Boutique benefits, laidback feel
No.25, China Street, Georgetown, Penang
East Indies Mansion, in the very centre of Georgetown, is no ordinary homestay experience. Considered one of Penang’s most impressive early residences, the building’s roots go back to the very first days of the settlement, since it belonged to the founding father of the town’s Chinese community, Koh Lay Huan. If heritage is your reason for visiting Penang, then this is your opportunity to breathe, eat and sleep it.
For the history-lovers among you, Koh Lay Huan was the first Kapitan Cina, or leader of the Chinese community, who collaborated with the British when they established Georgetown in 1786. He arrived within days of the British and brought with him a boatload of workers who would help to found the new port town. Through his involvement with the British taxation system and trade, he grew immensely wealthy and built this mansion in the early 19th century in what was, at the time, the heart of the Chinese community.
Today the hotel is on the fringes of vibrant Little India, but as soon as you step through the rather majestic front doors there is no mistaking that you are ‘in China’. The mansion has been expertly restored and furnished, and retains a real feel of grandeur through the antiques and ornaments on display. Look out for the traditional jian nian ‘broken pottery’ decorations on the front of the building, and the leafy green central courtyard, both of which are common features of traditional old Chinese mansions.
The fact that there are only six guest rooms really makes it feel as though you could be staying in someone’s private house, rather than a hotel, which is why the owners market it as a ‘homestay’. There are enough different common areas to give guests their privacy and beyond the courtyard, the kitchen-cum-breakfast room adds to the homely atmosphere, despite the grandeur of the surroundings. A lot of thought has gone into the wall hangings and ornaments, both old and modern, which reflect the history of Georgetown but give the place a great Bohemian vibe. The large portrait of the big man himself, Koh Lay Huan, is a poignant nod to the building’s origins.
The individually designed rooms are decked out in more antiques and art pieces, and have an eclectic and very comfortable feel which, at the same time, are in keeping with the heritage of the building. The family suite, which sleeps up to four, is positively vast and includes a bright airy living room with bedrooms on either side and a shared bathroom (582 ringgit a night). Otherwise, the double deluxe rooms – one of which is split level – are 349 ringgit a night and the standard rooms are 232 ringgit. All prices include taxes and service charge, as well as a hearty local breakfast comprising nasi lemak, noodles, coffee or tea and fresh fruit.
Overall, East Indies Mansion has all the benefits of a boutique hotel but with the laidback feel of a private house, and as you might expect from a building that once belonged to a leader of the Chinese community, it is truly the ‘kapitan’ of Penang’s homestays.
If for any reason it is fully booked, you could also check out nearby Ren i Tang. You are also right in the heart of Little India so are well placed to browse the shops and stalls, sample streetside samosas and try out the many restaurants. Sri Ananda just opposite serves excellent banana leaf curries. To learn more about Penang’s Chinese heritage, the Peranakan Mansion is a few minutes’ walk away on Lebuh Gereja , and the Goddess of Mercy Temple is just up the road, at the top of Lebuh China.
Check rates at East Indies Mansion - rated 8.5/10 on Agoda.com.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 3rd February, 2016.