Business in Penang was booming in the 19th century. As trading picked up momentum and colonization shook up the region, Penang was certainly a tumultuous-yet-exciting place to be in the late 1800s. Immigrants from South China were flooding into Southeast Asia; among them were the forefathers of the Khoo family clan from the Hokkien province.
Like many Chinese clans of that time, the Khoo family was self-governing and operated mostly autonomously. Aside from cultural contributions which have resounded throughout Malaysia, the Khoo clan constructed what is considered to be the most magnificent clan house in all of Penang. The historic structure is open to anyone wishing to enjoy the beauty and get a small glimpse of daily life during Georgetown's early days.
The original Khoo Kongsi clan association house was constructed in 1851, but burned down in 1894. Legend tells that the original clan house was too beautiful and was destroyed by the gods as punishment because it resembled the Emperor's Palace in China. The Khoo Kongsi clan house on display in Georgetown today - smaller yet equally as magnificent - was finished in 1906.
The Khoo Family Clan
Regarded as being one of the most distinctive and influential Hokkien clans in Malaysia, the Khoo clan can trace their lineage back at least 650 years!
The Khoo settlers amassed a fortune by trading in Malacca and Penang during the 17th century. Along with the Cheah, Yeoh, Lim, and Tan clans, the Khoo clan's contributions have helped make Georgetown, Penang the impressive city that it is today.
- After learning about Hokkien culture at the Khoo Kongsi clan house, try one of the famous Malaysian noodle dishes influenced by the Chinese settlers to Malaysia.
The Khoo Kongsi Clan House
Considered to be the most grandiose and ornate clan house on Penang Island, the Khoo Kongsi clan house in Georgetown is open for public viewing. More a walled defensive compound than house, Khoo Kongsi was constructed by master artisans and craftsmen from China. Beautiful carvings and ornamental architecture can be appreciated by anyone interested in this piece of Penang's history.
The Khoo Kongsi compound was completely self-contained. A massive meeting hall, opera stage, shops, educational facilities, temple, and self-run government ensured that the clan family remained safe and had everything that they needed during Penang's turbulent past. In a time when gang wars and racial tension yielded violence, the Hokkien community looked after their own security during British colonization.
Renovation of the current structure finished in 2001 at a cost of over 1.3 million dollars. Khoo Kongsi is one of only five remaining clan houses still standing in Georgetown.
Visiting Khoo Kongsi
Khoo Kongsi is open every day, including public holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Occasionally the compound closes for weddings, VIP visits, or other events. The public is welcomed inside to take photographs and enjoy the intricate murals, engravings, and other artwork.
- While appreciating colonial-era art and architecture in Georgetown, walk a few blocks north to see the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.
Getting to the Khoo Kongsi House
The Khoo Kongsi house is located in the eastern part of Georgetown, south of Fort Cornwallis and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Despite being a sprawling complex, the Khoo Kongsi clan area is visually obscured from the street. Look for the main entrance on Cannon Street through an alley signed with "Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi". Alternative entrances can be found on Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street) between Armenian Street and Lebuh Aceh and on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling (Lebuh Pitt).
The Khoo Kongsi clan house is easy to reach on foot, however trishaws and taxis can be found all around Georgetown.
- Read more about getting around Georgetown.
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
18 Cannon Square, 10200 Penang, Malaysia.
Phone: +60 4-261 4609
- Read about other sites and things to do in Penang.