Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Penang Road (檳榔律)

Penang Road(檳榔律)is the first road to be built out of the Francis Light Grid,original town planned by the founder of George Town, Capt Francis Light. It was named after Penang, and to be the main road of Penang.

It run from Farquhar Street to Magazine Circus(no longer there now), now Jalan Gurdwara(Brick Kiln Road), Dato Kramat Road, Macalister Road, and Magazine Street junction. The street was named after Penang island. It was the main road and most busiest road in Penang. This is especially so when Penang island was a free duty island. In those days there were many tourists from Thailand, Indonesia and Japan coming to Penang for shopping.

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Historical Penang Road

FG Stevens stated that Light street came to dead end approximate at the point where the main gate of Convent now stands. The only road from the town into the interior of the island was given the name of the Penang Road. This road started where Farquhar Street now starts, between Supreme Court and the Church, and follow the course of the Farquhar Street , where it pursued its course behind the back of the town, to meet the inner end of the Malabar Street...... A narrow road called Battery Lane, led from the Penang Road, past the old burying ground , along what is now the beginning of Northam Road, to the site of the battery guarding the north west entrance of the town.(source: Trade and society in the Straits of Melaka: Dutch Melaka and English Penang, 1780-1830, by Nordin Hussin, NIAS Press, 2007. Pg 160.) Malabar Street was now the Chulia Street. So the historical Penang Road was actually today's Farquhar Street from the Supreme Court and St George Church, passed SXI(St. Xavier’s Institution), to meet Chulia Street(formerly Malabar Street), which may included today's Leith Street. After SXI, there was once a row of colonial residential houses,begin with No 7 Farquhar Street, after the 4th house was the short lane, Dundas Court. Dundas Court was a cul-de-sac, which was perpendicular to Farquhar Street. It was named after Lieutenant-Governor Phillip Dundas, who succeeded Lt.-Governor Farquhar. After Dundas Court were another 2 houses, with the end lot as No.25,Farquhar Street(family house of Lim Chean Hock family, a local merchant).(ref: The house of Lim, you can see the map of early Farquhar Street, historical Penang Road/Battery Lane).

Battery Lane may be part of Farquhar Street,from junction of Leith Street, near Leith Street Ghaut, E&O Hotel to Northam Road Cemetery.

Old Penang Road

The part of Penang Road from junction of Chulia Street to junction of Burma Road, in the 1970's, was the main shopping street of the island. Wing Look(at the corner between Penang Road and Prangin Road) and Loke Thye Kee(at the corner between Burma Road and Penang Road). The part between Burma Road and Macalister Road was equally busy, especially between Burma Road to Seh Ong Kongsi.

Penang Road was a non-sleep street, it was equally busy at night. There were cinema around the street. Two was in the street, Cathay and Odean, popular English movie cinema. Rex(Kinta Lane/Burma Road), Capital(Maxwell Road/Penang Road), Thye Wah or Majestic(between Transfer Road & Penang Road), Great World Park(with 3 cinema), Parliament cinema(Maxwell Road)was for the Hindi film, and one at Drury Lane, off Campbell street for Chinese movie(Sun cinema or Zhong San). These cinema goers created crowds for the food outlets, and shops, and business still going on at night.

Penang Road never sleep,they said in those days, and Penang never sleep. But the good day come to an end, when free duty status was removed, Penang Road was badly affected ; especially the rows of shops along the road, which depended on the tourists. The road become quite at night when the cinema business declined and later all cinema (except Odean cinema, which become a Hindi/Tamil cinema)have closed. When KOMTAR was completed and opened, it was the end for the shops around it. Penang Road failed to wake up until today.

Upper Penang Road

The part of Penang Road from the juction of Penang Road/Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah to Farquhar Street(just opposite E&O Hotel), is now closed to traffic. The place is now pubs, bistro, and restaurant. The food & entertainment hub for the up market. The Garage which was once the car workshop however for still there, but now converted into a pub & Bistro. The monthly little Penang Street Market is also held at this part of Penang Road.

The extension of the road of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah to Farquhar street was done in 1969. Part of side road from Farquhar Street was lost, the Dundas Court, a cul-de-sac(dead end).

Following the old Chinese street names, Penang Road can generally split into 4 different sections:

(i) Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah(紅毛路) to Chulia Street

Tiaù-lâng-ke(吊人街), Gallows street, where criminals were formerly hanged. It was reported that there was a police station at the junction of Chulia Street and Penang Road. But the police station had long gone.

The area today is the hotel hub. During the 70s the area was the frequent hotel accommodation area for American GIs for their R&R off from Vietnam War. Odean Cinema was located in front of the junction between Leith Street, Chulia Street, Argyll Road and Penang Road. St Joseph Catholic Church was after Sri Bahari Road, and Ku Din Ku Meh House was at the corner between Penang Road and Northam Road, separated only by a petrol station.

Odean cinema was formerly known as Royal cinema where Hindi and Tamil movies were shown. It later changed to English movies, but now return to Hindi and Tamil movies, and the only surviving cinema in Penang.

(ii) Chulia Street to Chowrasta Market

Kū-kha-khu(舊跤樞) - old prison. Chowrasta area was a convict prison before the Chowrasta market was built.
Lêng-chiak-chhù-chêng(寧爵厝前)- In front of Lêng Chiak's house.

I wonder Who is Leng Chiak? It was the name of Lim Leng Chiak or Lim Leng Cheak(1850-1901), a leading merchant and planter from Kedah. Lim Leng Cheak Mansion was at the Phee Choon Road end of Penang State Police Headquarter, the mansion was demolished to make way for the Penang State Police Headquarter in 1937. The Malay called the Mansion Rumah Phee Choon, may be due to the location at Phee Choon Road. The mansion before the construction of Penang Police Headquarter must be a significant building at Penang Road, resulted in the local Chinese called the part of the road " Leng - chiak -chu -cheng", the part just opposite Chowrasta Market.

This area is now a shopping hub. Mun Sen Art Studio had give way to a car park, Boon Pharmacy still there. Bihari Temple, Penang Police Head Quarter, Penang Bazaar, Chowrasta Market, Cathay cinema are the old icon still around. The Mamak Nasi Kandar stall at the lane opposite the junction of Argyll Road/Penang Road are still popular, try their mutton soup.

Cathay cinema, now Mydin Supermarket, was known as Queen Cinema in the 1930s. It was one of the premier cinema showing English movie until 80s. The central Chowrasta wet market was reportedly built as a single-storey structure in the 1890s and was rebuilt eighty years later to a spacious two-storey complex.

The Police Headquarter Site

Penang Police Headquarter at Penang Road is a street icon at the area. It was located within the block bordering by Penang Road, Dickens Street, Transfer Road, and Phee Choon Road.

Lim Leng Cheak Mansion (or Rumah Phee Choon as called by Malay due to its location at Phee Choon Road)was demolished in May, 1937. The Detective Branch Complex next to Rumah Phee Choon consists of Detective Branch Headquarter, Quarter for the colonial detective officers, the Police Club and Chowrasta Outdoor Dispensary. The Police Club was bought by the Glugor Club, the building was restored brick by brick, and re-assembled at Glugor. The Glugor Club is no longer there now. The Chowrasta Outdoor Dispensary was located at today's Dickens Street, at the enclaves fronting Penang Road. The Dickens Street was not exist at that time, only footpath Transfer Road with Penang Road. In August 1937, the dispensary moved to No.7, Buckingham Street, opposite Kapitan Kling Mosque. The place was former Malay Home, hostels for Malay students studying in Penang Free School(located at today's Penang State Museum building. The doctor in charge of Dispensary then was Dr E.W.De Cruz.

After the relocation of the Dispensary, the site was cleared for building of new police headquarter. The police headquarter building was built by Malayalee contractor Ibrahim Kaka. During the World War Two, the new police headquarter was hit by bombing on 11-12-1941. The front, and small section of 3rd and 4th floor near Phee Choon Road end was also damaged.

(iii) Chowrasta Market to Burma Road(now the Octopus overhead bridge, in front of KOMTAR)

Tiaù-kiô-thaû(吊橋頭) - Drawbridge head, after the bridge that formerly spanned the Prangin Ditch (see article on Transfer Road , Mesjid Titi Papan) there. The state police headquarter was located there and opposite is the largest wet market, Chowrasta Market. Famous Teochew Chedol stall is walking distance from Chowrasta Market, at the off street of Penang Road, Ah Kwee Street. The green 'worm-like' jellies are 'chendol', which was a typical Malaysian dessert, Gula melaka is used for its sweetness, the pannan leaves used for the chendol giving it that fragrant aroma. The dessert is serve with coconut milk and red beans. Remember to try the Char koay Teow and Assam Laksa at the corner coffee shop, but if you order the chendol to the coffee shop, the shop will charged you extra for using the coffee shop, as table charge. The Chendol stall however opened a shop behind the coffee shop, and also sell rojak, but if you order Penang Laksa or Char Koay Teow, the food will cost additional charge.

The old capital cinema and the oriental supermarket were located here at 70s, but were no longer there. They were gone to give way for Komtar project. The oriental supermarket was considered the first supermarket in Penang. Capital cinema, beside Li Teik School was premier cinema for English movie. A western restaurant, name cannot remember,which was at the corner between Penang Road and Prangin Road, and Loke Thye Kee(at the corner between Burma Road and Penang Road)were the two restaurant, one for western food and the other for Chinese food. If you are from Penang, your parent may have their engagement or wedding dinner in Loke Thye Kee.

(iv) Burma Road to Magazine Circus, junction of Penang Road to Macalister Road, Dato Kramat Road, Magazine Road, Brick Kiln Road(now Jalan Gurdwara), in front of Craven Cafe.

Lâng-chhia-tèng-pâi-koan(人車丁牌館) - Rickshaw signboard office, after the rickshaw registration office. Between Prangin Ditch and Magazine Circus. There was a fire station and Traffic Registration office here, prior to the construction of KOMTAR.

In the old days the row of souvenir shops after Burma Road junction was the Japanese tourist attraction. Opposite the souvenir shops were Capital cinema and oriental supermarket. The Singapore Hotel where the first lift in Penang was located there. Many students from the Li Teik and Confucius Primary Schools nearby, will purposely take a ride there. Opposite Singapore Hotel is Kek Seng coffee shop, famous for the durian ice kacang and laksa.

The main attraction today is KOMTAR. Opposite Komtar is Seh Ong kongxi. The Komtar site was a fire station and Traffic Registration office, prior to the construction of KOMTAR.

Gama supermarket at the junction of Dato Kramat Road was once a Japanese supermarket, the site was formerly an empty field, where circus sometime was held there. There was a traditional mamak bubor kacang stall and some street food stall there. People were sitting at the stools, eating their street food, watching the traffic and crowd go by, until the sun set.

Craven cafe still remained , Nasi Kandar stalls at the Brick Kiln Road junction, were popular Nasi Kandar outlets in the old days. This was the busy place for Nasi Kandar, it was expensive compared to Nasi Kandar stall within the Chinese kopitiam. The old Penang people will advised you not to order big prawn lah, as they will cut your head(indicate expensive pricing with prawn)....

The hawker complex at Glandstone Road(hui-chia-lor) had gone with the Komtar project.

However, generally now the Chinese called Penang Road, as it is called in English, Penang Road(檳榔律). Today, KOMTAR is the state administration centre, Komtar is located at Penang Road,logically Penang Road should be the prime area, the busiest street, the location that attract the crowds.....

but Penang Road no longer the main attraction in Penang, even KOMTAR failed to attract the crowds. The state should know the reason......

The traffic congestion, lack of parking place, the ugly dirty image,.....only the old lady Komtar is proudly standing tall in the area, the authority is telling the people the lady Komtar is wearing beautiful clothing, when everyone know that she is actually naked....the poor KOMTAR.

Lately there was attempt by the state to revive Komtar; but how about Penang Road. All the YB are around Penang Road, are you satisfy with the current condition of Penang Road?....

Reference articles:

1. Penang Road, http://www.penang-traveltips.com/penang-road.htm
2. More Info On The History Of Penang Road, New Street Times dated 20-1-1990
3. The "Crossroads" Marketplace, http://www.neosentuhan.com.my/tourism2004/support/se04d.htm
4. Lim Leng Cheak, http://overseaschinesecommunities.blogspot.com/2009/08/lim-leng-cheak.html
5. The House of Lim, http://www.houseoflim.us


  1. I am quite sure the text of your Penang Road article is derived from pasting together parts from my article (http://www.penang-traveltips.com/penang-road.htm), and parts from other web pages / books. It is okay to use my website as a reference, but you should write using your own words. Otherwise, it is more courteous to add "According to Penang Travel Tips ... "

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Tim,

    Sorry to add that, your article is focus more on tour,my article was more focus on old Penang. You may have see some similar approrach by dividing the street into parts. I based on old Chinese names as it revealed the history. But my approach is totally different based on memory. If you read my article on Carnarvon Street, I already start the approach and mention about the places in KOMTAR and Penang Road. That time I havn't read your article on Penang Road. I am sorry if you found my article is similar to your article. Just to elaborate, but I did use your article as reference when I found there is no point writing when your article has good write up and with photo. I did not post photo now as my blog has exceeded the limit allowed., and need to pay for it.