Stylish heritage at midrange prices
82A Lebuh Penang, Georgetown T: (04) 250 8383
Looking for a restorative night’s sleep in Penang? One of Georgetown’s newest boutique hotels, Ren i Tang, offers you the chance to stay in a building with plenty of curative credentials, since it is converted from what used to be Southeast Asia’s longest established Chinese medicine hall and warehouse. The concept may sound clinical, but it feels as though there is a very positive feng shui to this beautifully restored building, and the atmosphere makes it an ideal place to put your feet up, relax and recharge after a day exploring the streets of Georgetown.
Located on the southwest corner of Lebuh Penang and Lebuh China, this is also one of the few places where you can actually stay right in the heart of vibrant Little India. Despite the activity and noise in the surrounding streets, the hotel’s Bistro Tang draws you into a laidback, airy, stylish and — most importantly — peaceful retreat, which gives any of Penang’s coffee houses a run for their money. Beyond and above the cafe, the immaculately styled heritage theme continues throughout the hotel’s 17 rooms.
Many of the features of the original building have been preserved, both in terms of the architecture and the furnishings. As well as apothecary paraphernalia and antique medicine bottles which were salvaged from the building and now decorate the common areas, you can see the old pulley systems in the two breezy airwells. Formerly used to bring herbs from the storerooms above to the shop on the ground floor, they are now ingeniously re-styled as part of the light fixtures and baggage-carriage system respectively.
Next to reception there is even a small museum displaying tools for processing medicinal herbs, and you can still smell the aromas in the air as you walk around. There are more than a few unusual ingredients on the shelves, and the jarred monkey skulls are a little gruesome, but for the uninitiated this is an enlightening introduction to traditional Chinese medicine, and — monkey skulls aside — if you are interested to know how it could benefit you, why not consult the resident ‘sin seh’, or practitioner, in the shop at the front.
The rooms are modern and uncluttered enough to let the character of the building shine through. Carefully restored wooden windows are offset by high ceilings, clean white walls and beautiful handmade beds created from salvaged and recycled timber. Soft white linens, Persian style rugs, fashionable light fittings and quirky towel racks and hooks give the rooms an eclectic yet comfortable feel, where modern and heritage characteristics are brought together very successfully.
All rooms come with air-con, ceiling fans, tea and coffee-making facilities and flat-screen TVs with a range of satellite channels. Meanwhile, bathrooms are well appointed, featuring sleek cement and tile finishes, tasteful fixtures and a home-grown range of natural, eco-friendly and herb-inspired shampoos and soaps.
All of the above must come at a cost, right? Well actually, this particular heritage boutique hotel is not nearly as pricey as you might imagine and is well within the midrange bracket, since smaller twin rooms and doubles start at 180 and 200 ringgit respectively. The price for most rooms is set at 270 ringgit and it is worth requesting one of the loft rooms, with fancy mezzanine sleeping area, or a tub room with an old-fashioned wooden bath, perfect for a long restorative soaks. Alternatively, you could go for one of the studio flats with kitchenette (330 ringgit) or the family room, which sleeps four and costs 380 ringgit. All the above prices include government taxes and service charge, as well as breakfast in the downstairs cafe, so all in all, this is a very good deal.
Since you are in the middle of Little India there is no shortage of things to do nearby, including browsing the shops and stalls, sampling streetside samosas and trying out the many restaurants. Sri Ananda is just opposite, for 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.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 18th February, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.