For a settlement that has existed less than 250 years, Penang has had its fair share of drama and its story is far more interesting than you might believe. Did you know, for example, that in the early 19th century the island’s predominant population was not Chinese, but Indian? Or that the now-tranquil Georgetown was once hit by 10 days of riots, when muskets and cannons were fired across the rooftops of the town? If that has piqued your interest, it is well worth paying a visit to the Pinaon Time Tunnel, which chronicles Penang’s fascinating past.
The museum makes the history of Penang accessible to visitors and although the first very fake-looking wax works may leave you feeling a little underwhelmed, don’t be put off because in general, a lot of thought has gone into the design, layout and presentation. Each of the 12 ‘tunnels’ covers a different era in Penang’s history, from before it was officially founded in 1786, to the island’s late 20th and 21st century transformation into an electronics industry powerhouse.
This is not one of those museums where there is simply too much to take in, and there is just the right amount of detail, peppered with a good number of surprising facts. Special abridged information boards are set lower down on the wall, designed for children but also useful for adults with shorter attention spans.
Illustrated with old maps, paintings, photos, antiques and artefacts, as well as life-size recreations of various scenes, it brings alive the history of the heritage settlement and enables visitors to get a real feel for the story of Georgetown. It also gives a great insight into the unique society that has developed here, and the different cultures that have made up its varied population, including the fascinating Peranakan Chinese. An interesting video links the past and present by profiling the various traditional crafts that are still practised today, a part of the town’s living heritage.
You don’t have to be a history fanatic in order to get something out of this museum. For a town steeped in heritage, the Time Tunnel is a great way to put into context the culture and architecture that exist here today and if you have enjoyed wandering around the old streets, this adds a new dimension to your experience of Penang.
At the time of writing, the museum is in the process of creating a 3D art gallery on the first floor, and this is a diverting – if slightly incongruous – way of rounding off your visit. Just across the road are a couple of cosy-looking cafes, Brew Thirty-Two and Kaffa Espresso Bar, where you can refuel before continuing your tour of Georgetown.