Hiking Penang National Park – Malaysia

On the north-west tip of Penang Island is a network of jungle trails easily accessible as a day trip from Penang’s main tourist spots. A walk in the jungle offers the prospect of spotting a wide range of exotic wildlife from boar to mouse deer, serpents and turtles. The trails also provide access to beautiful unpopulated beaches bordering the straights of Malacca.

Situation and History

Penang National Park is about 25km northwest of Georgetown (or 6km from Batu Ferringhi). The park is well maintained and has a range of trails which start from the visitors centre and park entrance in Teluk Bahang. The park was formerly a forest reserve before being declared a National Park in 2003.

Trail Notes

The park has a network of trails across the peninsula. The main hiking destinations include Monkey Beach and a lighthouse (eastern side) and Turtle Beach on the western side.

Visitors Centre to Pantai Kerachut (Turtle Beach) (3.3km each way)
Enter the park along the flat, well maintained trail. Continue 500m along the coastline trail before crossing a swing bridge. Take the left at the junction after the swing bridge. The trail winds its way slowly and steadily up the hill. At the top of the pass there is an optional detour to the trig at the top of the adjacent hill. The route down to the beach is steep in places and there are ropes to assist. A trail junction offers an option to turn left down hill directly to the meromitic lake, we recommend staying on the main trail and returning this trail when you leave Turtle Beach. Continue down the main trail down to Turtle Beach. A swing bridge greets you at Turtle Beach and affords good views of the adjacent lake. Once on the beach itself you can walk about 400m, past the guard house, showers and rest areas, to the poorly signposted turtle sanctuary. Returning from Turtle Beach you can either retrace your steps or complete the loop of the lake by walking inland along the trail between the guardhouse and showers to rejoin the main trail slightly inland. After crossing back over the pass you have the option of continuing in the main trail straight back to the visitors centre of taking the left fork down a less maintained trail to the canopy walkway and onward down to the coast.

Visitors Centre to Monkey Beach (2.5km each way)
Take the right at the junction after the first swing bridge. The trail follows the coast and takes about 1.5 hours. It is a popular spot for tourist day trips by boat, you may be able to negotiate a ride back by fisherman’s boat if you are get tired.

There is a short also a canopy walkway activity in the valley between Turtle Beach and the east coast, the fee charged at the visitors centre for adults is RM5.00 and RM3.00 for children. It is possible to walk along the trail beneath the walkway for free. Note the canopy walkway is closed at lunchtime.

Planning your Trip

Allow three hours for a return walk to Turtle Beach including time to admire the baby sea turtles and take some of the optional paths on the route back.

Starting Elevation: sea level
Trail Distance: Various
Average Gradient: Hilly
Trail Grading: Well maintained dirt paths, lots of tree roots, stairs and occasional ropes to assist in steep areas.

The walk is predominantly under jungle cover so there is reasonable protection of the sun.

Gear

No special gear is required; shoes rather than jandals/thongs are recommended as there is a lot of uneven terrain and stairs (not to mention the bonus added protection from snakes and ants).

Access to and from the hike

The 101 bus goes from the KOMTAR centre in Georgetown to the visitors centre on the western fringe of Teluk Bahang (via Batu Ferringhi ) and costs 3.4RM taking around an hour and leaves every 10-20min. Check out for http://www.rapidpg.com.my/journey-planner/schedules/
for more details. Most bus drivers understand your actual destination is the park visitors centre and will stop for you to alight nearby.

Taxis are relatively affordable, we spotted a stall offering taxi services near the visitors centre for when you finish your walk alternatively walk in the direction of town and an entrepreneurial taxi will spot you in no time. Negotiate; but budget at least 40 RM one way from Georgetown.

Navigation & Facilities

There is a schematic map of the trails at the start of the walk and a free photocopied map when you register at the visitors centre. We recommend taking a photo of the main map to navigate with. The majority of junctions are signposted and the trails are well defined. We found the trail times to be on the generous side (we completed the walk to Turtle Beach in 1hr 15min rather than 2hr suggested) however do allow for the heat.

There are numerous shelters along the trail that protect from sun or rain. There are toilet facilities at Turtle Beach and at the visitors centre.

There is a small souvenir and snack shop near the visitors centre and street food vendors on the main road in Teluk Bahang. There is no access to food or dependable drinking water inside the park.

The official website http://www.wildlife.gov.my/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=91:taman-negara-pulau-pinang&catid=32:pusat-ekopelancongan-jabatan&lang=en

Safety

Snakes, jellyfish and dehydration are top risks. During monsoon season the trail could be quite slippery. The visitors centre operates a sign-in book so presumably someone may come looking if you get lost…eventually?

Flora and Fauna

The park is a haven for a wealth of 417 flora and 143 fauna species, including turtles, lizards, snakes, monkeys, boar, mouse deer and rare pitcher plants. Walking early or late are the best times to spot animals.

Our Experience

Despite best intentions for animal spotting we started walking around 11am heading into the heat of the day. We stocked up with one bottle of water and 100 Plus (energy drink), took a photo of trail map and set off on our way.

We decided to take the route to Turtle Beach and quickly realised we were in for a hill climb to reach the other side of the peninsula. Being a Sunday we passed a few other groups but had the trail mostly to ourselves. It was hot work but the shade of the jungle made the heat relatively bearable and we saw a few interesting butterflies and a pleasant waterfall.

Turtle Beach looked inviting and there were a few swimmers however the water was a bit too murky for our liking (plus the thought being wet and salty and trekking back over the hill didn’t inspire). We wandered around the turtle sanctuary at the far end of the beach (past the campground) where they had netting to protect turtle nests and a big tub full if baby sea turtles!

We took the loop back alongside the lake although it was effectively an empty estuary when we visited.

The hike back up the hill was tough going as water supplies were running out. We stopped a breather in one of the wooden shelters at the top of the hill and suddenly noticed a viper sliding along a log about 1m from the shelter! Torn between photography and panic –we paused long enough for a couple of snaps and then bolted down the hill – the viper was quick moving and too close for comfort. Now more cautious of our surroundings we notwithstanding took the least trodden path past the canopy walkway, we hadn’t bought tickets but it was closed for lunch anyway. We spotted a mammal in the trees – our guess was a giant black squirrel. There were a lot of few picnic buildings and amenities that looked a bit worse from wear from the harsh jungle moisture, including a concrete swimming hole closed due to bacteria issues.

Back to the coast the path was easier and we crossed a couple of swing bridges with some good views back towards Georgetown, with the end in sight we celebrated with a refreshing 100 Plus – cold drinks are a luxury in these humid conditions.

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