Penang National Park (Taman Negara Pulau Pinang) is one of my favorite places in the world. Therefore, I am writing this post with special care as you can expect. On the tiny island of Penang, this national park (the smallest in Malaysia) is located just an hour and a half from the city of George Town.
Undoubtedly, it is a place that I know I will return to soon, since there is the possibility of free and wild camping. My explorer soul asks me to spend at least one night there with the dreamy sunsets and the liberating murmur of the jungle.
HOW TO REACH penang national park
To reach the National Park in Penang, you need to take the 101 bus from Georgetown. We took it at Lubuh Chulia Street. I’ll leave you the following map so you know the route (direction towards Teluk Bahang). Price is 4 MYR (1 €) and the journey lasts one and a half hour. First bus leaves at 5:30 AM and the last one at midnight.
Once you arrive, there will be a bunch of locals that will offer to take you to the different beaches in Penang National Park on a boat. My personal suggestion is to not do it even if it saves you the walk. Walking through the National Park was one of the most incredible strolls I have ever taken.
ROUTE THROUGH THE PENANG NATIONAL PARK
Before starting your trek through the park, you will pass a booth where you need to provide your names, Passport number and tell them if you plan to camp there. Entrance is free, but I understand they want to keep control of who enters and exits the park.
Additionally, there’s a huge sign with the park’s map and the different existing routes. In this map, we saw that the Canopy Walkway, one of the main attractions was closed. It is a 250 meters long wooden bridge, suspended among the trees at 15 meters from the ground. If you find it open by chance, you would need to pay 5 MYR at the visitors’ registration office to traverse it.
Our trekking goal for that day was to get to point D of the map (the most popular beach in the park, called Teluk Duyung, although better known as Monkey Beach). There, we would spend the morning and eat. After that, we would go back to point A and continue to point F (Pantai Kerachut). As we read, this is the beach where the best sunsets are seen from around the national park.
In total, we spent 1 hour and a half one way + another hour of return + another hour of going + another hour and a half of return. 5 hours of trekking at 30 degrees and with an unimaginable humidity. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a very good experience – one of the highlights of our 20-days Southeast Asia trip.
TREKKING TOWARDS MONKEY BEACH
The route, while not easy, gets more pleasant thanks to the beautiful views. Even though the way is quite well-trodden (weed has been removed and there exist wooden bridges to cross the most complicated sections), humidity makes it harder. I had never sweat that much before.
With no preparation, we only took a single bottle of 1.5 liters of water for the two of us, which we finished before arriving at Monkey Beach. Considering the high temperatures and humidity, we suggest carrying at least two 1.5-liter bottles per person to Penang National Park.
We read in many blogs that it was difficult or even impossible to find monkeys in the Penang National Park, however, the magic became reality much earlier than we had anticipated.
Note: this was the first time I saw monkeys in the wild. Though the Zoos personally gave me horror, seeing these animals in freedom was a very special moment.
While it kept getting more and more complicated along the path, at the same time, we kept finding more and more surprises. We saw a giant lizard, mind-blowing butterflies, and wondrous beaches like the one I show you in the picture called Teluk Ailing. Point C in the map.
You can’t get lost on the path, and after an hour and a half of walking, we found a rock that indicated we were about to reach the first stop.
MONKEY BEACH PARADISE
Just before arriving, we saw monkeys again. This time, they were guarding the bridge that makes way to the Monkey Beach.
Once we crossed the bridge, with caution to not let these monkeys steal something from us (yes, these monkeys are used to steal food, mobile phones or whatever they can to visitors, so watch for your belongings and close your backpacks), we arrived in PARADISE.
The beaches of Penang National Park are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
We were practically alone, together with a couple of local people who sold some water to us.
The beach is very long and the sand is fine and white, which makes the water cloudy if there are any waves. It was not the best beach for snorkeling.
LUNCH at MONKEY BEACH
Something I loved here were huts that were built under the palm trees where visitors can sit and eat on the wooden tables or rest from the sun. I was obviously expecting a local to come and ask us to pay a fee for using the hut. But no! They were totally free and they came only to say hello.
Please, tie your belongings to the tables and chairs well. It is very common that while you are in the water, a monkey would come and take everything it can, especially backpacks that have food inside them.
On the day before, we bought things to eat for our day in the Penang National Park (bread, cheese and dragon fruit) after touring George Town.
We went through the whole beach from one point to the complete opposite, but we didn’t follow the trail to reach the Muka Head lighthouse. We didn’t have enough time for that or for reaching the Pantai Kerachut beach before sunset.
Between the palm trees you’ll find swings and lianas to enjoy your time at the beach.
TREKKING towards PANTAI KERACHUT
At 2 o’clock, we picked everything up and went back to where we had come from, to take the path to Pantai Kerachut.
On the way, at Teluk Ailing, we found this huge and friendly lizard that was so comfortable having a sunbath until he saw us.
The jungle became much thicker on the way to this beach. It was evident that this beach is less visited than the first one. You could not see wooden bridges like the previous ones, and the road was full of sand and earth, with more slopes and branches.
I prefer this route instead of boarding the coast, you go across the forest like in the first path we went through.
Once again, we had problems because the lack of drinkable water, and we were really worried about this. After a long walkabout, much longer than the one we did in the morning, we finally reached the bridge that enters the beach. Once again, we discovered another amazing place.
To the left of the bridge, there is usually a meromictic lake. This type of lake is peculiar in a way that it contains two types of water that do not mix, sweet water with salty water (which comes from the sea).
From what we read in the Penang National Park guides, sometimes this lake appears and other days it does not. On the day we went, it was practically empty.
At this beach, there was no one, not even a single tourist, not a ship, nor a local around. We could only see the dock that we had already seen in the beach pictures before our travel. There was where we wanted to see the sunset.
We couldn’t believe that the two of us were alone in that paradisiacal beach until we found the next sign (which by the way it wasn’t very visible).
Bathing on the beach was prohibited. There were some important dangers to take into account like mortal poisonous jellyfish, occasional 5-meter-high waves or steep slope at the bottom of the sea.
Anyway, and even sweating as we did, we didn’t swim. If you are going to visit such wildlife-filled places like this one, I recommend you to buy international travel insurance, because you never know what can happen. If this is one of the many trips you are going to take this year, the cheapest option is to buy annual travel insurance for frequent travelers.
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We toured the beach and went to the end of the pier to have a better view of the beach.
And from there, we saw two huts hidden in the undergrowth, so we went immediately to look for someone who could sell us some water. We found a boy who said that the hut was an investigation center. Luckily, he told us that outside the hut there were a couple of showers and if we wanted, we could take a shower there. He also sold us the much needed drinking water. He also asked us if we were going to sleep there, and with regret, we had to reject. Next time we’ll camp here for sure.
CENter for the conservation of turtles
The other hut was a center for the conservation of turtles. I am a supporter of ethical tourism, and I was not happy entering there, but since it was free, I didn’t leave feeling like I had sponsored them.
The objective of this center was to locate the eggs laid by the mothers in the beach of Pantai Kerachut and protect the zone. Once the turtles are born, they take care of them until they are big enough and return them back to the ocean, without the risk of being a prey for predators, etc. Until this point, everything was perfect.
The problem came when I found that they kept two totally healthy adult turtles in a dwarf bathtub, with no space to get out of the water, just for the sake of showing them to tourists. This fact bothered us enough.
To top it all off, no one watched the turtles. If I can have a wish, I would take the turtles away without them noticing it.
sunset in the dock
When we got out, the sun was starting to set, so we stayed at the dock. Just like what we read, you can see the best sunsets of Penang National Park from here.
As a sunsets and sunrises freak, I know perfectly that certain sunsets can amaze you when you expect nothing from them, while totally opposite with others.
I had huge expectations of this sunset. I have seen many pictures featuring red skies, but our sunset didn’t even get pass the yellowish color in the end. It was still gorgeous, but I was expecting much more! Next time, we’ll carry our camping tents and will be there nights ahead.
Crossing the forest during the night
And only then, we realized it’s evening and we have a 1 hour and 20 minute return walk.
We collected our things as fast as we could and literally ran through the forest. We tried to advance as much as we could before it got dark. Unavoidably, it caught up to us.
We were in the middle of the forest in the dark, with more than an hour ahead of us. We didn’t take a flashlight with us, only a mobile cellphone that we used to light the path to walk. As I told you, this path was rougher than the one leading to Monkey Beach. We had to sidestep tree roots, branches, sand embankments. Nonetheless, it still was a magical and wild experience.
The sound of the forest during the night is different, or maybe it is just the fact that our other senses sharpened when we couldn’t see. We could perfectly hear the monkeys calling other monkeys. Maybe it was the cooler temperature, but the route wasn’t “long” at all. Before we even realized, we were back at the registration office, happy and fully eaten by mosquitoes (take repellent with you).
HOW TO CAMP AT PENANG NATIONAL PARK
I know that there are more than one of you who want to camp in this jungle. I want to let you know that there is a limited number of places per day. The accommodation is free, you simply have to bring your own tent.
There are areas for camping, since camping on the beach is prohibited to prevent damaging the turtle eggs. So please, if you want to help these animals, camp in the authorized areas. You have all the information about camping in the Penang National Park here.
To conclude, I just wanted to state that I am one of those who prefer to discover new places rather than traveling to places I already visited. However, it was different with Penang National Park. I have no idea what countries I will visit on my next trip to Asia, but I know Penang National Park will be on the itinerary again for sure.