The usual task of planning your holiday begins with a bit of research. As with any city or town, there are always those hidden pockets which feel like gems every time you discover them.
That’s what I go in search of because it’s first on my list – The kind of areas which teem with little bars, tuck shops and that boutique look and feel which you don’t really get in the touristy parts of town.
Muntri Street (or Lebuh Muntri) is just that to Georgetown, Penang.
Since Georgetown received its UNESCO heritage status, there appear to be little clues which hint at the history of every street corner in the heritage quarter. Some were patroned by wealthy Chinese associations, while Love Lane for example was known for more… indiscreet activities. While there are many stories to take from, the one that intrigued me the most was that of the dearly loved amahs.
Muntri Street was known as the meeting area for the infamous black-and-white amahs. These amahs were unlike any other home staff. They performed daily duties with incredible efficiency and were famous for their ability to manage different tasks with great expertise – this earned them the moniker: ‘One leg kicks all’. They were the best, respected by the community and highly sought after by wealthy families in Penang at the time.
I decided to dig deeper on the story of the amahs on Muntri. But as I walked from shophouse to shophouse, their tenants seemed to know little of the amahs’ history on this street. It seemed their story was relatively forgotten to the new tenants, and perhaps it would remain only in the memory of the families who loved them. Nonetheless, I kept knocking on doors to chat with anyone who was willing to spare a moment – and then I discovered the magic of Muntri.
In plain view, the street didn’t look like it had much going on. Muntri requires you to make a little more effort, as I realised, it’s about digging deeper. Behind the grilled facades and modest demeanour of its residents, there’s something tingling in the scene – a different kind of community – quietly working together to revive the charm of Muntri as a breath of fresh air amidst the bustle of its neighbouring streets.
Here’s what I recommend for a day on Muntri:
From 5-star boutique hotels like Muntri Grove to unassuming finds like Moon Tree 47, for the more cost conscious travelers, there are a variety of places to choose from. It has the kind of vibe that’s open to families and luxury seekers alike.
If you’re feeling peckish before lunch, mosey on to PLATES for a spot of brunch and you’ll find a hearty full English fix, or a simple eggs benedict for something lighter while you read the papers.
After lunch, step out for a little fresh air, then take a moment to look around you – and the street transforms into your very own public art gallery. These surprising murals on Penang’s oldest shophouses delight the imagination with wonderful pieces like Ernest Zacharevic’s ‘Kung Fu Girl’ / Gabriel Pitcher’s ‘Big Mouth’.
Pop out in the evening for a leisurely stroll and head over to MISH MASH, a bistro with the most sumptuous cocktails and the most generous hosts. With a mix of tapas and that kind of sprezzatura vibe you wish you had, savour the night with a piping hot plate of salted egg squid and quench your thirst with a delightfully crisp Negroni. Then just sit back and take it all in.
As I leave Muntri (thinking of when I’ll be back next), it suddenly occurs to me that there’s an element of multitasking to this street which makes it so unique. There’s so much to choose from and so much of activity, but it all seems to carry on without a fuss, known only to those who happen to chance upon it.
Perhaps the amahs really did leave their mark after all – it’s in the shape of the street which truly is, “One leg kicks all”.
Muntri is my secret part of Penang – and I invite you to go discover it (before everyone else does). ◆