Georgetown isn’t easy to walk around. There are few pavements, so you walk in the road and trust the judgment of the speeding scooter drivers who are used to dodging tourists by a hairs breadth.
On top of this, you face the assault course of uneven surfaces, potholes, open sewers, gas meters, raised manholes, lowered manholes and the ends of sawn off street notices which all test your awareness, especially in flip flops. Despite the fear of raising my vision from the ground, I can’t stop staring at Georgetown. It is a film set of quirky detail. A beautiful, visual assault. Its worth the fear and I love the buildings here.
In the old town, 19th century Straits Chinese architecture dominates the residential and commercial property. Colonnades shade the main front doors which are flanked by a window on either side. The upstairs floor is a row of wooden shutters. Peranakan (meaning mixed – from Chinese immigrants marrying local Malay) floor tiles create beautiful facades. Muntri street is one of the best places to see examples of this style.
Since Georgetown had UNESCO heritage listing in 2008, some of the buildings have been bought up and carefully redeveloped into boutique cafes and hotels. They retain their original features but now proudly display a bright, clean exterior. For me though, the dilapidated, old exteriors are the most beautiful. Faded glamour is far more romantic than fresh paint.
One of the buildings we were able to enter and look around is China House, a narrow building of over a hundred metres long which stretches between two roads. The interior has had minimal renovation and houses cafe/bar/restaurant/music venue/shops in a retro, vintage Chinese bohemian space. There is a lot of art and I don’t like to use the ‘C’ word but it’s beyond cool. Plus their cakes were the best we’ve eaten and the house Red was the best we’ve drunk but this post isn’t about food.
Besides the Straits Chinese architecture, there are also fabulous colonial and art deco buildings.
We have been to Georgetown twice before, most recently in 2014 and I can’t remember much street art then but now I see it everywhere (having a map also helps). One of the tourist things to do now is tour the streets snapping art which I’m more than happy to do. Below is a selection of some of the many pictures I took but I don’t want to litter the internet too much.
Penang may not be to everyone’s taste, but with beautiful architecture, varied street art, stylish cafes, fabulous Malay, Chinese and Indian food, WE LOVE IT!