Boutique Perfection at The Edison George Town, Penang

Every second building in the George Town area of Penang, Malaysia, is a colonial-era mansion, or so it seems. Some are crumbling, with peeling paint and stylish woodwork and tiles in need of some TLC. Others have been renovated to perfection. The Edison George Town, a new boutique hotel, is definitely the latter.

My early-morning arrival in Penang wasn’t the greatest travel experience of my life–an overnight flight from Delhi in which I’d gotten no sleep, followed by the discovery that my bags hadn’t accompanied me to Malaysia. Malaysia is hot and sticky just like Delhi was hot and sticky, and by the end of my journey I was a hot mess. But as soon as I arrived at The Edison, my day brightened (and not just because of the characteristically icy Malaysian air conditioning). The bright white columns at the entrance present an imposing neo-classical face, but inside the spacious lobby, with just the right amount of modernised heritage, the hotel feels very relaxed and homely. (Homely, that is, if you’re fortunate enough to call an elegant 110 year old building home.)

The Edison is on the ’boutique’ end of the luxury hotel spectrum, with just 35 rooms and suites. It is a renovated mansion built in 1906 for a local business tycoon, and to The Edison’s credit, they haven’t tried to completely erase the building’s age, but to work with it. The original English tiles adorn the floors (as they do across much of George Town, I was to learn) and have been turned into a major design feature. The brass doorknobs on the rooms are a little stiff and require a bit of fiddling with, like in many old buildings, but they look much prettier than new ones would. The very high ceilings in the rooms could have resulted in a cold, echoey space, but the abundance of cozy furniture and plush pillows counteracts that feeling, while maintaining the air of the original mansion. The simple white and green colour scheme helps the hotel feel bright and fresh. The open-air courtyard just behind the reception area is furnished with large, comfortable couches with sun umbrellas, creating a welcoming space to curl up in with a book. The Edison–like much of UNESCO World Heritage-listed George Town–feels like a place where Malaysian history and culture is honoured and celebrated, but also made attractive to twenty-first century sensibilities.

I’d been allowed to check in very early, and this was reflective of the relaxed yet attentive service that extended throughout my stay at The Edison. The staff seemed genuinely friendly, interested in how I liked their new hotel and their pretty town, as opposed to the rather forced deference that one sometimes finds at luxury hotels. The young woman looking after the lounge–where breakfast is served before 10.30 am, and complimentary snacks and beverages thereafter–explained all the different types of Malaysian sweets and savouries I could try. The young man at reception promised to chase up my bag with the airline on my behalf, and seemed as happy as I did when it eventually arrived. This relaxed efficiency seems to be the Malaysian way, outside the hustle of capital Kuala Lumpur: visitors are taken care of but their space is not intruded upon.

The area in which The Edison is situated is also a major attraction, and another reason to stay in this hotel. It’s a little outside the main tourist hub of Lebuh Chulia but still within easy walking distance. Just across the street is the dazzling Chong Fat Tze Mansion, otherwise known as the Blue Mansion. The lapis-blue exterior and Chinese-Malay-English fusion interior, built according to Feng Shui principles, should not be missed. Guided tours run three times per day. Just next to the Blue Mansion is the Red Garden (not as red as the mansion is blue!), a Malaysian-style food court open in the evenings, where you can feast on practically endless Asian food options: Thai, Japanese, Chinese…

But presumably you came to Malaysia to experience this often-overlooked Southeast Asian nation, sometimes dwarfed by neighbouring tourism giant Thailand. So, try the Malaysian specialties that Penang is famous for, which are sometimes harder to come across in Western countries than other types of Asian food. A stay at The Edison and exploration of Penang’s culture and cuisine will leave you singing Malaysia’s praises.

I was a guest of The Edison George Town as a writer for Style, Body and Soul. All opinions are entirely my own, and all links are provided for informational purposes only.