From a tourist map, the island of Penang looks somewhat like a mink's pelt. Georgetown, its capital, sits roughly on the right arm of the skin, while the
Lebuh Pantai—Central Business District
More colonial legacies line one of Penang's oldest streets, Lebuh Pantai. It is the center of a modern business district congested with a milieu traders and travelers. Along the waterfront is the
Chinatown and KOMTAR
When viewed from the top of
Pitt Street—Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling
Within the borders of Georgetown lie several notable religious monuments of diverse faiths. Pitt Street may have been renamed Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, but the town p lanners' idea of a "street of harmony" remains. For more than a century, through good and bad times, the Taoist
Little India, Gurney Drive and the Suburbs
Indian and Chetty moneychangers, Singhalese silverware and lace vendors, and the "Bombay merchants" make up an interesting corner of town. They present an experience of sights, smells and sounds straddling a few streets around Lebuh Pasar, commonly called
West of Jalan Penang hides an enclave of stylish mansions —
History and culture rule everywhere you turn in Penang.
Northern Beaches and Batu Ferringhi
Penang Hill and Air Itam--Precious Patches of Green
A series of hills rise up towards the island's centre and the highest of these,
Seberang Perai—Rapid Urbanisation
Across the Penang Straits lies,
Start out your walk through Chinatown on Lebuh Leith at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Turn down Jalan Muntri to see the Hainan Temple, then continue down Lebuh Leith until you reach Lebuh Chulia, which is one of the eating drinking streets through Chinatown. Cross Lebuh Cintra, or turn left and walk three blocks to the 100 Cintra Street Bazaar. Not far past Lebuh Cintra is the pink Masjid Jamek. Across the street is the friendly Ng Fook Thong Temple and Clan House. Turn left on Lorong Love and admire the small churches and temples that date b ack to over a century ago, then dip into the Carpenters’ Guild about a block and a half in. Further along Chulia are two institutions characteristic of Penang, the Hong Kong Bar, in a setting straight out of The World of Suzie Wong and Eu Yan Sang traditional Chinese herbalist shop. Each serves up its own kind of medicine. Stop for a rest and a plate of chicken rice at the Goh Thow Chick Cafe.
Old Pitt Street
Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, originally called Pitt Street, was designed and designated as a street where places of worship of every faith could co-exist in harmony. Georgetown's colorful religious enclave makes for pleasant and easy exploration on foot as this major t horoughfare stretches from St George's Anglican Church on Lebuh Farquhar on the northern end, past the Quan Yin Temple to the Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. The Maha Mariamman Temple is in between at Lebuh Queen, past Khoo Kongsi at Cannon Square, and then finally there is the Acheen Street Mosque at Lebuh Acheh. After all that temple gazing and walking, stop in at Colonial Restaurant for Hainanese food in one of their special breeze-catching airwells.
Pengkalen Weld or Weld Quay, an enclave of the trading houses and shipping agencies where life in Penang started, now holds a mishmash of establishments plus the refurbished premises of the British Council, one of the last operating vestiges of colonialism. The Malayan Railway Building, though it houses the pallid Customs offices, is a worthwhile architectural sight. At the waterfront, Kampung Ayer, the territory of the clan jetties, affords a treat in sampan cruises. Why not try one to enjoy the romantic view of Penang from the sea? Afterwards, walk along the waterfront to Frank Swettenham Pier and the Esplanade to sample from roadside stalls selling almond and peanut soup desserts, duck meat and glutinous rice porridge.
When the island caught Captain Francis Light's fancy in 1771, Pulau (Malay for island) Pinang (betel nut), as it was known, had a population of roughly 50 and the Sultanate of Kedah owned it. A deal was struck a decade later when the Sultan's heir, Abdullah, came to the throne. "Take the island and take away my enemies," were the Sultanate's terms, referring to the northern Siamese and Burmese. Rent was set at $30,000 a year. What the sultan did not know was that no military support agreement had been approved by the East India Company (EIC), whose interest Light was acting in. Therefore when an invasion did take place, the demoralized sultan was left with no reinforcement from the British.
Light set up a port in Penang in 1786, but the British occupation dates from 1791, the product of British gunboat diplomacy. At that time, rent was lowered to $6,000 a year. In 1800, the adjacent mainland area, Province Wellesley, also became British territory. Penang's stronghold gained a new kind of life under Light's zeal. Generous land grants attracted many settlers, particularly from southern China. Today their descendants make up 90 percent of Penang's residents. The first to establish themselves in Penang came from a Chinese community in Kedah, including Penang’s first Kapitan Cina (Chinese leader), the baba (Chinese male who has assimilated some Malay culture) Koh Lay Huan.
In two years, a cosmopolitan population of Chinese, Indian, Sumatran and Burmese natives numbering several thousand sprouted up in Penang’s port. Light was declared the Superintendent and Penang was made a free port. Light renamed Penang Prince of Wales Island, and the port he helped found was called Georgetown after King George III.
Light passed away in 1796, overworked and disillusioned, and he was buried at the Protestants' Cemetery. His legacy abounds in Penang, from the street Lebuh Light to a memorial at St George's Anglican Church, and also the Francis Light Well at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus where his former residence, a handsome bungalow, remains in good condition.
Penang was Malaya's first EIC settlement, followed in quick succession by Singapore in 1819 and Malacca in 1824, leading to the formation of the Straits Settlements in 1826. The British Colonial Office took direct control in 1867, and Penang officially became a crown colony. Penang took on a distinctly Chinese feeling as newcomers from the Qing empire sought protection and a sense of belonging in clan associations organized by region, dialect and ancestral name. Khoo Kongsi, Cheah Kongsi, Chung Keng Kooi Temple, Carpenters' Guild, Ng Fook Thong, and the numerous guilds and clans along Lebuh King provide illustrations to the kind of newcomer support overseas Chinese could expect once they arrived. An unsavory mutation of these benevolent organizations was the development of triad, or secret society, operations in the thick of these tight knit communities. Several societies became involved in efforts to overthrow the declining Qing house in China. The 1867 Penang Riots marked nine days of fighting and bloodshed among the big-name secret societies in the streets of Penang. The authorities were helpless against the rout as their regular armaments had recently been shipped to Rangoon, highlighting the detachment imperial rule. The district around Khoo Kongsi was barricaded and after wards each triad was fined several thousand pounds to help in reconstruction and the establishment of more police stations.
Eventually a semblance of civility and order developed. The Pangkor Agreement in 1874 gave rise to the appointment of Sir Frank Swettenham, who lent his name to the Frank Swettenham Pier. His watch significantly improved British political control, which in turn created a more stable economic environment that drew more business interests from China and Singapore. In addition, the Suez Canal opened in 1869 with the effect of quadrupling the volume of British trade with India by the end of the century. The first rail line in Malaysia--8.5 miles from Port Weld to Taiping—started service in 1885. Penang prospered and the nouveau riche towkays built grand temples of wealth along Millionaire's Row. Another example of the good times is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, and its former outer buildings, now converted into modern dining and entertainment outlets such as 20 Leith Street and Jaipur Court. The legacy of the Chinese immigrants lives on in the heart of Chinatown. The most visible landmark along Lebuh Armenian today is 120 Armenian Street, once the office of Dr Sun Yet Sen's revolutionary campaign.
The cosmopolitan population of Light's time persists to this day. However, some communities like the Jews and the Armenians moved on long ago. The proof lies in the kaleidoscopic parade of the island's religious monuments, such as the Cathedral of the Assumption and Georgetown Baptist Church; the Taoist Tua Peh Kong Temple; Dharmikara Temple and Wat Chayamangkalaram; the Hindu Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Murugan Temple and the Sikh Gurdwara Temple; and finally, the State Mosque and Acheen Street Mosque.
The curtain came down on British rule during World War II. Malaya was occupied by Japanese forces during the war. After briefly returning to British control, Malaysian independence was declared in 1957. Nevertheless, the island inherited the best samples of British colonial architecture in Malaysia with buildings like the Town Hall, the State Assembly Building and many more along the commercial thoroughfare of Lebuh Pantai.