Georgetown - Culture & Sightseeing

Date Links: Wed 01/06 │ Thu 02/06 │ Fri 03/06 │ Sat 04/06

Accommodation: Traders Hotel

The Acheen St Mosque - Unusual for its Egyptian-style minaret (most Malay mosques have Moorish minarets). Built in 1808 by a wealthy Arab trader, the mosque was the focal point for the Malay and Arab traders in this quarter - the oldest Malay kampung (village) in Georgetown. It's open to visitors but all the usual mosque etiquette should be exercised: conservative clothing, take your shoes off, avoid prayer times and be respectfully quiet. Located a short walk from Khoo Kongsi. GPS: 5.414769,100.336139

Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple - Built in 1805 and is Penang's first Buddhist temple. It has two large stone elephants flanking the gates and has been significantly added to over the years. It stands opposite the Wat Chayamangkalaram (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Take the Teluk Bahang-bound bus U101 from Weld Quay or Komtar. GPS: 5.432222,100.314102

Fort Cornwallis - These timeworn walls of are a

mong Penang's oldest sights

. It was here that Captain Light first set foot on the virtually uninhabited island in 1786 and established the free port where trade would, he hoped, be lured from Britain's Dutch rivals. At first a wooden fort was built, but between 1808 and 1810 convict labour replaced it with the present stone structure.

Today only the outer walls of the fort are standing, and the area within is now a park. A bronze statue of Captain Light stands near the entrance, although as no pictures of him could be found, it was modelled on the likeness of his son, William, who founded Adelaide in Australia. The small chapel in the southwest corner was the first to be built in Penang; ironically, the first recorded service was the 1799 marriage of Francis Light's widow, Martina, to a certain John Timmers. There are exhibitions on the history of Penang in a series of cells on the south flank of the fort, and you can also wander around the battlements, which are liberally studded with old cannons.

Seri Rambai, the most important and largest cannon, faces the north coast and was cast in 1603. It has a chequered history: the Dutch gave it to the sultan of Johor, after which it fell into the hands of the Acehnese. It was later given to the sultan of Selangor and then stolen by pirates before ending up at the fort.

At one time this fort also housed Georgetown's Sihk shrine. The British brought Sikhs from India in the 19th century and employed them as guards due to their reputation as honest and reliable people. Today, Penang is home to some 2,000 Sikh families but very few work in their traditional profession of guardians. Many still speak Punjabi and hold high-placed jobs in several areas of Penang business. Eventually this location proved impractical and the government allotted the Sikhs land on Brick Kiln Rd for a new temple. While most of the Sikh's religious activity revolves around the new shrine, their annual festival of Vaisakhi, the traditional harvest festival held on 14 April every year, still takes place inside of the walls of ancient Fort Cornwallis. Visitors can expect plenty of Sikh folk dancing (including the lively traditional Punjabi bhangra), music and art. GPS: 

Kek Lok Si Temple - Without doubt the largest and best known temple in Penang, the Temple of Supreme Bliss, better known as Kek Lok Si, staggered on the hillside overlooking the town of Ayer Itam. 

Since the olden days, the hills of Ayer Itam are regarded as important geomantically. Known as He San, or Crane Hill, they are recommended as a retreat for Taoist practitioners striving for immortality.


Khoo Kongsi - A kongsi is a clan house, a building that's partly a temple and partly a meeting hall for Chinese of the same clan or surname. Penang has many kongsi, but the clan house of the Khoo is by far the finest and is not to be missed.

Work began in the 1890s, and was so magnificent and elaborate that nobody was surprised when the roof caught fire on the night it was completed in 1901; the misfortune was put down to divine jealousy of the ostentatious design, so the Khoo rebuilt it in a marginally less extravagant style. The present kongsi, which dates from 1906, is also known as the Dragon Mountain Hall. It's a wildly colourful mix of dragons, carved columns, lanterns, paintings and ceramic tiles, while at ground level there is an exhibition on the lineage of the Khoo clan. GPS: 5.41447,100.337834

Penang Museum - One of the best presented museums in Malaysia. There are engaging exhibits on the customs and traditions of Penang's various ethnic groups, with photos, documents, costumes, furniture and other well labelled displays. Look out for the beautifully carved opium beds, inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Upstairs is the history gallery, with a collection of early-19th-century watercolours by Captain Robert Smith, an engineer with the East India Company, and prints showing landscapes of old Penang. You can also play some videos of Penang's many cultural festivals.

Outside, one of the original Penang Hill funicular railcars is now a kiosk selling an unusual array of souvenirs including antique costume jewellery and coins; all proceeds benefit the Penang Heritage Trust. GPS: 5.421541,100.338564

Victoria Memorial Clocktower - This gleaming white tower topped by a Moorish dome was donated by a local Chinese millionaire to honour Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it stands 18m (60ft) tall - one foot for each year of her reign. GPS: 5.419533,100.34425

Wat Buppharam
 - a 1942 Buddhist temple bursting with cartoonlike sculptures of Thai, Taoist and Hindu religious figures. The ornate Thai entrance archway is the largest in the state. The wat is home to the 'Lifting Buddha,' a 100-year-old, gold-leaf encrusted Buddha statue about the size of a well-fed house cat.

As a seeker, kneel in front of the statue, pay respects to the figure with a clear mind and then ask, in your mind, the yes or no question you wish to have answered; ask also that you wish for the figure to become light for an affirmative answer. Try to lift the statue. To verify the answer, ask your question again, only this time ask that the statue become heavy. Lift again. We tried this and got a very firm 'no' answer while a friend received a 'yes'. Months down the line it ended up that the statue was right in both cases. When the statue is heavy it won't budge and when it's light it lifts off the platform like a butterfly. You can decide for yourself if there's something cosmic going on. GPS: 5.425781,100.316725

Wat Chayamangkalaram -

Just off Jalan Burma, the main road to Batu Ferringhi, is this wat. This brightly painted Thai temple houses a 33m-long reclining Buddha, draped in a gold-leafed saffron robe. The claim that it's the third longest in the world is a dubious one, but it's a colourful temple and worth a visit. Take the Teluk Bahang-bound bus U101 from Weld Quay or Komtar.  GPS: 5.433589,100.31333

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