Best Memories Of Iconic Penang Ferry
The iconic Penang Ferry Service will end.
The oldest ferry service will cease operations and be replaced by “fast ferries”, similar to the ones used in Langkawi from Jan 1.
This sudden news saddened many Penangites and travellers.
Many have fond memories and unforgettable nostalgic rides of the iconic ferry service.
“Thhoot!” Blares the horn in deep resonance, followed by garbled noises from the speakers above.
Then the floor beneath you moves as the ferry leaves its dock.
Unless you are a regular commuter, the ferry ride is quite an exhilarating experience.
Safety regulations unheeded as passengers flock fore to watch their approach to the island.
Even those at the lower deck leave their vehicles for a closer feel of the wind in their faces.
What is it about this is-minute ride that leaves you dizzy for a moment?
Might it be the overwhelming oil fumes in the air, or is it the stirring sight that augments before you?
Waves lapping at the feet of century-old waterfront structures, with contrasting modern buildings looming behind, against the painted backdrop of verdant hills and clear blue sky.
This is Penang.
[Excerpt from Ooh Penang Beyond the Viewfinder 2003 – Author: Chan Suan Choo]
History Behind Penang Ferry Service
“PULAU Talang Talang sedia untuk berlepas (Pulau Talang Talang is ready to depart),” the voice booms over the public announcement system.
It quickly follows this by two short blasts of the ship’s horn.
Almost immediately, the entire vessel starts to shudder as its powerful engines below deck effortlessly nudge the submerged propellers to life.
Fortunate to get a choice position right next to the metal railing at the upper deck bow.
I join the dozens of excited holidaymakers and regular commuters enjoying the scenic landscape that lay in front of us as the ferry slowly glides towards Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda, our disembarkation point on Penang Island.
[Excerpt from History Behind Penang’s Popular Ferry Service Unveiled, New Straits Times 2018 – Author: Alan The Leam Seng]
Penang Ferry History – How did the Penang Ferry Service Begin
The Penang Ferry Service began in 1894, 126 years ago, as a cross-strait shuttle ferry service within Penang’s State crossing the 3km ferry route.
Quah Beng Kee, an entrepreneur from Penang Island, started the regular service.
Together with his four brothers forming a company named Beng Brothers.
From 1924, the ferries were operated by the Penang Port Commission (formerly Penang Harbour Board), through its subsidiary, Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPC)
Initially, a passenger-only service, the ferries were later refitted to carry automobiles in 1925.
In 2017, the Malaysian federal government transferred the ferry service from PPC to Prasarana Malaysia, a government-owned entity that manages urban public transportation across Malaysia.
Following the handover, Prasarana Malaysia Berhad rebranded the ferry service as Rapid Ferry.
Pulau Talang Talang & Pulau Angsa
What I remember most about the Penang Ferry Service was my beloved Pulau Angsa.
Many people remarked how slow it was.
Every time the passengers sighted Pulau Angsa, coming across the Malacca Strait, knew that they would be late for work.
Why Are The Penang Ferry Named After Islands?
The Penang Ferry is named after islands in Malaysia.
The ferries have names of famous Malaysian islands names such as Pulau Pinang, Pulau Redang, Pulau Tioman, and others.
Why are these ferries named after islands?
Wouldn’t it be better to name them after some local Penang personalities?
One name of the ferries, Pulau Pinang, has a misleading name.
A friend of mine told me he waited for nearly three hours one day for his relative who was coming from another state to George Town.
He wondered why his relative took such a long time to arrive at George Town on the island.
They finally solved the mystery when his relative told him he was waiting for the ‘Pulau Pinang’ ferry.
He said he did not dare to embark on ferries such as ‘Pulau Redang’ and others that came to port.
Confusion may arise and cause the same problem to others, most tourists coming to Penang.
What Are The Names Of The Penang Ferries?
These are the last two iconic cross-strait ferries in operation that were built in 1975 and 1981.
The older Pulau Talang Talang and Pulau Angsa are well-known ferries.
Other notable Penang Ferry with year built, class and status.
- Pulau Labuan 1971 (passenger) retired.
- Pulau Rawa 1975 (mixed) out of service
- Pulau Undan 1975 (mixed) in service
- Pulau Rimau 1980 (mixed) out of service
- Pulau Angsa 1981 (mixed) in service
- Pulau Kapas 1981 (mixed) in service
- Pulau Payar 2002 (vehicle) in service
- Pulau Pinang 2002 (vehicle) in service
At one time, there were seven ferries in operation.
The older vessels have been a bane for the operators, as they are prone to breakdowns as there were no spare parts to maintain the ferries.
The Penang Ferry Service – Penang Port Commission (PPC).
My dad was a fitter with the Penang Port Commission (PPC).
He served in Bagan Dalam Dockyard (Butterworth).
The wharf is where all the PPC’s sailing crafts are repaired, serviced, and overhauled.
The Penang Ferry plies the Penang to Butterworth route, and vice versa is sent here for repairs.
In the 60s, you will notice many Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service members on their daily commute from their homes in Tanjong Bungah to the Air Base in Bagan Ajam.
Shopping in Duty-Free Penang Island
During its heydays as a duty-free island, Penang drew Malaysians hungry for shopping adventures to the island.
Many people from other states would either park in Butterworth and walked to the terminal or pay extra to drive their cars to the island using the ferry service.
My cousins, who lived on the mainland, would take the train to Butterworth train station (Perai) and getting a free ferry ride to Penang.
My cousins remembered wearing new double shirts and pants with brand new shoes at home.
Sometimes the kids would perch on top of taxable items.
Many parents would place their shopping in places inside the car to evade paying tax.
The Ferry Ride in the 60s.
The seas were clearer and calmer.
Children would count giant white jellyfish vs the smaller red jellyfish in the waters as they ply across to Butterworth’s side.
Sometimes we could see a school of large sharp-pointed head fish swimming in the waters.
We love to spot the large ships in the harbour and identify the countries from the ship’s names and their flags for the children and adults.
There were even Chinese sailing junks reminiscent of what I saw in Hong Kong harbour.
At night, we always enjoyed the glowing florescent as the waves hit the ferry.
As of 1967, Penang’s free port status has been abolished altogether.
After so many years, I still remember the smell of fresh salty sea breeze, the sound of waves breaking on the ferry.
The hot oily odour from the engine floor of the ferry is an unforgettable stench.
I recall the same smell on my dad’s clothes if he had overhauled the engine.
The car wheels’ sound clanked sharply as each vehicle rolled over the ramp from the ferryboat to the terminal.
Moments of taking a journey together, the endless laughter, longest chats, and beautiful times shared with family are priceless.
While many Penangites feel sad that the iconic ferry is “retired,” – I wanted to record the sweet, delightful memories.
We capture the essence of what makes Penang – truly PENANG.
It is the fierce love Penangites for all things we hold dear in our hearts.
Many of us don’t have the photos to show, cameras were expensive, and professional photographers’ studio shots were reserved for special occasions.
We captured a memory piece whenever we blink – our eyes take little photographs we file away.
Let’s indulge in our fond memory of how life was in the 60s and 70s.
Memories of Penang Ferry—Watching Dolphins Race Ahead by Yew TH
I remember seeing grey Dolphins swimming ahead of the ferry when I was a child.
I used to take the Penang Ferry from ages 5 to 17 years old.
The same fascination for me was to walk out of the cabin to the front of the ferry n to the back of the ferry to see the churning water.
Memories of Penang Ferry–Journey Home During Uni Days by Kathireen Kalaivani Rajamanickam
I was an undergraduate in Politeknik Sultan Mu’adzam Shah, Jitra, Kedah from 2000 to 2003. I used the Penang Ferry frequently to head home.
When I was young, the movable backrest of the long row of seating used to fascinate me.
It intrigued me when moving the backrest, so we got to sit facing the direction the ferry was heading.
Maybe that was how I got interested in engineering as a child.
It is always a comfortable ride crossing the straits—I enjoyed the view of the sea and distant white British Colonial Buildings.
My university days’ best memory was the ferry ride home, knowing that my late Dad would wait patiently to pick me up at the terminal.
Memories of Penang Ferry–My Daily Commute From Butterworth by Izza Safina Ibrahim
Travelled for a bit previously, I’m drawn to the waterfront cities with water buses.
Penang waterfront rivals Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Paris, London, New York, Perth, and Sydney.
The iconic ferry is a treasure, and I wish to be around for heritage purposes, if not as a transportation mode.
I used to ride the ferry coming back from work to rest as cars will be stationary in the queue and the 25-minute sail.
Somehow crossing the ram still gives me chills, and I am sad we can no longer experience it comes 2021.
Everyone has fond memories of Penang Ferry. Most are taken aback, as it’s too sudden. There will be a long queue to ride the ferry now.
Memories of Penang Ferry–Bonding Time With My Father by Jeffery Chew
Penang Ferry reminds me of my late father and the happy times we spent together travelling.
My father was a land valuer and auctioneer.
I used to follow him whenever he headed over to Butterworth for his projects.
We would spend many happy hours together.
He would drive his car onto the Penang Ferry to make the trip to the mainland.
Back then, there was never a bridge.
That was 45 years ago.
Truly nostalgic, just remembering the good old days.
Memories of Penang Ferry–My Grandmother’s Journey by Priya Pubalan
For my late grandmother, the Penang Ferry ride symbolizes Merdeka and a happy day out with her friends.
In the 1940s, she used to make the annual Merdeka Day trips from the mainland to visit Tunku Abdul Rahman, our beloved First Prime Minister, at his residence in Ayer Rajah Road.
As my grandmother was a Merdeka baby, Tunku and his wife, who served her local ‘Kuih,’ received her well.
For years, my grandmother celebrated her birthday this way until the demise of Tunku.
The Penang Ferry holds a special place in my heart, a nostalgic feeling about my late grandmother.
To others, the twenty cents ferry ride may be ordinary, but it reminds me of most of Granny’s stories about Penang.
Penang Ferry Memory—The Dinner Cruise by Ayu Yusoff
As a restaurateur, my most memorable catering event was the Sale and Dine Penang Ferry Dinner cruise.
It was truly remarkable to see our foreign guests so excited and enjoying themselves as I served them–that was the night I discovered my passion for organizing events.
Memories of Penang Ferry–Sail Away Holiday by Paul Ang
In the 90s, I was still studying in primary school.
My aunt would take me to Esplanade for Spicy Mee Goreng Sotong and a glass of creamy coconut shake for lunch.
Later, we would head out to the pier and ride her motorbike onto the highlight of the day, the Penang Ferry ride.
It was my little prized reward for my school accomplishments – a simple round trip to the Butterworth and back.
To an impressionable schoolboy, the experience of leaving Penang island on this unique vessel made me dream of a world beyond the blue yonder.
As we cross the ferry straits, I felt as though I was travelling away on holiday.
My memories of the Penang Ferry by Mazeta Hassan
Back in those days, we really were an isolated island. Our only physical link with the mainland was via these beautiful old ferries.
It is difficult to describe the excitement, especially during the school holidays we felt as kids.
My late Uncle, Haji Abdullah Bin Haji Bashir (Pak Lah), had a long association with the ferry services, having worked with the Penang Port Commission.
“Pulau Talang Talang akan bertolak sekarang! ” followed by the sound of the horn, as I could still remember.
As a little girl, I remembered standing at the foredeck peering over the rail looking for jellyfish.
The ferries have been an integral part of Penang history.
Who in their right mind would even consider getting rid of these iconic symbols of Penang’s past?
I cannot imagine a Penang without the dual-purpose vehicle passenger ferry. 🌹
Penang Ferry Terminal Collapse Tragedy in 1988
Memories are memories.
Some are neutral, many nostalgic, and several people remember powerful emotions and trauma.
I was in my 20s when the tragedy of the collapse of the ferry terminal boardwalk happened.
It was the unusual peak hours, and no one anticipated the surge of the crowds.
On the 31st of July 1988, the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal (Penang Ferry Jetty) in Butterworth suddenly collapsed.
The jetty’s steel bars structure buckled because of severe overcrowding and the sudden increase of live load.
It was a disaster that caused the deaths of 32 people and injured 1,634 people.
Two Simultaneous Festivals
The cause of the collapse because of extreme overcrowding at the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal.
There were about 10,000 people who wanted to attend the two simultaneous festivities.
Most of the victims were pilgrims attending the St Anne’s Feast in Bukit Mertajam and Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) festival on the island.
According to the Chinese calendar, tourists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and local devotees attended the once-in-a-lifetime occasion Kuan Yin Festival held every 60 years.
Similarly, St. Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam was holding a large festival for its anniversary.
After the ferry terminal tragedy, many motorists moved to use the Penang Bridge, which was further from George Town, to cross over to Butterworth daily.
Memories of Penang Ferry – Penang Ferry Jetty Terminal Collapse Tragedy in 1988 By Queenie Lo
From 1980 to 1984, I taught in Baling, Kedah, and used to travel daily by driving my car to board the Penang ferry.
One of my dad’s workers, a muscular young man, was at the terminal that the eventful day when the Sultan Abdul Halim’s ferry terminal bridge collapsed.
The young man, Mr Ling Wai Hoong, helped rescue many victims to come out of the wreckage.
At the time of the tragedy, Mr Ling had left working with my dad to become a Kung Fu Sifu.
Mr Ling has a compassionate heart. I remembered he has helped quite a few older people applying to stay in the old folks’ home.
We were so shocked as the ferry was my late dad’s and his workers’ daily transport to the workshop in Butterworth.
It was after the Penang Ferry Terminal tragedy that the people started to use Penang Bridge.
Replacing the Penang Ferry Services With Pedestrian Only Catamarans
Penang is hoping that the federal government will not retire the last two iconic ferry when
Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong’s plans to introduce pedestrian-only catamarans come to pass.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow informed of the new plans recently hoped the ministry would allow the last two vessels to operate and look into reviving the other vessels put out of service.
It was also reported that the ferries were a loss-making venture, with operators losing RM30 million a year.
What is the configuration of the Penang Ferry?
Each ferry has two decks.
All ferries carry/carried only vehicles (cars and motorcycles) for easy roll-on/roll-off.
Depending on the ferry model type, the upper deck can only be for passengers, mixed passengers, and vehicles.
What is the Penang Ferry Services Schedule?
If you are travelling overland to Penang, you can use the Penang Ferry (Feri Pulau Pinang), which runs between Butterworth on mainland Malaysia to George Town on Penang Island.
Penang Ferry Services Operating Hours (Schedule) 2020
Butterworth to George Town Ferry Schedule
05:20 am – Butterworth First Ferry
00:10 am – Butterworth Last Ferry
Penang Island to Butterworth Ferry Schedule
05:40 am – Penang First Ferry
00:40 am – Penang Last Ferry
The Penang Ferry runs approximately every 20 to 30 minutes and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to cover the 3 km distance from Butterworth to George Town.
After 10 pm, the frequency is lower, with only a single departure every 60 minutes.
What is the duration of the Ferry Journey?
Depending on the currents and sea conditions, the journey takes between 10 to 20 minutes. If you drive your car onto the ferry, you can get out and walk about and enjoy the scenery.
Penang Ferry Services Schedule During MCO / CMCO (PKP / PKPB) & During the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO / PKPP)
To check the latest Penang to Butterworth ferry schedule:
Penang / Butterworth Ferry Telephone Numbers:
Penang Side: 04 261 0290 / 210 2363 (duty officer).
Butterworth Side: 04 331 2796 / 310 2377 (duty officer).
How much is the Penang Ferry ticket to Butterworth Terminal?
It is free from Penang to Butterworth.
You only have to pay one way for the ferry to Penang Island. There is no charge for the return journey back to the Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal in Butterworth.
Penang Ferry Fares
The fares are cheap. You only have to pay for the ferry from Butterworth to Penang.
The return journey is not charged.
Both Penang Bridge has the same system of charging in only one direction.
Pedestrian Ferry Fares
- Adult RM 1.20
- Child (Ages 5 to 12) RM 0.60
- Students in Uniform RM 0.60
- Individuals with disabilities (with valid OKU ID) RM 0.60
Vehicle Ferry Fares
- Bicycle RM 1.40
- Motorcycle RM 2.00
- Car RM 7.70
How do I get to Penang by Ferry?
Foot passengers now have to buy ferry tickets from the ticket counter.
You then have to scan your ticket on top of the turnstile to enter the waiting area.
Location Butterworth side:
The Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal in Butterworth is next to Butterworth KTM/ETS trains station and the bus station and is part of the Penang Sentral transport hub.
If you arrive by train, keep to your left after leaving the station’s main entrance and follow the signs to reach the Ferry Terminal via the Penang Sentral building.
It will only take you around five minutes walk to get to the jetty.
The Rapid Penang bus terminal is now located under Penang Sentral.
Location Penang side:
Ferries depart from the Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal in George Town at Weld Quay, otherwise known as the Penang Jetty.
How To Reach The ETS Train Stations?
The traditional way to travel to Penang Island from Seberang Perai (Butterworth) is by ferry.
It was the only way for railway then later express bus passengers from Singapore, Ipoh or Kuala Lumpur to reach George Town.
Today, many Penangites still find it the most convenient way for rail travellers to reach Penang Island.
Taking the ferry across is free, and you only need to walk through Penang Sentral Building to reach the ETS Trains.
If you get a taxi to drive via Penang Bridge to take the early morning Train Station, the fare can go up to RM50. The cost by Grab is between RM25 – RM30.
Most vehicle traffic these days uses the two road bridges to Penang.
The Penang Ferry, which carries pedestrians, cars, and motorbikes, is a relaxing way to travel and an alternative for those not in a hurry to explore George Town.
Note to travellers
While the idyllic old ferry is a journey worth taking, please be warned that taking a heavy suitcase is not a good option.
I took the ferry to go to the train station and dealt with a steep staircase when the Penang Sentral Building was under construction.
If you arrive by train with heavy luggage, you will need to take a taxi to reach the ferry as there is no smooth, easy connection from the train station to the Ferry Terminal.
Summary of Memories of Penang Ferry Services:
Many Penangites feel a sense of loss and a sense of deep sadness.
Many others don’t know, won’t see, can’t understand.
What we have on reflection is a nostalgic view of the Penang Ferry.
When heritage is replaced by economic viability, we sometimes question the WHY.
Some of us question the men in leadership.
All I do know is many others suffer silently, and no one knows the WHY of things.
Most can tell you the How and What of things.
As seniors and veterans with the most respectful use of the terms, we see why we grow our children.
As our fathers have guided us and taught us well, we too look at the younger ones.
We want to guide them to be good passionate leaders.
As Penangites, we want to build our children with integrity above all else and always pray for leadership wisdom to remember the WHY of things.
Why was the Penang Ferry Services started?
The Ferry Service was started as a regular crossing for the Penang Strait for the people who lived on Penang Island to cross to Butterworth and vice versa.