a number of tax and duty free stores, plus several souvenir and gift shops. If feeling brave, a local speciality is durian chocolate. If carrying duty free purchases from previous legs, retain sales receipts and keep bags firmly sealed to avoid difficulties at customs.

Get the gifts out of the way before concentrating on yourself. Top-shelf spirits include global bestsellers like Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, Johnnie Walker Red Label, or go off-piste with a more unusual bottle of Angel’s Envy Bourbon or Germain-Robin Muscat Brandy. There are also duty free savings to be made on Marlboro, Lucky Strike and Mayfair cigarettes, or top up the humidor with world-class cigars from Macanudo and H. Upmann.

To complement your holiday attire with leather handbags, shoes and accessories, try the Bally or Sembonia concessions. Not yet with the status of Gucci or Chanel, their statement bags are nonetheless a mid-way step on the luxury handbag ladder. For scarves, bangles, purses and gloves as well as their signature handbags, there’s also a coveted Coach boutique. Feeling left out, gents? Slope off for some robust urban outfitting at the Caterpillar store.

If starting a long journey, indulge in some prestigious new cosmetics to pep up your tired skin. Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Eclat will brighten your eyes, then the eye shadows, make-up and mascaras from Bobbi Brown, Urban Decay, Shiseido or Cover Girl will perfect that new look. A new fragrance from Vera Wang, Dior or Chanel is the cherry on the cake.

Don’t panic if you left your sunglasses at home, Penang International’s Fashion Gallery has pairs aplenty, from Paul Smith and Prada to Jimmy Choo and Maui Jim. Next, it’s time to bring back the bling, with sophisticated jewellery and watches from Emporio Armani, Fossil, Guess and Diesel. Necklaces, charms and pendants from Swarovski will bring a sparkle to anyone’s eye, plus get an edge of exclusivity with travel-retail jewellery specials from Links of London, Pandora, Trésor and Georg Jensen. Perhaps a classic set of pearls from Mikimoto might be more fitting, given Penang’s moniker as the Pearl of the Orient.As the region’s popularity and airport’s size increase, so will your choice of high-end luxury boutiques, at tax and duty free prices. Treat Penang International Airport as your own personal shopping oyster. Dive in, and come up with your own pearls.