Georgetown is a pedestrian-friendly city with a well-planned system of roads and pathways that connect one end of Penang’s capital to the other. Here, several disparate elements have been combined together to create a city that is both bright and colorful. For imaginations sake, picture vibrant street art caricatures beside centuries-old temples, and you’re going to be right on the money!
A gorgeous three-storey, traditional Hakka – Teochew structure, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is a boutique hotel that’s one of Penang’s most well-known attractions in a magnificent edifice constructed in the classic Hakka – Teochew architectural style. The building at 14 Leith Street was erected in the 1880s by Hakka merchant Cheong Fatt Tze, who commissioned its construction.
Cheong Fatt Tze, a self-made and affluent merchant-trader who left China as a penniless teenager but soon rose to the ranks of the well-to-do when he built a vast financial empire across East Asia at the end of the nineteenth century, is an example. Despite the fact that modern Anglo-Indian designs were fashionable at the time, he refused to construct his home the usual way and decided to build his as a Chinese courtyard house concept. The stately manor has 38 rooms, five granite-paved courtyards, and seven staircases, as well as 220 timber-frame windows.
The brilliant blue mansion was rebuilt after it and was saved from destruction in the 1990s. Owing to its exuberantly social appearance, it stands out from other buildings on the street. The mansion, which features art nouveau stained glass and beautiful floor tiles, is a lovely illustration of the architectural style favored by wealthy Straits Chinese at the time.
The mansion was purchased from Cheong Fatt Tze’s descendants in 1989 to prevent it from being demolished after development threatened to destroy it. The home is maintained as a private residence while also functioning as a 16-room bed-and-breakfast in connection with an ongoing restoration effort while also additionally doubles as a museum. You may take a one-hour guided tour of the mansion or stay at the boutique hotel overnight to bask in the beautiful architecture.
The Kapitan Keling Mosque is a major landmark in Penang. The Indo-Moorish building, which was erected at the crossroads of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt by Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers (East India Company soldiers), is located near the junction of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt in George Town.
The magnificent main mosque in Georgetown, which is also the largest, looks incredible at sunset. It was named after Cauder Mydin Merican, the ‘kapitan’ of the Keling (a prominent leader of South Indian ethnicity comparable to the Chinese community’s shih tai ke). The whitewashed mosque, which has enormous golden-yellow Mughal-style domes, crescents, and stars on its dome, has a single usual Indian-Islamic minaret from which the muezzin’s call to prayer may be heard.
The main prayer hall of Kapitan Keling Mosque is located along a long corridor, with exquisite arches sweeping across its exterior walkway. Within the mosque, there are lofty, heavenly-white Gothic, Moorish, and Roman arches that give the already- spacious prayer hall an appearance of greater depth. Also for those who appreciate delicate designs, make sure to check out the sparkling chandelier that hangs above!
Calligraphy panels and stained glass windows with arabesques of geometric shapes and floral motifs cover the walls. The floor is made of solid, polished white marble with a profusion of prayer rugs strewn about.
Kapitan Keling Mosque, formerly covering 18 acres, is now limited to just eight acres as a result of government officials seizing the land for roadway development. For those who wish to visit, the mosque’s management will grant permission. However, bear in mind that visitors must be properly clothed to enter, for women this means long pants or skirts and shirts and long pants for the men.
The Penang Heritage Trail comprises Clans Jetties, which are remnants of old Malay longhouses. There were originally seven jetties, but one was destroyed by fire and the remaining six are still standing. This waterfront community, which is billed as one of the last vestiges of old Chinese settlements on the island, is inhabited by structures on stilts from a variety of Chinese clans.
Several of these water settlements are over a century old, and are located near Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay), right down from Lebuh Chulia (beside the Kapitan Keling Mosque). The Chew Jetty is the most popular with a number of stilt-houses, the longest walkway, a temple that’s worth visiting, and plenty of locations for Kodak moments.
Just as a little history lesson, the site where Clan Jetties now stands was formerly a wood yard filled with planks and firewood. The city’s waterfront was extended with brief public landing stages or jetties after the construction of the Quay in 1882. Settlements grew up around them and were utilized for the loading and unloading of goods, as well as the mooring of sampans. Over time, each jetty became known and dominated by a particular clan, and more dwellings were built. Because of the constant competition over access and monopoly contracts, the clans’ relationships had become extremely hostile and frequently ended in violent fights and quarrels in the past.
The Clan Jetties are located near the Penang ferry terminal, and the temple is adjacent to the quayside. Fun fact, to this day none of the families pay any tax as they are not living on land!
When you’re taking pictures in this region, keep in mind that people still reside there so be mindful. Wait for sunset to take the pictures and enjoy the splash of orange sky which contrasts wonderfully with the turquoise-blue sea and provides for an even more stunning photograph when you can get a shot of a sampan in the foreground.
Kek Lok Si, located on a hilltop at Air Itam, near Penang Hill in Penang, is Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple. The temple grounds, which include the hill entrance, souvenir, food and drink booths, and the turtle liberation pond, are separated into three areas. Temples, gardens, the pagoda, and the four heavenly kings pavilion are all located in the center of the complex. Meanwhile, the hilltop is home to a colossal image of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, as well as additional gardens and temples.
This breathtaking destination, which was erected in 1890 by Beow Lean, a devout Chinese Buddhist immigrant, comprises a number of monasteries, prayer buildings, temples, and meticulously-landscaped gardens. The ten-acre site was purchased in 1893, and the initial temple structure was erected on He Shan’s summit. The construction of and subsequent restoration work were completed in phases over a two-decade period. The Penang Straits Chinese community funded the final two decades of this vast temple’s 20-year extension.
The community’s major landmark is the center, which is a symbol of unity for all Malaysian Chinese. It’s also called the ‘Temple of Supreme Bliss,’ and it has a maze of souvenir shops as well as a turtle and fish pond. The Liberation Pond was created owing to the Chinese belief that turtles represent long life, strength, and endurance, and capturing and releasing a turtle is a metaphor for spiritual freedom.
The temple complex features more temples, a fish pond, extensive gardens, and 12 animal sculptures that represent the Chinese zodiac. The Kek Lok Si temple houses ancient Buddhist sutras and tablets donated by Manchu Emperor Kwang Xi and Empress Cixi of the Qing Dynasty. The temple archives preserve the ancient relics. The magnificent facility, which is frequently crowded with tourists and is located about three kilometers from Penang Hill.
In 2012, Penang’s municipal council hired London-trained Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic and tasked him with revitalizing some of the atmospheric Chinese shop-houses around the inner city. This proved to be a success with Zacharevic turning certain regions into thriving tourist destinations that were also the much-talked-about subject of conversation among locals.
The 20-foot tall ‘Little Girl In Blue’ is perhaps the most well-known work of Zdravko Zacharevic’s street art, a painting of a little girl in blue pajamas with real windows on either side. Just down the street from Eastern & Oriental Hotel, adjacent to this enormous painting is a concentration of bright trishaws eager to transport you to see some of the less well-known artwork in Georgetown. Prices start at about RM80 for a one-hour ride but you can whittle it down to a mere RM40 for a 30-minute journey.
His artwork is spread out across Penang’s city centre, along roads like Muntri Street, Weld Quay, Lebuh Leith, Armenian Street, Ah Quee Street and more.
To fully appreciate the artwork, we propose a stroll down Georgetown’s streets beginning at Muntri Street and finishing at Weld Quay in the evening!
There’s a lot of inventiveness, as well as a commitment to safeguarding this city’s colonial past, which can be witnessed just about everywhere. From the indigo-blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion to the magnificent Kek Lok Si Temple, you’ll find examples all over. What is also to be enjoyed most about Georgetown is that, while almost everything is within walking distance, you do not have to walk if you don’t want to because you may simply hire a brightly-colored trishaw and be taken to the entrance of each temple and art-filled street!