Thursday, January 04, 2007

Malaysia: Following the heritage trail in Penang

The good thing about most Asian cities is that they have central bus terminals unlike Metro Manila where every bus company has its own terminal which, although clustered together in areas such as Pasay and Cubao, make transferring from one bus to another very inconvenient since the distance between each of them is quite far for a walk. Anyway, Kenneth had already purchased for me a round trip ticket to Penang (Pulau Pinang) at KL's Puduraya Bus Station. A one-way ticket for the five-hour trip on Transnasional was RM22.70 then.

I arrived in Penang at 5 a.m. which was good since I was able to save on hotel expenses. When I got there, it was still dark. I went straight to the hotel where I was booked and tried to get some more sleep.

Penang is also referred to as Pulau Mutiara which means Pearl of the Orient. I was actually surprised when I found out about this since we all thought the Philippines is the undisputed Pearl of the Orient. Well, if we weren't heavily bombed during the Second World War and if the City Government of Manila starts doing something to preserve what's left, there would be no contest. Today, the stunning architectural heritage of Penang is very much intact. In fact, Penang is working to put its capital George Town on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list which they hope would put Penang in a better position to protect her rich cultural heritage.

Established in 1857, George Town became the first city of Malaysia when Queen Elizabeth II granted it a city status by a royal charter on January 1, 1957. It was the only city in Malaysia until Kuala Lumpur was granted city status in 1972.

I was up at about 10 a.m. and started my walk around George Town. The good thing about George Town is that there are readily available brochures for do-it-yourself walking tours called the Penang Heritage Trail. The structures along the heritage trail were restored using a grant given by American Express. Here are the brochures for Penang Heritage Trail 1 and 2.

Among the interesting sites in the trail is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an 1880s Chinese courtyard mansion which is distint for its cobalt blue walls. The restoration of the mansion from 1991 to 1995 was recognized in 2000 by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation as the Most Excellent Project of the Year. You can actually book a room in the mansion for a unique heritage homestay.

You also shouldn't miss the City Hall which was built in 1903 in the British Palladian architectural style. It currently houses the Penang Municipal Council Chambers and was listed as a national monument of Malaysia in 1982. Between 2004 and 2005, the Penang Municipal Council spent RM3.58 million (PHP54 million) for its restoration.

The most famous historical monument of Penang is the Khoo Khongsi which is called the Heritage Jewel of Penang. It is the clan association temple of the Leong San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall) clan, whose forefathers came from the Sin Kang clan village in Hokkien province. Built in 1906 when the Khoo clan was at the height of its wealth and eminence in Penang society, the temple underwent a RM4.2 million (PHP63 million) restoration between 1999 and 2000.

I also got to visit the Residence of Ku Din Ku Meh, the Benggali Mosque, Cathedral of the Assumption, St. George's Church, Fort Cornwallis, the Town Hall and Yap Khongsi among other structures that day.

The next day, I continued my walking tour, walking as far as Wat Chayamangkalaram which was quite a distance from the downtown area. Along the way, I saw some elegant colonial country mansions!

Built in 1845, the temple is most know for its Reclining Buddha, the 3rd largest of its kind at 33 meters length. When I got there, they were raising funds to restore the tile roof and what they were doing was actually a good idea since visitors are requested to donate RM10 to sponsor one tile and you could write a dedication at the back of the tile.

I then walked back to the historic core where I hired a trishaw to tour me around. The driver knew the history of the different sites and I was impressed. I visited the Malay Mosque, Mahamariamman Temple, Syed Alatas Mansion, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Kuan Ying Temple, Christian Cemetery, Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base and Hainan Temple before finally boarding the 5:30 p.m. bus back to Kuala Lumpur.

Related entries
Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia
Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca
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