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The Butterworth to Penang Island ferry 2024 guide

The Butterworth to Penang Island ferry 2024 guide

The state of Penang is separated into two distinct areas: Seberang Perai on the mainland (where the town of Butterworth is located) and Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) across the water. For many years, the only way to reach Penang Island from Butterworth was via the ferry and, despite two mega-bridges appearing over the years, it’s still the most romantic, cost-effective and evocative way to hop from Butterworth to Penang Island.

Butterworth to Penang Island ferry

How long is the ferry from Butterworth to Penang Island?

If you’re zoomed out on Google Maps, there’s barely any sign of clear blue water between Butterworth and Penang Island, but they’re actually 3km apart. The ferries are faster than they used to be, and now make the crossing in about twenty minutes.

Penang ferry operating times

The ferries run regularly throughout the day, with extra services added during the rush-hour. The first ferry departs Butterworth at 6:30am and the last service leaves George Town at 11:30pm. They run every 30 minutes, or every 20 minutes during rush hour.

On the below timetable, the peak hour services are in green, off-peak in blue.

The timetable layout is slightly confusing because the two columns might look like departure/arrival times. That’s not the case though, the timetable is only showing departure times.

Also note that Butterworth and George Town ferry terminals are sometimes referred to online or in timetables as Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim (PSAH) and Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda (PRTU) respectively – this is just the name of the terminal, Pangkalan means ‘Jetty’ in Malay.

Penang ferry fares and how to buy tickets

The ferry is very affordable and makes for a good value crossing, although it’s now more expensive than it once was.

Until 2023, it was free to cross from Penang Island to Butterworth, but there’s now a charge in both directions, costing RM2 per journey for adults, children aged 5-12 pay RM1. There’s no reduction for a return ticket.

It might also come as a surprise (and inconvenience) that the ticket office doesn’t take cash, although it does accept credit cards and several other e-payment methods.

Where to find the ferry at Butterworth

Penang Sentral is the main transport hub for Butterworth and the wider region, with plans to improve and expand even further. The ferry terminal is located just a short walk from Penang Sentral, along air-conditioned walkways.

If you’ve arrived into Butterworth on a train (for instance on the Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth train), the station is a short (although deceptively uphill) walk from the mall. Once you arrive at the top of the walkway which leads from the station, you’ll see the mall entrance to the right, and the ferry off to the left. Try to arrive in plenty of time before the ferry departs as it’ll likely take you at least twenty minutes from leaving the train to getting to the ferry departure gates.

The main interstate bus terminal is found on the ground floor of Penang Sentral Mall, and is a five minute walk from the ferry. The local buses also drop off in a similar location.

The Grab pickup and drop-off point is on level 8 of the mall, an easy lift and walk to the ferry terminal.

However you’ve arrived, the walk to the ferry terminal is straightforward although there are no escalators and you’ll need to descend one level. There are a couple of lifts, otherwise you’ll need to walk down a short flight of stairs.

Facilities at Butterworth

Penang Sentral Mall is quite compact compared to other malls in Malaysia, but it has everything you’ll need, especially if you’ve just arrived on the train from the Thai border or on a long-distance bus.

On the same level as the ferry terminal, there’s an ATM and money changer. To find them, turn right when you enter the mall and keep walking to the very end of the building, until you reach the bus ticket office. The money changer is on the right and there are two ATM tucked away in the far-left corner.

On the same floor, you’ll find the bus ticket office, toilets, food courts, fast-food joints and a 7-Eleven. The mall isn’t worth a visit in its own right, but it’s a perfect hub for travellers.

Waiting to board the ferry

After buying your tickets, scan the QR code at the gate and walk into the waiting area. It’s recently been renovated, with plenty of seating, air-conditioning, free Wifi, laptop stations and power points.

There’s a couple of places to buy drinks and snacks but, as the journey is so short, you might prefer to wait until you arrive in George Town.

If you have plenty of time before your ferry, or you’re not in a rush, try out the viewing area on the top floor before you go down to the departure gates. There’s plenty of shady seating, with expansive views across Butterworth port, the blue water, and over to Penang Island.

What to expect on board the Penang ferry

The much-loved Penang ferries of yesteryear are sadly a thing of the past, with their open-air seating and characterful approach to upkeep and décor. You’ll still see them moored at Butterworth and George Town jetties, looking slightly forlorn and in need of a new home.

What their replacements lack in character, they make up for in comfort and efficiency. There are two main seating options: either in the air-conditioned cabin (where most people go), or outside on the bow or stern. Try to go outside if you can, it gives you a much better view and recaptures some of the romance the crossing used to have.

Inside, you’ll find large luggage racks, toilets and high-powered air-conditioning.

One of the most interesting parts of the crossing is the proximity to giant container ships and tankers, which thread their way along the Straits to/from the Port of Butterworth. The contrast with the tiny fishing boats going about their daily business is fascinating.

Whether it’s your first or thousandth visit to the island, the view across the water to the tall buildings of George Town, with Penang Hill as the backdrop, takes some beating.

Can cars go on the Butterworth to Penang ferry?

No, cars aren’t allowed to use the new ferries, although motorcycles can. Cars and other vehicles are now obliged to make the crossing using one of two bridges to the south.

One of the old Butterworth to Penang car ferries left abandoned at George Town.

Arriving to George Town

It’s a suitably authentic experience arriving to George Town at Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda. No doubt it won’t be long before the area is modernised but, for now, the approach to the jetty is framed by heritage buildings, whirlpools of rubbish, and iron roofs.

The motorcycles will whizz off first before passengers are invited to disembark. The terminal is more modern inside, with a covered walkway leading to a small area with kiosks, shops and restaurants.

You’re deposited right next to the bus terminal, or you can walk out onto the main road and arrange a Grab to collect you.

If you’re visiting/staying in George Town, everything in the heritage area is only a short stroll away.

Getting the ferry from George Town, Penang Island, to Butterworth

If you’re in George Town and need to catch the ferry from Penang Island to Butterworth, most of the information above applies here.

To catch the ferry, head for the Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal, which is located here. Don’t confuse the departure point with the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal, located 400m metres along the coastline.

The ticket buying process is simple, with helpful staff members on hand to sell you tickets, just remember that the no-cash rule applies here too. The comfortable waiting area is the same as you’ll experience in Butterworth and is a nice place to wait for the ferry.

Final thoughts on taking the Butterworth to Penang Island ferry

There might now be two bridges linking the mainland and Penang Island, but the ferry remains the best way to cross the short stretch of water between the two. Not only will you be dropped right into the centre of George Town, you’ll get the chance to experience the classic mode of arrival onto Penang Island.

The ferries might not have quite the romance and atmosphere they once had but, for only RM2, it’s still the best way to arrive.