Summary: A shorter 2.4km walk to Monkey Beach, or a longer 11km loop through the spectacular landscape of Penang National Park

image 1 Exploring Penang National Park
Image: Alexei Komarov under CC BY 3.0

The world’s smallest national park is certainly no small attraction: at 25 square kilometres, Penang National Park boasts both exhilarating hiking trails and pristine beaches. Along with the greater area of Penang Hill, it recently applied to UNESCO to become recognised as a biosphere reserve. It’s definitely worth your while to bask in the tranquil skies and seas of the Penang National Park—and indulge in the cheap eats, historic landmarks, and diverse cultures of Penang along the way!

Penang National Park Quick Facts

The park, previously known as the Pantai Aceh Forest Reserve, is located on the northwestern tip of Penang Island. This is about an hour’s ride out from George Town, Penang’s capital city. The Guide to Malaysia by Expat Bets lauds Penang as a highly accessible, prime destination for those who want to get away from the city, thanks to its proximity to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. With over 1,000 species of plants, the trails and beaches of Penang National Park are home to a diverse number of animals. You’ll probably spot a monkey or two swinging through the park’s hardwood trees, or catch sight of dolphins and turtles along its sandy and mangrove-lined shores.

Hiking Trails: Right or Left?

The park is known for its hiking trails, which can be enjoyed on your own or with the help of a Certified Nature Guide. After half a kilometre along path offering spectacular views of Penang’s west coast, a suspension bridge offers a fork in the road.

The trail on the right finishes two hours away at the still-operational Muka Head Lighthouse, built by the British in the 1880s. At 14 metres in height, the second-oldest lighthouse in Malaysia offers striking views of the island and the sea beyond. To get there, weave in and out of the park’s jungle and beaches. You’ll first reach Pantai Teluk Aling, which is a permanent base for marine research, where you can drop by the turtle sanctuary maintained by the Universiti Sains Malaysia! About a half-hour walk away is Monkey Beach. Its coconut trees are home to dozens of macaques, so if you’re planning to picnic by the shore, guard your food — and guard it well.

If you decide to take the left path, you’ll get lost in time as you walk through trees that are estimated to be more than a thousand years old. You’ll then come upon Penang National Park’s meromictic lake, where the layers of fresh and salt water don’t intermix. It’s one of only 20 in the world! If you visit outside the monsoon season, however, the lake will most likely be dried out. The trail ends with the quiet and pristine beauty of the relatively isolated shores of Pantai Kerachut.

After your long, fulfilling hike, feel free to relax on the beach of your choice. And if you’re tired, don’t worry—boats are ready to ferry you back to a point near the park’s entrance.

If you’re not into hiking, consider stopping by the park’s Interpretation Center for an interactive learning experience. Meanwhile, the ferry works both ways and can take you straight to any beach, while the park’s canopy walkway, which serves as a shortcut between the two trails, is perfect for birdwatching. You can also camp on Pantai Kerachut overnight, but note that swimming is prohibited for safety reasons.

Have you ever explored the breathtaking landscapes of Malaysia? Let me know in the comments!

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