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The quaint fishing village of Bukit Tambun.

Feature

A Tranquil Town for Snaps and Seafood

The historical Bukit Tambun gets a new coat of paint in the form of lively wall murals, all thanks to its eager residents.

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There is no doubt about it: Bukit Tambun in Seberang Perai Selatan instils nostalgia in visitors, especially those from the city. Serene and secluded, it exudes heritage and history.

But there’s more to it than that. Shutterbugs are advised to have their cameras at the ready. Not only are there lovely murals to be captured, Bukit Tambun is also a fishing village and offers inspiring scenes as well as sumptuous seafood.

The fishing village sits slightly below road level, and a narrow pathway descends into the area. An elongated gazebo signals the presence of a century-old well that used to be the main water supply for residents. It is said that even during floods the well provided clean water. These days people make wishes and toss coins into the well for luck.

Across the street is a wishing tree, its branches tied with red ribbons of good wishes. The deity, Datuk Kong, guards it as punters come to request for lucky numbers on which to place their bets.

The Jade Emperor’s temple can be spotted a distance away. Behind it is a viewing platform, three minutes by foot. From that spot, one can view the Junjung River and the Jawi River converging before reaching the sea. The platform was built by a Taiwanese nature enthusiast, Chai Wen Foo, who crowdfunded RM10,000 in addition to his personal funds.

Inside a palm oil estate beyond the seafood restaurants is an Indian temple. This marks the edge of Bukit Tambun. Also not to be missed is a Siamese temple at Kampung Ah Chooi, which can be reached by making a left turn just at the start of the Bukit Tambun trail. Next to this temple is a herbal steam bath facility that is hugely popular on weekends and public holidays.

A major attraction is of course Bukit Tambun’s famous restaurants. How Kee Seafood Village and Fish Village are at one end and Prawn Village, Ee Sheng and Jetty Seafood are at the other. Sea creatures swim and crawl in huge aquariums waiting to be picked by patrons for dinner. Dishes are served here in a variety of styles – sweet and sour, spicy or just plain – boiled or steamed.


Passionate About Their Hometown

In May last year, one of Bukit Tambun's residents, who is also chairman of the area’s Village Development and Security Committee, decided to give the village a makeover. Datuk Tan Kian Poo, a kampung boy who made it big in the aquaculture industry, felt compelled to give his beloved hometown a facelift in an attempt to turn it into a major tourist spot.

Also behind this brilliant idea is his partner and confidant, Peter Lim. “In the beginning, we were just talking and joking about it, and then Datuk said, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ That was how it all started,” says Lim. The town’s refurbishment is still ongoing, with Tan and Lim tackling it phase by phase. The upgrading project is separately funded by friends and supporters.

Bukit Tambun has also caught on to the street art trend. Entering the village from the North-South Highway via the Jawi toll, the “Couple on a Bicycle” mural greets visitors. It is actually a reproduction of a photo taken in 1977 of Tan and his wife, Ong Siaw Hong, during their courting days. “I used the bicycle to woo my wife and to go on dates back then,” says Tan fondly, “and now my love for her is on this wall for all to see.”

Apart from the “Couple on a Bicycle” mural are several others that are equally interesting. Just a short distance away is a mural of an 1840s horse carriage, a throwback to how English aristocrats travelled in the area. During colonial times, Bukit Tambun was the residence of the rich and famous, and horse carriages were the favoured mode of transport.

A mural of a fishing boat occupies another wall across the street. Painted by Ng Chin Joo, an artist from Simpang Ampat, it took several weeks to complete and is arguably the second most visible mural as one enters the village. Other works by Ng can be viewed at the prawn mee restaurant found among a row of shophouses.

There is also a mural of three children by British artist Gabriel Pitcher, which captures the childlike innocence of Bukit Tambun – a quality the villagers treasure and intend to preserve. Besides the murals, residents have also taken it upon themselves to decorate the exterior of their houses with drawings. Each house has a different theme, and visitors are welcome to roam around taking pictures.

Photo opportunities do not end there: four rows of colourful pre-war shophouses line both sides of the two-lane road, with quite a number turned into food and retail outlets. Here one can find knick-knacks and mementos unique to Bukit Tambun. When the light is right, this place becomes undeniably picture perfect.


A Slice of History


Outside a dilapidated house in Bukit Tambun is a plaque introducing its former owner. Built in 1866 by Khaw Boo Aun (1835-1906), who was a pioneer in the sugar industry in southern Province Wellesley and northern Perak, the house was one of the first in Bukit Tambun to be built with bricks. It also served as an ancestral hall. A well-known figure and leader of the Ghee Hin organisation, Boo Aun was made a commissioner in 1890. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1905, a year before his passing. Unfortunately, all historical relics from his house on Main Road were looted, and the house is now boarded up and out of bounds.

Carolyn Khor is a pluviophile who enjoys a good book alongside an aromatic cup of coffee. A music teacher by profession, she was also a contributor to MSN, the Penang Green Council and many other online and print publications.
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