For a dose of cultural charm, these family-friendly boutique hotels around Malaysia offer bucket-loads of Chinese history lessons behind their walls.
Nestled inconspicuously along one of George Town’s oldest heritage streets, East Indies Hotel will easily capture the imaginations of its patrons – no matter what their age. The storied past of number 25 China Street, paired with its thoughtfully restored architectural detail, makes the property a great place for families to immerse themselves in both the colourful history of the British colonial settlement and of the Chinese settlers who made names for themselves on the island over two centuries ago.
The three-bay residence was originally occupied by Koh Lay Huan, a successful merchant and planter from Fujian who became an important ally to Penang’s founder Francis Light. To recognise Koh’s efforts in developing the new colonial outpost, Light named him Penang’s first Kapitan Cina, or leader of the Chinese residents. Thanks in no small part to Koh’s actions, Light also marked China Street as one of the first four streets of the original George Town grid. After Koh’s death, ownership of the residence subsequently passed to two other influential men in Malaya’s history: the millionaire Chung Keng Kwee, founder of Taiping and tin mining extraordinaire, and the merchant Ong Boon Keng, whose fortunes were tied to both opium and gambling.
With such illustrious men tied to its centuries-old history, it’s no wonder that East Indies Hotel emanates a special sense of place. And if its storied past is not enough to draw you in, then the stunning interior will certainly do the trick. Influenced by traditional Fujian architecture, the property was built with the properties of feng shui in mind. With three large courtyards exuding plenty of natural light, the hotel offers plenty of space to soak up the atmosphere, admire the tasteful Chinese décor, and spend time with family while learning about Penang’s place in history.
East Indies has a number of rooms to choose from, including two large family suites. It’s located just a few steps away from several of the city’s important heritage sights, including the oldest Chinese temple in Penang and the famous Peranakan Mansion.
25 China Street, George Town, Penang (04 261 8025). RM200-RM780 per night.
For families looking to get a taste of Penang’s heritage charm while also enjoying more modern-day luxuries, including a world-class restaurant and spa, look no further than Penang’s Hotel Penaga. Converted into a hotel from three twentieth-century terrace houses, the property perfectly fuses past with present by accentuating its art deco features with both modern art and traditional Peranakan furniture. Stories abound in every object and detail of the hotel, from the intricately carved headboards in the bedrooms and suites to the granite slabs in the garden – once used as ballast in Chinese trading ships.
But the interior and the décor aren’t Hotel Penaga’s only enticements: its location and facilities make it a draw for parents and kids alike. The hotel is located just a few metres away from Campbell Street – one of George Town’s predominately Chinese enclaves – where locals celebrate the Chinese New Year holiday by hanging hundreds of red lanterns across the streets and five-foot ways. Kids can also get a taste of Chinese heritage at one of the many hawker stalls that line nearby Lebuh Kimberly, including one of the island’s well-known char koay teow stalls at the Sin Guat Keong coffee shop. Additionally, Penang’s famed Blue Mansion is right around the corner.
For families looking for a place to unwind, Hotel Penaga doesn’t disappoint. The property features several spacious, multi-bed suites to choose from, not to mention a luxurious garden, a lap pool, and even a library for the bookworms. And after the kids are put to bed, parents can sneak down to the hip Tanglung Bar for a relaxing nightcap.
Jalan Hutton, George Town, Penang (04 261 1891). RM334-RM1400 per night.
Although often overshadowed by its better-known counterparts on the coast, Ipoh has just as much to offer in terms of history and atmosphere as Malacca and Penang. And for families looking to spend some time somewhere a little more off-the-beaten-path than those two heritage giants, Ipoh’s Old Town – with the charming Sarang Paloh sitting in the midst of all the action – makes a great destination. Its past as both an important tin-mining town and colonial centre remains on prominent display at every street corner, with quaint kopitiams sitting side-by-side with impressive British municipal buildings.
Families can experience this heritage up-close at Sarang Paloh. This charming boutique hotel – whose name, made up of both a Bahasa and a Cantonese word, reflects the city’s diversity – is situated in the iconic, 90-year-old Oversea Building, once home to Perak’s first Chinese bank. The recently restored property features antique furniture sourced from local Ipoh-ites, timber recycled from nearby properties, and tasteful decorations which reflect the city’s affluent past. The airy, colourful rooms are an ideal place to return to after a long day exploring the sights of the city and surrounding areas, and with dozens of coffee shops, cafés and shops just around the corner, you’re certain to find something that suits the whole family’s tastes.
Sarang Paloh offers a number of rooms and family suites sleeping up to six people. The property also has an event hall, art gallery and lounge – complete with a long bar and self-serve pantry.
16 Jalan Sultan Iskandar, Ipoh, Perak (05 241 3926). RM238-RM488 per night.
For older families looking for something less traditional, Ipoh’s Sekeping Kong Heng definitely fits the bill. This special property highlights its unique heritage by keeping the aesthetic focus on the building’s decades-old neoclassical architecture. Once used as an abode for performers who demonstrated their talents at the nearby theatre – destroyed by a fire in the 1950s – the sparsely decorated property emphasises the beautiful textures and materials that gave the original building its character. Exposed brick walls accentuated by deteriorating plaster, beautiful timber floors and ceilings, and thoughtfully planted greenery are juxtaposed against modern metal furnishings and staircases. Shutters and big glass windows transform the surrounding views of Ipoh’s Old Town into living art. Secret doorways and plenty of nooks and crannies dare you to explore the grounds further.
This one-of-a-kind hotel, anchored by one of Ipoh’s most famous coffee shops – Kong Heng – seamlessly blends into the city and makes you feel like you’re a local. It’s easy to imagine teenagers coming down from their rooms in the morning to grab a white coffee, or making their way up to the well-shaded rooftop pool while their parents grab a little more shut-eye in preparation for their day in Ipoh. The dining and washing area and the large communal ‘hang-out’ space make this a great place to simply chill out and take in the minute details of the gorgeous heritage property.
Sekeping Kong Heng is a one-minute walk from some of Ipoh’s most famous street-food delicacies – but in case you want to go a bit further, the hotel offers guests four bicycles for rent. there are several different types of rooms to choose from, including a spacious family room.
74 Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh, Perak (012 227 2745/05 241 8977). RM80-RM800 per night.
The Anggun Boutique Hotel is a heritage oasis located right in the heart of the capital city. Once the property of the Chung family, the hotel – made up of two colonial houses – was the site of many Chinese New Year family gatherings, making it a particularly special place to spend your own holiday this year. From the Chinese lanterns in the courtyard to the beautiful handmade teak furnishings, the hotel has taken every measure to preserve the memory of its past. However, the helpful eco-friendly features, like energy-efficient lighting and all-natural toiletries, indicate that Anggun cares about the present day as well. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the rooms in natural light, giving each room a special feeling of ‘home’ – the patios featured in some rooms are the extra icing on the cake.
The property’s rooftop restaurant and lounge is a great spot for the adults to unwind after taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the nearby Bukit Bintang neighborhood. Bubu Rooftop Restolounge features candle-lit tables and views of the city outside, not to mention a great menu.
Perhaps because this used to be a family residence, Anggun offers lots of services to make your stay as pleasant as possible, including interconnecting rooms, a babysitting service, and a baby cot should you need one. The hotel can also book you a private car to take you to KL’s most-loved sites. If walking is more your family’s speed, Chinatown is just a 15-minute stroll away. The property has a three- and four-person family room, as well as several other smaller rooms available.
9 Tengkat Tong Shin, Bukit Bintang, KL (03 2145 8003). RM490-RM1,050 per night.