A Penang Fairy Tale: From Cathay House to the Edison

The magnificent mansion stands proudly facing on the other side of the street Penang’s famed Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, the blue house-one of the most exquisite Peranakan Chinese house, today a hotel and a museum. For many years the typical opulent Cathay Hotel was described best as “Rumah Tumpangan” – a guest house in malay language, generally synonymous of run-down facilities and dilapidated facades. For a night in one of the vast but gloomy rooms of the hotel with its narrow beds and its 1960s style bathroom, it would have cost between US$20 and US$30 (RM70 to RM110)- depending of the season and the occupancy. The 53-room Cathay House was generally fully booked as many dreamed to stay in the stately grand mansion, home of a rich Chinese tycoon.

The former Cathay HouseThe crumbling facade was renovated around 2012 but nothing was done inside. And then, last week-end, a miracle occurred. The old Cathay Hotel name disappeared and gave way to the Edison Hotel. It looks chick, sleek, contemporary.

The white facade looks brighter than ever and inside, young stylish hotel clerks in uniform have replaced ageing Cathay Hotel staff and gave their best smile and a warm welcome.

The hotel lost some 20 rooms, offering only 35 luxuriously appointed bedrooms and suites. The design of the hotel is all in subtle touches: The Peranakan Edwardian details have been kept but also the 1960s/1970s details: geometrical tiles on the floor of the bed rooms, some of the furniture, all carefully restored. Patterned tiling, bone china inspired art, mid-century styled furniture, and mood lighting creates the new atmosphere of the hotel. Backpackers are out, hipsters, young upper class people, models and contemporary travellers are in.

According to staff, all the renovation followed carefully instructions of UNESCO experts as the hotel stands in the midst of the historical district. Four categories of rooms are offered with prices being a bit different of the former Cathay Hotel: it starts officially from US$130 (RM550) for a Deluxe Room to US$205 (RM850) for a Suite. All is included in the price, from breakfast to all-day snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, from curated local excursions to local calls.

“Oh Cathay Hotel, Don’t Go Changing….” said a review on TripAdvisor from March 2013. It is definitely to late for that but the new Edison will certainly epitomize Penang ultimate luxury for boutique hotels.