Clan Jetties Penang – Historical Village Living

Clan Jetties Penang – Historical Village Living

The Clan Jetties Penang are unique Chinese settlements that have been around since the 19th century.

Billed as one of the last bastions of old Chinese settlements on the island, this waterfront community is home to houses on various Chinese clans’ stilts. 

Clan Jetties Penang’s ‘clan jetties’ are Chinese water villages and form part of the Penang Heritage Trail.

The Clan Jetties represent another way of life of living close to the sea and on water.

The descendants of these Chinese immigrants until today and share the same beliefs! 

George Town’s gems are a living heritage with valuable cultural and historical significance that has earned the city recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Location of the Clan Jetties Penang

Penang’s Clan Jetties is located along the southern stretch of the island’s coastal road, Weld Quay; the settlements were created as a part of a massive reclamation project in George Town in the early years.

In the 19th century, Chinese immigrants mostly came from the Tong An district in China’s Fujian province to Penang to seek a better life.

Clan Jetties Penang - Historical Village Living

Prayer Altars outside the homes at the Clan Jetties in Penang.

History of the Clan Jetties Penang

Penang Port was one of the major ports in Malaya. During the British rule, the clan jetties along Weld Quay was built to house the Chinese laborer who works at the harbor.

After the construction of the Quay in 1882, the waterfront was developed with short public landing stages or jetties.

Settlements grew on these foundations, and they were used for the loading and unloading of goods and the mooring of sampans (boats).

Clan Jetties Penang - Historical Village Living

Built with bare necessities, the jetty settlements started as squatters and didn’t have basic amenities like water and electricity.

After the Penang municipal elections in 1957, the clan jetties got their piped water and electricity.

Before that, the villagers used to carry water in kerosene tins from a tap on the main road.

When the government first developed the jetties, a shed was built to provide shelter and rest for those waiting for the cargo sampans’ arrival.

When the clans took over the jetties, this shed was converted into a communal house.

The close-knit community lived in clusters or villages by their surnames. The houses were built as attap-roofed wooden houses on stilts with the anchored sampans for the men who worked as coolies, fishing, or ferrying passengers or goods from nearby ships.

From more than 20 clan jetties back in the day.

Seven different clans still reside at the Clan Jetties: the Lim, Chew, Tan, and Yeoh jetties are the oldest, and the Koay, Lee, and Mixed Surname jetties were built afterward.

Two clan jetties — Koay, whose residents were Chinese Muslims, and Peng Aun — were demolished in 2006 to make way for development.

After a Chinese clan, each jetty is the Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly with the most stilt-houses with the longest walkway.

The Hean Boo Thean Kuan Yin Temple is popularly known as the floating Kuan Yin Temple. The best time to visit is during sunset. 

Of the seven remaining jetties saved by the UNESCO listing, many are struggling to keep up with the pace of modernity, and some even had to compromise on their identities.

The wooden houses on stilts that extend out to the sea are still there, but many are now sporting zinc roofs. 

Clan Jetties Penang - Historical Village Living

Image: Chew Jetty Facebook

UNESCO World Heritage Site 

Major transportation hubs are still located along Weld Quay today.

  • Swettenham Pier
  • Raja Tun Uda Ferry Terminal
  • Rapid Ferry Terminal
  • Rapid Bus Terminal 

Village Living in the Clan Jetties 

The small villages with wooden huts lining along wooden walkways are characterized by old traditions and prayer altars outside the front door to sea-facing temples for the residents’ spiritual needs. These water villages are over a century old.

Village life is now very different.

The once quiet afternoons punctuated by sounds of clogs on the wooden walkways, lively chatter of batik sarong-wrapped elderly ladies and laughing children – came with the jarring changes in the wake of the UNESCO World Heritage site recognition.

The traditional houses built on stilts made them look as if they were forever stuck in a capsule. 

Many homes on the jetty have been converted into souvenir shops.

Residents sell everything from hats of every shape and size, souvenirs, bowls of noodles, snacks, and drinks to specialty ice cream.

The residents have lost their privacy with the din of vendors and tourists milling about along the main path.

The jetties are major tourist sites – It is now a cross between tourist shops and people’s houses.

Tourists are welcome and are free to stroll about the wooden piers. 

Clan Jetties Penang - Historical Village Living

Best Time to Visit the Clan Jetties Penang

The clan jetty visiting hours are 9 am to 9 pm. Don’t go too early because the shops don’t open till 10.30 am.

The best way to experience the village life of the Clan jetties is to live there. You can book a stay or rent a simple room here.

The best time of the day to experience the Clan Jetties is in the early morning, around 7 am.

If you are staying, you can witness the locals going about their daily morning rituals.

You can witness morning prayer at the home altar or the temples.

The housewives prepare food for their families. School children and workers are going to work.

While these traditional jetty houses were pleasing to the eyes, visitors would need to note that homes belong to the locals, and taking pictures of their residence was prohibited.

Be mindful when you take pictures. Do be respectful and ask for permission before clicking. 

Best time for photography – wait for sunset.

You will be rewarded d with a spectacular splash of orange contrasts beautifully with the turquoise-blue sea.

If you’re lucky, you may get a shot of a sampan in the foreground.  

Clan Jetties Penang - Historical Village Living

Image: Oscar Ng Facebook

Location of Clan Jetties Penang 

The Clan Jetties are situated close to the Penang ferry terminal, with the entrance to the jetties located through the temple on the quayside. 

You walk there from KOMTAR.

A trishaw ride costs a few ringgits.

You can also take RapidPG bus numbers 307 and 401E from KOMTAR.

Nearby exciting places include Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) near the Swettenham Pier. 

If you decide you want to visit Chew Jetty and the many other exciting places in Penang


CLAN JETTIES – George Town World Heritage Inc.

Clan Jetties UNESCO Listing Boon or Bane?

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