Musings about early retirement with no fixed address

Delightful Colonial Architecture In George Town

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been wandering around George Town on the island of Penang. It’s an absolute joy to walk through and it’s no wonder why this whole area was named a UNESCO Heritage Site. Everywhere I look I’m finding a beautiful scene. The historical architecture that remains from the colonial era provides a feeling of stepping back in time. It’s scattered everywhere throughout the city and while not all of the buildings are in pristine condition, that just adds to the charm.

There are a number of narrow streets and back alleyways through which one can meander. In most cities, a back alleyway would be the last place anyone would voluntarily walk down. But George Town is different. It encourages visitors to amble aimlessly and tempts them to get lost. I even get something of a Venice, Italy feeling when wandering around the side streets. Like Venice, George Town provides anticipation of turning the next corner and expecting to find something magnificent.

Dotted throughout the main downtown area I also found lots of street art on the sides of these old buildings. My original story telling plan was to combine the vibrant street art and the colorful colonial buildings into one post. But after taking about a zillion gorgeous pictures of each, there’s no way that I can fit them all into one post of any reasonable length. I’ll have another post showcasing the street art scene in Penang shortly. (Sign up for the Bonus Nachos email list to be notified of new posts if you haven’t already. It’s at the very bottom of this page.) For now, I’ll focus solely on the fascinating architecture.

The most common form of historical building is this type of two story building. Many of these were turned into storefronts on the bottom floor with living quarters above. Others were simply kept as larger dual floor residences and are still used for that today. The fanciest ones, like above, are adorned with colorful raised flowers or birds on their facade. But even the regular ones are likely to have original patterned tiles on the wall like a backsplash, on the sidewalk entry, or both.

These structures are built so that their top floor hangs over the bottom floor, making for a nice covered walkway. This is very convenient when trying to avoid the blazing sun or the thunderstorm that rolls in off the ocean. Plus, they are just simply enjoyable to walk through.

On a single block, there are often buildings in all types of conditions. Of course the carefully restored and pastel painted ones are awesome, but I found plenty of beauty in the decaying ones as well. The sides of many buildings are especially appealing, as the plaster that covered the original brick is crumbling off in unique patterns.

Naturally a city of three quarters of a million people doesn’t just survive on quaint old buildings alone. It has a lot of modern high rise buildings as well. This allows for a nice juxtaposition of old and new.

Aside from the two story residences, there are also some grand colonial-style buildings. Houses, meeting halls, theaters, and other places for the rich class to gather are scattered among the rest. Most of these have been restored, but like the smaller buildings, some are in better condition than others.

Aside from just the buildings themselves, there are a number of really gorgeous entryways that have been curated by the residents. They are proud displays of unique tile, color schemes, and plants.

Some are in worse shape. They were once adorned with colorful tiles and cared for, but have fallen into a state of disrepair. I still found myself drawn to them in spite of, or maybe because of, their condition.

George Town, Penang is really a wanderer’s dream city. If you’re a photog, you’ll never run out of things to do. The art and architecture is everywhere. There are even one-of-a-kind art museums to find. But that’s enough talking about it. I’m off to wander some more.


  1. Doug

    Great photos – as an fan of historic architecture it’s nice to see benign neglect as well as perfect restorations. Also, great to see the structures still being used as designed. While I’m sure the locals don’t pine for the colonial past, the remnants of infrastructure and architecture become an interesting part of the streetscape.

    • Eric

      Thanks Doug! There’s so much beauty around here, the pictures basically take themselves. 🙂

  2. Paula

    You certainly see the beauty in things that I wouldn’t. I’m always glad to read about the adventures of Eric and Katie as you have a creative view of the world. Seriously I enjoy it. ?

    • Eric

      Hi Paula,
      I’m going to choose to read that as a compliment and not that we take pictures of ugly things. lol

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