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Pulau Pinang (Penang)


Historical Places in Penang ~ Captain Francis Light | Batu Ferringhi | Pulau Kasatu | Fort Cornwallis | Convent Light Street | St. George's Church | Penang State Museum | Cathedral of Assumption | E & O Hotel and the Sarkies Brothers | Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion | The Christian Cemetery | Suffolk House | Penang Botanical Gardens | Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base | Pinang Peranakan Mansion and the Chung Keng Kwee Ancestral Temple | Dying Trades of Georgetown ~ The Joss stick Maker | Kim Guan Coffee Factory | Ismalia Bakery's Roti Benggali | Tua Keat Seng's Red Lanterns | Signboard Engraver | Bamboo & Wooden Blind Maker | Traditional Pillow, Mattress and Bolster Maker | Popiah(Spring Roll) skin maker | Rattan Furniture Weaver | Songkok Maker | Traditional Indian Goldsmith | Traditional Penang Biscuits | Manufacturer of Preserved Nutmegs | Handmade Paper Effigies | Mahjong Tiles & Dice Manufacturer | Curry Mee Stall | Boatmaker & the Koay Clan | Education and Information ~ Tropical Spice Garden | Penang Heritage Trust | Little Penang Street Market | PAPA - Penang Apprenticeship Programme for Artisans |

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

14, Leith Street , Georgetown Penang. Conducted Tours at 11.00am and 3.00pm everyday. Other times of the day is closed to public.

cheong fatt tze mansion - exterior

The then 16 year old Cheong Fatt Tze emigrated to Malaya in 1856 to work at British tin mines along with thousands of young men in search of a better life. He did more than just that. He eventually worked his way into society, amassing a fortune along the way by trading in tea, pepper, coffee and tobacco with the British Empire. During the 1800s, Chinese factions ruled territiories and divided Georgetown into sections ruled by secret societies. These Chinese groups were organised according to dialect and lineage, and were formed to 'look after' their fellow villagers or clan. Eventually, their leaders were appointed by the British as dignitaries and provided with positions of responsibility in the hope of parrying any discontentment amongst the various groups and also with the government.

Cheong Fatt Tze's reputation as a shrewd businessman and a financial wizard surpassed himself. He later became Consult Genaral for China, had the honourable position ~ Mandarin of the Highest Order, was a director of China's railway and also director of first modern bank. Cheong Fatt Tze was even honoured with the title of "Rockefeller of the East" by the New York Times and dubbed as "China's last Mandarin and first capitalist".

Although he had other houses around Asia particularly in lands where he had business ventures and personal interests eg. Indonesia and China, Cheong Fatt Tze preferred this mansion in Penang. He poured all his passion into this property and hired geomancers and feng shui masters to design a house in which that wealth flowed in was retained within the confines of the geomancy boundaries.

the exterior of cheong fatt tze mansion

The Cheong Fatt Tze mansion is open to public everyday at 11.00am and 3.00pm. Educational tours are conducted at these times. Other times, the mansion is closed to the public. The price per person for the 1 hour tour is RM10. Tickets can be purchased at the gates of the mansion. This tour is well worth the money as visitors can see the amount of time and effort spent on feng shui. An incredible piece of feng shui mastery.

Apart from the architecture, Cheong Fatt Tze mansion is also dedicated to Cheong himself. The love of his life ~ his seventh wife had the privilege of living at the Mansion. A little room filled with Nyonya antiques and old photographs gives a peep into the lives of the genteel Chinese businessmen then.

The mansion has been used on occasions for film locations. One of the more famous one, 'Indochine' stars Catherine Deneuve.

When Cheong Fatt Tze passed away in 1916, flags were ordered to be flown at half-mast by the Dutch and the British in their colonies, to honour this man. So respected a man was he and so much wealth he had amassed in his lifetime, unfortunately the wealth and fortune did not quite benefit the later generations.

Eventually, the mansion was deserted by the family. Squaters moved in during the 70's and stayed until one day a group of Heritage preservationists acquired the Mansion to ensure that it would be maintained & conserved for posterity. It took them almost 3 years to negotiate with the squaters a deadline to leave the premise. When they finally did, then restoration work began. Prior to completion of works at the mansion, Hotel Continental located just behind the mansion began foundation works for its 22-storey extension. The use of hammer-driven concrete piles immediately caused the mansion's walls to crack and its foundation began to sink.

The owners applied for a court injunction and was granted. The case was taken to court and a precedent was set as the presiding judge deemed that 'conservation was an act of development'. In the fight for conservation in Georgetown, this victory was a first step towards awareness. The local council has now banned the use of hammer-driven piling systems within the historic core of Georgetown.

ma chehs. photo courtesy of cheong fatt tze mansion

The mansion used to also consist of the row of terrace houses across the street. This area was where the kitchen, storage rooms and servants' quarters used to be. Food was prepared in the kitchens and servants would then shunt up and down the elevated plank walkway connecting the main house with the servants quarters in haste, as they rush to deliver the piping hot dishes to their mistresses. The servants were always dresses in white shirts and black pants and were called 'Ma Cheh's' or sometimes 'Blacka &Whites'. These ladies would leave theis homes in China and travel far to work for rich Chinese families. They work tirelessly,dedicating their entire time to looking after their mistresses and children. With the money saved, they looked forward to returning to their homeland to live an easier life of retirement with their families. Today 20, Leigh Street has been converted into pubs and cafes. Great place to wind down after time spent at the mansion.

Cheong Fatt Tze mansion also has 16 individually designed rooms for guests to stay over of they so wish to just spend some time absorbing the energy and history of this famed house.

for more on Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion's bed and breakfast facilities,click here

The Protestant Christian Cemetery

Walking along the pathways of the cemetery provides a sense of the hardship that early pioneers had to endure in the tropics. The Penang Heritage Trust has restored many of the tombstones at the cemetery however, a number of the early graves have gone through too much weathering for restoration. Reading the epitaphs brings back the romance of an alien land ~ the journey, the life and eventually death of the early settlers. Many early European settlers, young and old succumbed to a mysterious tropical fever, possibly malaria whilst soldiers of all rankings perished in the line of duty.

Too far to transport loved ones back to their homeland, the Christian Cemetery is the final resting place of many pioneers including Sir Francis Light, Sir Stamford Raffles' brother-in-law and a young officer named Thomas Leonowens.

After her husband died of apoplexy in Penang, Anna moved to Singapore, where she received an invitation to teach English to the children of the Siamese King. She later embellished her memoirs of this time, which became famous. Her romanticised account of her life in the East inspired a play and subsequently a film, 'Anna and the King' starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner . A remake of this film in 1999 starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yuen Fatt. A number of the backdrops were filmed in Penang's Georgetown.

Early Town Planning in Georgetown

To encourage settlement in the newly formed trading post, Light gave land away to anyone who would settle here. Soon, large numbers of Indians, Chinese, Malays, Burmese, Thais, Sumatrans and Javanese moved in. A vast swampy area, on the south of Fort Cornwallis was cleared out to create quarters for the Asian population. Not long after, Armenians, Jews, Persians and dozens of other races came to settle at Georgetown. Walking through the streets of Georgetown, one can still just about make out the quarters for the various races or even the type of trades conducted by these merchants.

Suffolk House - Captain Francis Light's Residency

Although the North Beach (Lebuh Light) area was originally sited for European settlement, they soon moved to new suburbs in the interior constructing colonial bungalows with vast gardens and servants' quarters. Francis Light built his home in the interior in which he landscaped and constructed, resembling that of what a country state home would be in his birthplace. He lived there with his life long companion and common-law wife, Martina Rozells and his 5 children. Upon his death in 1894, Light left the estate to his family, ' the pepper gardens with my Garden house plantation and all the land by me cleared in that part of this island called Suffolk.'

Suffolk House served as the governor's residency for the first 100years and later was bought over by a planter. Eventually the house and land became part of the Methodist Boys' School, last used as a canteen for the students.

A new lease of life has been given to the Residency (as it was called), HSBC pledged RM2.5million to restore it to its past glory and Penang Government pledged to match the amount to complete the estate's transformation. As an early visitor to the Residency noted, ' It is in short an English gentleman's mansion and park, where clove and nutmeg trees (in full bearing during our visit) are substituted for Oaks, elms and ashes. The grounds contain from two to three hundred spotted deer.'

Suffolk House is now fully restored and as of late 2009 was opened to the public. The extensive restoration work done to this periodic building has earned it the prestigious Award of Distinction in the 2008 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. For more on thee restoration work , please have a look at Timothy Tye's

The Opening Times and Guided tours as below:

Opening times

Daily ~ 10 am - 6 pm

RM 20 per person

Free for children under 6yrs old

Guided Tours

by appointment (minimum of 10 persons)

RM 25 per person

Discounts available for school groups


Lunch ~ 12 noon - 3pm

High Tea ~ 3pm - 6pm

Dinner ~ 7pm - 11pm

Reservations at the Restaurant:

04 228 3930

For event and venue hire enquiries:

Visitor Services Co-ordinator Suffolk House
250 Jalan Air Hitam 10460 Penang
Tel: +6 04 228 1109 Fax: +6 04 228 110

Penang Botanical Gardens

The cannonball tree. origins - south america

The British officials seemed to have really loved their parks and botanical gardens. Everywhere they set up camp, they would just as soon landscape a piece of the scenery into a park and such. Just as well that happened, as all the gardens and parks in Malaysia that the Brits had gazetted are still enjoyed by the communities. Penang's botanical garden is no different. Tucked away at the foot of the hill, the garden is ideal for strollers, joggers and those just interested in flora. Charles Curtis, its first superintendent was the designer and architect. He started work in 1884, replanting the former granite quarry with local and introduced plants. The gardens were originally intended for a nursery. Horticultural plants were sent over from Kew Gardens in England in hope of planting crops in Penang for the future. However, the gardens were eventually opened for public use. The variety of plants and trees have pretty good information boards for those interested. For others, there is a fair amount of shade from overtowering trees along the pathways to keep visitors cool. The 72 acre gardens also has herbariums and nurseries. Unfortunately these aren't open to visitors plus the plant items looked in need of some nurturing.

the gentle silver leaf monkey, tucking in on juicy young leaves ~ evening supper before curling up for the night

There are usually families of The Silver Leaf Monkeys (peace loving, cute and adorable) and The Macaques (aggressive, smart, sneaky and greedy - sound like anyone you know?). Do keep clear away from the macaques, they can get quite nasty. Also try not to tempt them with food. There was a personal experience at the age of 4 - carrying a bag of peanuts at the botanical gardens - watching in slow mo as a huge macaque came galloping on all fours eyeing the bag of delicious snack - not much taller than the monkey itself - was bowled over by the cheeky so and so - ending in tears and an age old phobia of macaques!!!!



During weeks leading up to chinese festivities in georgetown, don't be surprised to find makeshift performance stages being set up on streets and alleys - blocking access completely. Chinese operas and Puppet shows are very much alive in Penang.

Driving around Georgetown is complicated. The one-way street system is confusing and weekend traffic is debilitating. My travel partner likens it to a game on the pinball machine! The island itself has its own identity and pace only islanders are familiar with. Trishaws can be seen coming down the opposite way on a one-way street, totally oblivious to the obvious congestion they cause along the way. Octogenarians driving around in their little beetles and old Morgans at 30kph also oblivious to the fact that the streets have been converted to One-Way routes some time back . and motorbikes.everywhere, anarchy rules on the streets of Georgetown!

The local municipal council has in fact started to include pavement walkways for tourists and shoppers alike in areas like Lebuh Acheh (Acheen Street) and Lebuh Armenian. Forget about the traffic, the confusion, the haphazardness and let yourself blend into the surroundings. Then, Georgetown will begin to open up to those willing to experience.

The daily working lives of the older folk who cling on dearly to their trades that are fast disappearing due to technology and mass production. They are still there. continuing with their lives' work in dimly lit shops and in the back alleys. The following are a few still operating as their forefathers or employers have been for years.

The Joss Stick Maker

No. 1 Lorong Muda. Operations hours: 8.00am - 11.00am (also depending on the rain, weekdays).

Tel: 04 262 7325 (Mr Lee - speaks Hokkien and Mandarin, a bit of Malay and Cantonese)

Mr Lee Beng Chuan has been making joss sticks for decades now. This sprightly 60-some year old man and his wife continue to churn out joss sticks for a select group of loyal customers. Mr Lee started out not as a joss stick maker but he was commissioned to handcraft dragon and phoenix effigies onto large joss sticks that were used for special occasions such as important Chinese festivals and birthdays. As his eyesight began to fail, he decided to switch to a labour intensive but less skilful career and hence making joss sticks instead. Today, Mr and Mrs Lee continue to churn out joss sticks for their very niche market. Although,Mr Lee used to produce thin jossticks - those often seen at alters in temples, he can no longer compete in pricing especially those from China and Vietnam. Instead, he makes shorter, fatter jossticks, which he says are more appropriate for his customers who many have moved away from houses and into apartments. In this way, the smaller jossticks would take a shorter time to burn and hence less smoke in the apartment.

Visitors can buy jossticks from Mr Lee. He sells them in a variety of sizes. He will proudly show anyone interested, the process of making jossticks over and over again without missing a skip. However, Mr Lee and wife speak only Chinese and a bit of Malay. On rainy days, Mr Lee does other things apart from making jossticks, as the process requires quite a bit of sun. The final stages before packing is to dry the jossticks under direct sunlight for 2 days. Mr Lee has lived in this house on this street for over 65years. He sadly reminisces days when the row of houses in which he still lives on were filled with folks working on all sorts of trades. As the younger generation went off to school and universities, they left their homes for luxuries of apartments and bigger cities. Many of the older generations went along and retired from their livelihood. Mr Lee maintains that he and his wife would prefer to work for as long as they are able to ~ their way of life is what makes them whole.

Kim Guan Coffee Factory (unfortunately this establishment has since closed their operations)

No 53 Stewart Lane. Operations hours (8.00am - 2.00pm, weekdays)

More often than not, visitors will get to meet Mr. Ong, the owner of this little, home grown coffee factory. Not to mention a few of his family members too. Having worked at a coffee factory for a number of years, Mr.Ong eventually decided to open his own factory in 1988. he relocated his factory to Stewart Lane where he felt that his customers could drop by anytime to buy the freshly roasted coffee. The entire coffee boiling, roasting and grinding process is done in this corner shophouse. Visitors are eagerly invited in and Mr Ong will take them through the process of making local coffee. The coffee beans are actually imported from Medan, Indonesia. The beans are later cooked at Kim Guan's and roasted with a combination of sesame seeds, salt, sugar and margarine or butter to produce the unique aroma of our local coffee.

Although, visitors will not be able to taste the local coffee at Kim Guan's, local coffee is sold at all coffeeshops in Penang. Ask for kopi but if you do not wish them to pre-add condense milk, do let them know in advance. Local coffee often comes with condense milk added. A good place to go for a great cup of local coffee and freshly toasted bread with kaya (coconut jam) would be Rio Hotel and Kedai Kopi at the junction of Bishop Street and Lebuh King (King's Street). The proprietors speak English here. Best time to go would be in the mornings until lunchtime.

Roti Benggali (Benggali Bread)

Ismalia Bakery, No 114, Transfer Road. Operations hours (8.00am - 2.00pm, everyday)

Roti Benggali goes very well with local coffee. It's white bread, freshly baked daily and sent out to most coffeeshops around Georgetown. Roti Benggali actually derived its name from the word ,' Penggali' which means 'shareholders' in tamil. Sheik Mohd Ismail an Indian Muslim came over from Madras, India in 1932 to pursue his livelihood in this new land of opportunities. As soon as he settled down in Georgetown, he set up a business with his group of friends and called the co-op - 'roti penggali'. Local residents mistook the name to be 'Roti Benggali' and has been called such since. In 1964, the bakery was renamed 'Ismalia Bakery' from 'Penggalis' and is now run by Vanisay Mohd - the founder's grandson.

Bread delivery man

For as little as RM1.20, you can get a gigantic loaf of freshly baked Roti Benggali at Ismalia Bakery. However, if you ever do get to see the travelling breadman, a sort of bakery on wheels, going on their evening route round the older neighbourhood, do stop him. He usually sells Roti Benggali and if you wish, he'd whip out his slicing board, cut a few slices for you and even spread a thick layer of the delicious coconut jam and margarine for you to take with you.




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More in Penang

Holiday Trips & Packages in Penang

Hotel in Penang
George Town ~ within the UNESCO World Heritage Core and Buffer Zones
Boutique Hotel
Heritage Stay
Budget Motel and Hotel
Retreat & Guesthouse
Georgetown ~ Outside of the UNESCO World Heritage Core and Buffer Zones
Boutique Hotel
Gurney Drive
Tanjung Tokong
Tanjung Bungah
Batu Ferringi 
Resort and Guesthouse
Balik Pulau
Bukit Jambul
4-star and 5-star
Bayan Lepas
Pulau Jerejak
Penang Hill
Sungai Nibong
Seberang Jaya
Bukit Mertajam
Kepala Batas