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Exploring the historic Tan Kongsi in Beach Street, Penang

Taking a stroll down the historic Beach Street in Penang, Zac Teo makes a stop by one of the oldest clan house in Penang - Tan Kongsi to admire its amazing architecture and historical value

Penang Heritage, Penang Culture, Penang Temple, Tan Kongsi, UNESCO
Exterior of Tan Kongsi. Photograph: Zac Teo/

Rather convincingly I took a stroll down Beach Street, in search of the Tan Kongsi in Penang. It is known in full as the Eng Chuan Tong Tan Kongsi, one of the oldest clan houses in Penang. Construction for the temple rounded up at about 1878, and it just feels surreal stepping into a place that's well over a century old! This ancestral temple of the Tan clan association sits in the historic Seh Tan Court, well in the jurisdiction of the Georgetown UNESCO heritage area.

Stone carvings of statues ornate the exterior. Photograph: Zac Teo/

As you may have surmised, the Tan Kongsi was constructed back in the day as a clan association and ancestral temple for the Tan community in Penang. As early as the 18th century, the Chinese have immigrated to Malaya in search of better job and life opportunities - resulting in each clan/surname commemorating in the form of ancestral temples. Notable examples around the Penang, and still standing today are Khoo Kongsi, Cheah Kongsi, Yap Kongsi and several more. 

Carvings have been maintained through the years. Photograph: Zac Teo/

Learning more about the history of the place, it comes a slight surprise that the Tan Kongsi temple has been around Penang even before 1878! The original Eng Chuan Tong Tan Kongsi is located in the folds of Chulia Street before the construction of the current place in 1878. Thus, this would date the arrival of the Tan clan in Penang to the regions of 1820's.

The architectural wonder that is Tan Kongsi. Photograph: Zac Teo/

Today, the Tan Kongsi continues to serve its members and serving the community. Besides being a temple for its members, the surrounding townhouses have been made into schools and support centers for the needy. Architecture wise, upon stepping into the Tan Kongsi, I witnessed the majestic and history in the pillars, arches and praying hall. Similarly for the surrounding, the exterior is well maintained with its giant doors ornate with images of yesteryear China.

It is definitely worth a visit during your trip to Penang, and getting in touch with ancestral and historical side of things. Tan Kongsi is a good place to start as well if you're looking to take a tour around the UNESCO heritage area of Penang, as there are many landmarks in the surrounding area. The Tan Kongsi is located at 28 Beach Street,10300 Penang and contactable at +604 262 2630

Zac Teo

Zac Teo

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