Street Stories: Campbell Street

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Story of the Street

Campbell Street or Lebuh Campbell is a one-way street within George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was named after Sir George William Robert Campbell, who served as the Penang Inspector General and also, the Acting Lieutenant-Governor of Penang between 1872 and 1873. The street is called Sin-kay (新街) in Hokkien and San-kai in Cantonese, which both also mean ‘the new street’ created between Pitt Street and Penang Road.

It was a red-light district in the mid 19th Century. Then, the both terms ‘Sin-kay’ and ‘San-kai’ came to a whole new meaning, which refers to the new arrival of the ‘new chickens (prostitutes)’. Meanwhile, Fa-kai is another Cantonese term used to refer to the street. It meant ‘flower street’, which is also a substitute for the prostitutes along the street. Furthermore, the Malays called the street Jalan Nona Baru and Jalan Makau. Jalan Nona Baru meant ‘the street of new maidens’ and Jalan Makau meant the coastal city of Macau in China, where most of the Cantonese prostitutes came from.

Campbell Street was part of George Town’s New Chinatown. The Cantonese immigrants populated the area around the street and mostly worked as tailors, coolies, goldsmiths and ironmongers. In the 1950s and 1960s, it became the most famous place to shop for shoes, bags, jewellery, watches, and textiles. Then, the businesses began to decline in the mid 1970s. Today, wholesalers, modern cafes as well as other businesses have taken over most of the retail outlets. Besides, several shops selling jewellery, bags, textiles, watches and traditional Chinese medicine are still operating along the street.

Significant Buildings

Campbell Street Market
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Campbell Street Market is a Victorian-style market built in the 1900s. The market was formerly known as Carnarvon Street Market. It is a small wet market located at the junctions between Campbell Street and Carnarvon Street. It offers a wide range of fresh vegetables, fish and meats to supply to its surrounding community. According to some locals, the land on which the market now stands was the site of a Malay cemetery. Furthermore, the cemetery at the land was provided to the Indian Muslim community for the construction of the Masjid Kapitan Keling in 1800. However, the George Town Municipal Council bought the land in the 1890s and subsequently built the Campbell Street Market.

Boon Wah Co. Textile
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Boon Wah Chow Chong Sdn. Bhd. is a textile company and has existed since 1982. This company is working in fashion, fabric, textile and building materials business activities. It is located at the corner area along Campbell Street and Rope Walk Street. In fact, this turquoise-coloured building has been an Instagram-worthy spot to check in for the locals and tourists.

Where to Stay

Campbell House Penang
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Campbell House is an Award-Winning Luxury Boutique Hotel in George Town. The owners are a husband and wife team, one of them is from Italy and another one is a mix of Malay and English. The boutique hotel occupies a unique three-storey Straits Chinese corner plot. The building was built in 1903 and underwent a major renovation when the owners bought it in 2008. It offers a total of 11 themed rooms incorporating Colonial charm and Asian heritage with an authentic but modern Italian restaurant.

Kim Haus Loft
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Kim Haus was a goldsmith jewellery shop turned into a cafe and residence lofts. This four-storey building offers a total of 40 guest rooms with something more basic and homey. In fact, it is not just a boutique hotel. There is a goldsmith museum, an event and performance space, and a cafe. Besides, it uses black as the theme colour with an industrial influence in the decor and stays true to its history as a jewellery and goldsmith shop. There is an array of vintage jewellery and goldsmith tools displaying at the cafe area.

ATTIC Hotel
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An attic is similar to a loft. It is a space or room inside or partly inside the roof of a building. Attic Hotel features a total of 17 rooms, including double rooms, triple rooms, and family rooms. Besides, the hotel also provides guests with a sun terrace.

What to See

Street Art: “Retail Paradise” Sculpture
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The “Marking of George Town” is an art challenge organised by the Penang State Government to mark George Town’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The company, Sculpture At Work won the design idea by relating the history and/ or characteristic of selected streets in George Town with metal rod caricatures of local cartoonists. 

The “Retail Paradise” Sculpture was installed in 2013. This sculpture at Campbell Street by cartoonist Reggie Lee portrays a guard arresting a burglar, who claims he has simply misplaced his keys. The sculpture celebrates a period in the history of Campbell Street when it was the main shopping area in George Town. “Campbell Street is Penang’s Fifth Avenue, a retail paradise where shoppers can stroll along the row of shophouses and feast their eyes on an array of goods.”

What to Eat

Hameediyah Restaurant
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Hameediyah Restaurant has claimed the title in the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) of being the nation’s oldest Nasi Kandar restaurant. It was established in 1907 and is still going strong until today. Meanwhile, it is also crowned as one of the best Nasi Kandars in Penang. The restaurant offers around 35 types of curry. For instance, their Chicken Kapitan, Ayam Bawang and Beef Rendang are among the famous choices. Besides Nasi Kandar, they also offer Murtabak and a wide range of vegetarian options. 

Toh Soon Cafe 多春茶室
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Toh Soon Cafe is a small coffee shop located at an alley along Campbell Street. It is one of the famous breakfast spots among the locals and tourists. People are willing to queue up for their signature Kaya Toast Bread with two half-boiled eggs and its Hainan-style coffee. They use a super old charcoal stove to prepare the toasts. Now, Toh Soon is opening a new branch at Bishop Street.

Island Problem
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Island Problem is Japanese-Thai fusion eatery tucked in a shophouse along Campbell Street. It is a rather tiny dining space that could only accommodate up to 10 people. This open-kitchen concept restaurant allows diners to catch the live action of the chef preparing the meals. Their specialities include Don (rice bowl dishes), Sando (Japanese sandwiches), and Men (noodle dishes). Meanwhile, the upper floor of this black interior restaurant is a fashion boutique that sells their own branded fashion apparels.     

Kim Haus
Kim Haus Cafe at Campbell Street  Street Stories: Campbell Street Kim Haus Cafe

Kim Haus is a cafe bar that serves Western cuisine. It is a casual eating and drinking spot in George Town. It is a pork free restaurant that offers a variety of dishes and desserts. In addition, there is a small bakery at the corner of the cafe that serves fresh Danish Pastries, Scottish Scones and more. Taking up the space of the entire building, Kim Haus also provides comfy stays with industrial influence of concept.

Yee Heong Restaurant 宜香茶楼饭店
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Yee Heong Restaurant is a great place for dim sum in the morning and Zhu Char dishes for lunch and dinner. This restaurant is currently managed by the 5th generation of the family. Their signature dishes include Claypot Seafood, Braised Pork Hand and Stewed Mutton in Claypot.

Tho Yuen Restaurant 桃园茶楼
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Tho Yuen Restaurant is located between the intersection of Campbell Street and Cintra Street. The restaurant serves dim sum in the morning and then a variety of noodles and chicken rice in the afternoon. Besides, they also offer one of the best egg tarts that come with a crisp and thin crust. 

L Kitchen 李月香 粥面饭
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L Kitchen serves authentic Chinese food ranging from noodle to rice and even porridge at very affordable prices. Some of their dishes are worth trying out, such as Indian Style Curry Fish Fillet, Dried Scallop & Minced Pork Porridge with Chinese Coriander Meatball, as well as Spicy & Sour Fish Head Noodles.

IL Bacaro in Campbell House
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IL Bacaro is an authentic Italian restaurant housed in Campbell House. Their menu features a wide selection of Italian cuisine such as pizzas, pasta, grilled dishes and desserts. Besides, there is also a selection of fine wines at this cozy restaurant too. 

Hong Kee Wan Thun Mee 鸿记广式竹昇云吞面
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Some people call it “Hong Kee Bamboo Noodle” as it is a restaurant that specializes in serving handmade traditional bamboo-pressed noodles. Particularly, the chef rides on a bamboo log to press the eggs, flour and other ingredients together to yield the noodles. Their Hong Kong style Wan Thun Mee that topped with shredded char siew and Wan Thun beneath the noodles is definitely their signature. Furthermore, there is an in-house pastry stall that offers freshly baked Hong Kong style pastries. Make sure to try out their Egg Tarts, Buttered Polo Bun, and Honey BBQ Pork Pastry.

Coffee Addict Cafe
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Coffee Addict was previously at Hutton Lane and now it has relocated to Campbell Street. They also expanded their menu which covers breakfast, sandwiches, pasta, snacks, coffee, and desserts. Some of their popular dishes include, Guacamole Bacon on Toast, Open Omelette Pepperoni, and Thai Basil Minced Pork Pasta. In addition, the cafe also offers comfortable seatings for diners to enjoy good food and good coffee.

Trois Canon Cafe 三炮台茶餐厅
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Trois Canon Cafe provides the feeling of classical coffee shops (茶餐厅) in Hong Kong. Without any fancy presentation of the food, this cafe serves authentic and delicious Hong Kong food at affordable prices. Their menu features breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea and also dinner. Although it is very challenging to find parking, the food here is able to satisfy your tummy. 

Hanjan Eatery Soju Bar
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It is most probably the first and only Korean Soju Bar in George Town. Hanjan is a place that serves both Korean food and alcohol. Their food menu features a selection of Korean cuisines such as Kimchi Fried Rice, Korean Rice Cakes, Stir Fried Korean Glass Noodles, as well as Meat Platter. On the other hand, the drinks menu offers a list of Korean-influenced Cocktails and Mocktails, Beers, Wines and Liquors. Some of the food is best paired with Soju and Beer. Additionally, the ambience and atmosphere of Hanjan is too great for gatherings too.

Mun Thung x Soon Huat 满堂 x 顺发
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Mun Thung is the name of the eatery while Soon Huat is a long-established brand in Penang that sells alcohols and liquors. Hence, it is a place with a crossover concept for breakfast and brunch cafe with wine and cigar shop. The interior is simple and their menu is wallet-friendly. Some of the signature dishes are Roasted Pork Dry Noodle, Rendang Chicken Rice and more. Besides, they also offer snacks, toasts and buns, as well as desserts. 

Haru Stationary Cafe
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Haru is a minimalist Muji-inspired cafe. Apart from cafe, it is also a stationary shop especially for those who like journaling. Besides the interior design, the menu is also Japanese inspired. For instance, they are serving Poke Bowls, a series of Liege waffle, cakes and a wide variety of beverages.

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