Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sunset Cruise around Penang

Wind rushes through my hair as the yacht skims over the water. We're celebrating my friend's birthday on a Sunset Cruise around Penang Island. We relax on the comfy seats at the front of the boat raising our wine glasses in a toast and spend the next hours chatting and laughing while enjoying the sights. Ah, this is the life.

I'm on a boat!

For as many times as I've looked out over the water around Penang Island, I haven't actually spent much time on the water gazing back at the land. I've seen so many boats out there, from small fishing boats to sailboats to the cruise ships that pass by my home daily. Would it be my turn soon? Sure, I could hop on the ferry from George Town to Butterworth on the mainland or even hire a tiny boat to take me to Monkey Beach. But my fantasy voyage was doing it the high class, luxury way. When my friends asked if I wanted to join them on a cruise from Straits Quay down to the First Bridge and back with Blue Whale Cruises, I jumped at the chance. 

KOMTAR towers over the rest of George Town as a ferry makes its way to the island.

I've been to the restaurants and stores adjoining Straits Quay Marina so many times, but this is the first time that the gate to the private pier swings open for us, admitting us to the restricted area. With a dozen of us in the birthday party, we had the entire boat to ourselves. Well, except for the crew and Eileen, owner of Blue Whale and quite a delightful hostess. You didn't expect us to operate the boat ourselves, did you? As we climb aboard, Eileen cheerfully greets each of us with a delicious chilled glass of juice. After a short safety talk ("There are the life jackets if you need one. Don't touch the controls!"), we commence with our journey.

Picking out the various Penang landmarks from the unfamiliar vantage point of being on the water is entertaining. Many of us live on this side of the island, so the first part of the excursion is spent trying to find the condos we call home. KOMTAR, easily the tallest building on the island at 65-storeys tall, is obvious to identify.

A look across the Straits to a ferry boat by Butterworth

The part of Butterworth that's easiest to spot comes across as very industrial with its tall cranes to load large containers onto ships at port and holding tanks for petrol. By the time our cruise is over, we'll see at least three of the ferry boats that make their way between the island and the mainland. The ferry service started operating in 1920, and until the Penang Bridge opened in 1985, it was the primary way to get to and from Penang.

Ferry terminal, Church Street Pier and the clocktower of the old Malayan Railway Building

Cruising around the island, I learn something new. I have never once noticed the clock tower in the above picture in all the times that I've driven around George Town. How in the world can that be? Perhaps I've been too busy keeping my eyes on the road dodging motor scooters and pedestrians. At first, I thought it was the famous Queen Victoria Clocktower except that it's in the wrong place. It's part of the old Malayan Railway Building (now Wisma Kastam) built in 1907 on China Street Ghaut. Interestingly, this building was known for being the only railway building in the world without any train tracks near it. Customers could purchase rail tickets here before taking a ferry, included in the fare, across to Butterworth where they would then board the train.

Penang Bridge and Jerejak Island

The Penang Bridge stretches 13.5 km (8.4 miles) over the water connecting the island to the mainland. Any day now -- soon, very soon, we're told -- the Penang Second Bridge will open further south. At 24 km (15 miles), the Second Bridge will hopefully ease some of the traffic. A few weeks after this cruise, hubby had a chance to enjoy this yacht again, and they made it all the way down to the Second Bridge on that voyage.

Tugboat in action with the Penang Bridge behind it and the cranes of the Container Terminal on the left.

The bridge is the turnaround point for the night's cruise. The sun has been gradually sinking in the sky during our excursion, but the hills in the middle of the island block any spectacular sunset. May the next time we go on a Sunset Cruise, I'll ask to head the other way around the National Park so that we can can get a different view of the sun setting over the water.

KOMTAR, the Esplanade, and Town Hall

I love watching the city lights sparkle as twilight falls over the island. From the water, the large cruise ships look positively huge compared to our boat, and one of them definitely dwarfs Swettenham Pier where cruise passengers board and disembark.

Two cruise boats docked at Swettenham Pier

As we head back to the marina, we enjoy nibbling on the finger food Eileen spread out below the deck. I'd show you a picture, but I was one of the last people through the line. Small sandwiches, sausages, cheese, fruit, other hors d'oeuvres beckon me. Hmmm... what to eat? Some of everything, of course. When hubby cruises with Blue Whale again a few weeks later, he enjoys a full dinner cruise, lucky him.

Twenty people could have easily fit on board. Eileen often hires the Whale out for private cruises for something as casual as a fishing trip to fancy, special occasions like weddings. Another friend enjoyed a family reunion dinner party on board and raved about how fun it was. If you'd like to take a cruise but don't have big enough group for a private charter, just contact Eileen and she will try to find other people interested in heading out (10 people minimum).

Straits Quay Marina at night

By the end of the cruise, the island is covered in night. We sit on the yacht for a while longer enjoying a pleasant evening with friends. Reluctant to let the party end, we eventually move to one of the many fine restaurants at Straits Quay.

The Whale
If you would like to enjoy cruising around on The Whale, see the Blue Whale Cruises website or email them at bluewhalecruises@gmail.com. for information. Eileen will be sure to take care of you.

2014 Prices
Contact Eileen for details and prices of a private charter.
Sightseeing Cruise - RM229 pp
Monkey Beach Cruise - RM299 pp
Sunset Cruise (Finger Food) - RM265 pp
Sunset Cruise (Full Dinner) - RM340 pp (Departs 18:00 and returns 21:00)
Round the Island Cruise RM399 pp (Departs 10:00 and returns 18:00; Includes a BBQ lunch and soft drinks, one hour stop at Monkey Beach, and one hour stop at Pulau Rimal)

Children under 5 years old are Free.
All food is Halal.


  1. Wow, sounds like a memorable cruise! I'd be sure to apply a lot of sun screen if i were to join the cruise :p

  2. So happy to stumble upon your site. I had a chance to visit Malaysia a few years ago. (We meant to make it to Penang, but it didn't happen. Spent most of the time in KL, a little island near Kota Bharu and Sarawak). Nonetheless, we found M'sia lovely and diverse with delicious foods What a fun, unique experience for your family! Looking forward to reading more. :-)

  3. I'm so pleased to stumble upon your site--what a unique adventure for your family! I had the chance to visit Malaysia in 2009--lovely and diverse, with *such* tasty food! We spent most of our time in KL, Sarawak, and an island near Kota Bharu. Penang *almost* made the itinerary. I'm looking forward to reading more. Best, Meghan in Milwaukee

  4. Seems like a wonderful cruise - the night views must've been so pretty!

  5. Sounds like a perfect way to get out on the water. And a perfect party to attend!

  6. That surely does look like "the life!" Thanks for taking us on the cruise with you!

  7. What a lovely way to see Penang from a different perspective.

  8. What a perfect way to celebrate with friends. A beautiful cruise and so memorable a time.

  9. Are you kidding me? You get a view of that from your home everyday, Michele? I'm so envious! What beautiful surroundings and reminds me a lot SF Bay in California. I would love to that cruise sunset cruise! :)

  10. Hi

    I am thinking of travelling alone with my 4 yr old son to Penang. Would be glad to hv your opinions if it's appropriate.

    Thank you.

    1. Shereen, Penang is a wonderful place to visit with a young child. Feel free to message me through Facebook if you have specific questions. The Penang Momma blog is another good place to look for child-friendly suggestions.

  11. What a wonderful way to spend you friend's birthday! This was one of the stops on our honeymoon last month, we visited the spice gardens there which was one of my favorite spots!:-)

  12. seems like a great evening on the boat. :)


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