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Home Malaysia Georgetown, Penang ⇒ Lebuh Chulia

Georgetown: Asia’s Melting Pot

4Lebuh Chulia

One of the major streets in the old town is Lebuh Chulia which runs up from the ferry through the middle of Chinatown. Just about wide enough for the constant two-way stream of buses and cars and rickshaws, this street has become a budget traveller’s centre. The rows of shop houses are broken by larger two story buildings with courtyards set back from the road, sometimes behind a high wall or sometimes reached by a short narrow alley.

These once were the homes of wealthy Chinese families and still give a good idea of how they looked when they were first built. The large double doors open onto a rectangular hall with a staircase in the middle. Sometimes the courtyard has an open roof further back with a defunct fountain. To the rear is often an altar on which daily offerings of fresh fruit and flowers are placed. The sides of the courtyard are lined with doors and corridors leading to further open courtyards that would have housed the different branches of the extended family.

A small hotel on Lebuh Chulia.
A small hotel on Lebuh Chulia.

Today these houses are mostly cheap hotels and though very basic and priced accordingly are still worth spending a night or two in just for the experience.

I first stayed in these places sixteen years ago and when I revisited this year, I found little had changed. If you are tired of the cloned tourist hotels otherwise on offer, then this is where to be.

The rooms are large with high ceilings and swishy ceiling fans and the furnishings are spartan. Just tiled floors with very old beaten up wooden furniture and a musty smell. Light switches are, for some inscrutable reason, on the outside of the doors while internal windows that face the courtyard have no glass, just heavy wooden shutters and iron bars. Even if you don’t plan on staying, ask to see some rooms.

An older style up-country hotel.
An older style hotel.

I’d recommend having a look around The Swiss Hotel, The Eng Ang Hotel, and The Blue Diamond. At one time these hotels were run by a staff of dried-up-sticks of old Chinese men who never smiled, shuffled around at high speed, never bent their knees and slept at night on trestle beds in the hallways. They were old then and have sadly all gone now and the hotels are the poorer for it.

Each hotel has its own kitchen and serves meals outside in the courtyard until the early hours. These are pleasant though noisy places to sit in and watch the street life go by, particularly in the evenings.

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