Georgetown, Penang’s vibrant capital is a living legacy of stories told and untold. Since its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, Georgetown has undergone a major facelift with delicate and meticulous precision in an effort to preserve its heritage and old charm. I returned for a visit after many years eager to explore the new Georgetown as opposed to just touring Penang’s Ferringhi beach front as a holiday-goer in my earlier teenage years.
The town is lined with idiosyncratic shop lots, narrow lanes, old-fashioned colonial mansions, ornate temples and schools with washed-out walls. I zigged-zagged in and out of five foot ways (pathways between the shop lots and the road) dodging café tables & chairs, cyclist on the road and the occasional cobbler or keymaker to get some respite from the Malaysian heat. Coffee shops beckon me to try Penang’s delicious meals, new cafes tempt me for a sit down while watching the world pass by and museums are aplenty, some fascinating and some just for the sake of it. What I found most apparent was the numerous independent boutique hotels that have sprouted up.
Spoilt for choice, Georgetown offers a hotchpotch of accommodation options for its travellers. From luxury boutique outfits dotted all over town to budget backpackers crammed on Chulia Street; you pay what you can afford and pick what matches your needs. Since I was traveling with my husband and 5-month old baby, I needed a place that was family / baby-friendly. I stumbled on Spices Residence, a tastefully refurbished set of 4 shop lots tucked in Lorong Lumut an unassuming lane, and a mere stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Armenian and Kimberly Street.
Set directly next to the Acheen Street Mosque, the set of shop lots dates back to the 1800s and was once a layover for pilgrims’ enroute to Mekkah for the Haj. True to its label, ‘residence’, Spices was restored and designed to ensure that travellers have a homely stay while on holiday. Stepping into the living area, one immediately feels at home with a large plush swinging sofa hanging suspended slightly off the ground, inviting you for a swing. Warm decadent stained glass lamps hang from the high beamed ceiling bouncing off light from the raw brick walls setting the place aglow. Guests are even encouraged to leave their shoes at the entrance while walking barefoot in the residence, just like how we do at home.
Spices Residence is perfect for couples and families offering simple yet tastefully designed double rooms and loft rooms complete with ensuites. We stayed in the loft room, a split level unit with a day bed and a king size bed with a small balcony overlooking mosque’s open courtyard. It has all the basic amenities you need and no additional unnecessary frills. Still the best room yet, is the family room that fits up to 4 adults, a large split level unit on the first floor with a spacious sitting area. The restored bright green louvred windows and modern fittings make a perfect combination of old and new.
An interesting feature in the residence is the Bodhi tree with its roots and veiny bark engraved on the wall outside the courtyard. The living tree is perhaps the oldest asset within the residence. Its leaves still fall into the open narrow courtyard grounds while providing shade for the tiny sanctuary. When rain comes, the Bodhi tree reminds its guests of her existence, with light drips flowing gently through a crack in the living area.
On the ground floor is a cosy enclave with an oversized sofa and fluffy pillows in blue and green hues inviting you to sink in. A small library of books, magazines and board games are made available to all guests. Taking the open staircase in the courtyard that leads you up to the first floor is the other common area with dashing red and orange furniture taking on a slight Mediterranean feel. This common area transforms into a romantic rendezvous upon sun down as the flickering of candles illuminate the hall.
Still my favourite space is the dining area, as with all home, this is where good food and conversation collide. Beyond the arched brick frames next to the living area, is the dining area. A snug space lined with cushion chairs and acrylic-stained tables. Breakfast is served here with a small selection of Penang bites such as roti canai and mee goreng and the usual western selection of cold cuts, sausages and cheese. Eggs are made upon requests and I was delighted to discover that the 3-man team at Spices are all seasoned cooks.
I’ve found a crib in the ever thriving heritage town, a place I’d come back to simply because it really feels like home, a safe haven while on holiday. But more than that, Spices extends a kind of hospitality unlike any other and I’m delighted to have found new friends in our friendly hosts, Malcolm, Celeste and Fareh.
Hop onto the Spices Residence’s website for more information. I’d be back!