Nestled along the vibrant shores of Penang, Malaysia, Chew Jetty stands as a living testament to the island’s rich history and cultural diversity.
This iconic waterfront settlement, known for its rustic charm and distinctive stilt houses, is the perfect destination for travellers seeking an authentic glimpse into Penang’s past.
In this blog post, I delve into the history of Chew Jetty, things to do there and why it is a worthwhile addition to your Penang travel itinerary.
How To Get To Chew Jetty
Chew Jetty is conveniently located in the heritage area of George Town in Penang, making it accessible by various modes of transportation. Here’s how you can get to Chew Jetty:
Walking to Chew Jetty
If you’re exploring George Town on foot, getting to Chew Jetty is a pleasant stroll, especially if you’re in the vicinity of the heritage zone. Situated on Weld Quay, at the end of Armenian Street, you can walk along the historic streets, taking in the vibrant surroundings and colonial architecture.
Don’t forget to look out for two of George Town’s famous murals, ‘Children on a Swing’ and ‘Children playing Basketball’, close to Chew Jetty.
Arriving by Bus
Penang has a well-connected public bus system. You can take a Rapid Penang bus to reach Chew Jetty. Check the bus routes and schedules, and look for buses that pass through or near Weld Quay. The Weld Quay bus terminal is close to the clan jetty, making it a convenient drop-off point.
Where to Park at Chew Jetty Penang
You can reach Chew Jetty by car; however, parking in the heritage area can be challenging, and spaces may be limited.
There are parking facilities nearby, including street parking and public parking lots. Pay attention to parking regulations and fees, and be aware that the heritage area can get busy, especially during peak hours.
Arriving By Ferry
If you are coming from the mainland (Butterworth), take the ferry to the Penang Island ferry terminal located in George Town. Once you arrive at the ferry terminal, walk (20 minutes) or take a short taxi or bus ride to Chew Jetty.
How Long Will I Need At Chew Jetty?
Chew Jetty is free to enter, and you can walk to the end of the jetty in 5-10 minutes.
That said, you will probably also look in the shops, maybe have something to eat, and even hop aboard a boat for a leisurely cruise along Penang’s waterfront, so allow yourself a while longer. You could also have a look at the more residential Lee Jetty, which is a short walk from this one.
The History of Chew Jetty
Seven different clans once resided by the waterfront in stilted houses built above the water. The Lim, Chew, Tan and Yeoh jetties were the oldest, with Lee, Koay and Mixed Surnames appearing later.
Chew Jetty traces its roots back to the late 19th century when Chinese immigrants, predominantly of the Chew Clan, settled along the shorelines of Penang.
Seeking economic opportunities, these early settlers constructed wooden houses on stilts, creating a waterfront community that would later become known as Chew Jetty. Over the years, the community has preserved its heritage, and today, it stands as one of the last remaining clan jetties in George Town Penang.
Interestingly, as none of the residents live on land, they don’t pay Government taxes.
Who lives on Chew Jetty?
The residents of Chew Jetty are predominantly descendants of the Chew Clan, and their unique lifestyle and traditions have been passed down through generations.
Walking through the jetty, you’ll encounter friendly locals going about their daily lives, providing a rare opportunity to witness the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernity. The tight-knit community maintains its cultural practices, and many residents continue to engage in traditional activities like fishing and selling handmade crafts. However, the majority of younger residents now work in town.
Things To Do On Chew Jetty
Chew Jetty is small, but by wandering along its narrow wooden walkway, you will see the unique architecture of the wooden stilt houses, pass shops run by residents and get a feel of daily life on the waterfront.
While the jetty is a place you will want to photograph, be wary that taking a sneaky photo of a resident or the inside of a wooden house is not okay. You will see a few reminder notices hung up along the jetty.
Also, be wary of local motorbikes suddenly being behind you as you stroll along the walkway. They weave their way through the tourists on the way to their homes. You’ll need to jump out of the way quickly as they don’t stop!
Discover the small shops and boutiques along the jetty, where you can purchase handmade crafts, souvenirs, and traditional items created by talented residents. It’s an excellent way to support the local community. I bought a straw hat from one of the shops back in 2018, and it’s still going strong. On my recent visit in 2023, I bought a pair of harem pants (because when in Penang, it’s the one thing everyone wears!)
If you are interested in Penang Street Art, a mural can be found painted on the side of a wooden house. It is called ‘Folklore by the Sea’ and shows a father relaxing in his hammock while his children play beside him and tend to the fish he has caught for supper. The artist is Yip Yee Chong, a talented muralist who has contributed to much of the street art in Singapore.
While Chew Jetty in Penang is primarily a residential area and does not have large-scale temples, you can step inside the small but ornate Chao Yuan Kong (Temple of Good Health) as you enter the jetty.
Small Chinese altars or family shrines are within the homes of the residents. The traditional stilt houses often have small spaces dedicated to religious practices, which families adorn with incense, offerings, and images of deities.
As you stroll through Chew Jetty and explore the narrow wooden walkways, you might catch glimpses of these intimate household altars through open doors or windows. The residents incorporate Chinese folk religion or Taoism elements into their daily lives, expressing their cultural and spiritual heritage.
Sample Local Cuisine
Along the walkway are places to grab a snack or sit for a meal. If you like Durian fruit, there’s a Durian ice cream shop along the jetty; if you haven’t eaten it before, be prepared for the smell. It’s not called ‘the stinkiest fruit in the world’ for nothing!
Outside the jetty on the main road are numerous street food stalls offering everything from freshly caught seafood to traditional snacks. Don’t miss the opportunity to savour the distinct flavours of Penang.
Take a Boat Ride
At the end of Chew Jetty, you can hop aboard a boat to take a look at Penang from the water. You’ll pass things like the old Penang ferry, see the Komptor Tower and, no doubt, see a cruise ship in the harbour. If you are lucky, you might even be joined by an inquisitive dolphin or two.
There’s no pre-booking; you just turn up and wait your turn. It costs about RM 20 per person.
Where To Stay on Chew Jetty
If you want an immersive experience, then why not spend a night at the homestay, My Chew Jetty?
Is Chew Jetty Worth Adding To A Penang Travel Itinerary?
Absolutely! Chew Jetty offers a unique and authentic experience. The blend of history, culture, and the warmth of the local community makes it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the island’s rich heritage.
Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or simply looking for a picturesque stroll along the waterfront, Chew Jetty promises a memorable and enriching experience. Include it in your Penang travel itinerary for an immersive journey into the heart of this captivating Malaysian destination.
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