Here’s a novel concept: Stay in an art hotel that actually makes art. At Sinkeh guesthouse in George Town, Penang, 20 sen of every ringgit goes toward producing local theater and dance shows, staging gallery exhibitions, and hosting workshops and lectures—sometimes in the hotel’s own lobby. Owner Chee Sek Thim is deeply knowledgeable about Malaysian arts and food, so hit him up for recommendations the minute you arrive. (The rest of the staff, while friendly, isn’t quite as plugged in on local happenings.)
Sinkeh, which means ‘newcomer’ in Hokkien, sits at the edge of George Town’s heritage zone; walking everywhere is a breeze from this central location. Architect Lillian Tay worked her magic on the century-old Straits Chinese shophouse, preserving the traditional facade, timber bones, and courtyard while rehabbing the rest with an eye toward Cereal-esque minimalism. What was once a warehouse is now a nine-room guesthouse with six doubles (RM 280 or $63 USD per night) and three singles (RM 190 or $43).
Each air-conditioned room has an en-suite bathroom with solar-heated shower. Accommodations are modern and clean, spare but inviting. Though our window faced a concrete wall, the room was flooded with natural light. The bed was on the hard side but still comfortable thanks to a plummy down comforter. Towels were big and soft, and the shower stayed hot and well-pressured. (BYO toiletries: Sinkeh provides only hand soap and shower gel.) A communal kitchenette/patio has tea- and coffee-making facilities. We can also recommend the laundry service, which sends it out to a laundromat on Chulia Street and returns it within 24 hours, nicely folded and fresh-smelling.
Some guests bitch about noise carrying from room to room and floor to floor at Sinkeh, but that didn’t faze us. Breakfast is monotonous for anyone staying more than three days: bananas, oranges, toast, and (very, very, very) soft-boiled eggs, plus the occasional local specialty like nasi lemak. And because the hotel likes to foster a sense of “community,” everyone eats at a big table in the courtyard. This is good fun if you’re eager to meet other guests and horrifying if you’d just as soon not. (Sometimes ya don’t want to make small talk with strangers at 8 in the morning, you know?) Our other big gripe was the spotty WiFi—a recurring theme when traveling in Malaysia.
Note: For RM 350+ ($78) per night, guests can rent one of Sinkeh’s two private residences—both double-story Straits houses in the Khoo CHeow Teong Court cul-de-sac. Each house has two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, dining room, living room, and access to a shared courtyard. To reserve a room in the guest house or a private residence, email firstname.lastname@example.org or book a room via Airbnb.
105 Lebuh Melayu, George Town, Penang, Malaysia; +604-261-3966.