SEBERANG PERAI, April 27 — The sky is a riot of colours as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon signalling the start of another busy evening on the beach; waiters are already busy serving guests here for the great seafood and spectacular sunset.
Just another day in paradise… or in this case, Pantai Bersih.
The beachfront, which boasts sandy beaches and some of the best views of Penang island in the distance, has become a very popular place for fresh seafood.
Interestingly, the beach is barely noticeable from the main road because of the row of restaurants all built haphazardly next to each other which blocks it from view.
But it is still accessible through a narrow dirt lane at one end where the restaurants stop or the other end near the concrete jetty where fishing boats are tied up.
In the beginning
More than 40 years ago, there was nothing here except a jetty and a workshop nearby to repair nets.
When another jetty was built and this piece of land was allocated to the fishermen's association, they decided to start a small restaurant and, as they say, the rest is history.
Today, four large restaurants front the beach while smaller stalls are set up along the seafront that stretches a few hundred metres.
"It all started here. We were the first restaurant here about 40 years ago... this used to be a fisherman's workshop where they repaired fishing nets," said Ah Yoke from 323 Seafood restaurant.
When business grew at this restaurant, another restaurant opened next to them. It was when the two restaurants started drawing more customers that more restaurants opened up.
"It wasn't very sustainable for most of them because many closed down, others took over… so some of the restaurants here are relatively new," she said.
She said though they get a lot of people coming here for seafood on weekends and public holidays, business is slow on weekdays.
"There are so many restaurants here, it's not easy to cover costs especially for those who are renting the premises, unlike us, this restaurant is still under the association and we don't have to pay rent," she said.
Some of the restaurants and traders along that stretch do not have licences so sometimes, these stalls get dismantled by the council enforcement officers but after a short break, the stalls are back up again.
Currently, there are plans to give the whole area a new look as the beach is part of an overall Butterworth waterfront regeneration programme by the Penang state, Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) and Think City.
The urban regeneration team has already started conducting community engagement with residents living in the flats nearby and proposing improvements to the whole area.
There are plans to transform the whole waterfront; the haphazard food stalls along the stretch will be cleaned up and rearranged. Open spaces will be created for a more pleasant experience for visitors while the beach, parts of which are muddy and dirty, will be cleaned up.
Think City, working together with MPSP, plans to improve the public facilities in the area and create a proper pedestrian footpath for easier access.
Residents in the area welcome the proposed upgrades, beautification and space activation plans. One of them, Abdul Ghani Che Meh, 51, said the project will definitely be good for the whole area.
"At first, we were not sure what they are doing but now that they've explained and shown us what they plan, I really hope it will all be completed as soon as possible because it is good for us, the community," he said.
He said all those living there, at the low cost flats, are low income earners so if this makeover of the waterfront means bringing in more tourists and more avenues for them to earn some extra income, it will be good for the people.
"We hope this place will become a popular tourist spot, it will be good for the community," he said.
Work will possibly start at the end of the year. In the meantime, the seafood restaurants along the stretch are open daily between 11am to 11pm and are worth a visit.
* Think City is currently undertaking urban regeneration programmes for Butterworth, George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Find out more about Think City and its projects at thinkcity.com.my.