Less than a decade ago in the heart of Georgetown there stood three rows of dilapidated pre-war shophouses and terraced lots. The buildings had been left vacant for quite some time, leaving the paint peeling and blackened in some places. Despite their obvious state of disrepair, the buildings were in a strategic location just a few minutes' walk away from the markets and bustle of Penang Road, as well as the landmark of Menara Komtar.
It wasn't until 2008 that the properties began the journey of realising their true potential. Bought over by Malaysian architect Hijjas Kasturi and his environmentalist wife Angela, the dated buildings were soon transformed into a charming boutique hotel. Located at the corner of Jalan Hutton and Lebuh Clarke, the hotel has a pretty facade overlooking the busy road. It's a lovely view as it is from the outside, but wait till you take a step into the hotel rooms.
I visited Hotel Penaga with my family just a few days before Christmas. It's a bit of a tradition for us to spend New Year's on Penang Island, but due to some change in circumstances, we made our trip prior to Christmas instead. We managed to find a nice parking spot just opposite the hotel's Clarke Terraces, which is where we stayed for two nights. There are a variety of rooms available, ranging from deluxe rooms, transfer suites and Clarke terraces.
The Clarke Terrace where we stayed is absolutely gorgeous. I didn't know what to expect as we stepped through the doors, but the first thing that hit me was the fact that it was a double storey house. When my dad told us that we would be staying here, I assumed that we would be spending the weekend in a family suite or something of the sort.
The terraced house is more than that. The bottom storey consists of a living hall and bar area complete with a mini fridge. We spent our nights in the living hall, making use of the widescreen television and DVD player. Cosy and welcoming, there is ample seating space here, all of which are comfortable and suitable for a relaxing night in. However, it can get quite dark here unless you open up the front windows. We didn't do that though as it opened right onto the terraced walkway, where passers-by could easily look in.
The Clarke terrace comes with enough bedding for four people, and we managed to get an extra bed in the living room. There isn't supposed to be more than five people staying here, but as we are a family of six, my sister and I took it turns to spend a night on the sofa with some extra blankets. However, my other sister who spent the night in the extra bed had the misfortune of being placed directly underneath the wooden stairs. Anybody walking about on the upper landings and the neighbouring houses can be clearly heard, and the creaking of the wood gave her a restless night.
I'll admit that the first half an hour that we were here was spent prowling through every corner of the house. We went up the wooden stairs and straight into the master bedroom, a rectangular space dominated by a large king sized bed. The other end of the room held a bright blue recliner, wardrobe and antique wooden chest of drawers. A colourful Aztec style rug gave the space a beautiful contrast to the dark wooden floors and door frames. An elegantly designed ensuite bathroom can be seen in the background, walled with frosted glass.
Just across the upstairs landing is the other bedroom, which holds a queen sized bed. This room is also connected to its own ensuite bathroom, a spacious and wood dominated space. One thing I found strange though was that the rubbish bins were not lined with plastic as I am used to. I assume that this is a way of being environmentally friendly, though I ended up using one of my own plastic bags for convenience. The shower area had two shower heads, hinting at its obvious convenience for couples.
There is even a stained glass door that leads out onto a peaceful balcony, with space for a lounge chair and a serene view of the hotel's inner garden. The way the layout is designed is clearly well thought out - you can shower with this balcony door wide open to nature without anybody outside being able to see you. This balcony was my favourite part of the house; I spent a good three hours of my second evening here with Robin Hobb's Ship of Magic, unwinding after a long day at the beach.
While I made some excellent progress with my book, my siblings were trying out another facility within the Clarke Terrace. Each house comes with its own backyard jacuzzi. Apparently you can even request for it to be converted into a makeshift kitchen. Since we ate all our meals outside (when in Penang, eat as the Penangites do), there's only one way to put this space to good use. My siblings sure enjoyed themselves that evening.
The owners of Hotel Penaga were very keen on designing their property to be a green building, and many of the furnishings and structure is either handmade or reused from demolished buildings. They even extended this green concept with the inner garden nestled among the hotel buildings - all the plants and trees there are indigenous to Malaysia, and their placement designed to enhance soil permeability as well as provide a sufficient amount of shade from the tropical sun.
Taking a walk down the garden stretch will take you to the hotel's main building, and the first thing you will see is the lap pool. Apparently, this area used to be a row of toilets in the buildings old design, prior to the renovation. It's a clever way to make the most of the space. I didn't try the pool, but I don't think there's enough room for more than two people at once doing laps.
The pool is right next to The Cinnamon, the hotel restaurant. It's a nice place with a lovely view of the garden and pool. The room comes with breakfast included, so my siblings and I decided to try it out on our last morning in Penang. We came in a little late, so a lot of the breakfast buffet was starting to clear up, though there weren't many other guests. I really liked the roast potatoes and sauteed mushrooms served, and was pleased to find that I could order poached eggs at the egg station. The servers were very attentive and helpful; we were served coffee and tea within a few moments of taking our seats. They even refilled one of the food trays just for us, as we were the last of the breakfast guests.
My family and I really enjoyed our weekend here at Hotel Penaga. It was a different experience to what we are usually accustomed to, something a lot more luxurious and beautifully designed and put together. I am still very impressed by how it is located right in the heart of the city, a spot of peace and elegance amidst a busy, concrete environment. The hotel staff were nice and our accommodation was comfortable. If you ever stay here, be sure to take a look at all the paintings and works of art scattered throughout the Clarke Terrace. The paintings truly set the tone here, one that brings up images of dark, polished wood and the intricate patterns of a batik cloth. Definitely a beautiful place to stay on Penang Island.