Penang Ferry: A Complete Guide to traveling by sea between George Town and Butterworth

The iconic Penang Ferry has been connecting George Town with Butterworth for over a century, and it's still going strong. Here's all you need to know to prepare for one of Penang most simple, and yet most symbolic, journeys.

Penang Ferry Butterworth pulau kapas

Penang Ferry opened in 1894 as the only link between Penang island and the railway to Singapore. Believe it or not, it’s still operating despite the two bridge links connecting Penang island to Seberang Perai — the mainland part of Penang state.

Driving over one of the two bridges may be quicker to reach Malaysia’s mainland and travel to other states on the North-South expressway. But Penang Ferry, now under the administration of Rapid Penang, remains a very romantic and interesting way to reach George Town (see what you can do with 48 hours in George Town and our itinerary for 3 days in Penang).

It’s a trip of old: crossing the Straits Sea on an old-world ferry boat, looking at George Town’s skyline get closer as you sail on the sea with the first Penang Bridge on one side and the Butterworth port on the other is arguably the best way to reach the island.

This post will tell you all you need to know to travel stress-free on Penang ferry from Butterworth to George Town or vice versa.

Penang Ferry Schedule and Operating Times (Updated 2020)

Penang Ferry runs almost around the clock, connecting George Town and Penang island from early morning until midnight. It then pauses until 5 in the morning. These are the latest departure times and schedules as of the year 2020:

From Butterworth to Penang
First Ferry departs at  05.20 am.
The last Ferry departs at 00.10 am.

From Penang to Butterworth
First Ferry departs 05.40 am.
The Last Ferry departs at 00.40 am.

penang ferry butterworth
Getting on the Penang Ferry in Butterworth (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Between 5.20 am and 10 pm you won’t have to wait too much for a ferry, as there are 4 boats running each hour. A 20 to 30 minutes wait between departures is normal — just monitor the electronic signboards which will tell you when is the next boat is departing.

Be careful however because after 10 pm there is only one ferry running, and it then departs every 40 minutes to an hour. Make sure you get to the port with plenty of anticipation if you plan to catch the last departure, or you’ll be stranded for 4 hours overnight — not the safest option. You’ll have to resort to a budget hotel in Penang otherwise.

Penang Ferry Telephone Numbers

If you need any information on departures, you can call these numbers:

Penang Side: 04 261 0290 / 210 2363 (duty officer)

Butterworth Side: 04 331 2796 / 310 2377 (duty officer).

How much does the Penang Ferry Cost? (Updated 2020)

Remember that you only pay for a ride on Penang Ferry when you travel from Butterworth, the mainland side, to Penang island. The return ticket from Penang island is always free of charge for both pedestrians and vehicles.

Pedestrians
If you are walking from the mainland, you will access Penang ferry passing through Penang Sentral, the main bus and transport hub of Penang state and Northwest Malaysia. Read our guide to catching a bus from Penang Sentral.
Follow the directions to Penang Ferry until you will find the ticket vending booths. Queue up and buy your ticket. The fees as of 2020 are:

Adult: RM 1.20
Children (from 5 to 12 years old): RM 0.60

Once you receive your ticket, you will have to walk through a turnpike. Scan your ticket over the code-reading machine and you’ll be let through. Ten meters ahead is a waiting area with chairs where you can wait for the next Penang Ferry departure.

penang ferry butterworth
Buy your ticket before boarding the Penang Ferry right beyond Butterworth’s Penang Sentral, where the ticket office of Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim terminal is (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Vehicles

Cost for vehicles are a bit higher, but still accessible and are paid for a one-way trip only. Each fare, of course, include all passengers — meaning that, if a car has 5 people, you will only pay for the cost of one car.

Bicycle: RM 1.40
Motorbike: RM 2.00
Car: RM 7.70
Lorry: RM 13.20 or RM27.50 depending on size

Duration of a Penang Ferry trip

A trip on the Penang Ferry generally lasts around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on sea conditions.

How is a trip on the Penang ferry for pedestrians?

Pedestrians can board the Penang Ferry directly on foot and are accommodated on the ferry’s upper deck. Depending on the ferry’s size, you may find only rows of seats and empty space for standing passengers, or, in certain cases, a few cars will share the space with passengers.

penang ferry butterworth
The passenger area on one of the Rapid Penang Ferries in 2020 (image by Marco Ferrarese)

You can either sit down and wait, find a bench next to the iron railing and enjoy views of the sea as the ferry travels, or you can do as most passengers do, and go on the front bow to observe either George Town or Butterworth come closer on the horizon.

penang ferry butterworth
A local’s favorite: observing George Town’s skyline from the front bough of Penang Ferry (image by Marco Ferrarese)

How is traveling on the Penang Ferry by car?

Traveling by car on the Penang Ferry is slightly different but also very relaxing — provided you are the patient type. On the Butterworth side, you’ll drive on a ramp on the left of Penang Sentral up to a ticket booth where you will pay for your ride.

You will have then to wait inside your car for the ferry to arrive. All the cars queue up and are allowed to drive inside the lower deck of each Penang Ferry until all spots are filled. Loading all the vehicles may take up to 20 minutes, so if you don’t have much time or are impatient, we recommend you to forget Penang Ferry and simply drive to Penang using the first Penang Bridge.

penang ferry butterworth
A view of the Straits Sea off Penang island from the Penang ferry (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Once onboard, you can relax inside of your car or take a stroll on the deck mingling with other passengers. Once the ferry reaches the other port, all vehicles, one by one, are allowed to disembark via a platform set on the opposite side of the deck. For this reason, if your car is among the first vehicles to board the ferry, you’ll also disembark first.

Again, the whole process can take up to one hour so, if you are in a rush to reach Penang Island or Butterworth, it’s better if you take the first Penang Bridge — the second is way too far, near Penang Airport.

Location of Penang Ferry on the Butterworth side

The Penang Ferry on the Butterworth side is located behind Penang Sentral. Here’s a map:

Catching trains from Penang Ferry

Butterworth is one of the few cities in the world where ferry, bus terminal and train station are all within walking distance from each other.
Penang train station is in Butterworth and has trains connections to Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, the Thailand border at Padang Besar (read our guide on how to do a Thailand Visa Run from Penang), Kuala Kangsar and Taiping.
We have written a handy guide on trains from Penang you can check for details on all the possible routes.

penang ferry butterworth
Butterworth’s train station is only about 10 minutes walking distance from Penang Ferry’s terminal (image by Marco Ferrarese)

In brief, once you return from Penang to Butterworth by Penang Ferry, enter in Penang Sentral, go to the lower ground floor and follow the directions to Butterworth train station. It just takes only 10 minutes by walking.

Penang Ferry Location on the Penang Island Side

The Penang Ferry terminal on the island side is called Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal, and it’s located in walking distance from the upper end of popular Chulia street. Here is a map:

Where to stay nearby Penang Ferry

Penang Ferry is very close to Chulia Street, Penang’s tourist enclave filled with bars, restaurants, street stalls and its backpacker heaven. You can read about our guide on backpacker accommodation in Penang or, if you have more cash to splash, our guide on George Town’s best boutique hotels. Each of these hotels is in walking distance to Penang Ferry.

Places to stay near Penang ferry terminal

If you really want to stay close to Penang Ferry, we recommend one of these three places

BUDGET
Sim City Stay
is a hostel set alongside Pengkalan Weld, perfect for backpackers or those who want to stay on a budget. Tucked on the first floor of a nondescript building, it has dorms and singles. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

MID RANGE AND LUXURY
Royale Chulan is just a few hundred meters down Pengakalan Weld, almost straight opposite the Penang Ferry. It’s a four-star hotel with large, comfortable rooms inside a restored British colonial building. A perfect option for some pampering without breaking the bank. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

The Prestige is another luxe option that’s very close to Penang Ferry. Renovated from a large colonial building, it has elegant rooms with flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machines, a restaurant, gym and infinity pool. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

If this is not what you are looking for, check many other accommodation options in George Town on Booking.com

Penang to Langkawi Ferry

Penang is connected by ferry also to Langkawi, another beautiful island in Kedah state. Langkawi, differently from Penang’s cultural vibe, has plenty of nature and beaches and it’s a favorite tropical getaway for both locals and international tourists. Read our complete guide on how to get from Penang to Langkawi.

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