History on a budget
48 Muntri Street, Georgetown,Â Penang T: (04) 261 3067
Penang is justly renowned for its clan temples, but it also has some of the best preserved Chinese shophouses anywhere in Asia. Spared from the merciless development that has bulldozed its way through many cities in the region, Georgetown’s streets stand testament to the amazing culture and architecture that developed here during the 19th century, and by staying at Muntri House you have the opportunity to see firsthand a part of that heritage.
Located on popular Lebuh Muntri, the building represents one of the very grandest incarnations of the shophouse. The late 19th-century style is characterised by its fusion of Chinese and European architecture, including traditional louvers, ‘five-foot-way’ front verandah, kidney-shaped windows, geometric patterned tiles from England and decorative Victoriana plasterwork.
Although it is advertised on the board outside as a homestay this isn’t strictly true since the very friendly owners don’t actually live on-site. With its mix of dorms and private rooms, Muntri House is essentially a hostel although quite unlike your average hostel; the grand dimensions of the building, the charming indoor gardens and the homely touches all make it feel as though you are staying in someone’s rather impressive private house.
The integrity of the building is still very much intact, and what sets this place apart from anything else in the price bracket is the character that is still infused in the bricks and mortar. The antique tiled flooring, open air wells and louvered windows are all part of the original design, and although the place perhaps feels slightly weathered, even a bit rough-and-ready, the overall effect is still impressive. Throughout the building there is an unusual mixture of furnishings, both antique and modern, including ceramic dragon heads, traditional Chinese prints, carved wooden screens, old family photos and traditional hardwood furniture, all of which add to the heritage ambiance.
The two dorm rooms, one mixed and one female, represent some of the best value beds in Penang and although they may not be the best equipped in terms of storage and plug points, they are a steal at 25 ringgit per bed, per night. The simple whitewashed rooms, each of which sleep eight people in four bunks, are clean and large enough, and although they don’t have natural light, they are fully air conditioned.
There are also three single rooms (40 ringgit per night) on the ground floor, without windows but all with air con. The double and twin rooms (62 ringgit a night) on the first floor all have the benefit of natural light, air con and outside ventilation if you want it, and have a slightly more comfortable feel.
Bathrooms for all rooms and dorms are shared. They are perfectly clean, and while the exposed pipes don’t make for the sleekest home decor, they are in keeping with the character of the hostel, where as little as possible is done to interfere with the original fabric of the building.
The communal areas are generously sized and even when the place is full, you can imagine that there is more than enough room for you to find a corner of your own. The property extends back a long way, and in the back area on the ground floor there are hammocks, hanging chairs, a communal laptop and library, while in the front there are tables and chairs in the breakfast area as well as a TV. A simple breakfast of tea, coffee, toast and fruit is included in the price and you can also pick up hot beverages and soft drinks throughout the day (2 to 4 ringgit) as well as beers for 9 to 10 ringgit.
Use of WiFi is complimentary, though because the place is so huge, it may be worth asking the owners where best to pick up a signal. They will also be happy to advise you about tours and onward travel, and have good connections with the local agents.
Muntri House creates the feel of an old Chinese shophouse and offers a real sense of history that has been lost in many of these buildings. If you are looking to experience what it might be like to live in one of these majestic old houses without having to pay boutique hotel prices, this is very definitely the place to stay.
Just up the road, check out the popular Hainanese Temple or, in the other direction, wander over Lorong Love and up Lorong Stewart to find the Goddess of Mercy Temple. For excellent coffee, as well as bistro-style Western and Eastern fare, try nearby Mews Cafe or walk down to Lebuh Leith in the evenings for a wide range of hawker dishes at Red Garden.