GT-Armenian stWhen asked 15 years ago about conservation efforts of historic Georgetown ,  Salma Khoo, director of Areca Books – a heritage and historical books publisher based in Penang – would answer, “What really matters to Penangites is food; they simply take their heritage for granted”.

In July 2008, international recognition was given to Penang when George Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; completely transforming local perception. Melaka (Malacca) and George Town (GT) are jointly inscribed on the list as “The Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca [where] the influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia. Both towns bear testimony to a living multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia, where the many religions and cultures met and coexisted”.

This recognition is an essential milestone for the handful of Penangites who have strived for years for the preservation of the tangible and intangible heritage of GT. It should stop the destruction of heritage buildings; it should open some eyes and wallets; and it will surely provide support to promote the heritage and cultural tourism and boost conservation operations. But it won’t succeed without a huge collective effort from all stakeholders, the public and private entities. Hopefully it might redirect tourism towards more responsible and sustainable practices. Far removed from the sea-beach-sun-clubs-and-beers tourism of Batu Ferringi, George Town is definitely worth a 3-4 day visit with a blend of cultural and culinary discoveries.

It’s still a long way towards responsible tourism in Penang

GT-5footwayI don’t wish to draw an idealistic image of Penang and George Town as visitors could be disappointed. So many things need to be done by the local government to improve and extend tourists’ journey in Penang.
It can be quite difficult and sometimes dangerous to walk down the streets of George Town: the ‘five-footways’ which are supposed to be public are too often obstructed by private activities (motorbikes, guesthouses terraces, storage) or dangerous air-con devices. The incessant noisy and smoky cars and motorbikes make the walk dangerous, unhealthy and tiring, and the drivers need serious civic sense to understand that the streets have to be shared with pedestrians and cyclists. The City Council need to think about pedestrian zones in the heart of Georgetown and limiting car park spaces to reduce the nuisances of cars and motorcycles. Another huge challenge is to close the dirty and smelly drains: they spoil the beauty and magic of this World Heritage City.
My hope is that the UNESCO program will help to change the government’s priorities towards more responsible and sustainable practices.

GOOD NEWS (may 2011) :a bunch of heritage boutique hotels and B&B have opened since the Unesco listing. That means investors renovated old buildings. I will check them out tomorrow. If in a hurry check them out  on Penang Tourism Information website  and on Tripadvisor for customers reviews.

What a traveller can experience

Take a stroll through the heart of George Town and immerse yourself in the Asian cultural blend

Take a ride on one of the 200 trishaws or becak left in George Town

Have an architectural delight

Meet local artisans and craftspersons and support George Town’s intangible cultural heritage

For the pleasure of the palate: eat local cuisine

Stay one night in a heritage hotel or guesthouse


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

Areca Books logoAreca Books
Location :120 Armenian Street, 10200 George Town
Contact Salma Khoo, tel: +60 4 2620123
Fax: +60 4 2633970

Ask for the World Heritage Site Map of George Town at the Tourist Information Center, at your hotel (free). Also available at PHT , Areca Books and Arts-Ed. Better than a travel guide book.
George Town WHS map

Penang Tourism Information Center website :

Useful George Town Heritage Walks online map on the TIC website

How to get there

You can reach Penang either by the road, by train or by plane.

By bus :  Most bus companies go to Penang . From KL it takes about 4-5 hours. You can choose the most convenient company depending on where you want to catch the bus (different stations) and when you want to leave (different schedules). Check them out on Journey Malaysia website.

By train : Check on KTBM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad) website for the route map, timetables and fares at From KL its quite a long journey (about 12hours) and you only reach the ferry terminal late in the evening. I am not quite sure that at this time of the day (night) you still have ferry to reach Penang.

Related posts

What a traveller can experience in George Town : food-craft-accomodation, walks and rides

Heritage guides of Malaysia

Greenselipar’s favorites magazines and books

To go further we recommend

Discover Balik Pulau in Penang (coming soon)
Visit Malacca and other historical cities like Ipoh, Gopeng, Kuala Kangsar, cities out of the beaten tracks.
This part of the post is still a WORK IN PROGRESS
GT-shophouses mozaic

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