Batu Feringgi is located some 15 kilometres to the west of Georgetown, although journeys depending from which part of Georgetown you are driving from, often take anywhere between 20-30 minutes depending on the traffic condition in the city centre. Distance from the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas is slightly more than 30 kilometres and driving may take close to 1 hour as one still needs to pass through downtown Georgetown before entering the less busier road that leads to Batu Feringgi.
There are ample road signage throughout the city that point to Batu Feringgi although one still needs to worry about the abrupt left- or right-hand turns when driving if you have less sense of direction. Batu Feringgi is also accessible by either public buses or taxis throughout the island.
The mere mention of Penang often conjures several immediate images, such as its sumptuous food, the Penang Bridge, Bukit Bendera, KOMTAR (yes, I know, but it is still the tallest building on the island) and the sun-kissed beach of Batu Feringgi. Almost every visitor to the island will tour the beach, to the very least, if not dipping into its discernibly murky waters.
There are one too many spellings for the name of the beach itself, from Ferringhi to Feringgi with several localised variants in between. If that is not peculiar enough, the origin of its name is still debatable until today. The most common consensus has it that the name originates from Portuguese word that means foreigners, and yet, there was not clear evidence of any Portuguese influence on the island since the 1500s. As Penang was more of a commodity entrepôt for spice trading in the 1700s, there is an emerging prognosis that the name has an Arabic origin as Arab traders plied the region during the spice trading era.
Whatever its origin might be, interestingly enough, Batu Feringgi is often filled with foreigners as its name is made to connote. In the 1970s and 1980s, a tourism boom hit the beach stretch as international-class hotels and resorts were built literally next to each other. Today, the beach is dotted by mostly antiquated looking hotel buildings that have called Batu Feringgi home for so many years, such as Shangri-la’s Rasa Sayang, Shangri-la’s Golden Sands, Holiday Inn Resort, Parkroyal Hotel, Bayview Beach Resort and Casuarina Beach Resort.
If you are expecting crystal-clear waters teeming with colourful corals and teeming marine fishes, you are in for a disappointment. Batu Feringgi, or as it is the case with all beaches in Penang, is no Redangs or Perhentians of the world. For whatever reason that might be, most beaches along facing the Straits of Malacca are not endowed with clear waters, with the exception of the beach at Pulau Payar near Langkawi. The sands are acceptably powdery and soft with visibly no trash being thrown around, thanks to beach cleaning efforts done by most of the resorts fronting Batu Feringgi.
So, no swimming, no snorkeling? What does one do in Batu Feringgi? Plenty actually. The beach is really known for motorised watersports activities such as jet skiing and parasailing. Moreover, these activities are mostly banned in environmentally sensitive islands such as Pulau Redang, Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Lang Tengah, Pulau Tioman and others that are accorded with marine park status. The loud noise coming from the water scooters (a.k.a jet skis) is often uncompromising and the activity is habitually partaken in rempit-style of the locals. Parasailing is also extremely popular and affordable too, and for a paltry sum of RM20 – RM30, one can fly above the beach for 30 minutes or so.
Another important character of Batu Feringgi, if you allow me to rant further, is the daily night market which runs on the sidewalk of the main road that traverses the area. The stalls are uniquely set up only later in the evening and will be taken out around midnight. Hence, during the day, one can barely tell there will be a night market along the sidewalk. The night market (or pasar malam) sells literally anything under the sun, from cheap Rolex or Tag Hauer, branded apparels to ‘bargain’ DVD box sets that usually cost the foreign tourists a bomb in their own countries.
All in all, Batu Feringgi lacks the textbook quality of an awe-inspiring beach of white sands and turquoise clear waters, but rest assured one shall rarely be condemned to boredom as there are plenty of beach and non-beach activities that go around day and night.