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Getting to Know the Owners of Campbell House in Penang

Nadia and Roberto

Nardya Wray & Roberto Dreon

Nardya and Roberto are the owners of Campbell House, an elegant boutique hotel in Campbell Street, George Town. You can catch up with them there or in Il Bacaro, the restaurant in the hotel, or on their website www.campbellhousepenang.com

Roberto and I had been travelling to Penang often to keep an eye on my mother who had moved back from UK nine years ago due to ill health. I am half Malaysian so have been coming here since I was four years old and Roberto first came here 25 years ago. We loved George Town and the old shop houses so Roberto decided he wanted to own a piece of history, searched, found and bought the building off the internet (as you do…).

This was in 2007 prior to UNESCO. As we have always worked in hospitality we saw the potential of opening a boutique hotel in George Town so decided to realise our dream there and then. After spending three years of planning and coming back and forth, thinking we could get our project off the ground remotely, we saw little happen. So we had to make a life change, packed up our London jobs, moved here and oversaw the refurbishment which then took another ten months. We would say “living” in Penang is easy, running a business here is extremely challenging, and we have had to arm ourselves with a lot of patience and learn to accept a different working ethic culture. Nevertheless, we are very proud that we have managed to achieve success and build a great team.

As we have a hotel we love meeting the guests that travel here, the wonderful stories we have encountered of some that are retracing child hood memories, returning guests, helping first timers enjoy Georgetown. We love the friends we have made and the support we get from them. Of course there are the downsides of Penang – such as the increase in traffic and building works, the disappearance of green spaces and beautiful Colonial Mansions…

If you have visitors you must take them to George Town, with its melting pot of cultures, you can wonder the streets and find yourself in China, Little India, and bygone Colonial Malaya. Another must is a boat trip around Muka Head to Turtle Beach, it’s great to see a part of the island with no sky scrapers and still natural. It hasn’t changed much since I was a kid (nor have the boats!). Do make sure that you go to Ayer Itam Dam. Just carry on up the road from Kek Lok Si and you find yourself in a little quiet oasis, where you can watch eagles fly, otters swim and walk uninterrupted.

There are great places to eat in Penang. We like Tek Sen, it’s only two streets up from Campbell House so it’s a great local neighborhood restaurant. The food is consistently good and the service is friendly. Bali Hai is great – it’s an institution for Seafood and the waitresses have all been there for as long as I can remember. Il Bacaro (the restaurant on the ground floor of Campbell House) sorry yes we are biased but we eat here all the time!

Although we do have a mixture of friends here, both local and expat, we also miss family and friends, especially at Christmas.

Source: The Expat magazine September 2015

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