George Town, often written as Georgetown, is the capital of Penang state. It is located on the northeast tip of Penang Island. The city of George Town itself has a population of 200,000, a number that has dropped over the years as the population moves to the suburbs. It is the biggest city and administrative centre of a metropolitan area of over a million people.
Guide to George Town HotelsIt's never easy finding the hotel that's just right for your stay. Still, by taking a little time to do your research, you increase your chance of getting a good hotel at the best price. Go through the list of hotels in George Town which we've put together, with full description, star rating, address, location map and evaluation. Pick the hotel of your choice and view the rates offered by different booking sites. Yes, we show you prices from different websites, so you don't have to visit them one by one.
More about George TownMuch of George Town consists of old shophouses built on narrow streets. streets of George Town is in itself part of the attractiveness of George Town, making it one of the favourite destinations for foreign visitors. The city of George Town is one of two cities (the other being Malacca) that has been submitted for consideration as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Cityscape of George Town
History of George TownThe settlement at George Town was established by Captain Francis Light in 1786. It was the first British trading post in this part of the world. Francis Light obtained Penang from the Sultan of Kedah by giving the sultan the impression that he will get British protection for the sultan when in reality the British had never agreed to such a deal - something that Francis Light had delayed in informing the sultan.
Francis Light is an interesting historical personality whom I have documented in various parts of AsiaExplorers. You can find references to him on this page, as well as on pages about his tomb, his memorial, his statue, Kuala Kedah Fort, and even Phuket.
Earliest records shows that the area where George Town is located was called Tanjung Penaga (written Tanjong Penaigre) by the local people. The name means cape of ironwood trees, and even today, the locals still refer to George Town as Tanjong. Much of the coastal areas of Penang Island including George Town, was mangrove swamp. The waterfront area has been expanded through several phases of land reclamation. Do you know, for example, that Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street) used to be right on the beach? Hard to imagine today, but it was.
The original George Town established by Francis Light reaches to Pitt Street (today Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling) and Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia). The Prangin River - or canal, as we would know it today, if we could find it at all - was as far as George Town would be. This section is today inner George Town.
In 1789, three years after the British established George Town, convict labourers well brought in from Bengal. With this bountiful labour in hand, the British were able to lay out the streets. By the time Francis Light died, in 1794, most of the streets within inner George Town have been laid.
The very first street in George Town was named after its founder, Light Street. Light Street used to end at a jetty. The other end of it reaches the Town Well which was sunk by Light. This well is now within the grounds of the Convent Light Street.
Eager to get his new town started, Light invited immigrants from all over to settle there. A group of Eurasians in Kedah (having earlier left Phuket, where they face religious persecution) moved in, and settled in the area bounded by Bishop Street and Lebuh Gereja (Church Street). At the same time, Chinese traders from Kedah also moved in to settle along Lebuh China. By around 1800, they have built their first temple in Penang, the Kong Hock Keong, better known among the locals as Kuan Yin Teng, and appearing in brochures as the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy (At the time it was built, it wasn't intended for the Goddess of Mercy though, click the link to learn more).
The Malays and Achenese settled further south of town. By 1807, they have two roads named after them, Malay Lane and Acheen Street (today Lebuh Acheh). Today, the Malay community along Lebuh Acheh has shrunk to a few kampung houses around the vicinity of the Acheen Street Mosque. Later on, Malay Lane had a name change, to Armenian Lane, probably because of a few Armenian families that settled at its eastern end, where it meets Beach Street.
By 1822, the Armenians have their church built along Bishop Street. Around this time, they were starting to move out of Armenian Lane. Today, Armenian Lane is known as Armenian Street or Lebuh Armenia. It is lengthier than the original Armenian Lane, because it includes a section of Pitt Street that was renamed to become it. No visible trace of the Armenians can be seen there today, but the name lives on.
The Indian Muslims have also settled in George Town. Naturally the road where they settled were named for them: Chulia Street, or Lebuh Chulia. Along Chulia Street we can find two religious structures of Indian Muslim origin, the Kapitan Keling Mosque, originally built with bricks from India, and the Nagore Shrine, built by the Indian Muslims to honour a South Indian Muslim saint. There is a Nagore Shrine in Singapore too.
Perpendicular and north of Chulia Street is Queen Street (Lebuh Queen), where an Indian community was establish. Over here, the Hindus erected the Mahamariamman Temple. Built in 1833 (its earliest incarnation is nothing like its current self), it is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang.
George Town was built for trade. Often at the expense of Malacca, which the British did whatever they could to prevent it from returning to the Dutch, and whose development they deliberately suppressed, so that all trade could be channeled to the Penang port. Despite the best efforts, it wasn't long before they acknowledge that Penang was too far north to be an ideal trading hub, and that propelled them to establish Singapore.
There is plenty of ornate architecture waiting for visitors to explore in inner George Town.
One of the pioneer Straits Chinese clans to achieve prosperity in George Town were the Cheahs. Their leader was Cheah Yam @ Che Em, whose name lives on today at Lorong Che Em (Che Em Lane), a rather obscure lane off Lebuh Pantai. It also happens to be one of the first streets in George Town to be named after a non European. Not many people would know that the illustrious Che Em was also one of the founding members of Cheah Kongsi.
When you explore the streets of George Town today, you will note that many of those old shophouses are narrow and long. There's a reason for that. In 1826, assessment rates were based on street frontage. A flat rate is charged for every 20 feet of frontage, and the amount differ according to location. Lebuh Pantai is prime real estate, and properties north of Market Streets have to pay 20 dollars; south of Market Street the rates were only 6 dollars. Next comes China Street, at 10 dollars per frontage. The rest of the streets pay an assessment of 5 dollars per frontage.
George Town, particularly Inner George Town, is a place that invites you to explore. There is so much to see - truly it is a melting pot of all the cultures in Asia. Just by going through the names of the streets, you can learn so much about who once lived there. Through AsiaExplorers, and through my involvement in the Penang Heritage Trust, I continue to promote a greater appreciation of the heritage of George Town, as part of the heritage in Asia.
As I write this (June 2007), I am proud to say that the street signs in George Town are now being replaced with new ones that shows both both the present Malay name as well as the former English name. Being in the Penang Heritage Trust committee, I was involved in selecting the design for the new street signs. I hope visitors to George Town will find the new street signs helpful. For information of the many heritage buildings in George Town, I am still working tirelessly to document every one fo them. As I finish new ones, I will add them to the point-and-click map, so that, at the very least, you can explore George Town, from the comfort of your desktop.
Getting Into George TownBy Ferry: George Town is linked to Peninsula Malaysia by a ferry service that ply between Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda in George Town and Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim in Butterworth. Penang Port Sdn Bhd presently operates a fleet of eight ferries, named Pulau Angsa, Pulau Rimau, Pulau Pinang, Pulau Talang-Talang, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Kapas, Pulau Payar and Pulau Undan. The fare for pedestrians is RM1.20 for adults and RM0.60 for children, for the journey from Butterworth to Penang. The journey on the opposite direction is not charged. The ferry from Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda runs from 5:30am to 12:30am daily, while the ferry from Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim runs from 6:00am to 1:00am daily.
By Flight: The Penang International Airport is situated in Bayan Lepas, 16km from George Town. Taxi fare between the airport and George Town costs around RM35, and the journey takes anywhere between 30 min to 45 min (or more, if there is a massive jam).
By Bus: Outstation buses arrive in Penang Island at the Terminal Bas Ekspres Sungai Nibong, which is about 8km from George Town. The easiest way to go anywhere from there is to take a taxi - it will cost you around RM20. If you would rather take the public bus, the bus stop is a distance away along Jalan Sungai Dua. It will cost only a fraction of the taxi fare, however.
Getting Around George TownGeorge Town is a very compact city, and most of its heritage sites are best explored on foot. The hub for public buses is Komtar, a multi-purpose shopping centre in the heart of the city.
Free Shuttle Bus
There is a free shuttle bus that goes around George Town. Here's a description of the bus route:
Trishaws used to be an important way to get around in George Town, but nowadays they exist more as a tourist attraction. Trishaws congregate in front of major hotels. They are not the cheapest form of transportation - be prepared to pay around RM15 for an hour's journey. They allow you to sightsee at a pleasant speed when walking under the hot suns becomes too tiring.
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