Butterworth Ferry: Little Trips Make for Big Adventures

Our family stayed close to home this weekend.  Thanks to a certain tiny human who likes to stay awake all night, Joel and I have been very tired lately.  But even when we stay home, Simon has grown to expect at least a little adventure everyday.

I came up with a big hit.  It was good for an afternoon adventure and it cost us a sum total of RM2.40, less than a US dollar.  Long before the Butterworth Bridge connected Penang Island to the mainland, people had to get back and forth on a regular basis.  Their only option back then was the ferry, and it still runs today.  

The ferries are double-deckers.  Vehicles can drive onto both the top and bottom levels.  There is seating for pedestrians on the top level as well, and you are actually permitted to roam around the whole boat.  Most of the pedestrians appeared to be daily commuters, although I spotted a few Asian tourists as well. 

Vehicles on the lower level.
Many people got out of their cars during the voyage.
Simon and I climbed from the upstairs pedestrian area to the downstairs vehicle deck.

The ride across the channel takes maybe 20 minutes. We saw a few other vessels while we were on the water–tiny fishing boats painted in bright primary colors as well as big, drab barges.  


We disembarked in Butterworth and didn’t even leave the ferry terminal–just looped back around for the return ride.  The trip is quite affordable.  You only have to pay one direction (Butterworth to Penang).  Adults pay RM1.20, kids are half-price, and children under age 4 are free.  But beware: you must pay in exact change, coins only, and the money changer operated at the pace of a tree sloth.  Seriously, you only have one thing all day: people handing you one-ringgit bills and asking for coins.  You could probably anticipate their needs, wouldn’t you think?  But the guy seemed to need to have an elaborate conversation to ascertain the needs of each passenger, and the boats don’t wait for exact change.

As usual when we get out of touristy areas, Simon was the center of attention.  On the return trip, we sat next to a group of young Indonesian men.  One guy had an electric blue guitar and all the guys were singing.  They thought Simon was adorable and they kept trying to coax him to hang out with them.  He refused.  

Simon’s fans.

We’d purchased a bag of knock-off M&Ms as a treat.  After eating a few, he shared one with me.  And one with Joel.  And one with the man sitting next to us.  Then he just started going down the line, handing out M&Ms to everyone in our section of the ferry.  I kept directing him to the Indonesian guys, but he was shy around them.  At least they were good sports and laughed about it.  Eventually, Simon made his way to the next batch of seats.  Suddenly, little old ladies with grocery sacks and businessmen trying to read the newspaper each had a little hand stuff a candy in their faces.  They were less amused than the people near us who’d been watching Simon’s charity unfold.
By the time Simon ran out of candies, we were just getting back to Penang.  The ferry terminal is also, reasonably, one of the main bus terminals in Penang.  But we wanted to get home a little faster.  We called an Uber and headed back with a happy three-year-old, content that he’d had his daily adventure. 

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