The Historic Architecture of George Town in Penang, Malaysia

An Architectural Gem on Every Street in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Malaysia’s State of Penang is made up of a turtle-shaped island and a large strip of land on the mainland, joined by one of the longest bridges in the world. However, when tourists refer to Penang (or Pulau Pinang in Malay), they almost always mean the island. Penang is an exotic melange of old and new. The south side of Penang is home to the country’s second largest airport, an industrial area where electronics manufacturing reigns, and the world’s only Snake Temple. On the northwestern tip, Penang National Park lures visitors with unspoiled natural beauty of Monkey Beach, waterfalls, jungle paths, and a meromictic lake.

Concrete walkways cross gutters at edge of George Town streets to access what little level sidewalk can be found

Concrete walkways cross gutters at edge of George Town streets to access what little level sidewalk can be found

In between, on the east coast, the capital of George Town melds a bustling port with one of the largest collection of intact pre-war buildings in the whole of SE Asia, which earned it UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. The British laid out the city in a grid system designed to segregate ethnic groups. To some degree, these invisible boundaries still exist in neighborhoods such as Little India and Chinatown, but today George Town is a melting pot where residents of all ethnic backgrounds easily mingle.

Can’t view the above slide show of George Town, Penang, Malaysia? Click here.

The historic center of George Town, compact and easily seen on foot; continually surprised me. Every few feet I discovered an old temple, church, mosque, clan house, market, historic government house, or bazaar. During the nearly two and a half weeks I stayed on Penang I spent most days wandering around George Town and still didn’t see everything it had to offer, but the above slide show will give you a small taste of just some of the more interesting sites I found on my walking tours.

During one of those walks, I met Lee Ben Chuan, the only remaining traditional joss stick (incense stick) maker on Penang. He happily told me about his trade and his life in broken English, then shoved a brochure in my hand that listed the other vanishing traditional artisans in George Town, insisting that I visit them all. I did my very best, and you can read about all the fascinating artisans I met in this article I wrote for Travel Wire Asia, the news arm of Malaysia Tourism.

4 Comments on “An Architectural Gem on Every Street in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

  1. Greetings! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  2. hi Barbara, Yee Li here from Penang. I was in Puma village, Nepal few months before you. Knowing there after reading Sherry’s travel blog; happen to be here because of Facebook (Sherry who linked it). It put a smile on my face and drifted me to the past……didi, ama, nani, chija the cute girl, maya and many more….
    I was astonished when knowing you were in Penang before leaving to Nepal.It is really amazing how travel could bring ties to people. Maybe we happen to walk passed each other on the street as i am working in Georgetown as well. haha. =) Nice to meeting you here and great that u love Penang, Penang is a lovely place indeed.

    Travel is fun, i wish to walk around the world in a day. Enjoy and all best =)

    • Hi Yee li: It is indeed a small world, isn’t it? Imagine passing on the
      streets of Georgetown, not knowing one another, and then finding each other
      through my writing. Really pretty amazing. So glad you loved Puma as much as
      me, and Penang is also one of my favorite places, as you know. I may retun
      some day; if so I will email you and perhaps we can have coffee.

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