George Town Introduction Walking Tour, George Town

George Town Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), George Town

Some felt in Malaya that the city of George Town should be renamed Tanjung Penaga ("Cape Penaga"). That was the name of the area where George Town now stands. But the Chinese, British, Muslim, Malay and Indian movers and shakers of the town wisely declined. It might be bad for business.

Captain Francis Light, R. N., came to Tanjung Penaga in 1786. He wanted to set up an entrepôt for the British East India Company, and by George, he did. Yes, George! The name of the town would be "George", for George III. Next, he built a palm log fort; Fort Cornwallis. Malaysia would get what America tossed.

Light conceived of George Town as a free port; no taxes or duties on trade. The plan was to entice business away from the Dutch ports in the region. The plan worked. By 1802 the number of ships arriving had increased by more than twenty fold.

With so many ethnicities and cultures, George Town is an eclectic masala of styles, cuisines, philosophies and businesses. It is the banking nexus of northern Malaya. Standard chartered, HSBC, Citibank, Bank of China, Bank Negara Malaysia and more maintain their Penang headquarters on Beach Street.

George Town's heritage landmarks include: Fort Cornwallis, City Hall, Town Hall, St George's Church, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, Kong Hock Keong Temple, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakans Mansion. Clan townhouses like the Sun Yat-sen Museum dot the cityscape. Little India is a feast and a festival of the Mahamariamman Temple.

The second Central Business District is home to Penang's tallest skyscrapers, not far from the old Chinese clan jetties with houses on stilts. The Colorful Chingay Processions are held in December. Bangsawan is Malay theatre with Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian accents. Street art blossoms everywhere.

Hemmingway called Paris a "moveable feast." The West, Southeast Asia, China, India and Indonesia have created a feast on the magical island of Penang. Feed the hunger. Come and dine.
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George Town Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: George Town Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Malaysia » George Town (See other walking tours in George Town)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Old Town Hall
  • City Hall
  • Fort Cornwallis
  • Pinang Peranakan Mansion
  • Market Street (Little India)
  • Beach Street
  • Armenian Street
  • Khoo Kongsi Mansion
  • Kapitan Keling Mosque
  • Chulia Street
  • Cheong Fatt Tze - The Blue Mansion
Old Town Hall

1) Old Town Hall

The Town Hall is located at Padang Kota Lama, the waterfront esplanade surrounded by historical landmarks. George Town, named for King George III, was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786. The Town Hall main building was completed in 1883. There was an assembly hall, a library, and a grand ballroom.

An annex was built in 1890. A porch and another upper floor added in 1903. The left wing of the hall was added in 1930. The hall is the city's oldest civic building and the former home of the Municipal Commission of George Town. It was also a watering hole for the European elites in the happy days of Empire, no natives allowed.

The Municipal Commission found the hall space to be insufficient. Another building was constructed next to the Town Hall in 1903. It became the new Municipal Offices. It was officially renamed City Hall in 1957, when the town was granted city status. The Town Hall continued as a venue for social and music events.

In 1993 the Municipal Council moved for demolition of the building. The Malaysian National Museum intervened however, and identified the Hall as an historical monument. The Town Hall is currently used for public celebrations, concerts and art exhibitions. It is part of the George Town Festival in August.
City Hall

2) City Hall

The two-storey Edwardian Baroque Palladian City Hall of George Town has been a national monument of Malaysia since 1982. The building style is very similar to the Old Town Hall next door. The City Hall was last renovated in 2005. It looks the same as it did when it was built in 1903, except the original arcades on street level have been glazed.

The City Hall was built to replace the Town Hall as the new home of the Municipal Commission. Construction tenders were accepted in 1900. Lee Ah Chang, a Malaysian architect, won the contract. The new digs of the Municipal Offices was one of the first buildings in Penang to be equipped with electric lights and more importantly, fans.

Both Town hall and City Hall are on the shore and facing the main field ("Padang"). The City Hall is a masonry building, made with lime mortar, plaster and wash. It has granite columns at the entrance, and gratings of cast iron. Minton Geometric tiles in the interior match those of the Governor's house.

In 1957 George Town was declared to be a city by Queen Elizabeth II. The Municipal Offices building then officially became City Hall. In 1976 the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Island Rural District Council. The result is the Penang Island Municipal Council, so the building is also called "Penang City Hall".
Fort Cornwallis

3) Fort Cornwallis

Charles Edward Cornwallis V did not end his military career at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. He went on to happier times. He became Governor-General of India in 1786. In that same year, Captain Francis Light, captured Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah. Captain Light immediately built Fort Cornwallis, a stockade of palm trunks.

Captain Light died in Penang in 1794. The fort was completed in 1810. It was rebuilt using Indian convict laborers. Brick and stone replaced the palm trunks. A moat, thirty feet wide and seven feet deep surrounded the fort but it was filled in the 1920s. The fort has never seen combat. It served administrative, rather than defensive duties.

A chapel was built at the fort in 1799. John Trimmers married Martina Rozells, Captain Light's widow, in the chapel that same year. An ammunition magazine building survives in the southwest corner of the fort. The fort has a collection of cannons. The largest is called Seri Rambai, cast in 1603 by the Dutch who gave it to the Sultan of Johor in return for trading concessions. The British seized it in a raid in 1871.

A steel skeleton lighthouse, 69 feet high, was built in the fort in 1882. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Malaysia. It is the only lighthouse in Malaysia that serves a navigational function. The fort is bounded by Light Street in the south, the Jalan Barakbah Road in the east and north and by the esplanade's promenade.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion

4) Pinang Peranakan Mansion (must see)

Chung Keng Quee was appointed "Kapitan China" by the British government of Malaysia in 1877. Mr. Quee was a multimillionaire philanthropist and industrialist and a member of the Advisory State Council set up by the British colonizers. He was also reputed to be a leader of the Hai San Chinese secret society.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was commissioned by Chung Keng Quee in 1893 to be his private residence. He originally called it Hai Kee Chan, which means "Sea Remembrance Hall." Mr. Quee died in 1901. The mansion passed to his descendants. The property gradually declined until it was bought in the 1990s by a real estate developer.

The Sea Remembrance Hall of Mr Quee was built on the site of the former headquarters of the Ghee Hin, a rival secret society which is said to have executed their enemies by throwing them down a well now hidden in back of Quee's mansion. The Ghee Hin are not missed in George Town.

After the mansion was acquired from the Quee family it was painted green and carefully restored to its glory days. It is the leading Peranakan museum on Penang Island. It has more than 1,000 Peranakan antiques and furnishings. The Peranakan or "Straits Chinese" are the descendants of Chinese entrepreneurs who settled in Malaysia centuries ago.

The mansion has several interior courtyards like many Chinese townhouses of the era. There are also European furnishings including Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles and Scottish cast iron gratings and railings. The European elements are combined with Chinese features like carved wooden panels and screens on the walls.

A temple dedicated to Chung Keng Quee was installed next to the mansion. Inside the temple is a full-sized statue of patriarch Chung and portraits of Chung family members.

The mansion has served as a location for film and media, e.g., "Crazy Rich Asians" in 2018. There is an admission charge but children are admitted free.
Market Street (Little India)

5) Market Street (Little India)

So, if one is in Malaysia, how about a quick trip to India? No? Well how about Little India? It is the same thing, really, without the air fare. Little India is a square shaped area bounded by Queen Street, Market Street, China Street and King Street. Bright colors, loud music, and the aroma of South Indian cuisine. All very unsubtle.

Visit any time after ten am. The place is waking up. Folks shopping for groceries. Some are snacking or having breakfast by the road. The little one-room shops that try to sell everything are open. Newspapers, drinks, shaving cream, tobacco, all sorts of little things to start the day can be had here.

Shops are selling everything, including traditional dress, gold, and costume, jewelry made from semi-precious stones. For Bollywood fans there are more than a few video stores for music and films. Garlands of flowers are available for the gods at Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple on Queen Street or for shops and street corners.

The aromas of incense, spices and cooking permeate the neighborhood. Snacking is encouraged. Samosas which are filled pastries are tempting. How about a bowl of sweet green bean soup in coconut milk? Coconut juice? Want to buy a saree? Chettiars, money changers, are all over. Don't worry about the pigeons. Drink Malabar Tarik tea.
Beach Street

6) Beach Street

Beach Street was created soon after the founding of Penang by Captain Francis Light in 1786. The concentration of Malaysian and international banks on Beach Street has made George Town the financial nexus of northern Malaysia.

Beach Street started out as a coastal road on the eastern shoreline of George Town. Because of land reclamation in the 19th century, the street has shifted further inland. The eastern coastal road is now Weld Quay. Beach Street may be the oldest road in Penang. It is older than some cities of Malaysia and older than Singapore.

From the beginning, Beach Street has been the financial heart of George Town. The street was literally at the port, convenient to vessels from the British East India Company and regional traders from China, India and the Malay archipelago. To this day it is George Town's Central Business District.

Most of the international banks of Penang are here. The Chartered Bank of India opened its doors here in 1875. Since then quite a few banks and mercantile institutions have set up shop on Beach Street.

Among the landmark buildings on Beach Street are: Palladian Art Deco Standard Chartered built in 1930; HSBC, rebuilt as Art Deco in 1948; Neoclassical Penang State Islamic Council built in 1905; The Art Deco OCBC Building built in 1938; the Victorian 1886 Building; the Victorian Logan Building built in 1883; and India House, another Art Deco building built in 1937.
Armenian Street

7) Armenian Street (must see)

Today there are very few, if any, Armenians on Armenian Street. The Armenian Saint Gregory's Church, established in 1822, was demolished in 1937. All that was left of Armenia on Armenian Street was the name. Originally called Malay Lane, narrow Armenian Street is within the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Malay neighborhood was gradually replaced by Armenian and Chinese settlers. By 1808 the street was renamed Armenian Street for the community of Armenian traders who lived along the road. The Armenian presence was historically brief. The Chinese had supplanted Armenian settlements with clan houses by the mid 19th century.

The Chinese triads often fought with Malay secret societies. There were fierce clashes on Armenian Street during the 1867 Penang Riots. The turf battles were suppressed by sepoys (Indian infantry) led by the British East India Company.

In 1910 the Chinese revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen, planned his campaign against the Qing dynasty in an Armenian Street townhouse. The house was later converted to the present Sun Yat-Sen Museum.

Armenian Street has some fine shops and street art. Most notable street art is the mural "Kids on Bikes" by Ernest Zacharevic. The style is a la Norman Rockwell. The joy in the mural is infectious. The street once served as a locale for the film Anna and the King with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat.
Khoo Kongsi Mansion

8) Khoo Kongsi Mansion (must see)

The Khoo Kongsi Mansion in George Town is not easy to find. It is embedded among shop house clusters on Cannon Square. The main entrance to the mansion compound is a tunnel in an alley through the wall of shop houses.

The mansion is in a wide paved courtyard, defensively surrounded by the walls of other buildings. It is in three parts: the Prayer Pavilion; the main building and its grand staircase; and a kitchen on the left wing.

The architecture is in the temple style of Southern Fujian province of China: the traditional prayer pavilion with a low bungalow type front porch. The porch is four feet above ground. In the middle of the front steps is a "Stone Of The Royal Way." The flat stone carries the character "Fu", representing five different types of luck.

The first clan house was built in 1851. In 1901 it was struck by lightning and burned. It was thought the style of the house angered the gods for its resemblance to the imperial palace in China. The more moderate present-day hall was built in 1906.

The hall is elaborated with complex wood carvings and beams. The temple is dedicated to the gods of the clan. It also holds a collection of ancestral tablets. In the back are mural paintings illustrating moral precepts and traditional tales. The paintings also honor leaders of the Khoo family who have led the clan in a competitive environment.
Kapitan Keling Mosque

9) Kapitan Keling Mosque

Masjid Kapitan Keling is the most famous mosque in Penang. Its architecture combines the Indian-Mughal style with Gothic, Moorish, Romanesque and Renaissance elements. The mosque is named for Cauder Mohudeen Merican. Commonly called Kapitan Keling, he was the leader of the Muslim community in Penang in the early 19th century.

Sir George Leigh, Lieutenant-Governor of Penang, granted 18 acres of land for the mosque in 1801. The mosque was designed by German architect Henry Alfred Neubronner. It is located on Kapitan Keiling Street, also called "the Street Of Harmony." The mosque shares the Street with the Goddess of Mercy Temple and St George's Church.

The mosque is part of the World Heritage Site of George Town. It is at the center of the Tamil Muslim Chulias Neighborhood. Cauder Mohudeen was a ship tandoor from Porto Novo, south of Pondicherry, India.

The original design met with disapproval and the mosque was remodeled and enlarged. The prayer hall doubled in height. The ventilation system was overhauled and more natural light was admitted. The outside is colored ochre. The interior has white marble floors. The aisles are framed by horseshoe arches. All decoration is of geometrical designs.
Chulia Street

10) Chulia Street

Chulia Street has been part of Little India in George Town since 1786 when George Town was founded. That makes it one of the oldest streets in the city. From the earliest times it has been a community of Indian Muslim and Chinese cultures. The first Indian immigrants called it "Malabar Street" after the Indian Malabar coast.

The name "Chulia" stems from the old Chola Kingdom of India. Chulia was the common name for Indians of the coastal state of Tamil Nadu. Malabar Street marked the southern border of newly settled George Town. In 1798 the street was officially named Chulia Street as the British saw most of the people there were indeed from Tamil Nadu.

The population of Indian Muslims on Chulia Street declined in the late 19th century. They were being replaced by Chinese immigrants moving in. The upshot of all this movement is the cultural masala stew of Chulia Street today.
Cheong Fatt Tze - The Blue Mansion

11) Cheong Fatt Tze - The Blue Mansion (must see)

The "Rockefeller of the East", Cheong Fatt Tze, was a poor youth who fled the Second Opium War in Guandong, China. He found his destiny in Southeast Asia. He prospered as an industrialist, politician and philanthropist. His home in George Town was for himself, his eight wives, and six sons.

Cheog Fatt Tze's dream home mansion at 43 Leith Street in George Town is colored indigo blue. The color was chosen for serenity. The house is commonly called the "Blue Mansion." Construction was started in 1897 and completed in 1904. It has two floors, 38 rooms, five granite courtyards, seven staircases, and 220 Gothic louvered windows.

Cheong liked to work from home. The architectural style is eclectic, combining the Chinese concept of bilateral symmetry with western Gothic elements. Features include Chinese porcelains, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles, Glasgow cast iron, and Art Nouveau stained glass. The building follows the principals of Chinese Feng Shui.

The mansion was bought from Cheong Fatt Tze's descendants in 1989. It was renovated in 1995 and it now operates as a museum and boutique hotel. Tours in English are offered three times daily. A restaurant named "Indigo" is on the first floor. The mansion has been featured in many films and on CNN, BCC, and the History and Discovery channels.

Walking Tours in George Town, Malaysia

Create Your Own Walk in George Town

Create Your Own Walk in George Town

Creating your own self-guided walk in George Town is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Farquhar Street Walking Tour

Farquhar Street Walking Tour

Farquhar Street, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2008, is a culturally rich thoroughfare in George Town, Malaysia, and home to many interesting historic properties. Let's take a brief journey down this storied street and see what they are.

At the outset of Farquhar stands the impressive Supreme Court building, a symbol of justice and governance in Penang. Just a stone's throw away,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
George Town's Historical Religious Buildings

George Town's Historical Religious Buildings

George Town, Malaysia, has much to be proud of when it comes to religious heritage. The city boasts a plethora of wonderful churches, temples, mosques, and other religious sites – each beautifully decorated and with its own unique story. Follow us on this self-guided walk and see some of them up close.

We start at the Acheen Street Mosque. Dating back to the early 19th century, this is one of...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles