One of my earliest memory going to Penang Island was the highly anticipated ferry trip from mainland to the island. As a child, I remembered getting all excited as we waited in the family car for our turn to board the ferry. Even with the completion of the first Penang Bridge in 1985, it has always been customary for us to enter Penang via ferry as it allows me to reminince how it must have been when ferry was the only mode of transportation to get in and out of the island once upon a time.
During those times where motorized vehicles was only for the privileged, people will board the ferry from the Malayan Railway Jetty (on the island) and cross over to Prai Jetty in mainland (previously spelt as Prye) where they will then catch a train at the Prai Railway Station.
The Prai Jetty was used as the main jetty up until the 1960s even when the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal was opened in Butterworth in 1956.
On 31 July 1988, a tragedy occurred when one of the Sultan Abdul Halim terminal collapsed due to overcrowding. The incident took 32 lives and injured 1,674 commuters. As an effort to encourage the usage of the Penang Bridge, the collapse terminal was never rebuilt and the number of ferries was reduced by half.
Today the Penang Ferry Service at the Sultan Abdul Halim Terminal is managed by Penang Port. It operates on a daily basis with four active ferries. What used to be a 24 hours operation is now reduce to 20 hours with first ferry depart from mainland at 5.20am and last ferry leaving the island at 1.00am.
Each ferry has two decks. Typically the lower deck is for cars and motorcycles to roll-on/roll-off. Whereas, the upper deck, depending on the type of ferry model, it can be for passengers only, mixed passengers and vehicles or vehicles only.
With only four ferries in service, it takes about 20 – 30 minutes for each arrival interval. However, on peak hours, we had experienced waiting for more an one hour to board the ferry due to high volumes of cars.
The ferry ride across takes only 15 – 20 minutes but even with the convenient, easy and faster way of using the bridge what is it that makes this ferry service one of the most favourite way to enter Penang?
Once on board, we could see some people will use the time to just rest or even sleep in their cars but for many others this is the opportunity to enjoy the sea breeze and the view of Penang Island.
Along the cruise, on one side we could see the old Prai Jetty and on the other side we could see the beautiful Penang Bridge. On a clear day, you might get to see the 2nd Penang Bridge too.
We just love the way the island becomes bigger and bigger as we approach the Raja Tun Uda Terminal in Georgetown which was built to replace Victoria Pier (named after Queen Victoria) on Weld Quay.
Once you disembark from the ferry, driving out from the terminal you will find yourself to be right in the middle of the Georgetown World Heritage Sites. A short drive to the right will lead you to Port Swettenham if you are boarding a cruise ship.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, all of us could use a 15 minute break to enjoy the journey which was once taken by the people of Penang as a daily routine in order to get in and out of the island.