Air Itam

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Not to be confused with Ayer Hitam in Johor and Ayer Itam in Perak.
Air Itam
Suburb of George Town
Other transcription(s)
 • Chinese 亚依淡
 • Hokkien a-i tām
View of Air Itam (foreground) and George Town (left) as seen from Penang Hill
View of Air Itam (foreground) and George Town (left) as seen from Penang Hill
Air Itam is located in George Town, Penang
Air Itam
Air Itam
Coordinates: 5°24′22″N 100°17′47″E / 5.40611°N 100.29639°E / 5.40611; 100.29639
Country  Malaysia
State  Penang
District Northeast Penang Island
 • Local Government Penang Island City Council
 • Mayor of Penang Island Patahiyah Ismail
 • State assemblyman Wong Hon Wai (DAP)
 • Bukit Gelugor Member of Parliament Ramkarpal Singh (DAP)
Time zone Malaysian Standard Time (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 11500

Air Itam (also spelt as Ayer Itam; Penang Hokkien: ai tam) is a suburb of George Town in Penang, Malaysia. Nested within the central valleys of Penang Island, it is located approximately 7km southwest of George Town proper. Air Itam is one of the well-known places to sample Penang cuisine, and includes a handful of major tourist attractions such as Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple.[1][2]

The area now known as Air Itam was first developed in the late 18th century, soon after the founding of Penang Island by Captain Francis Light in 1786. British officials intended to turn Air Itam, including Penang Hill, into an agricultural area and established spice farms. To this day, fruits and vegetables are still grown at the hills of Air Itam; fresh produce are then brought downhill daily to the wet markets throughout George Town.[3]


Air Itam got its name from the murky waters of the Air Itam River (Malay: Sungai Air Itam). The phrase 'Air Hitam' means black water in Malay.

Suffolk House in 1811
Kek Lok Si Temple is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and among the more famous ones in the country.
The Chinese Anti-War Memorial at Air Itam is where some 800 victims of the Sook Ching massacres during World War II were laid to rest.


Soon after the founding of Penang Island in 1786, British East India Company officials, led by Captain Francis Light, began exploring and clearing the interior of the island for agricultural purposes.[4] Pepper and nutmeg farms were then established at the hills of Air Itam, while Light also commissioned the planting of strawberries at Penang Hill.[5] The Anglo-Indian Suffolk House, one of Light's residences, was also built within a pepper estate by the Air Itam River.[6]

The agricultural village of Air Itam grew throughout the 19th century, populated by farmers who owned the fruit and vegetable farms at the surrounding hills. To this day, fruits and vegetables are still produced at the hills of Air Itam and then distributed daily to the wet markets all over George Town.[3]

In 1890, construction of the Kek Lok Si Temple, now one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, commenced. Its main pagoda combines Chinese, Siamese and Burmese styles. The temple was finally opened to the public in 1905.

Air Itam was once home to the Penang Zoological Gardens, the first zoo in Malaysia.[7] Supposedly opened in the 1920s by a monk named Fa Kong, the zoo was shut down for good prior to World War II due to the excessive maintenance costs.

The Great Air Itam Fire of 1935 destroyed more than 100 homes in the area. At the time, the residences in Air Itam were mostly wooden; this incident led to the construction of brick buildings in Air Itam.

A Rapid Penang bus passing by the Air Itam Market.

The area was also a hinterland which hid refugees fleeing from the episodes of violence that had occasionally erupted in George Town. For instance, the Penang Riots of 1867 forced some residents in George Town to evacuate to Air Itam.[8] World War II, however, brought even greater numbers of refugees to Air Itam. During the war, when the Imperial Japanese Army implemented the Sook Ching purges, Air Itam became one of the sites where Chinese civilians were massacred.[9]

The urbanisation of Air Itam since the 1950s has brought about a concurrent increase in living standards and transformed the landscape with more high rises, making Air Itam one of the more densely populated areas on Penang Island.[10] A new township named Farlim was also developed to the southeast in the 1980s.[11]


Located in the valley between Batu Lanchang Hill, Bukit Penara and Penang Hill, this suburb of George Town is connected to the city by two main roads, i.e. Jalan Air Itam and Lorong Batu Lanchang. It is also connected to Paya Terubong and the south of the island via Jalan Paya Terubong.

It is said that Penang's most famous asam laksa is served at the Air Itam Market.[12][13]
The peak of Penang Hill is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway, the only railway on Penang Island and the only funicular rail system in Malaysia.

The suburb covers a broad area that incorporates Farlim, Thean Teik Estate, Rifle Range, Kampung Bahru, Kampung Melayu, Hill Railway Road and Hye Keat Estate, extending as far east as the junction with York Road.[14]


The Jade Emperor's Pavilion is a Taoist temple located beside the Penang Hill Railway station.[19]



  1. ^ "Pasar Air Itam Laksa". Time Out Penang. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  2. ^ "Behold, the Penang Hokkien Mee | Eat/Drink | Malay Mail Online". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  3. ^ a b " - Connecting People Through News". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  4. ^ Souza, George Bryan (2014). Hinterlands and Commodities: Place, Space, Time and the Political Economic Development of Asia over the Long Eighteenth Century. BRILL. ISBN 9789004283909. 
  5. ^ "Penang Hill - Georgetown Attractions". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  6. ^ "Suffolk House". Travelfish. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  7. ^ Wai, Penang's History My Storyby Wong Chun. "Roaring times in old Air Itam - Community | The Star Online". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  8. ^ "Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, Penang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  9. ^ "War and Remembrance through Penang Museums and Memorials". Universiti Sains Malaysia. 
  10. ^ "Air Itam, Penang / Pulau Pinang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  11. ^ "Farlim (Bandar Baru Air Itam), Penang / Pulau Pinang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  12. ^ Eckhardt, Robyn (2009-10-30). "Asam Laksa". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  13. ^ "Great Malaysian dishes: Penang – Nasi kandar -". 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  14. ^ "Air Itam Village, Penang". 
  15. ^ "Penang Air Itam Laksa | 槟城亚依淡巴刹叻沙". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  16. ^ "Elderly sisters' famous Penang noodles continue to gain fans from near and far - Nation | The Star Online". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  17. ^ "Overseas Chinese Anti-War Memorial, Penang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  18. ^ "Thni Kong Tnua (Jade Emperor's Pavilion), Air Itam, Penang / Pulau Pinang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  19. ^ "Thni Kong Tnua (Jade Emperor's Pavilion), Air Itam, Penang / Pulau Pinang". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 5°24′22″N 100°17′47″E / 5.40611°N 100.29639°E / 5.40611; 100.29639