The other day for our 17th anniversary, Mark and I decided to do something different, and the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion Hotel was calling our name. We’ve been there a zillion times for the tours, the food, the bar, but never to stay. So, we brought our bottle of anniversary bubbly and scooted over for a fancy night in town. So, without further ado, here is my Cheong Fatt Tze-Blue Mansion Hotel Review.
The Man – So who is the Cheong Fatt Tze dude anyway?
Cheong Fatt Tze – the man, the myth, the legend.
Just kidding, I’m mostly writing about the hotel but you need to know a wee bit about him first because he’s a massive part of Penang’s history.
He came from humble beginnings in China and worked his way up to be known as the Rockefeller of the East. In 1856, at the ripe old age of 16, he emigrated to Jakarta without a penny in his pocket. He labored as a water carrier and eventually married. His father-in-law saw something extraordinary in him and helped him grown his empire throughout the region.
The History of the Blue Mansion
In the late 19th century, Cheong Fatt Tze had already established himself as a super-baller. He owned banks in Penang, had homes across the region, traveled the world, and inaugurated the trans-Pacific shipping line between China and the US. He’s kinda a big deal. Not to mention, he established the Chang Yu winery in 1892, which currently supplies up to 25% of all Western wines in China.
Anyway, I digress, the tycoon lived a pretty fantastic life and based it in Penang. The mansion was built to house his 8 wives and children, but his favorite wife was the 7th one. She was 17 to his 70, and the mansion became his gift to her, like the Taj Mahal.
He had the money and wherewithal to build anything he wanted. Still, he wanted to preserve his heritage and culture, so decided to hire the era’s leading Feng Shui master to help him design a sophisticated and traditional Chinese home.
He couldn’t hire the top dog and bring in shoddy laborers and materials. No, only the best for Cheong Fatt Tze. He shipped in artisans from around the world from Southern China to Scotland, creating a dynamic mansion, the likes of which had never been seen outside of China.
On one of the tours, we were told that the row of houses across the street was built to house his concubines. And that if he came back too late, or too tipsy, his wives would lock him out, and he’d have to sleep in the hallway. He was a very tired man.
Why is the mansion blue?
Why be normal, right? He wanted his home to stand out, and the color white is associated with death and mourning. To cheer up his house, he went for indigo, a popular color at the time.
If you are staying at the hotel, a tour is included. If not, go anyway. Every time we have friends in town, I take them on a tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze-Blue Mansion. I’ve been a bunch of times, and I’m amazed every time, seriously.
The guides know every detail of the home and the man himself. I’ve heard that one of his descendants gives some of the tours but haven’t confirmed that to be true.
The Cheong Fatt Tze – Blue Mansion Hotel
Just like the rest of the Blue Mansion, the rooms are like a museum, but you get to touch everything. The hotel has managed to preserve its old-world feel while offering the most modern-day comforts.
All the rooms have amenities like fluffy bathrobes, espresso machines, A/C and internet. There is also a free mini-fridge. But the contents aren’t anything too special – some overly sweet chrysanthemum iced tea and a few other boxed drinks. Not quite the mini-bar I was hoping for.
However, there was a bag of delectable butter cookies that we gobbled up promptly that made up for it… kind of.
The 18 lavish guest rooms are divided into four separate categories. No matter which one you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Every detail was thought about in the rebuilding of this hotel. It makes you feel like you are walking through history.
Every room is meticulously furnished with heirlooms, antiques and art from the Cheong Fatt Tze family. So, every room has its own unique feel, story in the name, and history to go with it.
Instead of having numbers, each room has a name that means something to the family. There is Lean Hwa, which means Lotus Flower, the original name of the street where the mansion resides. And Sinkeh, which means “fresh off the boat,” referring the arduous journey he took to travel to Southeast Asia hoping for a better future.
I won’t go into the details of every room because that would be boring, but I’ll give you the essentials and highlights.
The Ming Collection Rooms
If you are a garden and pool lover, go for The Ming Collection rooms, which have direct access to the pool and garden.
The Tang Suites
There are two Tang Collection suites which are located in the back of the mansion. Both suites have large soaking jacuzzis to relax in with a good book about Malaysia and a glass of wine. Ok, bottle, who am I kidding?
One suite, named The Old Kitchen, has an old stove that has been repurposed as a console.
The other suite, named The 50’s Room, is a departure from the aesthetics of the rest of the mansion.
In 1945, Japanese forces in Malaysia (Malaya at the time) surrendered to the allies. Afterwards, the whole country underwent a regeneration with a Western slant. Malayans embraced Western culture in their music, fashion and furniture.
If you look at movies from the 1950s, you’ll see the women all wearing short skirts and dancing to rock and roll, just like the movies from the US during that time. Cheong’s family fell into the trend as well, and some of the furniture in this room is from that era.
The Liang Collection Rooms
We stayed in one of the Liang Suites called the Scholar which had furniture from Cheong Fatt Tze’s study. The room was huge with a day bed and separate ensuite bathroom. It could easily work for a family with one or two small children.
The Han Suites
If you are traveling with older kids, the Han Suites are triple rooms and perfect for a small family. There is a separate sitting room with a daybed, and the ensuite bathroom has a gorgeous clawfoot bathtub.
My Review of The Cheong Fatt Tze – Blue Mansion Hotel
It’s a small boutique hotel with plenty of staff on hand, and it felt like everything was white-glove personalized service. They really have service down.
Everywhere you go in the mansion takes you back in time. Every opulent detail has been cared for and thought of, right down to the service and friendliness of the staff.
My only complaint, which I am sure has been addressed by now, is that the room had a leak in the ceiling.
It’s an ancient building, and it’s not the first time it has leaked, evidenced by the water stains on the ceiling. But it was one of those typical blue sky days, so I didn’t think too much about it.
I should have known better.
At 1am, I was woken by such a clap of thunder that I sat straight up in the very comfy bed with a jolt. Moments later, I realized we had a leak. It wasn’t a deluge but a small leak, which I reported the next morning.
We did notice the water stain when we entered the room originally but assumed it was old.
Yes, it should have been repainted, but I’m going to give the hotel a little leeway here since, ya know, Covid happened, and no one was allowed to stay there at all. I am sure there was no staff to monitor the rooms, let alone fix and paint things.
But other than that, I couldn’t find fault with our room, our stay, or the staff.
A note on the lockdown SOPs
The Cheong Fatt Tze-Blue Mansion Hotel is adhering to the strictest safety regulations. Besides the regular temperature check, hand sanitizer, and mask stuff, they seem to be going above and beyond.
Our shoes were sprayed clean before we entered the mansion. After the previous guest checked in, they cleaned the desk, chairs and pen that was used.
Besides a regular cleaning, our room was zapped with some sort of a UV light to make sure all the germs were extra dead.
They are taking it super seriously, and it shows.
The Bar (that’s what it is called)
Ok, this may be the prettiest bar on the island. It’s a thousand shades of indigo with pops of teal and orange, and when I grow up, it’s what I want my family room to look like, bonus if it has a bar,
It is swanky, so I wouldn’t go in there with flip flops and a tank top, although I could, and they wouldn’t care. It offers me a chance to get cleaned up and put on a pair of heels which I am always happy about.
With the hotel stay, you get 2 free drinks off their happy hour menu, and I ordered a Cosmo. I’m a little picky about my Cosmo’s (shocking, right?) and don’t like it when they are full-on sweet and red from too much cranberry juice. If I wanted all that artificial juice, I’d order a vodka-cran.
Anyway, I asked for it to be light pink in color and sadly at most bars here, I’d get a glazed over look of No, I don’t know how to veer off the menu. But not here. He got me and asked if I wanted a little more lime to make it sour, and he nailed it.
There are three options for breakfast: breakfast in bed, breakfast at the small table right outside your room, or breakfast in the courtyard. We chose the courtyard because it’s pretty magnificent. And how often do you get to sit and eat in the middle of a historic mansion, with pics of the family staring down at you? And it’s where some scenes of Crazy Rich Asian’s were filmed.
Because we were there during lockdown, there was no more breakfast buffet. Instead, we were asked to fill out our breakfast order the night before and give it to the front desk. It’s not a vast menu, but easy to find something tasty. It came with fruit and dumplings even before we got our breakfast, there was far too much food for any meal. We could easily have shared.
Our room package came with an afternoon tea for two. Turns out neither Mark nor I actually like or even get the whole afternoon tea thing. Maybe because we are boorish Americans, or perhaps because tea kinda sucks (sorry Amy), but either way, we could have skipped it. Not because the snacks weren’t tasty, indeed they were, but who needs all that when I could have been sipping wine in that gorgeous bar.
On the second floor (or first floor for all my Malaysian readers) of the mansion is Indigo, a fine dining restaurant. We actually didn’t eat dinner there this time, but we’ve been before (thank you, Basil and Valerie 😉 ).
Chef Jack Yeap, a Penangite, left for culinary school where he mastered the art of French cuisine. After he graduated, he worked in various places in the region and decided to return to Penang and open his own restaurant.
We ate there a few months back so I can’t be more specific about the food. Some of the menu items have changed because the Chef focuses on what’s in season. I can, and do, recommend the cold laksa, the scallops and the beef tenderloin.
The service was impeccable, and the food was elegantly plated and luscious.
The menu at Indigo reflects his love of Asian food as well as French, Italian and Spanish. It is open for lunch and dinner, as well as delivery/takeaway.
If you are looking for a lovely night out, head to Indigo. They currently have a three-course prix-fixe menu for lunch (RM75).
The Bottom Line
Not everything in Penang is hawker stalls and crumbling walls. You can do Penang on the cheaps or with a swagger. And if you are like me (half cheapskate and half lady-baller), you get to do both.
But seriously, go stay at the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion. Or at the very least take a tour. It is one of the most iconic places in Malaysia and will give you insight into life back in the day for a self-made tycoon. Because let’s be honest, being the ninth wife of a tycoon doesn’t sound all that appealing to me.
Check prices and book your stay at the Cheong Fatt Tze – Blue Mansion here.
All my Penang friends, if you are looking for a staycation, there is a Malaysia Residents Experience promo happening now through August 31st. Check it out.
(some Pics courtesy of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion)
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