Places to visit: in and out of George Town

George Town © Adrian Cheah

George Town, named by the British after King George III, is Penang’s capital city. The government centre and its financial heart, George Town is an interesting and bustling city with modern high-rise buildings, cathedrals, mosques, government offices, temples, bazaars, shops and cafes. A myriad of delights, George Town is very compact – the older part of the city is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleyways, which makes it a pleasure to walk and sight-see.

Indeed, walking is highly recommended – a leisurely stroll will enable one to slowly drink in the many details that would otherwise be lost in a hurried tour. If walking is considered tiring, try a ride on the old but exciting trishaw.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Lebuh Leith

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion © Adrian Cheah

Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1917), a Hakka from Tai Pu in the Teochew district, migrated to Java in the 1850s where he prospered and moved his base to Penang in the early 1890s. A powerful Nanyang industrialist and a first-class Mandarin in the Manchu government, he was made Consul-General in Singapore and economic advisor to Empress Dowager. Cheong Fatt Tze had eight wives and owned many residences throughout his trading empire but made Penang his base, where he raised his six sons. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion was built over seven years from 1896 to 1904 by teams of master craftsmen from China. This mansion is only one of three of its kind left outside China. The mansion is the only stately Chinese-type dwelling representing the best of 18th and 19th-century Chinese architecture in the State. It was acquired and painstakingly restored to its original splendour by a group of conservationists. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is open for accommodation as well as conducted, historical tours. The main hall and gardens can be rented for private functions. To visit, go to Leith Street which is off Lebuh Farquhar, beside St. Xavier’s Institution school.

Address: 14, Leith St, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia  |  T: +604 262 0006

China Town

China Town © Adrian Cheah

China Town on the island stretches from Weld Quay to Lebuh Stewart, Lebuh Muntri, Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh King. China Town is so large and well-preserved that you will sense and feel the lifestyle of Chinese immigrant settlers who came here in the 1800s. Visitors will be intrigued by the many clan houses, shophouses and temples found along these streets, which reflect the heritage left behind. Stepping into these streets will certainly take you back in time.

Clock Tower, Pesiaran King Edward

Clock tower © Adrian Cheah

This clock tower was presented to Penang by local millionaire Cheah Chen Eok in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It towers 60 feet in high – one foot for each year of Her Majesty's reign. The Queen had died by the time the clock tower was finally completed in 1920.

Craft Batik, Jalan Kebun Bunga

Craft Batik © Adrian Cheah

A popular tourist attraction where one can indulge in the complete batik experience – from watching how it is made to shopping at the boutique and getting rare and beautiful gifts for friends and loved ones.

Boutique, factory and showroom: No. 422, Jalan Kebun Bunga, 10350 Penang | Tel: +604 229 3775


Esplanade © Adrian Cheah

Next to Fort Cornwallis is the Esplanade, a popular waterfront promenade that stretches from the hawker stalls at one end to the clock tower at the other. Central in the Esplanade is the Padang, a huge square of the town green. Standing proudly beside is the City Hall, a stately colonial building which is a fine example of British Palladian architecture featuring magnificent Corinthian columns and huge windows.

Fort Cornwallis, Padang Kota Lama

Fort Cornwallis © Adrian Cheah

Fort Cornwallis is situated at the spot where Captain Francis Light was supposed to have landed in 1786. Originally a wooden structure, the fort was rebuilt between 1808 and 1810 with convict labour. It was named after Charles Marquis Cornwallis, a distinguished Governor General of India, and designed to protect the harbour from possible French attacks. Today, much of the old fort remains, but its precincts have been converted into a public park and an open-air theater. It is still guarded by old cannons, which were retrieved by the British from pirates who had captured them from the Johore Sultanate. The most famous of the cannons is Seri Rambai, which dates back to 1613. Local beliefs have it that childless women can become fertile by placing flowers in the barrel of the cannon and offering special prayers. 

Address: Padang Kota Lama, 10200 Penang, Malaysia | T: +604 263 9855

KOMTAR, Jalan Penang

KOMTAR © Adrian Cheah

Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (KOMTAR) Tower remains as Penang's tallest skyscraper since 1985. It was originally completed with 65 floors and a height of 232 metres (761 ft). It houses government departments, commercial offices, shops, restaurants, theaters, squash courts and a geodesic dome which serves as a multi-purpose hall, while the 55th floor offers a panoramic view of the city and on clear days, also of Gunung Jerai in Kedah. In 2015, as part of a revitalisation plan, three more storeys were added, raising the height of KOMTAR Tower to 249 metres (817 ft). In addition, KOMTAR Tower is home to the Rainbow Skywalk, the highest glass skywalk in Malaysia, which has been installed at the top of the skyscraper and launched in 2016.

Little India

Little India © Adrian Cheah

This enclave boasts a rich living history that spans over two centuries. Popular with heritage enthusiasts, international conservationists, tourists and locals, Little India features a thriving and vibrant collection of historic attractions, places of worship, shops, restaurants, florists, barbers, astrologers, millers, money changers, fruit sellers and herb dealers.

Nagore Shrine, Lebuh King

Nagore Shrine © Adrian Cheah

When wealthy Marakkayar Muslim shipping magnates arrived in Penang, they brought with them beliefs and practices regarding their patron saint Syed Shahul of Nagore, whose gift was in the rescue and protection of seafaring ships. As the saint was special to them, a moghul shrine was built in his honour.

P. Ramlee's Birthplace and Gallery, Jalan P. Ramlee

P. Ramlee's house © Adrian Cheah

P. Ramlee's house is located at Lot 2180, Jalan P. Ramlee, Penang. P. Ramlee was born in this house which was built in 1926 by his father and uncle, Rejab bin Hussein. The house was twice renovated by the latter – once during the Japanese Occupation and the other in 1948. The National Archives acquired the house and carried out restoration works in 1991. The original form of the house is still intact. Today, a small gallery stands next to Ramlee's birthplace, displaying memorabilia of all kinds.

Penang House of Music, KOMTAR, Jalan Penang

Penang House of Music © Adrian Cheah

Penang House of Music (PHoM) celebrates the rich and colourful musical heritage of Penang. Step in and discover Penang’s music and musicians, their many contributions to the heart and soul of the state, and the nation. The Gallery shines a spotlight on the music of Penang’s communities, as well as defining periods that affected music adaptability and transformation from the 1940s to the 1970s. It also has interactive fun for all. Get the feel of being a puppeteer with the digital PoTeHi Theatre, listen to tunes in the Listening Chair and Listening Dome, watch a virtual reality performance, all combining the music of the past with the technology of today! Check out the Black Box – a dedicated performing space for music and arts-related events to make your visit more memorable.

Address: Level 4, KOMTAR, Jalan Penang, George Town, 10675 Penang | T: +604 370 6675

Penang Museum and Art Gallery, Jalan Macalister

The Penang Museum © Adrian Cheah

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery formerly located at Lebuh Farquhar will move to No 57, Macalister Road in October 2017. It is one of the most popular attractions in Malaysia. It showcases old photographs, maps, charts, historical relics, paintings of early Penang, all of which provide an insight into Penang's history.

No. 57, Macalister Road, Georgetown, 10400 Penang | +604 226 1461

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Church Street

A very good example of adaptive reuse, the former home of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee has been converted into a showcase of the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakans and their many customs and traditions, displaying over a thousand pieces of antiques and collectibles of this unique community.

Address: 29, Church Street, 10200 Penang | Tel: +604 264 2929

Segara Ninda – former home of Ku Din Ku Meh, upper Penang Road

Located at No. 20 in upper Penang Road is another restored heritage home that once belonged to a Ku Din Ku Meh, whose real name was Tengku Baharuddin bin Tengku Meh.

State Art Gallery, Dewan Sri Pinang

Located within the Dewan Sri Pinang, the Art Gallery features two exhibitions. A permanent collection featuring the cream of Malaysian artists situated on the third floor, and a contemporary collection on the ground floor.

Tel: +604 261 3144

Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base, 120 Armenian Street

At a cursory glance, the indigo-blue terraced house on 120 Armenian Street looks rather unassuming, blending in effortlessly with the other houses on the same street. One would not have guessed that it was here that the epoch-making "Canton Uprising" of the 1911 Chinese Revolution was strategised. Their struggle sowed the seed of discord which signaled the end of 2000 years of imperial rule in China and gave birth to the Republic of China, with Dr. Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) as the President. 

Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum, Lorong Susu

The Sun Yat Sen Research Centre and museum are now opened to the public. It serves as a nerve centre for planning and collecting information, records and artifacts of Dr Sun Yat Sen's six years of involvement in Penang.

Address: Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum Foundation Research Centre, 26 Lorong Susu, 10400 Penang | Tel: +604 229 6188

The Streets of George Town

George Town, although multicultural in composite, is predominantly Chinese and a big portion of it is Chinatown - a noisy, crowded, delightful conglomeration of people, goods, mobile stalls and old shophouses. For the best of George Town, walk along Love Lane, Pitt Street, King Street and Carnarvon Street. Certain streets like Chulia Street and Campbell Street are best viewed in (Not Netscape) the evening when they burst to life with hawker stalls and nighttime activities. Incidentally, some of the best hawker food are found on these two streets. See also the Southern end of Penang Street for a taste of “Little India.” Along this street are several banana leaf rice restaurants and a Hindu temple. For the best of colonial architecture, see Beach Street and Light Street, where financial institutions and chambers of the State Assembly are housed.

Tanjung City Marina, Pengkalan Weld

The RM44-mil Tanjung City Marina (TCM) in Penang, the first inner-city marina in the country, was completed in October 2005 and is fully operational. With the new marina, the state government hopes to turn the Penang into an international cruise centre by attracting sailing vessels from all over the world. Marina manager, Captain Md. Suyud Suhaimi noted that the marina has the potential to be an entertainment hub for Penang, where shows and exhibitions could be frequently staged.

Address: Tanjung City Marina (Penang Port Sdn Bhd), Pengkalan Weld, 10300 Penang | Tel: 604-210 2336, 337, 338 and 339

Toy Museum, Lebuh Armenian

Malaysia's first toy museum previously from Subang Jaya, Selangor is now here in Penang. The museum covering a 650sq m floor features over 100,000 items, including toys, models, collectibles, and detailed doll houses furnished with wardrobes, accessories and make-up parlors.

Address: Jalan Tanjung Bungah, 11200 Penang (in front of the Copthorne Orchid Hotel) | Tel: +6012 460 2096

War Museum, Batu Maung

If you want to know what life was like in Penang during wartime, you'll find some of the answers at the Penang War Museum. Housed in what was once a British fort built during World War II, the museum is the only one of its kind in the country.

Address: Lot 1350 Mukim 12, Merah Barat Daya, Batu Maung, 11960 Penang | Tel: +6016 421 3606

Little India of George Town

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Not many visitors and tourists to George Town's famous Little India enclave know that the area's name was adopted by the local authorities only nine years ago.

But whatever it is named, visitors hardly fail to sense the remarkable nostalgic charm and almost innocent simplicity of the area. And no wonder. Little India breathes a rich living history that spans over two centuries. The culture here throbs with antiquity and tradition.

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History of Little India

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

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Chine Blue – an insight into Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion © Adrian Cheah

Like a fragment from a scroll painting, an exotic indigo-blue mansion, with graceful, curved windows and a peaked, tiled roof, remains in the midst of Penang's modern high-rises. This rare survivor of old Penang, constructed in a Chinese-courtyard style with Western art-nouveau features, reflects the complex personality of its builder Cheong Fatt Tze. Called the "Rockefeller of the East", he was the most flamboyant of all Penang's multimillionaire towkays during the island's heyday of wealthy magnates.

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Street Art of George Town, Penang

Take an amazing tour around the UNESCO World Heritage City of George Town, Penang to discover the unique wrought-iron caricatures with anecdotal descriptions of the street that they adorn.

Also within the heritage enclave are street art installations that have gain popularity among both visitors and locals alike. The street art all started off with a project called Mirrors George Town by George Town Festival 2012. Through this project, the talented efforts by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic has drawn much attention.

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Fort Cornwallis – the Star on the North East Coast of Penang

Fort Cornwallis © Adrian Cheah

The star-shaped Fort Cornwallis marks the point where Francis Light and crew landed on 11 August 1786 to "take possession" of the island from the Sultan of Kedah. This date was also the birth date of Prince Charles and hence Francis Light named Pulau Pinang as the Prince of Wales Island.

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Clan Jetties of Penang

Clan Jetties of Penang © Adrian Cheah

"The wooden stilts are replaced every five years or so" explained Siew Pheng as we walked around the jetty. Siew Pheng, born and raised on Chew Jetty goes on to tell us that this labor-intensive task of replacing the wooden stilts is a dying trade as only a few old hands practice the skill. Many youngsters prefer not to live at the jetty, but in apartments and houses on Penang island itself, as the maintenance of these houses is backbreaking work.

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