The Penang Heritage Trail covers most of the main attractions in the historic heart of George Town.
The core historic zone covers over 100 hectares and includes 1700 historic buildings.
It really doesn’t matter which route you take. There is something to discover in every direction, whether it be well preserved shop houses, a grand colonial building, an ornate clan house, a historic mosque, fascinating shops or cosy food stall.
To start, you can set off down Armenian Street, which was used as a location in the filming of the movie “Anna and the King”.
The most famous Armenians in Penang were the Sarkies brothers who established the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in 1886.
The first building of note is the Islamic Museum which is housed in an elegant house built in 1860 by a merchant from Acheh.
Further along the street is the Yap Temple and Yap Clan House or Kongsi, the first of many Chinese clan houses that you will see on your walk.
Another one on the same street is the Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong. Entrance to both clan houses is free and you can admire the ornate decoration and elaborate architecture.
Turn down Lebuh Cannon and you are faced by the Acheen Street Mosque, built in 1808. The mosque’s octagonal minaret includes an unusual circular window which is said to have been caused by a cannonball fired during the Triad riots of 1867.
Nearby is the Khoo Kongsi, a magnificent clan house and a popular tourist attraction in George Town’s historic centre.
From here you make your way to the waterfront and on to the Chew Jetty. There are a number of historic clan jetties located along Weld Quay.
The Chew Jetty is interesting, made up of wooden houses and narrow alleys built on stilts above the water. You can see into their houses and get an idea of how they live.
The Customs Building is very picturesque. It was built in 1907 as the Malayan Railway Building. From Gat Lebuh China, you turn into Beach Street, which really was a beach before the land was reclaimed.
Lebuh Pantai is where most of the big colonial banks, insurance companies and European trading houses built their Penang headquarters.
On the corner is the George Town Dispensary, a splendid looking building dating from 1923.After passing the CIMB building and Chartis Place, the trail takes a short detour down Church Street where the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is located.
This opulent former home of a wealthy Straits Chinese family is now a museum showcasing the culture of the Babas and Nyonyas.
Returning to Beach Street you pass the nicely restored Logan Heritage Building, and the 19th century bank buildings for the former Mercantile Bank, RBS and Standard Chartered.
The HSBC office is more recent having been opened in 1950. Its former branch on this site had to be demolished due to bomb damage during WWII.
After passing the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock Tower, take a quick look at the cruise liner terminal at Swettenham Pier before viewing Fort Cornwallis.
This star-shaped fort with thick brick walls replaces an earlier wooden stockade dating back to 1786 when British naval officer Francis Light landed and claimed Penang for the British East India Company.
The main features in the fort today are an old bare chapel, a gunpowder magazine, some cannons and a 21 meter white steel lighthouse built in 1882.
The seafront promenade known as the Esplanade will take you past City Hall and Town Hall. You then make your way to the Eastern & Oriental, Penang’s most famous and prestigious hotel, for some much needed refreshment.
Continuing from the E&O, you proceed to the Protestant Cemetery where 500 or so Britons were interred during the period 1789 to 1892.
Among the few tombstones that remain legible are Captain Francis Light, who only lasted eight years before succumbing to disease, and Thomas Leonowens, husband of Anna, governess to the children of the King of Siam, as made famous by the musical ‘The King and I’.
Next you pass the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Leith Street, also known as ‘Millionaires Row’. This Blue Mansion is a beautiful example of a Chinese courtyard home. It is owned by a successful Hakka Entrepreneur. Today it operates as a boutique hotel.
You now pass the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption which moved to its present site in 1861. Next door is the Penang State Museum which is a good place to gain an overview of Penang’s history.
Neighbouring the museum is St. George’s Church. Completed around 1818 it is believed to be the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia.
After the church you turn into Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling for the final stretch of your Penang Heritage Trail.
The Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) temple is the oldest temple in Penang, built in 1728. Further down the street is the Kapitan Keling Mosque which was established in 1801 primarily as a mosque to serve the Indian Muslim community.
Its attractive Moghul architecture and landscaped grounds make it a popular place for photographs. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter without special permission.
From here it is only a short walk back to the World Heritage Inc where your Penang Heritage Trail starts and ends.
This article first appeared in Malaysia-Traveller