Along the north-western coast of the Malaysian Peninsula is the charming island of Penang. It is separated from Seberang Perai in the mainland and joined together by one iconic landmark, Penang Bridge. Most of the leading tourist destinations associated with Penang, such as Georgetown, Penang Islamic Museum and the many ancient temples, mosques and cathedrals, are in the island, and so tourists need to cross the narrow 3-km channel to truly experience the beauty of Penang. The most practical choice is a short ferry ride, but clearly the more picturesque is driving over historic Penang Bridge.
With a total span of 13.5 km, Penang Bridge is clearly the longest bridge in Malaysia, the fourth longest in Asia and the sixth in the world. The views of the bridge from the city and of the city from the bridge are stunning, especially at nights when the city and bridge come alive with a spectacular display of lights. People driving across could not help but use the emergency stop areas to spend a few moments enjoying the view and snap some photos. Going to the island, a toll is charged: RM 1.40 for motorcycles, RM 7.00 for cars, and RM 12.00 for buses. Driving back to the mainland is toll-free.
Designed by Professor Ching Kung Fee, a well respected civil engineer, Penang Bridge began construction in 1982 and was completed and opened to the public on September 14, 1985. It could hold a maximum capacity of 85,000 vehicles per day, and today it currently handles about 65,000 vehicles daily. Originally, there were only four lanes, but since traffic continues to grow, the bridge was expanded to accommodate six lanes. A second bridge, the Penang Second Bridge is now being constructed.
The idea and plans of constructing a bridge to Penang began as early as the 1960s. It was the original idea of the late Abdul Razak bin Dato’ Hussain, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister. It was only in 1971, however, that the Malaysian government truly realized that a bridge was necessary to boost Penang and the country’s economies. And so the official construction plans began from there. It was former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who actually began construction, and true enough the bridge significantly bolstered Penang and Malaysia’s over-all economy.
Before the bridge was completed, people used to just rely on the Penang Ferry Service, which still operates today, to cross the channel. Ferries run between Butterworth in the mainland and Georgetown, Penang’s famed capital city. The extremely charming Georgetown is the perfect welcome to Malaysia’s leading tourist destination. Georgetown is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites for its 19th-century landmarks. There are several old houses, shophouses, colonial buildings, temples, mosques and cathedrals that are so majestic to see. Tourists could not get enough just strolling along or riding a traditional trishaw through Georgetown’s narrow alleyways.
In addition to Georgetown, Penang Bridge leads to other amazing destinations such as Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Fort Cornwallis, Penang Botanical Gardens, Penang Hill, and Penang National Park, among others.