Roving the Rope Walk

Think you can’t have a relaxing weekend getaway in a city? The Rope Walk Guest House in Penang will make you think again

While the thought of a city vacation tends to be associated with being on the go, relaxation does not always have to be about beaches or secluded islands. With the right mindset, and a comfy place for the night, a short break in a different city may do the trick in helping you wind down.

Thanks to its status as a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) heritage site, the city of George Town in Penang is a popular destination for both local and international tourists. There is of course, the added draw of the scrumptious local food, from hearty street and hawker fare, to delectable dishes in trendy outlets. The steady stream of tourists also explains the wealth of accommodation options for visitors, including an increasing number of boutique hotels and flashpacker hostels.

For the uninitiated, flashpacker type hostels generally cater to backpackers who have a slightly higher budget, and these properties tend to be more chic and stylish than your average YMCA-type dormitory. In fact, some of these hotels can put your regular nondescript chain properties to shame with their personality and facilities available – at much more competitive prices.

One such above average hostel is the Rope Walk Guest House, located right at the heart of George Town. Set up in 2014, the hostel is housed in a historic two-storey building along Jalan Pintal Tali. While the pre-war facade of yesteryear has been maintained, along with the indoor layout of courtyards and well-ventilated walkways, the décor has been refurbished to lend itself a more modern and hipster vibe.

Like many of its counterparts, the hostel provides a mix of individual rooms as well as dormitories. If you’re looking to book a room with a bit more privacy, it is best to make reservations early, as these rooms tend to sell out rather fast — likewise for those unused to bunk beds.

Aside from the charm of old-school wooden window shutters and open-air corridors, greenery appears to be a central feature of the hostel. Many of the common spaces, such as lounging areas and the courtyard, are filled with greens; sometimes displayed as artful wall features and arrangements. If you don’t feel like doing much else but lazing about, curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee in the rattan swing chair in the courtyard, while enjoying a good dose of sunlight and fresh air while surrounded by lush plants, is a tempting option.

The rooms themselves are clean if basic; guests are provided with comfy beds and snuggable comforters, alongside lockers to store their valuables. While this may not allow much room to indulge in luxury within your space, it is perfect for those who prefer to spend most of their days exploring the city. After taking in the sights and sounds of the streets outside, coming back to a neat and Zen-like space can be a comforting experience.

Strolling between the past and present

Part of what makes a city destination a relaxing endeavour is ditching the tightly scheduled itineraries and picking a well-situated base for your jaunts on foot. A major attraction of the Rope Walk Guest House is that it is walking distance to many of George Town’s historical sites such as the Penang Peranakan Mansion, the Khoo Kong Si temple, and Fort Cornwallis. More modern amusements such as the Upside Down Museum and the Camera Museum are also just a stone’s throw away.

In fact, just strolling down the road the hostel is on is a history lesson in itself. Running from Chulia Street to Prangin Road (now known as Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong), Jalan Pintal Tali was named for the rope spinners who had set up shop there in the 19th century. These ropes, made out of coconut husks, were in high demand as they were used for bullock carts as well as for mooring ships at the nearby harbour.

Just a few doors away from hostel are three historic buildings; Masjid Pintal Tali, the Ming Eng Soo memorial hall, and the Carnavon police station (now the central police station). Located amongst pre-war shophouses, these building may now appear to be just charming memories of the past, but they are also remnants of Penang’s history of secret societies. Masjid Pintal Tali was said to be the base of the Malay secret society Bendera Putih (or White Flag) and was founded by an Achenese clan leader named Tengku Syed Hussain. Its neighbour meanwhile, the Ming Eng Soo hall, was the base of Ghee Hin clan. Amidst this alliance of underground groups is the police station overlooking them both.

Until recent times, Jalan Pintal Tali was a firmly working-class neighbourhood. In the 70s, traders decided to sell second-hand goods along the street, advertising their items at bargain prices on mats spread on the road. As time passed, this expanded into a full-blown flea market, with antiques, jewellery, books, furniture and other household goods. The flea market, sometimes even called a “thieves’ market” since many doubted the origins of some of the goods sold, became famous enough for the name “Rope Walk” to be synonymous with the concept of a flea market.

Even though the flea market was moved to Lorong Kulit in 1992, due to traffic congestion, locals still refer to it as the Rope Walk market. If you take a walk down the road, particularly at the intersection of Lebuh Carnavon, you will still see antique shops peddling wares of days gone by.

Of course, no trip to Penang is complete without a sampling of local food. Luckily, guests at the Rope Walk Guest House need not stray far to satiate their stomachs. Be it the Chinese hawker stalls at the nearby Lebuh Kimberly, or the hearty Indian-Muslim offerings at Lebuh Chulia, there is no shortage of good food wherever your feet decide to take you. The abundance of chic eateries also adds further variety, ranging from Western options to fusion fare. For a healthy and fulfilling breakfast, along with good coffee, the nearby Mugshot Cafe, with its fresh yoghurt and fruit pairings, delightful pancakes and homemade bread, is definitely a worth a visit.

By keeping an open mind and going with the flow, a relaxing escape need not involve faraway destinations nor a hole in the wallet. If you want a quiet escapade in Penang, while still taking in the sights, the Rope Walk Guest House is a chic and comfortable option.

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