You’re about to experience a tourist trail of Penang’s northern coastline, its heritage-filled capital town and the island’s highest peak. The trail’s based on the first book by Man Asian Literary Prize 2012-winning author, Tan Twan Eng. A Penang-born living abroad, Twan Eng’s novel is set in Penang during the Japanese occupation in Malaya in the early 1940s.
Published in 2007, the book highlights quite a number of what are today’s important landmarks of Penang in forms of architecture and landscape. Within its fictional storyline and characters lay the intangible evolution of a multi-cultural society too. The book tells of the relationship between Philip Hutton, a mixed Chinese-English teenager, and his Japanese aikido instructor Endo-San, and how they’re torn between loyalty to family, country and their own friendship when the Japanese invade Malaya.
On this trail, you’ll get to know parts of Penang island mentioned in the book. From the moment you step on to the boat to absorb the sights, sounds and scents of Penang’s northern coast line – fringed by Weld Quay, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi – the book’s venues and plot will begin to come alive.
The trail continues with bus and trishaw rides through Penang’s streets bursting with heritage that backdrop the story and ends with a funicular train ride up Penang Hill. Through the streets, you’ll witness the harmony of different cultures and beliefs mingling in one street and Straits Eclectic-style architecture of what used to be homes and businesses under one roof – through which vivid glimpses of what life must have been like in Penang can be seen.
Without a doubt, we’ll guarantee a craving for all the local food you’ll come across during this trail – from the mamak mee vendor on the corner of Armenian Street and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling to various Chinese coffee shops preparing a plethora of flavours for hungry office workers waiting for their lunch. To punctuate it further, the trail includes a seafood lunch by the sea, a drink of nutmeg juice by Penang Botanic Gardens and a steamboat dinner atop Penang Hill that will further enhance your experience and, we hope, deepen your admiration for our little island.
Note: This trail was initially created for George Town Literary Festival 2013 and hosted by BFM radio host and avid reader, Umapagan Ampikaipakan.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is a grand old lady here in Penang. Established by the four Sarkies brothers from Armenia, it’s almost 130 years old. The hotel has been said to be ‘the embodiment of both a special time and a special place’, a mark of the British colonial era in Malaysia and a popular landmark here on the island.
Weld Quay or Pengkalan Weld, is one of Penang’s famous coastal road and where the Butterworth-George Town ferry stop is. Built in the late 20th century during Penang’s reclaim land boom in the area and named after Sir Frederick Weld who was the Governor of the Straits Settlements then, it was part of the island’s port expansion plan. The land reclamation created space for the Chinese trades neighbourhood of wholesalers, warehouses and living quarters known as the Clan Jetties.
Along what used to be Northam Road, is this beachfront row of mansions that were, and are still, owned by Penang’s old, elite families. Reflecting wealth and success, those Chinese patriarchs are now long gone but some of these ostentatious homes on Penang’s Millionaires' Row are still occupied by their descendants while others are sold or donated as an educational institution. The road today is Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Gurney Drive or Persiaran Gurney is Penang’s coolest seafront boulevard that’s filled with eateries, hotels, luxury condominiums and shopping malls popular with both locals and tourists. Named after Sir Henry Gurney who was a British High Commissioner to Malaya in 1950, it is famous for the evening hawker centre near the large round-a-bout where you can try almost every Penang favourite.
Sitting on reclaimed land within Seri Tanjung Pinang,Straits Quay is made up of waterfront luxury homes, a retail mall, a performing arts centre called penangpac and a marina. Today, there’s also a water limousine service from here to the Eastern & Oriental hotel for the benefit of shoppers and hotel guests.
Tua Pek Kong temple
Officially, this is the Hai-Zhu (sea pearl in Hokkien) Tua Pek Kong temple and not only it’s one of the oldest Chinese temple in Penang dating back to 19th century, it is said to be the original Tua Pek Kong temple of this generous deity or God of Prosperity in Malaysia. The temple gives its name to Tanjung Tokong, the neighbourhood within which it is located.
Tanjung Bungah & Tanjung Tokong
Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong are two prosperous sea view neighbourhoods with condominiums and landed properties that are very much in demand in Penang. A stone’s throw away from the famed Batu Ferringhi, the beaches of these two areas are also popular for beachcombers as well as water sports enthusiasts.
Formed by a group of young, sporty Europeans in the early 1900s to fill time in the evenings, Penang Swimming Club is one of the earliest clubs dedicated to only sea or water sports in Malaysia. Today, the modern building you see has been renovated and expanded to a fun pub with a seaview, sauna and is more family-oriented.
The Floating Mosque of Tanjung Bungah, despite its name, doesn’t exactly float but stands on stilts in the sea. The first of its kind in Malaysia, it has a 7-storey tall minaret where the five daily prayer calls are loudly performed at dawn, afternoon, evening, dusk and night.
Indian temples on Waterfall Road
These three rather large, prominent Indian temples on Jalan Kebun Bunga or what used to be Waterfall Road, add colour and melodious rings of bells at least once a day as you drive towards the Penang Botanic Gardens at the end of this road. On Thaipusam day, in January each year, the temples will be in the limelight as the vel kavadi procession heads toward its last destination, the Balathandayuthapani temple on the hill.
The Convent Light Street School is the oldest girl's school in Penang, founded in the mid 19th century by Holy Infant Jesus Missions. It was a chapel, an orphanage, a boarding school for the elite including royal princesses of the Thai family and today, it functions solely as a Malaysian public school for girls.
Built by Captain Sir Francis Light in the late 1700s, Fort Cornwallis was designed as a way to protect Penang from pirates, among others. It’s the largest one fort still existing in Malaysia and as far as we know, it has never really been used in any battle. Today, the fort is a venue for special performances or concerts.
Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is also known as Penang’s Street of Harmony where you’ll find Kapitan Keling mosque, Kuan Yin temple and Sri Mahamariamman temple reside almost side by side, while St. George's Church sits at the top of the road. This street is also where the old-fashioned Indian Muslim goldsmith shops and money changers can be found.
The indigo of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion will mesmerise you. Also known as the Blue Mansion, it was home to a prominent businessman in the late 19th century. Today it is a 16-bedroom boutique hotel and museum. It has also been the backdrop of films such as ‘Indochine’ starring Catherine Deneuve.
Penang Hill is 823 meters above water, it comprises of several hills located in Air Itam area and used as a hill station by the British during their occupation in the 19th century. Now, it’s a popular destination for both locals and tourists due to the panoramic view of Penang, its unique plants and restored old colonial bungalows. A funicular train or a private jeep for hire are used to access it while trekking up is an option for the adventurous.
What was once a residence of the sheriff of way back when Penang was called Prince of Wales Island, is now Bellevue Hotel with 12 simple bedrooms on Penang Hill and a terrific view. The hotel’s restaurant offers steamboat dinners that’s a good pairing with the chilly evening temperature of the hills.