Old Penang: Chulia Street


A couple of fascinating images of Chulia Street, showing early modes of public transport.

A trolleybus turning out of Chulia Street onto Penang Road passing by Leith St Police Station, circa 1926 - Postcard photograph provided by Ric Francis, from his book Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways

A tram cruising along Chulia St circa 1918 – Thanks to Ric Francis for this postcard image from his collection; also appeared in his book Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways

This section of Chulia Street is likely to be between Chulia Lane and Love Lane. Notice the wide pavement for pedestrians. Unfortunately, the pavement is no longer there and instead, the space is used for car park bays. It’s a fascinating image. (Click twice to enlarge it to full-screen view.) Notice that a few people are wearing light-coloured shirts or vests and even white pants.

This photos has been circulating in cyberspace. I am not sure what year or even decade this is. Perhaps a pre-war image? This must be the section of Chulia Street between Love Lane and Chulia Lane.

Says mabis60 via twitter:

The road hasn’t changed very much except cars have replaced the rickshaws and the trolley bus elec lines have disappeared. I think the pic was taken somewhere near Cheapside A short lane where you can buy knife, axe, parang, changkul. I rode in one of those rickshaws during my young days in the early 1950s.

Yes, those were the days when the eco-friendly trams cruised up and down the streets.

Did you know a map of George Town in the late 18th century shows paddy fields located on part of present day Chulia Street? Most likely to provide the staple food for the early community of George Town, some of whom arrived from the Kuala Kedah area.

The majority of the early settlers at Chulia Street were South Indian Muslim traders while Chinese shopkeepers arrived in the late 19th century.

tunglang reminisces about old Chulia Street:

As I stare at this photo of Old World Charm Penang, I cannot help but go back to that photographic moment and savour the sights, the sounds and the smells of inner city George Town.

Standing at the junction of Love Lane looking down the street of old Chulia in the comfortable heat of the one o’clock in the afternoon, I am alerted by the sudden ringing of bicycles leisurely traversing from the side lane famed for Cantonese Carpenter’s Guild (Lo Pan Hang) towards the opposite side of main Chulia Street. It is lunch time and these carpenters on bicycles are so hungry for their favourite lunch at the Campbell Street Market as can be seen by their shaky, snaky pedalling.

The main traffic in this thoroughfare consists of rickshaws with running legs and two huge wheels. The quick-footed running and slow approach from the opposite direction as if rooted to the road really amuse me. But once it is 20 feet near, the speed of the rickshaw is amazing. I can hear the puffing of the rickshaw puller, face red with perspiration, like the horse power of the future car. Plus the rolling sound of hard wheel-rubber on hard road makes him look like the Six Million Dollar Man of the 1970s TV series. Not a minute passes by without the sight of this wonderful invention of the Chinese before the advent of the horse-power engines.

Already red faced from the heat of the afternoon, I walk to the five-foot way (Goh Kha Kee) to take in the cool breeze rushing along the corridor. I am now delighted to hear the cracking sounds of a British-made radio playing Cuban Cha Cha music from a Chinese medical hall. In rhythm with the music, I watch the rhythmic walking pace of pedestrians with black umbrellas going about their business. Even the sleepy dog beside me is wagging its tail to the tempo.

As I walk along the corridor, I am surprised by a familiar hawker’s call and the heavenly smell of the wan than mee. This hawker on a bicycle is precariously balancing his ride with one hand holding his bowl of hot mee and another flipping the twin bamboo sticks. Before he stops just in front of me, I can now see a rattan basket being lowered from a third-storey window above. I hear the half-yelling of a Canto Ah Mah Cheh.

Nodding and saying “Lei Loh” the hawker gingerly places his heavenly cuisine into the basket while taking the bronze coins in payment for the affordable Wan Than Mee.

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Timothy Tye

For 21st century Penang, an underground rapid transit system is a better alternative than at-grade solution.

Timothy Tye

The history of the use of trams in Penang goes back to the 1880s when a private operator, Mr Gardner, started the service. The Penang Steam Tramway Company ran at a loss until 1893, when it went into receivership and was passed to the New Oriental Banking Corporation. It continued to function without generating much profit until its role was further diminished by the introduction of cars.

Gerakan K

Sakit mata apabila melihat kenderaan buruk seperti itu. Saya cadangkan Anil dan tunglang pergi showroom dan lihat kenderaan yang cantik dan canggih.


Only ‘toy boys’ like to play with expensive showroom tin-can cars of no historical value/legacy nor lasting impact on local history.

Pergilah gunakan Eye Mo kalau sakit teruk mata anda dari pandangan myopia disebab menanam kepala ostrich terlalu lama.
Myopia |mīˈōpēə|
– lack of imagination, foresight, or intelligent insight


some people still glorify Hong Kong and ignore homegrown (eg Penang’s Ah Niu) talent depicting Malaysian scenarios better.

阿牛 a true hero introducing Penang multicultural scenes to modern Hong Kong rather than we still in 70’s dreamy mood saluting Sam Hui from Hong Kong (pua kin peik niau).


According to my Chinese friend, that Sam Hui guy repeatedly hold ‘farewell concerts’ in the last 2 decades to milk the cash from his ignorant fans.

Anyway he sang about Hong Kong woes that did not have any bearing on our Malaysian society. Today most of my Chinese friends & their young children are listening Hokkien songs and watching Taiwanese dramas (Love, Life at Night Market) on Astro Hua Hee Dai. The days of canto pop is over as most Hong Kong artists are now turning to Mandarin pop to gain the large mainland market share.


Have some respect for old timers still living in the inner city of George Town and those relocated to the suburbs. They still have their idols at heart.
Sam Hui is already a legacy worth learning from, can’t beat that or erase him from the HongKees or old timer Malaysians. At least he knows how to recoup back his rewards from years of hardwork. Unlike the reckless, showy Jay Chou who gambled and lost SD millions in SingLand casino! How’s that for young and careless lifestyle?


If one cares to walk or cycle in the inner city of George Town in the early hours and late evening, one can discover priceless moments of expressions of authentic living heritage lived up to by local Penangites of multi-racial diversity. See the Chinese fishermen going out to sea from Lim Jetty in ‘tongkangs’ chugging as if yawning from a sleepless rainstorm the night before. Hear the Indian Chapati cook in Little India singing his favorite ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ with rhythmic head-shaking while his wife grumbles in the kitchen. Witness Penang’s own Trafalgar Square where every morning one can see… Read more »


Anil Your blog provides a platform for many that could not come to terms with the ‘development’ in Pulau Mutiara. Lots of reminiscence from your readers have made your blog a ‘memory museum’. It is becoming an altar for many to seek solace when affordability is becoming a key concern to many Penangites. Gaining the Unesco heritage status has somehow become a ‘curse’ to Penang, judging from the high number of people lamenting the sky high property price. Sustainable development is not a priority to developers especially those that have become listed companies whose sole mission is to gain as… Read more »


Anil then your blog shall become written archives for next generation who seek to know more about the past.
if you run out of space to preserve the marvelous content (including readers’ from the heart comments/laments), then seek “Cloud Technology” in the digital world such that penang legacy (good n bad) will not be “btn” twisted who knows in near future !


As I stare at this photo of Old World Charm Penang, I ‘cannot help’ but regress to that photographic moment, the sight, the sound and the smell of inner city George Town. Standing at the junction of Love Lane looking down the street of old Chulia in the comfortable heat of the 1pm afternoon, I am alerted by the sudden ringing of bicycles leisurely traversing from the side lane famed for Cantonese Carpenter’s Guild (Lo Pan Hang) towards the opposite side of main Street Chulia. It is lunch time at these carpenters on bicycles are so hungry for their favorite… Read more »


to balance the Past allow me to add some points of Present Chulia Street if you are at 7-11 junction off Love Lane : a) Penang Gomen or MPPP appears not to tolerate creative wall graffiti. Some recent wall paintings which add vibrancy & fun to the area have been sadly removed by fresh coat of paint. MPPP can learn from Melbourne street art scenes where’s there is now a famous alley of graffiti that have become tourist attraction ! b) More businesses (Chulia-Love Lane-Rope Walk triangle) catering to backpackers have mushroomed since 308. Surprise tunglang not able rejoice at… Read more »


I already foreseen the backpackers will come thro’ the Lonely Planet. What’s more Laksa being hailed as the top 10 street cuisine at affordable price (less than 1 AUS dollar).
Many western young ones without jobs but on social security can still afford to backpack to Asia while learning / experiencing others’ culture, especially in affordable but living and heritage rich Pulo Panang.
Graffiti? That is also a part of urban culture but Penang Gomen want to follow the Little Red Dot in overt slippery cleanliness (not even graffiti) plastic surgery ‘facial’ mop up. That is no heritage authenticity.


tunglang i went to Spore’s Chinatown late last year. I think they have a museum catering for heritage stuffs right in the middle of pedestrian walks btwn well refurbished old houses there (somwhere near Pagoda St or Smith St – can’t actually remember). There is an entrance fee so i did not go in. You may want to check it out to improvise your penang street food museum concept. Spore though “slippery clean” yet they can reproduce the ancient scenarios impressing foreign tourists; something Penang gomen can emulate with lawatan sambil belajar. I read from The Sun that LGE &… Read more »


Malaysia own “slipperyclean” (comparatively speaking with ref to penang street hawkers) OLD TOWN kopitiam, now set sights on China after “invading 24 hrs” heritage Penang !


Personally speaking, I think Penang Street Hawkers still can maintain the legacy yet compete with grace against local rivals like Old Town or SamHuiHongKey’s Kim Garish chain of restaurants. Just be humble to accept the global waves and reinvent n rejuvenate while maintaining resilient spirits Otherwise expect to be drowned by next tsunami-like invaders; local or abroad !


Unfortunately back-packers are not spending in Penang to stimulate economy.

We need high rollers to come and shop in our shopping malls!

With sPICE, more international convention could be held and those overseas participants will spend more as they are company-sponsored.

Syiok Syiok

The same breath of the Chulia street as before; only that we see pedestrians, motorbikes, occasional bicycles, cars, lorries and RapidPenang buses these days.
Someone can capture (CapturePenang ?) a snapshot of 2 facing RapidPenang buses, lorries, motobikes, cars SIMULTANEOUSLY on this road today to show how contrastingly congested Penang streets have become (originally designated for rickshaws traffic a century ago, yet no road improvisation or traffic flow layout since Merdeka 54 years) !_Sure a prize-winning shot ! A true daylight nightmare of modern day traffic congestion.

Ric Francis

I can send photos but they must be credit to from my book on Transport
plus the collection of owner


Since the street food museum is not happening, what about a multi-media heritage museum to showcase the pictures and videos of old Georgetown?

Syiok Syiok

Street Food Museum, Road Traffic Museum, Heritage building museums….. the list go on. A dream to some but ignore by majority who seem take things for granted.
May not be specifically set up if they are still a living legacy IF & ONLY IF ramphant concrete development does not wipe them out overnight.

semuanya OK kot

We should snap and collect fotos of ordinary scenes and sights around them – in homes, plantations, fsactories, shops, offices, streets, villages, etc. We will be able to appreciate them better from the perspective of later decades. On a more sober note, we need to record our current waste, destruction, greed, cruelty and foolishness – individual, communal and administrative – for the benefit of coming generations.


Hi Anil,

Definitely pre-WWII since trishaws replaced rickshaws after WWII.

Have you featured any old films of Penang yet? Fascinating to watch: