Where to stay in George Town | The pick of Penang | Heritage beds

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There are many great places to stay in the Penang’s heritage city of George Town, most with a colourful story to tell…

George Town’s architecture is like the special family occasion where everyone brings a plate and you cross your fingers for a fine feast.

Scotland arrives with the lacy cast iron, England turns up with Victorian floor tiles, China contributes the gold leaf and the blackwood furniture inset with mother-of-pearl, India brings the masonry. Both Islamic and Confucian elders argue about shape over a plate of char kway teow.

George Town’s vibrant history is all about fusion. Today, Malays and Chinese top the citizen list, followed by Indians (mainly Tamil) while Eurasian, Sri Lankan, Thai and Burmese minorities are in residence, too, along with myriad colonial expatriates.


Decorated entrance to the Khoo Kongsi in George Town, Penang

George Town is the capital of Penang, which is the smallest of Malaysia’s 13 states. It was given city status by the Queen in 1957 and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008. This ramped up the restoration of temples, mosques, churches, shophouses, terraces, mansions, kongsis, and government buildings, which together are the town’s warp and weft. One of its defining features these days is the gentle street art of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.

At 2.5 sq km, George Town can be explored on foot, by bicycles, or in a trishaw if heat and ambition defeat. There’s a free bus, too. The Core Zone covers 109.38ha, and there are more than 1700 historic buildings here. A Buffer Zone of 150ha protects it.

Accommodation here ranges from the rustic to the royal. Here are some Excess All Areas loved.


Carvings, textiles, gold filigree: a bedroom suite at the exclusive Seven Terraces

Seven Terraces

This row of Anglo-Chinese shophouses was built in the 1900s for wealthy Straits-born Chinese. By 2009 it was derelict. It’s an example of what a UNESCO listing and enterprise can do. It took local businessman Christopher Ong three-and-a-half years to rebuild and restore it as an 18-suite boutique hotel. It shines with red shutters, latticed wood, lots of gilt, cool tiling, rich textiles, lap pool, and a wonderful serenity. Ong now has a portfolio of chic restorations that include Muntri Mews, Muntri Grove and the Jawi Peranakan Mansion. From $271. 8 Stewart Lane, George Town; georgetownheritage.com/seven-terraces-hotel


Pool and ocean views from a heritage wing room at the E&O

Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Guests, since it opened in 1889, have included Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward. Today, stay in either the newly restored Heritage Wing and the more modern Victory Annexe. Both look to the sea in style and maintain the sense of colonial grandeur. The pool in front of the Heritage Wing, however, is hard to beat.  In the marbled lobby of the old wing is the famous domed ceiling whose acoustics were said to have aided wartime espionage. From $281. 10 Lebuh Farquhar, George Town; eohotels.com


Hotel, cafe, gallery … Coffee Atelier, with its rustic minimalism

Coffee Atelier

This is the kind of rustic, low-key place a local friend might have you to stay in. A restoration of five shophouses built in 1927, it has six suites that are private, colourful and minimalist. Each is furnished with traditional Chinese pieces. It’s attached to a friendly café/restaurant, and has a little art gallery and a room that pays homage to the original coffee merchant’s workshop. Well located. From $134. 47-55 Lorong Stewart, George Town; coffeeatelier.com


Stay at the Blue Mansion for an immersion in Penang’s colourful history

The Blue Mansion

The Blue Mansion is a restored masterpiece with 38-rooms, five courtyards, seven staircases and 220 windows. Built by Chinese entrepreneur Cheong Fatt Tze in the late 19th century, it was acquired in 1990 with 34 squatters in residence. It doubles now as an 18-suite boutique hotel. Look for Gothic louvred windows, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles, Scottish cast iron works and Art Nouveau stained glass. It’s painted indigo, courtesy of the colourfast dye from the plant Indigofera arrecta. From $277. 14 Leith Street, George Town; cheongfatttzemansion.com


The street art of Ernest Zacharevic is a defining feature of George Town

A version of this story first appeared in Discover Magazine, 2019

Photos by Susan Skelly


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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