The five foot way of Georgetown, Penang

The five foot way of Georgetown, Penang

Georgetown in Malaysia is one of best preserved colonial cities in Southeast Asia. The streets of Georgetown are lined with shophouses from the 19th and early 20th century in varying states of conservation.

Georgetown Covered Walkway
[Georgetown Covered Walkway]

Every shophouse has a five foot way (kaki-lima), which is a sheltered walkway in front of each shop front. As the name suggests the walkways are five foot across, providing shelter from the tropical heat (and tropical downpours).

This style of architecture can also be found in Melaka and Singapore.

Open gutter and bike ramps along a five foot way, Georgetown, Penang - Malaysia.
[Georgetown Covered Walkway Ramps]

The shops are lined up continuously so the shelter runs uninterrupted between streets. However the height of the shop floors can vary, so it is never an even walking surface.

Georgetown Covered Walkway Bike Parking
[Georgetown Covered Walkway Bike Parking]

The walkways of the five foot way are a mixture of private and public space. Business activities spill out onto the walkways, from cafes and restaurants to wholesalers and metalworkers.

Georgetown Covered Walkway Industry
[Georgetown Covered Walkway Industry]

In front of private homes motorbikes are usually parked in the way. It is not uncommon to find the shop front open to reveal the living room of the home.

Georgetown Covered Walkway Open Gutter
[Georgetown Covered Walkway Open Gutter]

Thankfully the historical city centre became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008. So while many shophouses are slowly decaying in the tropical heat, many of the shophouses are being conserved and turned into boutique hotels.

Georgetown Covered Walkway Shrines
[Georgetown Covered Walkway Shrines]

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  1. Kaki lima? Are you sure it is a measure of length? In Indonesia “kaki lima” is a common slang term for an itinerant vendor pushing a cooked food cart with a peg-stand…total, “five legs” or “five feet”.

    • Chong Hye Ong says

      It is a Penang Hokkien expression describing the paved walkway that front a covered terrace with overhanging first floor room(s) above. Kaki Lima is the Malay translation of the term.

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