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Chulia Street, George Town, Penang

Chulia Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, still retains a highly multicultural feel and hosts numerous budget hostels

Chulia Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the earliest streets in George Town and has a multicultural character. The street also serves as a backpackers' haven, with numerous budget hostels and boutique hotels interspersed amongst pre-war shophouses, temples and mosques along the street.

Chulia Street sign, George Town, Penang

A bilingual Chulia Street sign

Initially named Malabar Street, it formed the southernmost limit of George Town. The influx of southern Indian Muslims then altered the demographics of the street and led to its renaming into Chulia Street. Throughout the 19th. century, Chulia street was extended several times and by the end of the century, Chinese immigrants also started moving to the street. Since then, Chulia Street has retained its multicultural character and represents a microcosm of Penang's multiethnic society.

In addition, the establishment of budget hostels along Chulia Street in the 20th. century has turned it into the centre of budget accommodation in the city. Lately, there has been ongoing gentrification of budget accommodations along the street and heritage properties have witnessed an increase in values. Furthermore, a proposed tram line under the Penang Transport Master Plan will run through Chulia Street.

Chulia Street runs along a northwest to southeast axis, stretching from Penang Road to the west to Beach Street to the east.

Etymology

The street was originally named Malabar Street after the Indians from the western region of Malabar. However, due to the influx of southern Indians, the street was renamed Chulier Street, after the ancient Chola kingdom that once ruled southern India.

Chulia Street is a relatively long street that had been extended at several stages. Consequently, the Chinese had different names for the street, each for one of the three sections of Chulia Street.

  • The westernmost section between Penang Road and Love Lane was called Gu3 Gan3 Tang1 in Hokkien and Kandang Lembu in Malay, both meaning cow pens. This was because the Indians used to keep livestock along this stretch of Chulia Street.
  • The middle section between Love Lane and Pitt Street was known as Tua33 Mui3 Lor2 in Hokkien and Tai Mun Lau in Cantonese, both in reference to a large arch that once stood around this stretch of Chulia Street.
  • The easternmost section between Pitt Street and Beach Street, was called Ke1ling2na1 Kay1 in Hokkien and Kit Lang Kai in Cantonese, both meaning south Indian street. Notably, this stretch formed the earliest limits of George Town. The term comes from the ancient Kalinga kingdom that once ruled southern India.

History

After Captain Francis Light had founded Penang Island in 1786, Malabar Street was laid out, though it was certainly not the first. Along with Pitt Street, Beach Street and Light Street, it marked the original boundaries of the settlement of George Town.

The influx of southern Indian Muslims along Malabar Street significantly changed the demographics along the street. By 1798, the street was renamed Chulier Street, in recognition of its changed nature. The southern Indian Muslims continued to move to the street, extending it westwards to Love Lane by 1803 and eventually to Penang Road.

Chulia Street, George Town, Penang (old)

An old photograph of Chulia Street

The rapid development of Chulia Street led to its haphazard layout of residential alleys, with large monsoon gutters dug to drain the once swampy area. The Indian Muslims had also built impressive structures along the street, such as the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Nagore Shrine and the Noordin family tomb.

For most of the 19th. century, Beach Street was a coastal road. The junction between Chulia Street and Beach Street was located right next to the sea. In the 1870s, land reclamation was conducted off this particular junction, creating more land east of the junction which enabled the creation of Chulia Street Ghaut.

Old tram tracks, George Town, Penang

Tram lines at the junction between Chulia Street and Penang Road

In the late 19th. century, as the population of Indian Muslims in George Town declined, Cantonese shopkeepers began to acquire shophouses along Chulia Street. The Cantonese also set up a few Cantonese district organisations along Chulia Street, namely the Ng Fook Thong and the Nam Hooi Wooi Koon.
Chulia Street, George Town, Penang (old 2)

A 19th. century postcard depicting a tram along Chulia Street

Simultaneously, at the westernmost junction between Chulia Street and Penang Road, a police station and tram lines were built by the colonial authorities. Today, the old tram lines can still be seen at the junction, a reminder of the relatively advanced public transportation system George Town had under the British.

Chulia Street, George Town, Penang (2)

Chulia Street today is a microcosm of the multicultural society of Penang

In the early 20th. century, old shophouses were converted into budget hostels catering for domestic and Asian tourists. However, it was in the 1960s when budget hostels established inside the old shophouses began to cater to Western tourists as well. Today, Chulia Street is the place to go for cheap accommodation in George Town.

Since the inclusion of George Town into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2008, there has been a gentrification of some budget hostels along the street. Boutique hotels have also been set up, such as the Time Capsule Hotel. Also heritage properties along the street have been increasing in value, attracting both local and Singaporean investors to acquire, refurbish and repurpose the properties.

Under the Penang Transport Master Plan, a proposed tram system within the UNESCO World Heritage Site will include two stops along Chulia Street. The western stop will be around the junction with Beach Street, while the eastern stop will be within the junction with Victoria Street.
Han Jiang Teochew Temple, Chulia Street, George Town, Penang

Han Jiang Teochew Temple

Notable Landmarks

From west to east :

  • Chulia Heritage Hotel
  • Yeng Keng Hotel
  • Noordin Family Tomb
Ng Fook Thong, Chulia Street, George Town, Penang

Ng Fook Thong Temple

Religion

From west to east :

Hotels

Yeng Keng Hotel, Chulia Street, George Town, Penang (2)

Yeng Keng Hotel

As a backpackers' haven, Chulia Street hosts numerous budget hostels and boutique hotels.

From west to east :

  • Siok Hostel
  • Hang Chow Hotel
  • Trekker Inn & Cafe
  • Banana Boutique Hotel
  • Blue Diamond Hotel
  • Time Capsule
  • Chung Kinh Hotel & Pub
  • Chulia Heritage Hotel
  • Grand Swiss Hotel
  • Yeng Keng Hotel
  • Chulia Mansion
  • Sky Hotel
  • Reggae Mansion
  • Banana New Guesthouse
  • Day & Night Guesthouse
  • Crystal Guesthouse
  • D Mo Inn
  • Hong Ping Hotel
  • The Frame Guesthouse
  • Sook Aun Hotel
  • Paradise Hotel
  • Ros Heritage Motel
  • Chulia D' Motel
  • KK Budget Hotel

Street Art

Rotan sculpture, Chulia Street, George Town, Penang

Rotan Iron Sculpture, Chulia Street

Main Street sculpture, Chulia Street, George Town, Penang

Main Street Iron Sculpture, Chulia Street

There are a couple of wrought iron sculptures along Chulia Street.
  • Rotan sculpture
  • Main street sculpture
    • Description : Chulia Street was one of the main streets laid out by Captain Francis Light. Today, it is known as "Backpackers' Main Street".

Food

Chulia Street is also well-known for its vibrant hawker food scene. Here, one can find hawker stalls and coffee shops alongside cafes, restaurants and bars. Some hawker stalls also operate at night, giving locals and tourists alike various gastronomical choices.

The Kassim Mustafa Restaurant, at the junction between Chulia Street and Penang Street, serves among the best nasi kandar in the city, as well as Thai-Indian fusion cuisine at about midnight. The restaurant was even mentioned in the British newspaper, The Guardian, in its list of the 10 best cheap eats in Penang.

Also, a curry mee stall along Chulia Street opens between 2000 hours and midnight, serving up delicious Penang curry mee for tourists seeking a spicy night supper.

Other eateries along the street are as follows.

  • Pak Hock Coffee Shop
  • Sin Kuan Haw Coffee Shop
  • Thew Chik Cafe
  • Eating House Cafe
  • Kapitan Restaurant
  • Khaleel Restaurant
  • Ros Mutiara Restaurant
  • Betel Nut Tree Cafe
  • Trois Canon Cafe
  • Yeng Keng Cafe & Bar

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books, Penang.
  2. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/chulia-street.htm
  3. http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2016/04/02/the-allure-of-heritage-properties/
  4. http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/jun/14/top-10-street-food-george-town-penang
  5. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/eat-drink/article/eat-penang-a-24-hour-street-food-experience
  6. http://www.penang-online.com/pages/penang-hawker-food/curry-mee.php

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