Recommended trip: 1 day
Pack: sun block, bathers, some cash, sneakers, wear comfortable clothes, towel, and camera
Directions: Depending on where you’re staying on the island, you can take a few public buses to the park. There is a bus that goes directly to Penang National Park as its last stop.
Whenever Malaysia is mentioned, everyone thinks of the Petronas Twin Towers – and for good reason. The towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. And to someone who has seen the towers lit up at night – there are very few modern buildings that compare. The Petronas Twin Towers are definitely a sight to behold. However, Malaysia has more to often than these stunning towers, and I was determined to find it. So, taking a near six-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur, I ventured to the island town of George Town in Penang.
Tucked away in the discreet corner of Penang Island is Penang National Park. Being an avid hiker, I’ve been to countless parks in my lifetime – Yosemite in the States to Bakusan National Park in South Korea. However, none is quite like Penang National Park – hosting nearly 80 hectares of virgin Malaysia jungle. For those who are saying: what the heck does that mean?! It means, my furless friend, that you can run into a monkey probably more often than another human being. This is not a walk in the park. THIS IS A HIKE INTO THE JUNGLE.
The park is a massive reserve of land featuring over 1,000 plant species and countless of animals free ranging animals. There is little intervention by the park services beyond the brief boardwalk they constructed in the first few hundred meters of the trail. Do not be fooled. The trail will eventually lead you winding dirt paths and up some steep jungle inclines. One tip to the adventurous tigers out there, at the fork of the road, DO NOT GO LEFT. GO RIGHT! Trust me. Unless you want to be literally scrambling up a massive mountainside for 3 kilometers, go right.
Now, one of the few times you’ll see a couple people all in the same spot is the ROPE BRIDGES! Yes, there is a serious of small rope bridges that span the canopy of the jungle. You have to pay ahead of time at the front when you register and enter the park. Personally, the course was not mind-blowing in any sense. But admittedly, it provide quite the experience and view, and when will you ever walk on rope bridges in the Malaysian jungle?
You have some choices to make on your laborious hike into the heart of the jungle. The two big recommended destinations are Monkey Beach and Sea Turtle Beach, each on opposite sides of the park. Monkey Beach is where the infamous howling island monkeys of Penang congregate. There are monkeys throughout the island, and you will no doubt encounter a handful on your hike. However, Monkey Beach is their home in the jungle and features one of the nicest beaches in Penang. Meanwhile, Sea Turtle Beach features a small yet gorgeous beach in the far corner of the island. It has won its fame for sea turtles crossing the beach and laying their eggs. If you can time your visit just right for the Sea Turtles coming to shore, definitely do it! However, the sea turtles are seasonal unlike the monkeys.
Personally, after some encounters with the monkeys on the trail, I decided to go to Sea Turtle Beach. A word of warning, those monkeys do not play around! If you have food of any kind in your bag or hands, do not expect it to stay there for long. True story: I have seen the monkeys snatch potato chips from a girl’s hands and run off into the jungle like raiding Vikings. They are coordinated and aggressive, so beware. But what kind of jungle adventure would it be without some aggressive hungry monkeys, right?
I was not fortunate enough to see any sea turtles on the beach. However, the water is a welcomed relief after hiking nearly two hours in the Malaysian jungle. I felt like Indiana Jones, trekking through the jungle searching for the Lost Ark. There was a lot of sweating going on. This fur does not breath well in the Malaysian humidity – especially in the summer.
After enjoying a dip in the ocean, kicking your paws up for a bit, you can catch one of the boats back to the main entrance and skip the hiking back park. If you choose this option, you will have to pay the boat operators a small fee. Depending on your level of fatigue and laziness, this is a viable and attractive option. Meanwhile, if you choose to hike back like this tiger did, you will be ravished and hungry by the end. All the monkeys have stolen your food and you’re dying to sink your teeth into something, anything. I HIGHLY recommend the food stall right by the bus stop. It will be the first one on your right, called Mom & Pops or some variant of it. This lovable Malaysian couple literally cooks their food from home, and sells it to hungry tourists. The curry paired with the iced lime juice is organismic… no joke. Penang solidified its reputation for being Malaysia’s food cart capital in this one single meal.