Welcome to our Hotel Tip of The Week series. Traveling 365 days of the year means we stay in countless hotels, and at almost two years as nomads, we have stayed some of the best (and worst) accommodation the world has to offer. We cover everything from budget to luxury accommodation, and believe that any hotel worth recommending must be comfortable and clean, offer good value for money and treat people as guests, not clients. We have personally stayed in every hotel we recommend to you here on Globetrottergirls.com.
The day is scorching in Penang, and just hoofing it with our luggage a few blocks through Chinatown has been tough. We’re hot and thirsty by the time we get to Campbell House, where we are due to spend our last night during the incredible Thaipusam holiday.
It turns out that our stay at Campbell House ends up being just as much of a highlight as the festivities!
The deliciously cool air quickly soothes our burnt skin and we are warmly welcomed by the smiling owners, husband and wife team Roberto and Nardya. Within a few minutes we have checked in, discussed life in London, talked about our onward travel plans, and Nardya has solved a major transportation issue for us. We can fly to our next stop, the island of Langkawi, for the same price as the ferry – and have a whole extra afternoon in Penang, she explains. As a sufferer of seasickness, I am pretty sure I can see the halo above Nardya’s head as the duo exit to run an errand in the sweltering Malaysian afternoon heat.
Quick problem solving and customer service – all second nature to this pair who both have backgrounds in high end hospitality back in Europe. Roberto is a lover of colonial buildings, and it was he who discovered the property a few years back. Originally built in 1903, it has always served as a hotel of some type, but had sat vacant for years before Roberto and Nardya lovingly restored it to create Campbell House.
The interior design harks back to Penang’s past as a major trading post between east and west. I am immediately struck by the antique accent pieces, Persian rugs and smooth hardwood floors throughout the building. The third floor terrace is a quiet outdoor place to enjoy a drink, but we spend time relaxing in the Library on the second floor, where hundreds of paperbacks, magazines and novels fill vintage armoires and soft sofas beckon us to sink in and read for hours.
Once our room is ready, we are barely through the door when we begin to wish we could stay longer. When designing Campbell House, the original room dimensions were kept rather than putting up walls to cram more rooms into the same space. That means that the ten individually designed rooms in this boutique hotel are quite large, with lofted ceilings and exposed wooden beams making the rooms feel grand, yet comfortable, livable yet luxurious.
For all the commitment to an old-world feel, this room has mod cons we didn’t even expect. There is a large flat screen TV (and an incredible selection of DVDs downstairs to choose from) and an iPod/iPhone docking station. But the best part is our own Nespresso machine direct from Harrods in London. A piping hot, no mess coffee first thing in the morning in my white robe and slippers? Yes, please! There is also a carafe of fresh ice tea and another of filtered water in the mini-fridge and a kettle to make tea as well. The wet room is spacious, and as always, a rain shower-head always makes me weak in the knees. The colorful Peranakan tiles only add to the colonial charm. There is a complimentary pure organic cotton bag with locally made toiletries to take, but we minimalists leave that for the next guests.
On paper, staying in a city-center colonial building might sound romantic, but we usually find them incredibly noisy, as old world construction does not block out the honking and humming of mopeds. This is not a problem here. The stained glass windows have been extra soundproofed and the noise from outside is minimal. The shutters keep out the much of the light and we make sure to take that extra lie-in on the incredibly comfortable king-size bed. Breakfast is served in the Il Bacaro restaurant downstairs, and though we are not given a menu, a full breakfast of fresh fruits, three different types of homemade bread and eggs any style lands on our table along with a carrot and ginger juice for me, and a freshly squeezed orange juice for Dani.
Campbell House is the perfect base for visiting George Town, Penang’s cultural heartbeat. Located on a main road in a clean, quiet part of Chinatown, Little India is also within a 15-minute stroll and the ferry can be reached by cab in under ten minutes. In the other direction, 1st Avenue Mall is a ten-minute walk, as is the Komtar Tower, Penang’s highest building and the 6th tallest in Malaysia. Being so close to everything, you can easily stop in to refresh and relax, but be careful or you may sink right in to the bed, or end up watching a DVD and then ordering up dinner from the restaurant…
The hotel’s website advertises in-room Wi-Fi, but in reality the signal is patchy and hardly works in our room, though it works perfectly fine in the Library. Not just digital nomads or business travelers, but most people nowadays are used to having Wi-Fi access across their devices, if even just to stream a video on an iPad or make a quick Skype call home. This was the only ‘miss’ that we could find here.
Unlike the majority of upmarket hotels in South East Asia, which tend toward formulaic approach and reserved owners, Campbell House provides an unprecedented level of personalized luxury with fabulous amenities to match. It is upscale but not posh, classy but not snobbish and its owners are genuinely helpful, knowledgeable and make you feel right at home in all the hotel’s colonial splendor.
Location: 106 Lebuh Campbell, 10100 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Price: Doubles from RM380 / $125
LGBT Friendly: yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: without in-room wi-fi on the 2nd floor, unfortunately not quite (yet)
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi in the Library and public spaces, Italian restaurant Il Bacaro, DVD library, fresh iced tea and water, Campbell House branded organic toiletries and our very own Nespresso machine.