Thursday, September 12, 2013

Strolling down Armenian Street

Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenia) is one of my favorite streets in Penang's heritage enclave. It's only a few blocks long, but this street seems to have something that grabs my attention almost every other house. When I add in some excellent shops, street art, and nearby restaurants, I've rounded out a couple hours of exploration. The street takes its name from the Armenians that lived in the area such as the Sarkies Brothers, developers of Singapore's famed Raffles Hotel and George Town's own Eastern & Oriental Hotel. In George Town's early days, it was called Malay Lane from the village of locals living here but was later renamed Pak Thang-ah Kay (Copper Worker's Street) by the Chinese because this is where they could buy brass- and copperwares. For the filming of Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, this road stood in for a 19th-century Bangkok Street.

The most photographed place on Armenian Street is probably the Kids on Bikes Street Art by Ernest Zacharevic at the corner of Armenian and Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai). On weekends, a line stretches across the sidewalk of people waiting to take a creatively posed picture with the pair, but I always like to visit it on quiet, weekday mornings when no one is around.

A few steps down the narrow street, you will find the entrance to the Cheah Kongsi, one of Malayisa's oldest kongsi's, a clan association where Chinese living outside of China who have the same surname could join together for support. The original temple was built in 1828 but replaced in 1858 and gradually expanded. The latest addition to the courtyard is an adorable street art mural of a Chinese Cat Procession.

The modest entrance to the Cheah Kongsi from Armenian Street

The Cheah Kongsi as seen from Beach Street

The next block of Armenian Street seems to be mostly shops. There's a little store with cute and cheap souvenirs catering to tourists. I can tell that I'm feeling quite at home in Penang because the other day, I was complaining that the area was starting to get "a little too touristy," not like it was when we first moved here two years ago. The more expensive and upscale boutiques are a few blocks down. Somehow, I never seem to pass the bespoke Nyonya Beaded Shoes Store or the Cheongsam Gallery that sells traditional one-piece Chinese gowns whenever they are open. On the corner of Lorong Soo Hong (the narrowest street in George Town) is a bike rental shop, the family-friendly Zhang Trading which has tandem bikes, kids bikes and toddler seats. Keep an eye out for more cat-themed street art across from Zhang Trading as well as a steel rod sculpture depicting a rickshaw. One store that always catches my eye is Chin Seng Leong with bikes from a few of the past decades, big clocks and some antiques.

Old and new bicycles at Chin Seng Leong

In addition to painted street murals, numerous caricature steel rod sculptures adorn the streets of George Town. These pieces not only serve as decoration, they share small details of this town's history.

Steel rod sculpture depicting the Grand Float Procession held during the 1926 Year of the Tiger
and a British tourist observing it .

A bit further down is another intriguing entrance. I haven't actually walked in through this one, yet.

Entrance to the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple built in 1845

Many trishaws for hire are located at the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street. Riding one is considered a classic George Town experience.

Rest your feet and ride a trishaw.

A quick detour down Cannon Street reveals the Acheen Street Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Penang and the area where Arab settlers first lived on the island. More of Zacharevic's street art is down this street as well as another example of George Town's steel rod sculptures. You'll also find the main entrance to the Khoo Kongsi, one of the grandest clan houses in Malaysia. In 1867, riots broke out between rival Chinese clans. Cannon balls were fired from the Khoo Kongsi and left pockmarks on the ground that is now aptly named Cannon Street.  

Looking down Cannon Street

Back on the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street, the Yap Kongsi own both the Choo Chee Keong Temple and the Yap Temple next door.  The Chinese-style temple is very ornate, and the outer alter is decorated with symbols from the Tao Teh Ching. The greenish Yap Temple was completed in 1924 and built in the Straits Eclectic style.

The Yap Kongsi

Some of my favorite boutiques are located across the street from the Yap Temple. China Joes and Bon Ton the Shop offer clothing, fashion accessories, lifestyle gifts, stationary, and coffee table books. A few doors down at No. 88, Armenian Street is a three-story shophouse with something for the upscale shopper. Fuan Wong, the gallery on the bottom level, sells colorful fused glass and stained glass. Go upstairs to find Jonathan Yun Sculptural Jewelry and gorgeous photographs at Studio Howard.

One of my favorite doors in George Town is located just a few shophouses down the street. Its gilded doors beckon me to discover what's inside. The fortunate guests at Straits Heritage Boutique Hotel are lucky enough to find out for themselves.

Straits Heritage, the prettiest shophouse on the street, has gilded wooden doors and beautiful examples of traditional tilework.

As the street curves to the left, I spy numerous pre-war shophouses. If I could pluck the cars out of this scene, I'd swear I had traveled decades backwards in time. This stretch includes Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base where he lived for six months while planning the 1910 Canton uprising and establishing one of the world's oldest Chinese language newspapers before going on to become the first president and founding father of The Republic of China.

Traditional shophouses

After all this walking around, I usually get rather peckish and start looking for something to eat. Edelweiss Cafe at No. 38, Armenian Street serves Swiss and German food along with some local dishes. Sharing a wall with the Kids on Bikes mural but with an entrance facing Beach Street is Cozy in the Rocket Italian Cucina. My favorite place in Penang for desserts, the most important course of any meal, is China House located at No. 153, Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) across from the Cheah Kongsi.

Woudn't you like to take a stroll down Armenian Street and see this all for yourself?

Related Posts:
The Street of Religious Harmony
Ramadan and Penang's Kapitan Keling Mosque
Penang's Vanishing Heritage Trades

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This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh, the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. The Chinese gate looks beautiful :)

  2. Love that bike photo and can definitely see the appeal of a stroll - and it sounds like there is food to please all palates.

    1. It's been too long since I've been to Penang, I do remember this colorful street...great tour!

  3. Beautiful photos! My favorite has to be the kids on bike...Christine

  4. What a very eclectic area! You could never be bored walking around Armenian Street. It'd certainly keep me entertained.

  5. I certainly hope I get to visit here one day!

  6. If I could, I'd take a picture of that bike artwork and turn the photo into a canvas. I love it

  7. Oh your photos made me feel like I was right there beside you. Loved today's tour!!

  8. The kids on bikes picture tricked me for a moment. I thought it was actually real until I saw the expression on the little boy's face. Lovely adventure!

  9. So much here to capture my attention! The kids on bikes street amazing is pretty amazing. Would love to see that. Also fun to learn about Armenian Street being a filming location. I always enjoy seeing places like that.

  10. Wow, sounds an interesting place! all the photographs looking beautiful taken by you. indeed, i like the architecture of the temples...

  11. I'm loving the mix of the old and the new in Georgetown.

  12. Thanks for the tour down Armenian Street. Such beautiful architecture. It seems that there's a picture-perfect scene just around every corner!

  13. This brought back so many memories from my trip to Malaysia. I want to go back a lot actually. Thanks so much for the tour, but I'm a bit upset because now i really miss my time there :)

  14. What a great street and I love the mix of cultures and old and new. i'd love to stroll and shop here too. I've seen those kids on the bikes pop up in a few blogs lately but you'll always be the first to have introduced it to me :) I can only imagine what lies inside the Straits Heritage Boutique Hotel with that fancy door.

  15. I missed this post originally when we were in Turkey. I think we would really like the heritage area of Penang and do hope to get there one day, hopefully while you are still there. :)


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