If you love the charm of a small hotel that is big on style and service, you might want to try the East Indies Mansion in George Town during your visit to Penang.
Though linear and modern architecture is usually the order of the day when it comes to hotels. smaller establishments have their own charm and ambience too. If this is your thing, you might want to try the East Indies Mansion in George Town during your visit to Penang.
The building embraces the design of large mansions popular with Chinese merchants in the 1800s. Even the street where the lodging is located is steeped in history: The East Indies Mansion is situated in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
AN ILLUSTRIOUS HISTORY
Before the ‘mansions’ of Gurney Drive and Kelawei Road, there were the ‘elite residences’ of Lebuh China or China Street. The street name is derived from its occupants — the large number of Chinese merchants and traders who resided here.
The hotel’s address — No. 25 China Street — was originally the residence of Koh Lay Huan, Penang’s first Kapitan Cina (the title given to leaders of overseas Chinese enclaves in South East Asia).
In 1846, the residence was owned by Chung Keng Kwee, the Kapitan Cina of Perak, the leader of the powerful Hai San Society who controlled 15,000 coolies and most of the tin mines in Larut, Perak.
The next owner of the property is Ong Boon Keng, who is a successful and well-connected merchant. The house remained in the possession of Ong and his family for 40 years before it was sold off through a tender to Hong Seng Estate leader Han Quing Xiang.
In the 1930s, a wealthy Indian businessman purchased it and No. 25 mainly became a hostel for migrant workers from India.
No. 25 eventually passed on to the hands of the Great Eastern Life Insurance Company and was marked for demolition in 2000. However, the Penang Heritage Trust issued a stopwork order due to its heritage values. The mansion was left unoccupied.
In 2005, the mansion was bought by David and Rebecca Wilkinson. With the help of heritage experts and skilled craftsmen, it was restored to its former glory.
The recent makeover took place over a two-year period, restoring the building to capture its original magnificence, but subtly adding everything needed for modern living such as new plumbing and electrical wiring. The transformation is cited as “a model of restoration” by George Town World Heritage Incorporated, the State body appointed to safeguard George Town’s UNESCO Heritage status.
After being inundated by requests for guided tours, the Wilkinsons opened the house to visitors.
With respect to its outward appearance, the house is shaped in the manner of a three-bay house, so named as it is designed to look like there are three houses along its length.
The first thing that will strike visitors is the element of spaciousness. An open courtyard as well as strategic placements of windows and doors contribute to the mansion’s openness. In total, there are 64 pairs of doors and window shutters.
The interior layout of the house is based on the original Fujian, deep courtyard arrangement. Balconies, thick load-bearing walls with limewash finish, timber supports, high ceilings and open courtyards provide plenty of natural light. The wood-fired terracotta tile floors, natural ventilation and rising levels of the house provide good feng shui.
The sense of tranquility also comes from artistic elements incorporated into the surroundings.
Master craftsmen have painstakingly and skilfully created classical pictures of birds, fishes and vases using the traditional broken chinaware mosaic friezes (‘chien nein’) method. The most remarkable of these comprise two long-tailed phoenixes, and a central scene showing the eight immortals.
ROOMS WITH CHARACTER
With a built-up area of about 1,000 sq metres, the house has six halls and 12 rooms spread over two floors.
Great care has been taken to ensure all the rooms retain the aura of old-world Straits Chinese elegance.
The rooms are divided into Cinnamon, Anistar, Nutmeg and Clove suites. They all come with complimentary Wi-Fi, coffee and tea-making facilities, bottled water and air-conditioner.
Nutmeg A and B: Sleeps two with a king-sized bed. It also has an attached bathroom.
Nutmeg C: Sleeps three with a king-sized bed and a single bed in a loft.
Cinnamon 1 and 2: Ideal for families or travellers looking for a large quarter, this suite is a two-storey duplex with a king-sized bed and a queen-sized bed that comfortably sleeps four persons. The only difference between suite 1 and 2 is the size (Cinnamon 2 is 5 sq metres larger).
Anistar 1 and 2: Both are single bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. The difference between the two is that the former sleeps five (a king-sized bed, a queen-sized bed and a rollaway single bed) while the latter sleeps four (a queen-sized bed, a single bed and a rollaway single bed).
Clove 1 and 2: The former comes with separate shower and bathtub, and sleeps four people (two queen beds; one of them at the cockloft) while the latter has a private non-attached bathroom and sleeps two people.
EAST INDIES MANSION
No. 25 Lebuh China 10200 George Town, Penang