Roadtrip Diaries: How Diverse is Penang? We Visit A Christian Church, A Taoist Temple, A Hindu Temple, and A Mosque

I’m back again with another George Town post!

When will they end, you ask?

Well, that’s the thing about exploring this part of the city – it’s small but packed with things to see. You could get all the sights in within the day (if you rushed through them), but where’s the fun and adventure in that?

As usual, we left our hotel in the evening, which is the best time for a relaxing stroll if you’re looking to avoid being roasted in the island’s tropical heat. A short walk down Farquhar Street brought us to St George’s Anglican Church, a beautiful early 19th-century building which also holds the title of oldest purpose-built Anglican church in Southeast Asia. As more British colonists and people from around Europe flocked to the shores of Penang, chaplains from the British East India Company saw fit to erect a place of worship for its people. Plans were drawn up, and the building was finally consecrated in 1819.

The church suffered severe damage during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, but underwent extensive restoration works in 2009. Today, its Neo-Classical, Georgian, and English Palladian architecture styles have mostly been restored to their original form.

Spotted this elderly couple also taking a stroll. They were holding hands. So sweet! I hope the Hubs and I stay this sweet even into our twilight years.

Another thing I like about evening walks is that you get a different perspective of places that are usually bustling with activity during the day. This prayer altar outside the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Pitt Street, for example, would have been filled with lotus-shaped prayer lanterns, while devotees mill about offering up joss sticks to the gods. In the evenings, though, the large wooden doors are shuttered, and the compound is quiet with only a lazy temple dog to guard it.

The Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kwan Im Teng) is Penang’s oldest Taoist temple, dating back to 1728 which makes it just shy of three centuries old (the Chinese arrived in Penang earlier than the British, fyi). Originally dedicated to Mazu, the Taoist goddess of the sea and patron of seafarers, it eventually transitioned to worshipping the Goddess of Mercy following an influx of Chinese immigrants during British rule – as other deities such as Tua Pek Kong and Guan Yu were added, reflecting the diversity of the community.

The temple has a rich and colourful history, being an important point of mediation between rival Cantonese and Hokkien groups living in Penang at the time. It also miraculously survived Japanese bombing, leaving much of its traditional Chinese architecture intact. Most striking are the elaborate carvings on the roof that feature figurines of deities and characters from Chinese folklore.

The temple’s opening hours are from 8am to 6pm.

As we cut through Queen Street, aka George Town’s Little India district, we came across another historic building (what can I say? George Town is full of them) – the Arulmigu Sri Maha Mariamman Kovil Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. The site dates back to as early as 1801, and was established as a temple in 1833, providing a place of worship for the increasing number of Indian immigrants to the island. Most of these immigrants worked at the port as waterfront labourers, but there were also merchants and sepoys (soldiers) in employment of the British. The main structure we see today dates back to 1933, with numerous renovations along the way.

Puja (prayer) sessions are conducted daily, so if you’d like to enter to see how it looks like on the inside, it’s best to ask permission.

Just a few steps away is Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, which was founded by six Teochew immigrants and was completed in 1870. The building is currently managed by the Penang Teochew Association.

Moving on we have a 20th-century building – the Penang Central Fire Station aka Beach Street Fire & Rescue Station, which was established in 1908 and still operates to this day. It features mostly Edwardian architecture, with high windows , a simple pediment on the roof, and an Islamic-inspired spire atop its tower. The facade looks narrow, but the building actually extends quite far back, housing quarters for the firefighters.

An interesting door knocker.

We eventually found ourselves at the Chew Clan Jetty.

The clan jetties are a series of water villages lining the waterfront at Weld Quay, that have existed since the 19th century. Founded by Chinese immigrants from coastal villages in Fujian, they consist of simple wooden homes built on stilts over water, with planks forming pathways that jut out to sea. As trade in Penang flourished, the settlements grew and more kinsmen arrived to the island’s shores. Since each jetty typically hosted people from the same province, most of whom shared the same surname, the jetties today have names such as Lee Jetty, Lim Jetty, and Tan Jetty.

Of the seven remaining jetties (two were demolished in 2006), the largest and most populated is the Chew Clan Jetty, which has 75 buildings. It is also the most popular among visitors. At the entrance is a small but elaborate shrine, complete with traditional elements such as stone pillars with dragon carvings, guardian lions, and a sweeping roof.

The jetty is open for visitors from 9am to 9pm. We were there around 8.30pm so it was pretty quiet. During the day, many of the homes convert their fronts into shops selling souvenirs, snacks, and sundry.

View of another jetty in the distance, as well as condos. Penang has developed at a rapid pace – I don’t believe those condos were there when I was here almost 10 years ago.

We walked to the end of the jetty to enjoy the sea breeze and watch boats bobbing in the water. Then it was time to head back to the hotel as we were feeling tired by then. But even on the way back, there was still plenty to see lol.

Missed the Kapitan Keling Mosque while we were at Chulia Street earlier, but passed by as we were walking back. It’s very close to the Sri Maha Mariamman temple.

This 19th century mosque was the first Muslim place of worship built on the island, and is an epicenter of religion and culture for the Tamil Muslim (Chulia) community in Penang. “Keling” today is widely considered an offensive word for Indians, but was not back in the day, and I guess they have retained this name due to its importance in history. The mosque is an impressive structure, especially its large black dome which contrasts strikingly against its whitewashed walls.

Strolling through Armenian street, known for its mural art and Instagrammable backdrops.

Trishaws used to be a major mode of transportation in Penang. Unlike Melaka trishaws, which are essentially loud, souped up, motorized tricycles, Penang ones are more traditional and still run by pedal power. They’re mostly reserved for tourists, as it would be impractical to get anywhere far in them these days.

Anddd we come to this long and photo heavy post with this unique photo of a sign outside an old-school jeweller.

Exploring George Town is like unearthing a treasure chest – you never know what gem you might find when you round the corner. Almost every building has its own, unique story; and George Town is a book best enjoyed page by page.

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.


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