Jungle Trek in Penang National Park
Penang National Park is the smallest national park in the country. Located in the northwest corner of the island it is a mixture of jungle and beaches. We hike regularly back in the US, but have been a bit out of practice since we got to Asia, other than the miles and miles of walking to get around town. We decided it was time to get some mud on our feet and hit the trails.
We took the 101 bus from near where we are staying in Tanjung Tokong. It was RM2.70 a ticket. It's a windy route through Batu Ferringhi and onwards to Teluk Bahang. When the bus gets to a point where it needs to turn around you know you are there. We got off the bus and although we had brought lots of water we knew that for a 3 or 4 hour hike we would need a bit more food in our bellies otherwise we risked some hanger later! Luckily there are some food vendors just outside the gates of the park so we filled up with Roti Canai for me, and something noodley for Iain. (As I have said before we often find we don't know what we are eating - we just eat it!)
After feeling we had the sustenance to go walking we headed to the main entrance. Although there is no charge to use the park, there is a canopy walk that has a small fee but it was closed when we were there. You do need to register with the park officials before you go in. They ask to see your passport but we don't carry ours around. They seemed happy enough with just taking down the number from the pdf copies we keep on our phone. I think it is just a way of them knowing how many visitors they get and where they are coming from.
We decided to hike to Pantai Kerachut, rather than the more popular Monkey Beach. We had read that it was prettier and the trail less used. If you are not up for hiking at all, or just want to hike one way then you can get a boat to and from the beach. We decided we would hike both ways. I would describe the hike as moderate on my scale. We are reasonably fit, but not super hikers and there are a lot of steep grades on the trail, nothing requiring scrambling or ropes, but still some big steps. Not a stroll in flip flops, but not a hardcore jungle trek needing heavy climbing boots either.
The trails are well signposted and we only saw a few other people out there. We are in the dry season now so the trails were not muddy, I can imagine they get quite treacherous later in the year. The first bit of the hike passes a dirty uninspiring beach on the right before heading into the jungle. But we did see an impressive giant lizard creature, I think maybe a monitor lizard here.
It's shaded pretty much all the way and the biggest difference we noticed from hiking at home, apart from the humidity, was the noise. The jungle is deafeningly loud, it's hard to believe nature can make that happen! After trekking for just under 2 hours we reached the beach. It is very beautiful and we hardly saw anyone else there. Some technicians were there to switch out the batteries in the solar-powered Tsunami detection system and there was a guy watching over the turtle sanctuary, which we took a look around. Apart from that we saw a couple of other visitors and that was it. Some boats offered us rides back to the entrance but we decided to get even more sweaty and walk back instead.
We walked back via the meromictic lake, one of only a few in Asia, it's unusual in that it in the rainy season it has two layers a saltwater one and a fresh water one. The layers don't mix which creates a radically different environment for organisms to live in. Only a few specific species can live in such an environment. Who knew such a thing existed.
The loop past the lake took us back onto the original trail and we retraced our steps back to the entrance. We were out in the park for a good 4 or 5 hours. Just enough time for us to get hungry again and grab some pineapple fried rice and juices from a different food vendor across the street before heading home. It never felt so good to get a seat in the air conditioned bus once we were on our way back.