Best destinations in George Town, Malaysia.
The most photographed building in George Town is this magnificent 38-room, 220-window mansion, built in the 1880s and rescued from ruin in the 1990s. Its distinctive blue-hued exterior (once common in George Town) is the result of an indigo-based limewash.
Hour-long guided tours (included in the admission fee) explain the building's feng shui and unique features, and relate stories about Cheong Fatt Tze, the rags-to-riches Hakka merchant-trader who commissioned the mansion for his seventh (and favourite) wife.
Cheong Fatt Tze left China as a penniless teenager and eventually established a vast financial empire throughout east Asia, earning himself the dual sobriquets 'Rockefeller of the East' and the 'Last Mandarin'.
The Blue Mansion blends Eastern and Western designs with louvered windows, art nouveau stained glass and beautiful floor tiles, and is a rare surviving example of the eclectic architectural style preferred by wealthy Straits Chinese. Rooms within the Blue Mansion have been converted for the use of guests; to enjoy the regal mansion after the crowds leave, make a booking.
Looking splendid after a major restoration that ended in December 2015, Cheah Kongsi is home to the oldest Straits Chinese clan association in Penang. The ornate front of the clubhouse can be seen clearly across a grassy lawn from Lebuh Pantai, but the official entrance where you need to buy a ticket is on Lebuh Armenian.
Besides serving as a temple and assembly hall, this building has also been the registered headquarters of several clans.
Each society occupied a different portion of the temple, which became a focal point during the inter-clan riots that flared up in 1867. The fighting became so intense that a secret passage existed between here and Khoo Kongsi for a quick escape.
This spectacular clanhouse is one of the most impressive in George Town. Gorgeous ceramic sculptures of immortals, carp, dragons, and carp becoming dragons dance across the roof ridges. The interior is dominated by incredible murals depicting birthdays, weddings and, most impressively, the 36 celestial guardians. When we last passed through, the free illuminations on the last Saturday evening of each month were on hold due to renovation work.
As impressive as it is today, Khoo Kongsi was once even more ostentatious; the structure caught fire on the night it was completed in 1901, an event put down to divine jealousy. The present building dates from 1906.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
This ostentatious, mint-green structure is among the most stunning restored residences in George Town. Every door, wall, and archway is carved and often painted in gold leaf, and the grand rooms are furnished with majestic wood furniture with intricate mother-of-pearl inlay. There are displays of charming antiques, and fascinating black-and-white photos of the family in regal Chinese dress grace the walls. Self-guided visits are possible or enquire with staff about the timing of occasional guided tours (included in the ticket price).
The house belonged to Chung Keng Quee, a 19th-century merchant, clan leader, and community pillar as well as being one of the wealthiest Peranakan of that era.
After visiting the main house, be sure to also check out Chung Keng Kwi Temple, the adjacent ancestral hall and the attached Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum with its dazzling collection of vintage bling and glittery ornamentation.
To be continued…
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