Monday, July 3, 2017

The Penang gem that is the Khoo Kongsi

It may look very Chinese but this cultural site is not in China!

Instead, the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi is located 
in the heart of George Town, Penang, Malaysia! :)

And for the record: There was no Photoshopping of
any of the above pictures... :b

Until just a few years ago, my mother -- who was born in Penang and has lived there all of her life -- had never ventured into the grounds of the Khoo Kongsi.  "Why should I?", she asked me.  "After all, I'm not a Khoo!" 

Although I too don't have Khoo as my surname and thus don't have any personal ties to the Khoo clan, the Khoo Kongsi is one Penang cultural attraction I honestly think is absolutely worth visiting -- and paying the RM10 (~US$2.32) admission fee to get in.  The most elaborately decorated by far -- and probably largest too -- of Penang's clanhouses is one of those places you have to see with your own eyes to believe actually exists as it's so highly ornamented that when I visited the famous shrines at Nikko (which, more than by the way, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List -- like the historic part of George Town), I found myself disappointed as well as surprised at how much less extravagantly decorated they were than this less internationally known cultural site which exists in my home state!

Thus it was that when my German friend was in Penang, I made sure to include a visit to the Khoo Kongsi when showing her around town.  And while you might think she'd had a fill of viewing super elaborate architecture after also having visited the likes of Borobudur and Prambanan in the preceding days, she genuinely was fascinated by what she saw at this grand clanhouse that came into being when the Khoos' collective wealth and social eminence in Penang were at their height.

Work on this clanhouse took place between 1902 and 1906 to replace a reportedly larger and more magnificent structure which was burnt down on the eve of Chinese New Year in 1901 after being allegedly struck by lightning and the wrath of the gods, who considered it all too much due to it having physically resembled an imperial palace.  It may be more modest than its predecessor but both my German friend and I are in agreement that the Khoo Kongsi's main building remains very impressive, with plenty of ornamental flourishes that one feels a need to spend quite a bit of time gazing at in wonder.

As it so happened, the afternoon that we visited the Khoo Kongsi was one whose bright sunshine along with bright blue skies really added to the visual beauty of the place.  Something else that always adds to the wondrousness of it all is that the clanhouse cannot be seen from the street because the square where it's located is surrounded from all sides by rowhouses also owned by the Khoo clan.  

It really is quite the experience to behold the Khoo Kongsi's main building after walking through an alley and then turning around a corner into this enclosed space; this not least because it can feel like one's been transported from contemporary Penang to ancient China in the blink of an eye!  I can recall my gasping aloud the first time I caught sight of this heritage structure.  And even after having visited the site quite a few more times since then (including the occasion when my mother finally deigned to check out the place), I honestly feel that its visual splendor never fails to fill me with awe.  


Bill said...


You and your travel party certainly visited quite a few interesting sights on this trip. I remember coming upon the Khoo Kongsi, leaving the street behind, and entering into this ornamented "gem" of a clanhouse - just as you describe it here. I felt the strong presence of ancestral history and spirits too - which is why I've never forgotten it. I would love to see this lit up at night for a festival or performance.


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

I'm happy to learn that you had similar reactions to the Khoo Kongsi! And yes, my German friend and I really did get in a number of interesting sights over the course of our Indonesia-Malaysia visit -- which is how and why it's come to be that I'm still blogging about the trip more than one month after completing it... ;b