Walking toward the Chew Jetty, we were excited. We had heard it was a fantastic sight, the highlight of Penang.
First of All, What is a Jetty?
It’s an odd name, but not odd for the Chinese in Malaysia. Jetty is the name of an actual floating village on stilts sitting over the water. What an amazing thing to see.
At first we thought they were just little abandoned stilt-houses along the waterfront, until we realized people were actually living in them!
The roots of these clan jetties go back over a century when Penang’s boat trade was booming.
The jetties or water villages are each named after a Chinese clan.
What is the Chew Jetty?
The Chew Jetty, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has the most stilt-houses, its tourist friendly and its photogenic, or at least the view across the water is photogenic.
It is the most prominent of the eight clan jetties of Pengkalan Weld Quay, the street curving along the waterfront in George Town. George Town is the capital of Penang state on Pulua Pinang Island, in Malaysia.
The History of Clan Jetties
The Quay, constructed in 1882, had public loading docks as well as sheds built for shelter while people were waiting for boats. These sheds were known as Jetties. It was in these sheds that the water villages grew and became the homes of specific clans of people – people who fought over work projects.
It was not until 1957 that these squatters in their tiny huts even had water and electricity. Seven different clans still live in these water villages and because they do not live on land, these families pay no taxes.
People still live in these houses so one must be respectful when taking photos. The sunset provides a brilliant backdrop for the grey huts and sampan boats against the blue ocean.
The Clan Jetties are close to the Penang ferry terminal.
The Chew Jetty is full of shops with touristy items and food, clothing and ice cream. Loud music fills the air. We couldn’t even tell that the little houses were on stilts until we got to the end.
The walkway down the middle was scrubbed spotless but at the end the view was kind of grubby.
Unless you know the history of the jetties, you may be disappointed by the hustle-bustle of tourism.
Still, we found knowing about the past evolution of the jetties, added much to its unique character and charm.