Penang offers plenty of beautiful views, vistas and vantage points but for a different perspective of the island, heading out to sea is a must. For many, a boat ride is the perfect way to while away an afternoon, so here are some of Penang’s best options.
The cheapest and easiest way to see the island from the water is to take the ferry to Butterworth. As you leave the Georgetown terminal and look to the left back towards the island, you will see the clan jetties from a new angle, and can get a sense of the full scale of these remarkable communities perched on stilts above the shallows. Further out, the panorama of central Georgetown opens up before you, dominated by the towering Komtar building and other new high-rises, juxtaposed against the red terracotta roofs of the heritage town.
There is also plenty to take in on the water itself, including the other ferries plying back and forth between the island and mainland, as well as fishing boats, yachts, cargo ships, huge yellow cranes, the Penang Bridge and, if you time it correctly, the mighty cruise liners that dock periodically in Georgetown. There isn’t really a lot to do when you get to Butterworth, so the best thing is take the next returning ferry and get straight back on the water to enjoy the views all over again. The trip over to the mainland is free, while for the return leg, foot passengers pay 1.20 ringgit (7.70 ringgit for cars and 2 ringgit for motorbikes).
For a closer look at the island, the E&O Hotel offers a water limousine service to the popular Straits Quay Marina. This 25 minute trip aboard the Lady Martina pleasure cruiser follows the coast along Gurney Drive and up towards Tanjung Tokong, and gives great views of this part Penang, with the towering jungle-green hills in the background. Some of the buildings are not particularly beautiful, but there is always something new to look at and if you tire of the island, then the views out over the Straits towards the mainland are also pretty special.
The boat departs from the E&O Hotel at 12:00, 14:00, 16:00 and 18:30 and returns from Strait Quay at 11:30, 13:30, 15:30 and 17:30. A one-way ticket costs 50 ringgit (free for children under two) but if you can show a receipt for any purchase of 50 ringgit or above at Straits Quay, you will only pay 10 ringgit per person for the trip into Georgetown. Our recommendation is to take a bus or taxi from town up to Straits Quay, enjoy sitting out by the marina for coffee or lunch at one of the restaurants or cafes, and then take advantage of the bargain-price tickets home. Visit the Straits Quay website or call (04) 890 6521 for more information.
If you prefer something more personal and relaxing, you can also charter a private boat from Straits Quay. The Star Anise is an old, characterful Chinese junk with plenty of space to spread out and enjoy taking in the scenery. Depending on the weather and currents, you can either ask the skipper to take you down to Georgetown for a real close-up view of the clan jetties, or else head in the other direction past Batu Ferringhi and on towards the National Park and Monkey Beach, to view the natural beauty of Penang’s pristine jungle-clad hills.
A short two-hour day cruise costs 100 ringgit per person (minimum two people) and includes light snacks and refreshments, and you can take your own lunch if you like. Extra drinks, including beers, can be bought for 10 ringgit each, and this is a more leisurely way to enjoy a trip out to sea. Sunset cruises are 150 ringgit (200 ringgit at peak season) and you also have the option of a longer lunch cruise to nearby Pulau Aman (200 ringgit per person), or a private charter for 700 ringgit per hour (1,000 ringgit in peak season). Call (016) 503 7674.
Meanwhile, nature lovers should head straight to the National Park, in the northwestern corner of the island, where you can hire a boat from the park headquarters to one of the main beaches. Turtle Beach is the further and less spoiled of the two, and offers a long stretch of golden-white sand flanked by rainforest and, at the far end, huge boulders. En route you can take in the beauty of the jungle and you may see sea otters and turtles in the shallow waters. Up in the trees, look out for the white-bellied sea eagles and their enormous treetop nests.
A one-way trip to Turtle Beach costs 100 ringgit per boat and takes around 20 minutes, although you may be able to bargain down the price in low season to around 80 or 90 ringgit. If you prefer to go to the closer Monkey Beach, expect to pay 70 ringgit. One of the best ways to experience the park is to trek over to one of the beaches and then get a boat to pick you up for the return leg, which gives you the chance to see it from two different vantages.
By Mark Thompson
Last updated on 23rd September, 2014.