The moment JUICE turned into Love Lane, we were immediately hemmed in by hostels after hostels after guesthouses after guesthouses on both sides of the snug road (more of an alley in width actually) – turns out Penang’s tourist boom has led some areas of George Town to resemble yet another Southeast Asia touristy bunghole. Hell, even Reggae Mansion was there. But ignoring the badly named cheap hostels, some of the more unassuming pre-war colonial shop lots along this lane hold far more interesting B&Bs. One such place is You Le Yuen, one of the few guesthouses fitting of the area’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Restored over a period of two years and then some, and with a good duration of that spent on getting approval (you can’t just decide to take over a heritage building in Penang), one only needs to step into You Le Yuen’s indoor courtyard to see that the owners have taken great care into putting as much authenticity into the formerly derelict shop house. Just the façade alone took a year of one contractor’s hard work in order to scrape it to its former glory. Like a lot of refurbished colonial lots around these parts, the venue still utilises an old world architectural design – the aerial well – in its communal area, effectively making the use of air conditioner moot. Also an advocate of modern, self-contained habitats, You Le Yuen is equipped with a rainwater purifier, hidden in a wooden rectangular box just below the central air well.
Enough about the eco-friendly and utilitarian approach of the guesthouse though, our first and foremost impression of You Le Yuen is as a microcosm of modern George Town. Peranakan furniture and staircase rebuilt using reclaimed timbre and teak from antiques, anachronistic knickknacks ranging from vintage Tiger Beer plaques to the obligatory typewriter, and exposed bricks reminding us that yes, this was at one point an abandoned heritage site – the building is just like Penang; the traditional brought back to its former glory by way of modern design.
The four suites You Le Yuen provides – North Studio, Courtyard Duplex, Skywell Suite, and South Duplex – have the same approach as the courtyard. The rooms are locked using skeleton keys for one! We were given the room plopped in between the two air wells, Skywell, which came with a terrace facing the courtyard. This sunlight-streamed view, while limited, gave a better old world experience than that of the rooms with windows opening out to Love Lane, whose influx of tourists doesn’t gel well with the colonial illusion of You Le Yuen. While the rest of the room is elementary, the large bathroom is really something. With a sliding door partitioning it with the room, the old school ceramic bathtub overlooking the bed would make for the ideal romantic getaway. Unfortunately our stay comprised of two straight male colleagues.
Just a walking distance away from increasingly gentrified hotspots (Jalan Muntri, Lebuh Chulia, Little India, Jalan Penang), you can escape Love Lane’s hostel hegemony for a taste of real George Town with ease. Commuting to the central hub of the yearly George Town Festival won’t involve public transportation either, which is exorbitantly priced. If being inundated by hipster coffee bars and restaurants don’t strike your fancy though, You Le Yuen provides an in-house dining alternative – provided you book two days in advance as it is only by appointment.
There is a lot to like about George Town, Penang, even amidst the touristy spots along Love Lane.
7, LOVE LANE
10200 GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
T: 013 492 2125
A night’s stay at You Le Yuen Guesthouse starts from RM370+ for a South Duplex Suite, to RM460+ for its Skywell Suite on Agoda.com. Rates are updated in real time according to season and availability, so be sure to plan your stay in advance.