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MALAYSIA | Friday, 4 May 2012 | Views [891]

A rickshaw at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

A rickshaw at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

The morning is a bit hectic as I don't have an advance ticket to Penang and didn't set the alarm clock. It's 9.30 before I get to main bus station in Alor Setar and felt fortunate to be ushered onto the bus to Penang just as it was literally leaving. I counted a grand total of four passengers and started to think that 1.5 days in Georgetown was going to be overkill.

The bus drops us off at Butterworth jetty for the ferry to Georgetown. I'm immediately surrounded my taxi touts telling me that the only way across is by taxi. They're given the dismissive wave of the hand technique acquired from India. While it's possible and far more expensive to go across to Penang Island and Georgetown by road, the ferry ride is far cheaper and an essential part of the experience.

I arrived at the Chulia Heritage Hotel at 1230 and was told by the staff that the check-in time was 1400 and had to wait. I decide to go off for lunch as I was hungry anyway and head back to the hotel by 1340. The staff still does not let me check-in and actually made me sit in the lobby for 20 minutes. I've check-in into plenty of hotels early, sometimes hours early. While I appreciate they just doing their job in carrying out the letter of the law. After a long journey, no one wants to put up with this kind of jobsworth.

The hotel itself is pretty nice being a converted mansion. The former usage for the building is still very much in evidence, giving the place a lot of character. The conservation of the building also meant that the soundproofing wasn't much good and I could hear people moving about. Sometimes it was because people were worshipping at an alter on the same hallway as my room. It also meant that the I could smell incense quite often. Not that I found the smell offensive, just not the kind of this you want the brain noticing things when you're trying to sleep. The hotel at night:

With a tourist map of Georgetown in hand, I set about attacking the places of interest. Actually, instead of attacking the sights straight away, the streets of Georgetown have piqued my interest with it's colonial style buildings. I wander around and noticed a cafe/gallery and decided to go in as I desperately needed a coffee. The owner of the cafe didn't have a till, but he had this ingenius device for storing money, a tin can that could be pulled down or pushed up. He was kind enough to pose for me:

I also had a wander into the gallery area. I really like the place:

The cafe wasn't far from The Church of Assumption and St. Georges Church, so I walked:

By now I've looked at the map a bit more closely and realised that there's a free shuttle bus that drives around Georgetown. Just hop on/off at designated bus stops and your there, where there's something to see. If anyone can teach about doing tourism right, it's the Malaysians! I chose to go to Fort Cornwallis first, which I thought was rather small and nor especially interesting as forts go. Here's me posing with a cannon at the fort and the founder of Georgetown, Francis Light:

The Victoria Memorial Clock is just past the fort:

So now I catch the free shuttle bus to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Cheong Fatt Tze was a chinese business man who made his fortune starting from nothing and dubbed the Rockefeller of the east. The mansion was his Penang house. I arrive at 5pm only to discover than all visitors must take a guided tour. There are 3 per day at 11.00, 1330 and 1500. I would have to try again the next day, but it was worth it:

The guide tells us that after Cheong Fatt Tze's death, the mansion fell into a state of disrepair. The main reason being that the way his will was drawn up meant that it would be more than 80 years after his death before any of his descendants received their inheritance. Looking at how well the building has been restored from the former dilapidated stated, the museum staff have set the benchmark for conservation.

Other highlights included a visit Sun Yat Sen's Penang base. Sadly, the museum needs nearly RM500,000 to repair the limestone walls. A figure they're going to have great difficulty raising. If there's any rich and proud Chinese people out there, donate or even just stay in the museum where some of the rooms have been converted for stays:

The food stalls of Georgetown, selling the best food in the world. Chinese food:

And of course, some street scenes from around Georgetown:

Outside of the Georgetown, there's a temple called Snake Temple. A temple dedicated to the Buddhist monk, Chor Koo Kong. It's name comes from the fact that the temple has a resident population of various viper snakes. Sadly, I think the snake are doped to make them less dangerous to visitors and possibly even just a tourist gimmick. After all, snakes don't generally live where their prey lives:

In conclusion, I've really enjoyed Georgetown. Note that Georgetown and Malacca are twinned World Heritage Site. The latter which I visited the preceding week as a day trip from Kuala Lumper. While both cities are from the same period, Malacca seems to be more focused on attracting tourist and less conservation. The focus seems to be more about finding ways to entertain the tourist. Many of the buildings in contrast with Georgetown, are not always related to it's original purpose. Something which seems contrary to the whole idea of a heritage site. In the end, even 1.5 days was not enough in Georgetown as I spent so much time admiring even the not so obvious sites. Virtually all the streets and building have preserved the colonial architecture and imbuing the whole city with real character.

As I leave for Singapore from Penang International, we have to cross the tarmac to our plane, this is a rather scary sight on the way:

Tags: ferry, malaysia georgetown, photo, unesco


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