I was listening to a feature on BBC World Service about the devastating depletion of…
Built between 1896 to 1904, teams of master craftsmen from China were hired. The majestic blue house was built with 38 rooms and 5 courtyards. At that time, 3 of his wives occupied the Blue Mansion. The Blue Mansion (otherwise known as Cheong Fatt Tze's Mansion) was large enough to accommodate his extended families.
The old part of George Town is a listed UNESCO World Heritage location, and we were off to explore one of the buildings that enabled this recognition as a place of significance, the Cheong Fatt Tze, or Blue Mansion. We tried to use the map provided by our hotel, but it was useless, so we ended up using Google Maps and arrived just in time to join a tour.
It is easy to see why it is called the Blue Mansion – it is painted a vivid colour of cobalt blue. The colour reminded me of Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul (‘Blue House’) in the neighbourhood of Coyoacán in Mexico City. Although we arrived a bit late, we had time to take some photos of the outside as well as the lobby, with its stunning carved panels and stained-glass windows.
As well as being a museum, the Cheong Fatt Tze is also a heritage hotel (the cost of staying there is not too crazy).
The tour of Blue Mansion starts in the lobby, before heading into the main courtyard of the building. These tours are guided and the guide who took us through the mansion was amazing. From the courtyard, we headed upstairs where there we a couple more rooms with display panels telling more of the history of Cheong Fatt Tze, his family and the redevelopment of the Blue Mansion. There are also some original artefacts, including clothing and furniture. The tour itself took around an hour to complete.
About the Blue Mansion
Cheong Fatt Tze was born in 1840 in Dabu, Guangdong, China to a poor Hakka family. He started his working life as a cow herd in his village but left for Southeast Asia at the age of 16 to escape the war that was ravaging the Guangdong region. He started as a water carrier and then became a shopkeeper in Jakarta, Indonesia. He then married the shop owner’s daughter and with his help expanded to trading in rubber, tea and coffee. Business bloomed and he opened a bank. In 1886, he expanded again to Penang, Malaysia. As his business grew, he owned three ships which operated out of Penang and Medan. This is when he had the mansion built on Leith Street in Penang, which today we know as the Blue Mansion.
In 1890, in recognition of his hard work and contribution, he was appointed the Chinese Consul, based in Penang. He also operated extensively out of Singapore. In 1899, he was summoned to China twice to present a national development plan, which was well received by government officials. As a result, he was promoted to the Minister for Agriculture, industries, roads and Mines for the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.
All of these exploits resulted in Cheong Fatt Tze earning the moniker “the Rockefeller of China”.
Cheong Fatt Tze supervised the construction of his mansion in Penang with an eye for detail. Whilst he was keen to maintain traditional Chinese influences in the design, he also imported the best materials from all around the world, as far away as Scotland. At the height of its glory, The Blue Mansion was the pivotal heart of the city. The space served both as a home and an office and acted as the base for Cheong Fatt Tze’s commercial enterprises. It also housed the Chinese Vice-Consulate and was home to his favoured 7th wife.
After the passing of Cheong Fatt Tze in 1916, the Mansion fell into disrepair. Although he willed that the Mansion was to stay with his family with funds allocated for its maintenance, indiscretion left the Mansion to erode with the passing of time. After the death of his last son, the Mansion was sold to a small group of Penang conservationists who took to restore it to its former glory.
It took six years for the conservationists to repair the Blue Mansion through a tedious process to preserve and restore as much of its original fabric and structure. Primarily using Penang artisans and local materials, the idea was to retain the with the application of traditional methods, with minimal modern interventions, such as waterproofing.” to “with the application of traditional methods and with minimal modern interventions such as waterproofing imported to ensure the precise application and usage of original Chinese materials.
In 1995, the bulk of the restoration work was complete, but in 1996 when work began on a high-rise parking structure close by damage was done to the mansion from the pile driving during construction of the car park. There followed a court case and an adjudication that means no hammer piling is allowed in the city or next to any heritage building in Penang. This landmark decision was an important factor in George Town achieving its UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Planning your visit to the Blue Mansion
|Address:||14, Lebuh Leith, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia|
|Telephone:||+60 4-262 0006|
|Hours:||Daily, 11 am and 2 pm. 45 minutes in English|
The best time to visit George Town
The climate of George Town
Throughout the year, the city is marked by high temperatures, consistently ranging from a minimum of 23.8°C to a soaring 31.6°C. Each month, there are limited fluctuations in such thermal readings, as the lowest temperature seldom falls below 23.8°C while the upper temperature rarely surpasses 31.6°C. Correspondingly, relative humidity remains comparably high throughout the year, primarily within 76% to 81%, thus contributing to the overall sensation of warmth.
Rainfall in George Town varies from month to month, judging by the parameters provided. The range dips to a low of 65mm, and climbs a high of 193mm, marking December as the month with the heaviest rain showers. Correspondingly, the number of rainfall days has a similar trend, with a peak in November and December, where rain is expected for more than 28 days.
Observing the number of sunshine hours, they fluctuate narrowly from a modest 7.6 hours in November to a bright 9.3 hours in February, reflecting the region’s tropical nature. In conjunction with daylight hours, they remain quite constant throughout the year, hovering approximately around 12 hours daily.
The best time to visit George Town
Other places to visit while in Penang
1. KHOO KONGSI
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, or Khoo Kongsi for short, is one of the most distinctive Chinese clan associations in Malaysia. It is known for its extensive lineage that can be traced back 650 years ago, as well as its closely-knit and defensive congregation of buildings and a magnificent clanhouse.
2. PINANG PERANAKAN MANSION
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a museum dedicated to Penang’s Peranakan heritage. The museum itself is housed within a distinctive green-hued mansion at Church Street, George Town
3. GEORGE TOWN STREET ART
George Town’s street art scene boomed in 2012. That year Ernest Zacharevicm, a Lithuanian artist, created 6 wall paintings during the celebration of the annual George Town festival. These murals soon achieved worldwide fame.
4. GEORGE TOWN – CHEW JETTY
Chew Jetty was one of 5 wooden jetties constructed in 1888 as part of a development project on the quayside in George Town. 2 other wooden jetties were built in the same area in the 1960s. One jetty burnt down so only five remain.
Where to stay in Penang
1. MID-RANGE – NOORDIN MEWS
2. LUXURY – EASTERN & ORIENTAL HOTEL
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel – known simply as the ‘E&O’ to generations of travellers – exudes a charm that is inimitably its own. For most of its history, its passageways and halls were the preserve of the rich and privileged from the Western world – intrepid travellers that included acclaimed writers and aspiring literati who arrived in steamships seeking to experience the exotic East. Even with the passage of time, this unique pearl at the heart of George Town continues to shine as a testament to the grand elegance of the British colonial era, the embodiment of both a special time and a special place. Indeed, at the E&O, life’s true pleasures never go out of fashion. For over 138 years, the hotel has welcomed the world in timeless style. This legacy is conserved and further elevated with the re-opening of the Heritage Wing that is now setting the new standard as a leading destination in classic hospitality.
3. BUDGET – SWING & PILLOWS @ BEACH STREET
Swing & Pillows @ Beach Street is located in George Town, within 1.5 miles of Northam Beach and a 17-minute walk of Penang Times Square. Among the facilities at this property are a shared kitchen and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property. Straits Quay is 5.1 miles from the hostel and Penang Botanic Gardens is 5.3 miles away.
All guest rooms at the hostel feature air conditioning and a desk.