As Southeast Asia beach destinations go, no doubt you could do better than Batu Ferringhi.
But…you could also do a lot worse.
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What Batu Ferringhi lacks in swimability and Instagramability, it more than makes up with in its numerous activities and attractions within a stone’s throw of town.
We couldn’t come all the way to Penang without spending some significant time at the beach! We’re spending our final week of three in Batu Ferringhi, and couldn’t be happier with our decision.
That’s not to say we didn’t have reservations about coming to Batu Ferringhi.
Penang was one of the tougher beach destinations for us to get a handle on during the planning stages of our trip. There are a variety of opinions on planning a beach vacation on the island — some positive and a lot of negative.
Penang is not Sabah or Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) nor is it very comparable with the Thai beaches in the Andaman Sea a short distance to the north.
Due to pollution and related jellyfish infestation, swimming in the waters off Penang is strongly discouraged. A lot of visitors have a problem with this. I had a problem with this. I still have a problem with this as I’m writing these words *&^#$@%.
Visiting a tropical beach and not being able to swim in the ocean? Wha…!?
Batu Ferringhi’s also got a large number of touts pushing the area’s controversial water sports industry — everything from parasailing to jet skiing (with sunset horseback rides) is yours for the taking.
Additionally, for a relatively large tropical island, there are surprisingly few beaches on which to base yourself — practically speaking, there’s two: Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah. After visiting the latter, I’d even remove Tanjung Bungah from the list.
Sure, there are a number of beautiful beaches to visit around the island, but if you want to have access to both a long stretch of relatively clean sand within easy walking distance of restaurants and bars, Batu Ferringhi is the only practical option.
Be that as it may…we have no regrets.
Batu Ferringhi won’t make it onto our top ten beach destinations list, but we enjoyed it for what it is — a fun and relaxing place to spend some time on the beach that is centrally located to a lot of cool attractions (George Town, Penang National Park, Entopia Butterfly Farm, Tropical Spice Garden) with good number of restaurants and amenities.
And, for the boys’ ages, it’s perfect.
It also helped that we spotted macaque monkeys in the trees and a monitor lizard on our short walk from where we were staying to the beach. As far as first impressions go, that put Batu in a very special category.
I’ve lost track of the number of tropical beaches Noe’s been to, but this is Riley’s very first. I’m not sure if it was the sea breeze, the waves, or something in his DNA, but the second we emerged from the beach trail onto the actual beach, this little dude was smiling from ear to ear, and didn’t stop smiling until we headed back for bed several hours later.
We call him Smiley Riley for a reason, but this was on another level.
Noe is absolutely stoked to be back at the beach as well, but just has a little different way of expressing it. For his part, he was more quiet and contemplative, but every bit content staring at the waves and feeling the wind in his hair.
I knew he was a bit bummed too (as I was) that we couldn’t go running into the water. We’ll scout things out over the coming days and see how serious the risk is. These things are impossible to gauge from travel forums alone.
We arrived at the beach just before sunset, which is always a nice time to be on a tropical beach, particularly if it has a view facing the setting sun, which Batu’s northwest orientation certainly offers.
Toes-in-the-Sand Beach Bars on Batu
It took a bit of a walk to reach Bora Bora, but we made it in just under 15 minutes!
At every one of the dozen or so beach destinations we’ve visited over the years in Thailand, Bora Bora’s basic outdoor seating and high-priced food offerings probably wouldn’t have caught our attention. It may have scored an average rating on a good day.
On Penang, however, Bora Bora is king. At least among Westerners.
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of drinking and dining options right on the beach in Batu Ferringhi. There are quite a few restaurants and bars inside the large international resorts lining the beach, but they are set back away from foot traffic and separated from the beach by hedges or fences.
But Bora Bora did the job this particular evening (and they have an excellent cheap breakfast which we also tried and highly recommend).
Also, the tiki decor and vibe inside Bora Bora is pretty cool, but not where I want to spend my time on a pleasant evening at the beach.
River Stone + Frandy’s
In addition to Bora Bora, River Stone (adjacent to the storm drainage canal) and Frandy’s on the western edge of the beach near Hard Rock Hotel were the two other toes-in-the-sand beach bar-restaurants that we’d recommend. More on both of these places later in this post.
Beach Activities + Watersports at Batu Ferringhi
Batu Ferringhi is one of the weirder beaches we’ve spent time at, which is saying a lot.
Parasailing boats are constantly coming and going, towing parasailors around for 10 minutes at a time. A half dozen jet skis are buzzing up and down the length of the beach. Motorboats are towing banana boats full of Chinese tourists. And hardly anyone is swimming in the water.
Then, around sunset, it gets even funkier. Touts on horseback descend on the beach in droves, looking for horseback riders and plowing through beachgoers trying to enjoy the sunset.
At the same time, beat up Land Rovers also descend on the beach en masse to start towing in the dozens of parasailing boats and jet skis, one by one. Everywhere else in Southeast Asia, they leave the boats anchored or moored overnight. Not in Batu Ferringhi.
It all makes for one crazy sh*tshow during the magnificent Golden Hour. Lori and I could live without all the noise, fumes, and activity on the beach at sunset, but Noe loved every minute of it.
Thai food, anyone?
Batu Ferringhi Airbnb: Green Ocean Seaview @Sri Sayang
Our third week in Malaysia and…our third Airbnb.
We knew ahead of time that our accommodation in Batu would be the biggest wildcard. Both, our high-rise condo in Kuala Lumpur and colonial townhouse in George Town, got exceptional reviews and were centrally located. Our apartment in Batu got decent reviews, but looked a bit dated and was located on the far eastern edge of town.
But if you want a two-bedroom unit in Batu Ferringhi, you don’t have a lot of options.
90% of accommodation in town is one type: upmarket international resorts (e.g. Hard Rock Hotel, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang, etc.). If you’re looking for the all-inclusive resort vibe and are willing to pay for it then you’ll have no shortage of options here. If you’re like us, your options are fairly limited.
Thankfully, our Airbnb stay at Sri Sayang apartments turned out to be great. For Batu, there’s no way we could have done better for what we wanted (and certainly not for the price).
But we also lucked out.
Many of the units are owned by various hosts posting their places on Airbnb. Some (like ours) are updated, comfortable, and well worth the money (we paid US$70/night). Most, however, are not updated and not necessarily well-maintained.
We were very pleased with our stay and can’t say enough good things about the extremely friendly, professional, and communicative Malaysian host, Frank.
If you are traveling as a family and want a solid two-bedroom unit in Batu Ferringhi, we’d recommend looking for units hosted by Frank on Airbnb. Ours was called “Green Ocean Seaview” (they usually don’t say the apartment name, which is Sri Sayang).
Here’s a bit more about our place in Batu.
Our place is straight up on the tenth floor there. There are 40 floors total.
For the size of the building, there are less than half a dozen units on each floor, and all units go all the way through to the other side, connected by a covered outdoor hall.
There are three elevators (and a freight elevator, which we were encouraged to use after swimming in the pool), so we’ve never had to wait long for an elevator.
We have a nice covered balcony with a sea view that we utilize for all of the kids’ meals at “home” (though there was a large dining room table inside as well).
The rental includes use of the swimming pool, which is definitely an added bonus considering that we’re discouraged to swim in the actual ocean.
The swimming pool was sparkling clean and only busy on the Sunday of our stay.
For a two-bedroom, the unit is pretty spacious, with a full kitchen, two bathrooms, and washer AND dryer.
The unit is also fully serviced. We just send Frank a text the night before with a time and housekeeping comes to do their magic the next day.
Lori and Riley’s room…
Mine and Noe’s room…
When they updated the unit, it seems they partitioned-off the toilet from the shower in the second bedroom. A little funky, but it works.
That window there actually opens up into an inner ventilation space that vents all 40 stories of the building and is completely open.
There’s another set (see below) in the utility room. I opened it up once and was greeted by a lady venting her stir-fry on the other side of the crevasse.
The Robertson Residences where we stayed in KL had a similar ventilation feature, so this seems to be common in Malaysia. We kept these interior windows locked during our stay for safety for the kids.
It’s always weird to suddenly have access to a dryer after a year or so of not using one. We’re taking full advantage of these while we were here. Noe and Riley make it impossible not to.
The north side of the unit faces the sea, but the south side of the unit faces jungle-covered rolling hills.
The image above was taken peering out our front door grate. The jungle came up right to the edge of the property offering a view of the monkeys playing in the trees in the mornings.
On our second day in Batu Ferringhi, we don’t have a lot planned. Pool time, nap time, and beach time will just about cover it for the day.
Riley finally got his pool time in (he’s feeling much better).
After the boys’ naps, we head down to the beach. Our apartment is on the far eastern edge of town, but there’s a direct road to the beach that takes us about ten minutes from the lobby to the waterline.
Not a soul is in the water, and we can see jellyfish swimming along the water’s edge. So…sandbox time it is!
Riley saw that daddy was using a flipflop as a sandcastle-building tool and thought he’d do the same…
Later, we grab a couple of drinks at River Stone, which might just be our favorite toes-in-the-sand bar in Batu Ferringhi. It certainly has the closest beach bar feel to what we’re accustomed to. And…they have highchairs!
…and beach swings!
Lori had an idea of a place to eat for dinner. She has a gift for finding great places, and I’m rarely disappointed by her finds. Still, I was skeptical about today’s pick. We hadn’t yet found any food offerings on the beach that excited us, and the place she wanted to go to was a twenty-minute walk from River Stone.
I’m pleased to report that Lori hasn’t lost her touch. Frandy’s Beach Bar was excellent — the food, the prices, the vibe, the live music, the view. We only wish it were a little closer to town. Maybe we’ll return when we figure out the town’s bus system.
But the best part about dinner at Frandy’s may just be being able to watch the sunset in peace without all the evening craziness along the beach in town.
And…highchairs! Heck, everywhere in Malaysia seems to have highchairs.
Our surroundings were peaceful, but that doesn’t mean Noe didn’t get an evening show (if a bit scaled down)…
He was very excited.
Frandy’s is a stone’s throw from Hard Rock Hotel, which we’ve read so much about in the course of our trip research. So, we thought we’d stop by and have a drink before calling it a night.
A number of folks with young kids in the blogosphere swear by this place, largely for their amazing waterpark and childcare services. We can certainly see why it’s so popular, but not really our scene.
I do have to say, however, that I’ve often dreamed of staying in a place where I can literally roll out of my bed and into the pool with minimal effort (just maybe not while I’m sleeping…)
A Word About Health & Safety in Malaysia
The majority of visitors to Malaysia don't encounter serious issues with health and security. But stuff does happen. Personally, we've had plenty of surprises affect our health and itinerary while traveling over the years — severe weather, road accidents, broken bones, tropical illnesses...
Each and every time, we've been very relieved to have a good travel insurance policy. We've personally used World Nomads for the past decade for all of our independent travel overseas and have found them to be affordable and responsive. You can see a full list of what they cover here.
Be prepared, use common sense, and travel safe!
Have You Been to Batu Ferringhi beach in Penang?
What did you think? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!