When it comes to property, it's all about location, location, location, and for me, the tourism parallel is people, people, people.
Indeed, when it comes to deciding how much I like a place and whether I would want to go there again, the hospitality of the locals is the most important factor.
Penang, then, gets the big tick of approval. The people are friendly, often incredibly humble, and although they come from a multitude of different ethnic backgrounds, they seem to live in harmony.
Before departing Auckland for Malaysia, I had flicked through the glossy travel brochures and done some research online, but a book by Barry Wain about Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was in power from 1981 to 2003, was a real eye-opener.
Wain, an Australian journalist and former editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal, has lived in Asia for 40 years and his book offered plenty of insight into what makes Malaysia tick.
"The country has never had any trouble accepting leaders of mixed parentage," he writes in the opening chapter.
"Constitutionally, a 'Malay' is defined as a person who professes the Muslim religion, habitually speaks the Malay language and conforms to Malay custom. Indians, Europeans or anyone else may be accepted as Malay if they adhere to those requirements."
As I discovered, the Malay mindset is an embracing one.
KNOWN AS the "Pearl of the Orient", the island of Penang is three kilometres off Malaysia's west coast and is the second smallest of the country's 13 states, with a population of just over 1.5 million.
I was here to explore the culture, enjoy some great food, relax and keep shopping excursions to a minimum.
Penang delivered all this in spades, although if you want more hustle and bustle, it's only a 50-minute flight to Kuala Lumpur, and most importantly, the fares are cheap.
It's particularly easy to get around Penang.
Some basic but important tips for first-time visitors are:
Always negotiate and agree on the price with the driver before heading off in a taxi (your hotel concierge will assist).
It's humid and often hazy, so drink plenty of bottled water.
Wear slip-on shoes or jandals when exploring, particularly if you plan to visit temples.
Penang's hub is undoubtedly George Town, which was founded in 1786 by British trader Francis Light. Its colonial buildings remain well preserved, and include plenty of original and colourful 19th-century shop- houses.
It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008, which speaks volumes for its cultural assets, so don't forget your camera.
Make sure you include St George's Church and Kek Lok Si Temple on your must-see list.
Exploring completely flat George Town precinct is a leisurely stroll, and I would recommend taking a guided walking tour to learn plenty of history in a short space of time.
The best time to go exploring is in the mid to late afternoon to avoid the heat and humidity, then enjoy the party atmosphere in Chulia and Campbell streets in the evening.
For another look at George Town, take the cable car to Penang Hill, at 821 metres above sea level, for breathtaking views.
PENANG IS world famous for its food, both in terms of its variety and quality.
Assam laksa, known locally as assam jawa, is Penang's signature dish. This spicy hot and sour meal, which consists of noodles in fish broth garnished with a variety of vegetables, costs only about RM2.50 a bowl (NZ$1).
Like Singapore, there's a seemingly endless number of hawker food markets. My pick was the one at Ferringhi Beach, and the night market there had some quality offerings.
If you can't resist the shopping malls and want to experience Penang's version of a Westfield shopping centre, head to either Queensbay Mall or Gurney Plaza, which offers tremendous value for money, particularly if you want clothing or electronics.
For those who like a punt, the Penang horse races (penang turfclub.com) are a relaxing afternoon out and another great way to mix with the locals and fellow tourists alike.
People, people, people. Would I go back again? Absolutely yes.
Mitchell Murphy travelled to Penang courtesy of Singapore Airlines.
- © Fairfax NZ News