When you are living in hotels for months on end, the last thing you want to do is stay in more than one in the same city. I have to pack my bag enough times already, thank you very much. So you can imagine the amount of convincing it took for us to leave our sleek haven at G Hotel Gurney to spend the rest of our time in Penang at their sister hotel, G Hotel Kelawai. It was just a short buggy ride round the corner, but I didn’t see much point… surely they would be the same? They’re similar but definitely not the same. As an elder sister, it’s not really in my nature to admit this but sometimes our younger sisters are much cooler than we are. It is true for me, and it seems, for G Hotel Gurney too. At Kelawai, there is a distinctly different atmosphere – the focus is less about business and more about leisure!
G Hotel Kelawai opened its glossy doorsonly a couple of years ago and brought another level of style to the Gurney area. Its location is just as good as its sister property, with easy access to popular malls and food outlets, however it is far more intimate with fewer rooms and cosier spaces. The team said we would like it better and while it initially felt disloyal to G Hotel Gurney to admit it, we did… the more relaxed atmosphere and laid back vibe at Kelawai was more in line with our travel style, and as a result we felt more at home here!
After weeks of eating solely out of melanine plates and bowls, usually perched on stools at a wobbly plastic table, the sight of a well set table at Macalister Mansion was a welcomed one. Hawker centres hold a special place in my heart but there are also times when one wants to have a meal they can linger over. Preferably without the soundtrack of woks being fired up and pots clanging, and away from the glare of other hungry diners eyeing up your seat. The Dining Room at Macalister Mansion provided this brief oasis; you won’t find any of Penang’s famed street food here but you will find a fine-dining experience good enough to make you think you’re sitting in London’s Mayfair. In a country like Malaysia where hawkers reign supreme, this is a rare find indeed!
Macalister Mansion is named after Sir Norman Macalister, one of the first Governors of Penang. I’m not sure what he would have made of the transformation, but personally I think they have done a marvellous job restoring this colonial mansion into an exclusive eight bedroom boutique hotel in the heart of Georgetown. While each of the unique rooms has a luxurious but sleek approach to their design, the common spaces are where the artistic flair truly shines. We spent our first few moments at Macalister Mansion in their delightful Cellar, sinking into the oversized leather couches, eyes darting around taking in the trinkets carefully placed across the room. Before we got too comfortable, we moved into the Dining Room, another stunning space with tables set around a striking white tree centrepiece. The Penang we already knew felt like a world away…
I love Georgetown as much as the next street-art-obsessed slave to the ‘gram, but I also love getting away from it at the end of the day. The excitement of navigating its narrow streets in search of quirky street art, colourful colonial gems, and insanely great food in this UNESCO World Heritage site is probably what entices people to Penang in the first place, but it does not mean you have to spend every moment of your trip in the thick of it. We like to stay somewhere that’s close enough to the action to let you experience the essence of a city, but just far enough way to have an oasis to escape to. So we ruled out staying in Georgetown, considered Batu Ferringhi but remembered that it was just a tad too far for our liking the last time we were in Penang, which left us with that sweet spot right in the middle – Gurney Drive. Once that was settled, G Hotel Gurney was the obvious choice.
This modern 312-room property has a prime spot on Gurney Drive, making it a firm favourite for both business and leisure travellers. It was always a looker, but since getting a facelift last year it is more popular than ever. The open lobby is huge and airy, the atmosphere is really swish but inviting, and the ever-so-smiley staff lined up behind the desk were friendly and welcoming… G Hotel Gurney sure knows how to make a first impression. As much as I would have enjoyed lingering in lobby which seamlessly flows into the G Lounge, we were whisked up to the Executive Lounge to complete check in formalities. It was a much more intimate space – just where we wanted to be to enjoy our welcome ice creams (can more hotels do this please) after a long, hot journey!
One of the most iconic experiences you can enjoy in Penang is to have afternoon tea at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, one of the city’s grandest properties. But afternoon tea seems so very un-Malaysian and so very, very British? Let’s chalk its introduction to Malaysia down to colonialism, which dare I say, is another very British activity from years passed. I won’t get into the pros and cons of that so let’s just all play nice and agree on the merits of tea and cake, with a couple of sandwiches and scones in between. Any afternoon spent enjoying those things in beautiful surroundings is an afternoon well spent in my view.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel has a rich history dating back to 1884 when it was first established as The Eastern. A year later, due to increasing demand and popularity, The Oriental was opened on the neighbouring site, and combined, they became the largest hotel in Penang. Unsurprisingly, there have been highs and lows throughout the years but now, the hotel has been completely restored to its former glory and a spot of afternoon tea in the elegant dining room of 1885 is a must for anyone visiting Penang.
We almost didn’t make it to Philadelphia because honestly, we didn’t know much about it. I like a smear of Philadelphia on my bagel and the sweet chilli philly is genius, but that’s hardly a good reason to visit is it? Luckily, as we found out, there are quite a few other reasons especially for those history buffs out there.