We kayaked to Pulau Tikus on the 10th of July, 2020. If you want to know where and how to rent a kayak in Penang, click here. To get tips on what to bring, click here or visit my extensive kayak gear guide if you’re very, very serious.
One boring afternoon in lockdown I was scrolling on the map on my phone. Looking nearby my location in George Town, I spotted a small island not far from Penang Island. On my OSM map, it was a nameless rock, but it had a building. Perhaps a lighthouse?
Google Maps showed the name “Pulau Tikus”. I put that name into the Google machine and it sent me to the Wikipedia page about the neighborhood in George Town of the same name. Not helpful. I knew already that ‘Pulau’ means island, so I typed in “Tikus Island” and voilà! A whole Wikipedia page of the small rocky outcrop popped up.
The Wikipedia page didn’t elucidate much on the little island or islet, but it did mention the grave of a Muslim saint that’s visited by Penangites of various faiths. And that “tikus” translates to “rat” or “mouse”, so it’s Rat Island (老鼠岛). Interesting. There’d also be a modern lighthouse. Oh, and the shape of the island is the namesake, not the presence of rats. I looked at the shape on Google Earth and tried to see it, not realizing that at the time the island was named they didn’t have a birds-eye view. Anyway, from above it could also be a rat?
The most important tip on the Wikipedia page is the fact that it mentions the place where we could rent a kayak from. I instead went into Penang-based Facebook groups to see where people would get kayaks from. There I came to the same conclusion that the Tanjung Bungah watersports activities center (pusat kegiatan sukan air) is the place. I proposed the kayak trip to Jonas, which he didn’t find super feasible immediately. We would scout this business during the CMCO when we walked along Tanjung Bungah. When they quoted us the price, we knew the only obstacle was the distance and the lack of sea experience we have in terms of kayaking.
Sea Currents, Wind Directions, and Weather Forecasts
Overcast skies are my favorite. No activity is bad when there are clouds in the sky that block direct sunlight. But here in Penang, the clouds can be a bit hard to read. They sometimes develop into thunder and lightning clouds. As we’ve experienced in Hungary, it’s not nice to be paddling through a thunderstorm. So we wanted to avoid at least that.
Then there’s the issue of wind. We know from experience that strong wind can make kayaking very difficult. With some research, we found out that the prevailing wind through the Strait is from southeast to northwest—potentially pushing us behind the island. The current also travels in that direction.
The last thing to note is that Jonas and I have not kayaked much at sea. We’ve only done it together on Old Providence Island in Colombia. That’s why I got into contact with my fellow kayaker and university friend Chris Mercieca. Chris is from Malta and has been kayaking around the entire country recently. Yes, around all of Malta (110 kilometers), including the outlying rock Filfla. Though the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Malacca are very different – one has big tidal changes and the other virtually no tides – I asked him to look at our plan and give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. My main worries were sea currents.
Chris said it looked very doable and we should be able to land safely on the island within 10 minutes of paddling if we start from the nearest piece of land. It’s only a 700-meter stretch. He sent me this website to check wind direction and speed, low tide and high tide, and general forecast info.
Armed with this expert knowledge, I returned to Jonas and said it’s doable. All we need to do now is wait for a day and time without a thunderstorm, not too windy, during low tide, preferably with overcast skies, and not a Tuesday because the kayak club is closed then.
Not the day, not the day, THE DAY!
We tried on Wednesday, the 8th of July. We got up really early, drank coffee, and checked the forecast. Thunderstorm. The skies looked a little dodgy. We decided today is not the day.
Of course, it didn’t even rain this day, let alone show a spectacle of lightning and thunder.
The following day, we tried again. Same story, but the clouds looked even angrier. We decided to wait. It didn’t rain or thunder.
Finally, on Friday, we decided to not let the sky play tricks on us again. We looked at the forecast one more time before dressing up for a morning at sea. The lowes tide would be at 10:13.
So we took a Grab ride from our apartment to the Tanjung Bungah watersports activities center (RM 13) at 8:50 and arrived twenty minutes later. There were surprisingly many people at this hour, including three people in two kayaks already on the water.
We filled in the contract and rented the kayak for three hours for RM 90. We picked some high-viz lifevests, a purple kayak, and got fixed-feathered paddles. I taped up my thumbs with band-aids where my kayak gloves didn’t cover enough to prevent blisters. Jonas, as per usual, just uses his bare hands.
Together, we carried our heavy plastic boat to the slipway and then onto the beach. The managing guys didn’t want us to use the slipway for some reason. The small waves directly made it a little challenging to find a good depth to get into the boat without getting super wet, but also not getting stuck in the sand unable to paddle off. We got in the boat at 9:30.
Kayaking to Pulau Tikus
This was one of the rare days where the wind from the east and northeast to push us back onto the shore. Somehow, the fears that we’d be pushed out at sea and end up in Indonesia melted away once we made our first strokes onto the sea. This isn’t super intimidating after all.
We rounded the small cape and saw the floating mosque from the water for the first time. The focus now lay on paddling parallel to the beach named Tanjung Bungah before we cross over to Pulau Tikus. We’re taking it easy, but it does feel like we’re quite speedy when I’m not dicking around with my camera. Together we’re much faster than when we walked along the entire beach. And from the water, we’re safe from the aggressive dogs that made that hike partly unpleasant. Farther out on the water are people on wooden fishing boats doing their thing.
But whenever we don’t paddle, we get pushed back by the wind. That’s why we don’t pause our paddling much until we reach a point where we need to decide to cross or not. We’re parallel to some building on the shore and we’re confident to cross to the island.
The minute we turned we paddled past a giant white jellyfish and some floating trash. The wind is pushing us back to the west side of the island, but we’re trying to land on the east side where the jetty is at. The waters are surprisingly shallow and some plants seem to probe above the waterline from the bottom of the sea. The water is often cloudy, so we can’t see if it’s really that shallow.
We’re approaching the outlying rocks of Pulau Tikus and find a route between them to the east side of the southern beach. Finally, after a mere 40 minutes of paddling, we land our purple boat on the island. We made it!
The Shrine of Seyad Mohamed Kuddoos Oliyullah on Pulau Tikus
After rehydrating a little, snapping some photos, and putting our boat higher up the beach, we begin the search for a path to the shrine.
I take my big camera out of the dry bag. We approach the trees on higher ground. This startles the crows that made Pulau Tikus their home and they fly up and loudly caw in protest. It’s a little spooky!
The way to the shrine isn’t obvious, so we try various routes that aren’t ideal. There’s one possibility through a dark forest, another through a crack between two rocks, and then there’s the option to try going via the rocks at the edge with the sea. I’m in favor of trying to paddle to the jetty, so we return to the boat and I prepare a boat leash from one of the ropes I carry around. Jonas really doesn’t want to do this and thinks the jetty is no good to land at. Then, three people in two red kayaks show up on the western beach.
They introduce themselves and say they’re on holiday in Penang. They’re originally from Perak state. Now we try to find a path as a group. They go through the forest and I go via the rocks on the beach. All of us are wrong; taking the middle path would have been the easiest. We meet again on the beach behind the tricky part and finally arrive at the jetty. The other couple offers to take a photo for us, so we pose with George Town in the background and reciprocate by taking photos for them.
Landing at the jetty would not have been a great idea at low tide, because you’d have to land at a very slippery rock that’s inhabited by crabs. With the unpredictable movement of the water, it would have been very difficult to land here. The beach where we landed had no crabs or other creepy critters around and it was easy to get out of the boat.
The path from the jetty to the shrine is a bit slippery. We walk up the stairs to the shrine and look inside. Jonas talks a bit more with the Malaysians, who are disappointed that the lighthouse is locked. Online, there are pictures of people who had climbed up to the platform of the lighthouse. I think it would have been cool, but I also understand that this feature is too important for the big ships to just let anyone have access to it.
The shrine tells us the name of the Muslim saint. I don’t think the three Malaysians are here to worship him, but apparently some non-Muslims do. The area around the shrine is pretty nice albeit not very clean as of our visit. There’s a picnic table down the stairs, but only parts of it are crow shit free. The Malaysians only make a short visit and then return to their boats. We stay a bit longer to take photos.
Returning to Pulau Pinang and Tropicana 218
Once we’re done with our visit, we climb down the rocks, follow the beach and then crawl through the small crack between two rocks. We’ve been on the island for about 1h 10m and the beach is already a bit smaller. I think the sandy spit between the southern tip of Pulau Tikus and the main island disappears completely at high tide.
The solo guy is still on the island and Jonas offers to help carry his kayak back to the water, but he doesn’t need our help. We rehydrate a little more and then prep the inside of our boat again for the return trip. I fix my camera on the bow, we lift our boat back in the water and hop in.
The return trip is also a little tricky; the wind still comes from the northeast but the current also pushes us in that direction. We drift a little towards the small secluded beach at some hotel. We paddle harder aiming for the floating mosque to get away from this wrong direction. My camera’s battery dies without me noticing.
Some people on Tanjung Bungah have rented a jetski. One couple on a jetski aims at us and surrounds us at a high speed some ten meters away, smiling at us and waving as if they did a good thing. I shout at them to fuck off when we’re left to deal with their wake, stabilize the boat, and our paddle rhythm is interrupted.
We approach the floating mosque pretty closely to look at the structure from the water. It’s just concrete pillars driven into the seabed. Floating mosques are a signature kind of architecture in Malaysia, with floating mosques in Melaka, Kota Kinabalu, Putrajaya, and many other cities, too.
Jonas doesn’t want to paddle too closely because of the moored fishing vessels nearby. We make a loop around the small cape and approach the beach at the watersports activities center. We land and carry our boat up to a spot in the sun for it to dry. The other two kayaks are also there. It’s 12:15 and we still had 15 minutes left on our 3-hour rental.
Ashore, we dried a little, rehydrated, and then repacked our bags to take a Grab back. The people that run the place were having lunch or something. We washed our shoes and feet before getting into the Grab and driving back to George Town. The Grab cost RM 14 with a detour via the Mount Erskine Cantonese Cemetery. Once at home, we immediately shower and wash our sandy shoes to avoid dirtying the house to the best of our abilities.
- The Tanjung Bungah watersports activities center is closed on Tuesdays. Their opening times are Wednesday to Sunday between 9:00–13:00 and 14:00–18:00. On Fridays, they have special opening times between 9:00–12:15 and 14:45–18:00. 04-890 2250. Click here to find them on Google Maps. Click here to contact them on Facebook. They also have a website that they sometimes update. On their website and Facebook page you’ll find three phone numbers which might or might not work: +604-890-9373 and +60164192981 and
04-890 2250. We never called them and just showed up. Perhaps email works better: firstname.lastname@example.org
- It costs 15 RM per person per hour to rent a kayak. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a two-person kayak or a one-person kayak
- They have enough kayaks for a big group, but they have many more one-person kayaks than two-person kayaks. Make sure to contact them beforehand if you’re a large group on popular days such as the weekend
- This cost includes all the basics such as life jackets (please wear one) and paddles
- Getting to Pulau Tikus, visiting the shrine, and kayaking back will take you at least 1.5 hours if you do it in a hurry
- Check the weather and wind conditions before you go. Also, try to go there at low tide. Here’s a website for that
- If it gets stormy, make your way to land and find shelter from lightning
- Pack enough water, some snacks, waterproof bags, sunscreen, a hat, gloves (if you need them), and mosquito spray
- Pulau Tikus has phone reception in case you need help
Map of How we Kayaked to Pulau Tikus
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2 thoughts on “Kayaking to Pulau Tikus: a Sacred Island near George Town, Penang”
You got very interesting blog.
By the way, I thought you might be interested to read about the the first proper historical account of Pulau Tikus which you visited a while back.
Hey Eugene, thanks! Super interesting article you wrote