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Penang heritage trails

Wandering through the old streets of the
Armenian Quarter and beyond


A few years ago Penang became UNESCO World Heritage City. It didn't surprise many Penangians because especially George Town has a long and turbulent history. The city has been build by various nationalities who came to Penang as traders and workers (Muslim Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Armenians, Jews, Indian Tamils, Dutch, English etc.).

Ko Kongsi in the Armenian Quarter Penang

The history of the Penang are goes a long way back with the oldest relics in Penang found near St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam on the main land.

The state of Penang is more than only the island, it also contains a stretch of land including

The relics near St. Anne's church is called: Cheruk Tokun. It's a little hard to find relic that dates back to the 6th century. Nearby is a megalith that dates back to the 5th century.

Many tourists and even locals have never heard of these relics. Most tourists wander in George Town, visiting some spectacular temples and Malay buildings. And there is plenty to visit. You can easily spend a week by just visiting those Penang heritage buildings.

It may be clear George Town has plenty of heritage to visit. The Armenian quarter is a good start. The old Armenian quarter is probably the most visited of Penang. The Penang Heritage Trust, PHT, has set out a trail to follow the most interesting buildings to see. You can get a description of the routes with the Tourist Information Center, the Penang Heritage Center and of course in the Penang Heritage Trust.

Penang museum

It would be impossible to tell you about all the heritage buildings on this page. Therefore we decided to give you a few good examples showing the beauty of the Penang Heritage. The choice on this page is, of course, personal.

The tomb of captain Francis Light who established the first British settlement on Penang
The tomb of captain Francis Light who established the first British settlement on Penang

Aceh Msoque PenangArmenian Quarter

While visiting the Khoo Kongsi temple, you will wander through the small streets of one of the oldest parts of George Town Penang: the Armenian Quarter. Here is the area where the earliest of Penang's settlers lived, worshipped and worked. The Acheh Street Mosque is the Armenian Quarter's landmark, build in the early 19th century.

There are several Chinese temples like the Yap temple, the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple and around the corner the Khoo Kongsi.

At the central square in the Armenian quarter the father of modern Malaysia Sun Yat-Sen had his Penang base. The Khoo family moved in this house. Khoo says, it is to encourage more people to move into George Town's historic buildings.

The graceful Acheen Street mosque, built at the beginning of the 19th century by a wealthy pepper magnate from North Sumatra, is the oldest mosque on the island to survive in its original form.

The old market in the city center
The old market in the city center

Khoo Kongsi

Khoo Kongsi
Khoo Kongsi temple, Canon Square,
part of the Penang Heritage trail

The Khoo Kongsi is a one of the major Chinese clanhouses, build in 1906. The Khoo's arrived in the 17th century and settled themselves in Penang where they build several houses and temples of which the Khoo Kongsi the most important is. It is the biggest and most majestic clan temple in Malaysia and thus not for nothing included in the Penang heritage.

Inside the temple you will find many name tablets of clan members on the altars. The temple includes an association building, a traditional theatre and the late 19th century row houses for clan members. In front of the temple is granite-paved square.

You will find this beautiful piece of the Penang heritage in the heart of George Town in Canon Square. The temple is a must visit for anyone who is interested in the Penang history and Penang heritage.

PHC, Penang Heritage Center

The Penang Heritage Center is located at Carnavon Street. It is a terrific example of early Straits architecture. The house was build by Syed Alatas, a Muslim trader in the 19th century.

The house houses now the PHC and is therefore easy to visit. It is beautifully restored. Going inside will give you an idea of the grandeur of the early years of Penang. The purpose of the PHC, Penang Heritage Center is to preserve Penang's historical heritage.

The Penang Heritage Center
The Penang Heritage Center, Carnavon Street, at the corner of the Armenian Quarter

PHT, Penang Heritage Trust

Contrary to the PHC, the Penang Heritage Trust is a non government organization. The PHT says: "We are a membership-based non-government organization open to all, taking on the challenge to preserve the heritage of Penang for future generations, and to re-establish a cultural vibrancy for diverse communities.

We welcome you to get to know our activities and hope our efforts will generate greater awareness and appreciation of Penang heritage."

Contrary to many other Asian cities, there is still a lot of cultural heritage left and although much should be included for restoration, there is much done too due to both PHC and PHT.

Georgetown Penang

With Penang now on the list of world heritage list, there's a good future for preserving Penang's beauty in cultural differences. The unique mix of Malay, Chinese and English architecture should not be lost and fortunately with inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List this will not happen.

Stay in a heritage building

The Yeng Keng hotel is one of the best heritage boutique hotels in George Town. It's a complete renovated mansion. True, it might not suit the cyclist looking for cheap accommodation but if you want a splurge, this should be the one to check out.

Yeng Keng Hotel, George Town Penang

The Yeng Keng has a lovely entrance through an old Chinese gate into a courtyard dining area, and then into an open double-height space in which the rooms opened onto.

But even if you don't want to stay here, go for breakfast and have at least a glimpse of the hotel. It's worth it!

And although it is not a cheap hotel (mostly 4 and 5 star), it is certainly worth the money.

Other heritage hotels in Penang are (amongst others)include the Yeng Keng, the E&O, Clove Hall, Mango Tree Place, 23 Love Lane, Muntri Mews and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

The only exception is the Hutton Lodge which is located in Hutton Lane.

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