An “Un”guided Trek to Penang National Park

“Keep your mind open and suck in the experience.”

I remembered this line when a Penang local named Chris, whom I met at the hostel, told me to trek Penang’s National Park to reach the white sands ofย  Teluk Ketapang or “Monkey Beach”.

“How long is the trek?” I asked.

“An hour and a half,” he replied. “It would be good to trek as a group, you know….when you reach the beach you can have a little barbeque and a few beers. All you need now is a good pair of hiking shoes.”

The idea sounded so damn good.

I easily fulfilled the requirement – I brought a good pair of trekking sandals with me. My paranoia, however, was a pain in the ass. I felt physically unfit. Also, Chris and the other guests at the hostel couldn’t make it. In the end, it was just me and my chocolate-junk food laden physique, which I consider as an obstruction to my endurance. Yes, I was very nervous but the famous line from The Beach kept playing in my head.

“Keep your mind open and suck in the experience.”

So, with my reliable trekking sandals, I took the Rapid Penang Bus and headed to Penang’s National Park, alone yet hopeful.

I sat down beside the bus window to get a good glimpse of Penang. We were way pass the World Heritage area so the streets leading to Georgetown’s outer areas have no visible landmarks that could excite the eye. Only establishments housed in tiny and austere-looking buildings popped at every corner. Most of its narrow streets led to hospitals, schools, football fields, small apartments and a few ramshackle food stalls selling laksa.

30 minutes later, I arrived at a wooden cabin which served as the registration booth of the Penang National Park. I was given a brochure advertising two ways of reaching Monkey Beach: an hour and a half “jungle trek” for free orย  a 10 minute speedboat ride for 50 Ringgit.

national park malaysia

Unfit but adventurous (or to put it bluntly, “BUDGETED”), I took the trekking option. And that’s when I met Shi, a young, female traveler from China.

It only needed a few introductory statements for Shi and I to hit it off. Donning a dark blue cap to match her dark blue cardigan, denim shorts,ย  sky blue shirt and sea blue sneakers (I don’t think she likes the color blue at all :D), Shi was quite reserved but she had a real taste for adventure.

So without question, we headed to the main entrance arch of the National Park, armed only with curiosity and a thirst for a new experience – without a guide.

The first part of the trek was fairly easy as we walked through a concrete road. The wind from the sea blew through the rainforest festooned with wild plants and trees, giving us the freshest of air that we can breathe. Sometimes, we’d catch a monitor lizard walking steadily through small rocks and plants.

national park in penang

Yup. Easy-breezy!

Twenty minutes later, we reached a suspension bridge that had a signpost indicating that a left turn would lead to the canopy walkway and the meromictic lake, while a right turn would bring us to the Monkey Beach after a 45-minute walk.

We stood still trying to determine the course of our fate when a group of Indian students passed by.

“Hey, are you guys heading to the Monkey Beach?” I asked.

A tall, lanky student with a good English accent replied to me, “No we’re heading to the lake.”

“Is the Monkey Beach far from here?”

He answered, “Yeah, but don’t worry. You can do it! If she can do it (points to his chubby friend), you can too!”

And they all laughed.

We thanked the students for their joyous remark and decided to turn right.

After climbing rocky slopes, we stopped to see the surrounding terrain. There were no signposts or markers. Determined to move forward, we followed a small trail abounding with trees and a hundred or so more plant species that exploded in colors of green, red, purple and yellow. Ferns and tree vines also thrived through the dampness of the jungle-like atmosphere.

Shi and I climbed, slid and even crawled our way through rocks, fallen branches and a few thorny plants. At one point, we had to use a rope (already in place to aid hikers) in order to reach a higher pathway.

The tall trees blocked the sun’s rays from exhausting our bodies but after finishing half of the bottled water I was carrying, I started to get anxious. There was no one around to get water from. I had no trail food with me. Ahead of us were more trees, plants and rocks which we both had to conquer. Then it hit me: I was unprepared.

Penang national park jungle trek

Not so “walk in the park”

As we climbed uphill, we heard a rustle of leaves and twigs. I turned my back to see a man in a complete trekking outfit, hastily jumping from one rock to another. I heaved a sigh of relief. We weren’t alone.

We rested for a while and talked to the fella who introduced himself as a Frenchman who was also heading to the Monkey Beach. Though he got ahead of us because of his endurance and stamina after our little chitchat, his presence made us feel that we were in the right path.

A short descent lead us to a small beach beside a school. We were about to celebrate until one of the students we met told us that the Monkey Beach was still 30 minutes away. We then realized that the small beach only served as a pit stop and we still had a long way to go.

beach in penang

The pit stop

After re-energizing ourselves with a breath of sea breeze, Shi and I followed a messy trail of fallen branches on marsh ground at the back of the school. There was no visible trail so we both headed back to ask for help. Fortunately for us, serendipity came again in the form of a British family who were apparently trekking behind us the whole time.

With the same goal in mind (ahh, Monkey Beach!), we threaded through a sandy pathway and arrived at an uphill crossing. We endured 30 minutes of rocky ascent, brushing aside tree vines and sliding through muddy pathways. The trail was just becoming more and more difficult. Yet the thrill of reaching Monkey Beach kept me on my feet despite almost finishing my only supply of water.

penang jungle

We seriously did not expect this

Exactly after an hour and a half of going through what seemed to be an endless forest of flora and fauna, we finally reached Teluk Ketapang, the pristine beach inhabited by monkeys (hence the name). It was indeed a refreshing reward after a laborious journey which I preconceived as a walk-in-the-park.

monkey beach penang


I came unprepared physically and I couldn’t believe that I was still able to reach it – despite getting a small finger wound from all the vines and plants I had to brush away.

I believe that when you simply open yourself up to all the possibilities of this glorious earth, you will be rewarded with so much goodness.

And that’s exactly what Shi and I got in the end..

monkey beach penang

“Keep your mind open and suck in the experience.”

PS: To the nice Frenchman, the British fam bam, and the Romanians who shared a boatride with us back to the entrance of the park, THANK YOU!

7 thoughts on “An “Un”guided Trek to Penang National Park

    • Hey Helen! Thanks for dropping by ๐Ÿ™‚ Once you reach Monkey Beach, you will see the boats that you can hire to go back to the main entrance. Either you negotiate with the boat owner or find other travelers to come with you so you can split the cost (50 Ringgit as of July 2013). Have fun!

      • Well, the Frenchman navigated it pretty well on his own. But, if you’re not an experienced mountaineer / trekker, it would be best to go with a group (like what my local friend suggested). To be honest, if I did not find Shi, I would have probably joined the students who were headed to the lake.

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