Meet local artisans and craftspersons and support Georgetown’s intangible cultural heritage

Incense maker in Gorge TownOne of my children’s favourite activities when we visit Asian cities is to watch artisans in their workshops. Most of the time we observe – after asking permission – and then we discuss the craft at hand with the craftsperson. We can easily spend one hour in a workshop. In George Town it is even possible to return home with an illustrated brochure to remind us of the craft process and the story of the craftsperson. These brochures have been designed and illustrated by some of GT’s students involved in the Anak-Anak Kota (children of the city) project undertaken by Arts-Ed in collaboration with Penang Heraitage Trust (PHT). These traditional trades – joss stick maker, signboard engraver, beaded shoes cobbler, goldsmith – are also located on the World Heritage Site Map of Georgetown (Areca book publisher).

GT-beaded shoesAnother very important initiative to preserve the endangered trades of GT is the Living Heritage Treasures of Penang Awards. Set up in 2005 by the PHT, 8 artisans whose skills, techniques and products are viewed as core to the community’s cultural heritage are nominated. It’s literally a race against time to preserve these trades; 3 award winners have already passed on last year.
Yet another good program is the Penang Apprenticeship Programme for Artisans; the PAPA project. PAPA’s goal is to “perpetuate and develop traditional skills and techniques, transmit these through a prescribed training system, aid in marketing and strive to generate income so that the skills becomes attractive as a viable life choice career for young people”. Meanwhile, the craftspersons would be pleased to receive your visit (no fees are charged but you are welcome to buy some crafts) – and please talk to them, even if they don’t speak English, try some Malay words (check out your travel guide book)- that will benefit the local community and help to build self-confidence of the craftsperson.

Pleasure of the palate: eat local cuisine

GT-De tai tongFood makes George Town famous among Malaysians and it is more tangible evidence of its cultural diversity. The food on offer is so varied and people’s tastes so diverse that I could never understand why Malaysian newspapers and magazines still publish reviews of eateries and restaurants. Let the word of mouth do its job; try different places, dishes, styles.
For a start, try some of the places selected by Salma Khoo on the World Heritage Site Map of George Town, or follow our own strategy: 1°- we decide on the type of food (Chinese noodles, soups, seafood, tandoori, mamak, western…) 2°- we check how crowded the place is. If it’s crowded, it’s definitely a good restaurant with fresh food!

My humble selection: The Sire and The Edelweiss museum-restaurants to enjoy food and culture, De Tai Tong Café for its fabulous Dim Sum (dumplings) and the numerous friendly middle-age waitresses (Dim Sum are served only for breakfast and dinner).

GT Gurney drive than mee stallTry Gurney drive’s food court for it’s atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights, and for its never-ending food festivals. Don’t miss the Rojak stall near the roundabout for its “disco” show while the chef is chopping the meat.

There is no excuse anymore for you to get stuck with other foreign travellers in the pizza-pancake-burgers-and-beers eateries; you will miss the real Penang.

Stay one night in a heritage hotel or guesthouse

The choice of a friendly, comfortable, clean, quiet, central and affordable heritage accommodation is very poor at the moment.
Some of them take advantage of the UNESCO listing and use the Heritage trademark for marketing, but it is only in name: cheap and poor furniture, no decorative effort, standard service, no information provided. Unfortunately some nice and friendly guesthouses have loosen their customers because of noisy disco or Rock clubs. Some managers only provide minimal service and cleanliness. Some reasonable back-packer guesthouses in Love Lane and Muntri Street located in old shop-houses allow you to experience the interior of a shop house, but most of them are poorly renovated – and some come with complimentary bed bugs.

Until 2009 my favourite place was the Cheon Fatt Tze Mansionalso called ‘La Maison Bleue or “The Blue Mansion”. They were the pioneers in heritage accommodation and became so famous that very often it was fully booked during holiday and week-ends. For their initiative they still deserve the first place in my selection.
GT-Maison bleueGOOD NEWS (may 2011) : a bunch of heritage boutique hotels and B&B have opened since the Unesco listing.  I will check them out tomorrow. If in a hurry check them out  on Penang Tourism Information website  and on Tripadvisor for customers reviews.


Penang Heritage Trust , for Heritage guided tours of George Town
Location : 26 Church Street, 10200 Penang.
For booking  contact Ms Magdeline
Tel: (+60) 4-264 2631 •  Fax: (+60)4-262 8421

Arts-ED, Community-based Arts and Heritage Program
Location : 10 Cannon Street, 10200 George Town
Anak Anak Kota    myBALIKpulau  
Chen Yoke Pin , Program Officer, tél/fax (+60) 4 263 3471

The Cheon Fatt Tze Mansion
Location : 14 Leith Street, 10200 Georgetown
Tel.  (+60) 4262 0006 – Fax (+60) 4262 5289
Email :

Related posts

About George Town UNESCO Heritage site, check out this post

What to do in George Town? Check out this post 

Written by Catherine Bossis , 23 Fev 2009
Permission granted to reproduce for personal use only.
Commercial use is prohibited.