Inner Circle

Heritage gets new life in Penang

For Yeoh Siew Hoon, there’s no place quite like home

Heritage gets new life in Penang
The changes have been organic and you experience a living culture, not a gentrified one created for tourists.

One of the things I enjoy most about being at home in Penang is going to the wet markets with my mother. The last time I accompanied her, I noticed that they have become lighter, brighter, cleaner and more spacious, making for an even more enjoyable experience. Nothing quite compares to the smells, sights and sounds of the wet market first thing in the morning.

I find new joy exploring Penang these days as a traveller. The changes in the inner city of Georgetown over the past few years have been wonderful. Muntri Road, where my father’s clan temple and ancestral tablet is located, used to be a sleepy little lane. Today, it’s part of the Heritage Trail and home to a heritage boutique hotel called Muntri Mews, where horse carriages were kept in the late 1800s when rich Peranakan merchants plied their trade from these streets.

When cars came into the picture, the mews were used as garages. Today, it houses a charming café and 12 rooms above stairs. The food is excellent – I recommend the laksa lemak and mee siam. Muntri Mews is just one of the many heritage conservation developments popping up in Georgetown and this World Heritage Site is a delight to explore on foot.

Art adorn the walls of temples and buildings, quirky road signs add colour and eccentricity and independent cafes lend personality to an area once home to dilapidated shophouses and a dying trade.

The changes have been organic and you experience a living culture, not a gentrified one created for tourists. I felt like I was travelling back in time to the period when my grandmother was alive and living in one of those shophouses.

People in Penang call it a renaissance of sorts. I caught up with Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman, director of communications at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa to ask what he thought of the change. “It’s great, it’s given Penang new life. People have more reason to visit now,” he says. The beach remains an idyllic escape but now there’s an added layer of heritage and culture. Somehow the entire island just seems more accessible.

During the trip, I also spoke to Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, and asked what makes the island so special today. Even he couldn’t articulate it. “I don’t know but the minute you land in Penang, you just relax,” he said. I think my grandmother, who landed in Penang as a young girl of 16 in the 1920s, would agree as well.

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Showing 1 comment

  1. Peter Friend: 7 years ago

    We return to Penang at Christmas for our 5th stay at the Rasa Sayang - really enjoyed reading the article so will make the wet markets & Heritage Trail a port of call on this trip, thank you!

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