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Can you drink the water in Penang? We share our drinking water safety tips

Can you drink the water in Penang? We share our drinking water safety tips

Alongside the impact of air travel on climate change, the biggest environmental concern most travellers have relates to plastic waste. When you arrive in a new country, one of the most pressing questions you’ll encounter is; am I safe to drink the tap water in Penang?

For convenience, cost, and the environment, tap water is the clear winner, but does drinking it in Penang come with any health risks? 

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Tap water

Compared to other countries, Malaysia’s tap water is of reasonable quality and in Penang itself, it’s not uncommon for locals to drink it with no treatment. It’s not fully recommended for short-term visitors to follow this approach, as you won’t have built up any tolerance and are increasing your risk of a minor stomach bug during your stay. 

More usual is for locals to boil the water first, which removes anything likely to give you stomach issues. As a visitor to Penang, this is also a cheap, safe and environmentally friendly approach.

Bottled water

Bottled water is everywhere in Penang, with most shops and supermarkets selling them. There’s no doubt they’re convenient and you’ll be drinking a consistent product, but consider the impact these plastic bottles have on the environment. Please remember to recycle the bottles after use.

Before you purchase, make sure the seal is unbroken and it’s from a reliable manufacturer.

Filtered water

Many homes and restaurants in Penang have a water filter machine, either connected directly to the taps, or as a water fountain/dispenser. These are a great innovation and a good compromise between drinking tap water with no health issues.

Just check someone has changed the filter regularly and the water looks clean; it’s not entirely uncommon for some restaurants to be lax with the maintenance schedule.

Some supermarkets also sell filtered water for a fraction of the price of normal bottled water, or they have a machine you can use in-store if you bring your own bottle. Many hotels and hostels offer the same service for free.

Simple filtration options

A fantastic drinking invention, and one which is of particular use if you’re off the beaten track in Penang (e.g. in the National Park hiking up to Muka Lighthouse) and can’t access a shop or filtered tap, is a water bottle with built in steriliser.

There are a few on the market, but we particularly liked the WaterWell™ Travel Ultra 2 Stage Filter 700ml Water Bottle, which removes bacteria and parasites (including Salmonella, E-coli, Giardia) and chemicals. It’s the perfect water bottle for travellers.

WaterWell Water Filter Bottle, BPA-Free Tritan, 2-Stage…
  • 💧 DITCH THE DISPOSABLE WATER BOTTLES – Stop relying on single-use plastic water bottles! With the…
  • 💧 FILTER 99.9% OF WATERBORNE PATHOGENS – The 2-stage filter in the WaterWell 700ml Travel Water…
  • 💧 KEEP YOURSELF HYDRATED – Whether you’re out camping, hiking, or on a long journey, make sure…
  • 💧 NO AFTERTASTE – Unlike some other water filter bottles on the market, the WaterWell doesn’t…
  • 💧 EASY TO USE: Simply fill the bottle with water from any source, screw on the filter cap and…

As an alternative, it’s cheap and easy to carry some water purification tablets around with you on your trips around the island. Drop them into a reusable bottle filled with tap water and within a few minutes, it’ll be ready to drink, with all the bad stuff removed. Some people (especially kids) find the taste slightly off-putting, so also consider bringing along some fruit flavoured tablets to mask the slight chemical taste.

Final thoughts

Everyone needs to drink, especially in a hot place like Penang. On the whole, the tap water is of decent quality, and many locals and visitors drink it with no problems.

If you prefer the extra security of an alternative, try to favour boiling or filtrations, rather than always defaulting to a plastic water bottle. It’s usually cheaper, and the environment will thank you.