You should start your acquaintance with Georgetown with its historical sights – the narrow old streets are lost among the market bustle of the city. The city’s Chinese history is reflected in the shops and old hotels where you can enjoy delicious food and great shopping.
There are many ways to get to know the place – on foot, on a rickshaw, or by bike – but remember to wear a hat, apply sunscreen, and drink plenty of water.
A simple stroll through Georgetown is the best way to see the city, where crumbling colonial-era shopfronts grace the streets and help you travel back in time. Many of the buildings were built in a mix of both colonial and Chinese styles, which is a testament to the city’s true fusion of cultures. In Georgetown you can see one of the largest “collections” of buildings of the 19th century. and the beginning of the XX century. in Southeast Asia. Winner of the 2000 Asia-Pacific UNESCO Historical Preservation Prize, Cheong Fatt Jie Mansion is a stunning example of a mixture of cultures. You can head to the Colonial Quarter to see the amazing architecture, and at Fort Cornwallis you can learn more about the founding of Georgetown, as it was erected on the site of the first European landing on Penang Island.
Georgetown’s population is predominantly Chinese and Muslim, and this is reflected in places of worship throughout the city. Various beliefs have taken root here for a long time, and some temples and mosques date back to the 19th century.
Georgetown is a gourmet paradise and the food is great. Penang is famous for its cuisine, in particular for all kinds of seafood dishes. Take your pick: Chinese, vegetarian, Indian, Malay cuisine are at your service.
An absolutely incredible feeling is a visit to the Temple of Serpents, erected in honor of a Buddhist priest-healer. The temple is inhabited by green tree snakes and venomous vipers.
If you arrive in the city in May or June, you can see the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival. The holiday lasts two days, and one of its main events is the rowing competition.
Acquaintance with the colonial heritage of the country
One of the perks of tourism in Historic Georgetown is the ability to explore many parts of this compact area on foot, and it is best to start your excursion from the main ferry dock at Weld. Clan Jetty, a fishing village on stilts, where houses are connected by wooden walkways over the water, sits on the tide-flooded foreshore. The village is home to about 2,000 families of boatmen and fishermen, each group belonging to a different Chinese clan.
At the other end of Pengkalan Veld is the Clock Tower (Jam Besar), donated to the city in 1897 in honor of Queen Victoria’s sixty-year tenure.
Across the road, you can see Fort Cornwallis (named after Charles Cornwallis, Governor General of India), located on the spot where Captain Francis Light landed on July 17, 1786. The fortifications, originally made of wood and restored in 1810, are surrounded by park and garden vegetation. There is a statue of Light at the entrance to the fort. Since there were no photographs of Light, the sculpture was based on a portrait of his son, William (who founded the city of Adelaide in South Australia).
The Jalan-Tun-Said-Sheh-Barakbakh embankment (also known as the Esplanade) runs in front of the fort between the coastline and Padang. The Esplanade is lined with very beautiful colonial government buildings dating back to the 19th century, and their sparkling white walls are reminiscent of the era in which they were built. The British pray at the Church of St. George (1818) on Lebuh-Farquhar Street. It is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. In the nearby Protestant cemetery, overgrown with plumeria, you can see the grave of Francis Light, who died of malaria in 1794, just eight years after his arrival in Penang. The tombstones of many other graves testify to difficult periods in the life of the city.
The Penang Museum and Art Gallery on Lebuh-Farquhar Street is housed in the former building of the Penang Free School (1816), the first English-language school in Southeast Asia. Here you will find a fine collection of historical artifacts, old paintings, prints and a 19th century Chinese wedding chamber.
One of the most significant monuments of the colonial era of Georgetown is the Oriental Oriental Hotel at 10. Lebuh-Farquhar, 10. Even if you do not stay in one of its large antique rooms, where Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham stayed, you can still have a drink. – at the Farquhar bar, watching life in the harbor, where ships from all over the world come. This hotel actually consists of two separate hotels: the East, facing the Esplanade, and the Oriental, by the sea. It is the brainchild of Martin and Tigran Sarkis, brothers-Armenians, who also created the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
You will want to visit Georgetown buildings, which have preserved objects of Chinese architecture and decorative arts of the 19th century. Nanyang (South Seas). One of the most striking examples of Chinese architecture of the 19th century. in Penang is considered the Cheong Fat Jie mansion on Lebuh Leit, built around 1860 by the Chinese businessman Thio Thaw Siat. The house has been completely restored in all its splendor – all 38 rooms with five patios – and in 2000 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It now houses a hotel shop. There is a guided tour of the building three times a day for a small fee.
The Penang Peranakan Museum on Lebuh Gereja is housed in a mansion built by the millionaire Chung Keng Kwi, which today houses an extensive collection of jewelry, costumes and antique furniture from Chinese peranakans (baba nonya), descendants and Chinese settlers who adopted some Malay customs.
Walk down Harmony Street
The most visited temple in Georgetown is the temple of the goddess Kuan Yin on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling Street near the Church of St. George. It is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, who is identified with the Indian Bodhisattva of Abundance; this temple attracts both the rich and the poor who come here to honor the goddess, and is especially loved by newlyweds. There is a heavy atmosphere in the temple due to the smell of burning Chinese candles, mixed with the scent of flowers, aromatic oils, fruits, pies and fried chicken, laid on the altars for the goddess to help solve family problems.
On the same street stands the Masjid of Captain Keling, the oldest mosque in the state, built in 1800 for Indian soldiers who practice Islam. The Sri Maha Mariamman Temple on Lebuh Queen Street was built in 1883 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. It is very brightly decorated and dedicated to Subrahmanyas, the son of Shiva and destroyer of evil. The temple is the center of worship during Thaipusam, a festival held at the very beginning of the year.
Historic areas of the island
A small enclave bounded by Lebuh Armeniam in the north, Lebuh Kannon in the east and Lebuh Aceh in the southwest, is the meeting point of Confucian and Islamic civilizations. House No. 120 on Armenian Street was the headquarters of the Kuomintang party of Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen. The first floor is open to the public and you can watch a short video there. Lebuh Aceh is home to the Georgetown World Heritage Site, where tourists can get information about the city.
Georgetown’s most lavishly decorated residential buildings are the clan buildings, strongholds for the protection of communities. Clan buildings combine ancestor temples and meeting rooms where all local problems are solved – finding housing, work, treatment, helping orphans and protecting against crime within the community. Away from Lebuh-Kannon – so named because of the holes punched in the road surface by cannonballs during the Great Penang Uprising of 1867 – is the home of the Khu clan, Khu Kongsi. You can approach it through a narrow alley near the intersection of Lebuh-Aceh and Jalan-Masjid-Kapitan-Keling. Inside, you will see a picture of the clan’s patron saint, Tua Sai Yahu, a famous general of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Other nearby buildings date from the middle of the 19th century. Opposite the small hall, used for performances of Chinese opera and outdoor theater, is the ornate Leong San Tong ancestral temple. On the left you will see the shrine of the God of Prosperity, on the right – the sinchu hall (sinchoo – spiritual tablets), gold plaques honoring important figures and leaders of the clan, as well as simple wooden panels for more modest clan members.
Other important landmarks outside Georgetown are Penang Hill and the Botanical Gardens. Following the Jalan-Sultan-Ahmad-Shah road, you will pass the huge neo-Gothic and Palladian rubber tycoon mansions built during the rubber industry boom in World War I.
The Buddhist monastery Wat Chaiyamangkalaram on Lorong Burma is famous for its 33 m long Reclining Buddha. The site for the temple was donated to the community in 1845 by Queen Victoria herself.
After driving further west from the temple, you will find yourself in the Penang Botanical Garden, which is 30 hectares. The garden was created in 1844 as a tribute to Charles Curtis, Superintendent, who collected numerous specimens of flora from the neighboring hills. Among the fauna, it is worth noting the silver monkeys – langurs and long-tailed macaques.
Continue along Jalan Dato Keramat Street, then Jalan Air Itam, and then west of the city to Suffolk House, where, on a guided tour, you will get acquainted with an Anglo-Indian house on a pepper plantation – all this was once owned by Sir Francis Light. Continue west to Penang Hill 833 m above sea level, where at the beginning of the 20th century. there was a colonial hill station. It is worth taking the 5-minute train ride here past bungalows and villas scattered among tropical gardens for stunning panoramic views of the island. Bird lovers can watch blue-tailed bee-eaters, sunbirds and spider-trapping sunbirds here.
Above the small town of Air-Itam rises Kek Lok Si (Paradise Temple, or the Temple of the Highest Bliss). It was founded by Abbot Beow Lean, a Chinese Buddhist priest from the Fujian region of China, who arrived in Penang in 1887. Construction on the temple began in 1890 and lasted 20 years. The central part of the temple is a seven-story “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas” 30 m high. In fact, this pagoda is a combination of three architectural styles: the Chinese octagonal base, the Thai central core and the Burmese peak. Inside the sanctuary there are statues of the Laughing Buddha, radiating happiness, Shakyamuni Buddha – the embodiment of the founder of the faith and Kuan Yin, the goddess of Mercy.
When to come
Try to plan your trip to get to the holiday and see a completely different look of the city. There are many holidays here, there are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist.
Do not miss
Cable car ride over Georgetown to Penang Hill for stunning city views.
You should know
The width of the strait separating the island from the coast is from 2 to 13 km. The island is connected to the coastal part of Malaysia by the Penang Bridge and ferry service.