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Penang National Park: 2024 visitor guide

Penang National Park: 2024 visitor guide

Penang Island is well-known for the heritage ambience of George Town but the majority of the island is actually covered in lush tropical rainforest and there’s no better place to experience it than Penang National Park.

Quietly situated in the northwest corner of the island, but easily accessible from Batu Ferringhi or George Town, it makes for an ideal day trip to explore the rainforest, spend a few hours relaxing on a tropical beach, or venture out onto the hiking trails. Even if you’re only visiting Penang for a couple of days, we recommend you make time to visit Penang National Park as it really is one of the best things to do in Penang.

In this Penang National Park visitor guide we share information on how to get to the park entry gates, what to do in the National Park, how to get around, and our top tips. We also provide a Penang National Park itinerary so that you can get the most from your visit.

How to get to Penang National Park

Don’t worry, just because you’re visiting a rainforest in a national park, doesn’t mean you need to spend hours in a car or bus to get here. There’s an excellent road network leading all the way around the island from the airport in the south, through George Town and Batu Ferringhi before reaching Teluk Bahang, where the National Park is located.

From either George Town or Batu Ferringhi, it’s usually easier and quicker to order a Grab taxi and be dropped off at the park entrance. Bear in mind that this corner of the island is very much the ‘end of the line’, so it’s not always the most popular Grab drop-off or pick-up point. You might need to wait a few extra minutes, especially when you’re leaving the park. The journey should take around 45 minutes, depending on traffic, which can be very bad on a weekend evening heading back into town.

Penang bus

Alternatively, you can take bus number 101 from several locations around George Town (including the Jetty where the Penang ferry to Butterworth departs) and it also passes through Batu Ferringhi. It’ll take about one hour, potentially a lot longer on busy days. The bus will drop you a few metres away from the entrance gates and is a good, cheap option if you’re travelling solo.

Arriving to Penang National Park

At the park entrance there are a handful of stalls selling boat trips to the various beaches around the national park. They have a very laid-back approach, with no urgent shouts or pressure when you arrive. There’s a few companies to choose from but they all have the same fixed rates.

The stalls double-up as mini-supermarkets, so it’s a good place to buy water and snacks if you haven’t done so already. There’s nowhere else to buy supplies until you get to Monkey Beach so make sure you’re stocked up.

Scattered around the area are a few other local restaurants and shops, all fitting effortlessly into the chilled-out vibe. They tend to serve basic dishes centred around rice, noodles, vegetables and fish, with prices from RM6.

Payment for the boat tours can be made in cash or card.

entrance to Penang National Park

Penang National Park fees and opening hours

You will only need to pay the National Park fees if you’re visiting Turtle Beach, or planning to hike on one of the trails (such as the most popular hike to Turtle Beach). If you’re just taking a return boat trip to Monkey Beach, there’s no need to pay any fees.

For non-Malaysians, the fees are RM50 for adults, RM10 for children aged 3-12, under 3’s are free. Note that credit cards aren’t accepted, the fees must be paid in cash only. There’s an ATM just outside the park gates if you’ve been caught short.

Penang National Park is open year-round, seven days a week. The Park HQ registration counter (where you pay your fees and register) opens from 8:00am to 4:30pm, with an hour’s closure for lunch from 1pm to 2pm. Try to time your arrival in the morning to get the most out of your day.

If you’re taking a hike in the national park, you’ll be asked to register online using your mobile phone before entering the park. A small guardhouse checks your permit (wristband) just after the entry gate, so make sure you have paid your fees before attempting to enter.

Taking a boat

There are several boat options available at Penang National Park, allowing you to tailor your own itinerary depending which beaches you’d like to visit, and if you plan to do any hiking. In fact, you don’t need to do any hiking at all at Penang National Park if you don’t want to. You can instead hire boats both ways to the different beaches, or combine them in the one boat trip.

Note that the prices are per boat, not per person, so you could reduce some costs and share the boat with other travellers. You’ll lose some flexibility though and also reduce the income for the local businesses who are relying on the tourist numbers.

You can fit about ten people into each boat and remember to ask for the driver’s WhatsApp number to stay in contact during your visit. The boats are lots of fun to ride in, with seats at the bow particularly popular as the boat skims along the sea. As this is the Malacca Strait, the water is usually exceptionally calm, although you do get some wake from other boats. Lifejackets are provided and must be worn at all times.

Penang National Park boat

The boat to Monkey Beach costs RM100 return, or RM70 one-way. To get to Turtle Beach is RM200 return or RM100 one-way.

The driver will usually point out various sights along the way, including Rabbit and Crocodile Rock, sea eagles and monkeys.

Trekking

If you’re up for the challenge, hiking in Penang National Park is a real highlight of any visit, and allows you to delve deeper into the rainforest and experience it up close and personal. You’ll need a decent amount of stamina and fitness, plus lots and lots of water as, even though you’re shaded from the sun, there’s always high levels of humidity.

The canopy walk and the track from the entrance gates to Monkey Beach are currently closed. It’s not uncommon for the trails to open and close due to maintenance and/or damage, so always double-check before you set off.

The 1.5 hour hike from the park entrance to Turtle Beach is an equally challenging and rewarding hike. The conditions underfoot are usually good but can be slightly tricky after rainfall, although the path is always well-signposted and gets enough foot-traffic to keep it clear. There are a few rest stops along the way and a small waterfall.

After leaving the park entrance, you’ll pass a small beach before entering the tree cover and starting a gradual climb through the rainforest. There’s then a small plateau before you begin your steady descent towards Pantai Kerachut, eventually emerging onto a small footbridge that crosses the meromictic lake. You’ll arrive with a sense of achievement and a sheen of perspiration.

Penang National Park - hike to Turtle Beach

It’s important you take plenty of water (more than you might expect), and load up on sunscreen and mosquito repellent. There are no facilities between the park entrance and Turtle Beach.

Whatever time of year or day you do the hike, it’ll be hot and humid, so make sure you wear clothes you don’t mind getting hot and sweaty in. Comfortable and supportive footwear is imperative as you’ll be covering a lot of ground and it’s not always easy underfoot.

Turtle Beach (Pantai Kerachut)

The beautiful Turtle Beach, with its uninterrupted sea views, is perfect for sunbathing (bring plenty of sunblock and a sun hat) and whiling away the hours in peace with a good book. However tempting the sea looks, it’s teeming with jellyfish so you’ll need to restrict yourself to just dipping your feet in.

Penang National Park - hike to Turtle Beach

There’s a fantastic hike across the National Park to get to Turtle Beach. It’s well signposted and the footpath is clear, but do check out our guide to hiking to Turtle Beach for step-by-step directions. It takes about 1.5 hours. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the terrain can be tricky and plenty of water.

There’s a surprise waiting for you behind the northern end of Turtle Beach: a meromictic lake. If you have hiked from the park entrance over to Turtle Beach, this will be the first thing you see as you cross the footbridge.

At first glance it might just look like a normal lake but these natural phenomenon are actually incredibly rare, with only a few existing in the whole of Asia. As the saltwater and freshwater don’t mix, two distinct layers are created. It makes for a unique and interesting visit, with the small bridge a good viewpoint. Although when there hasn’t been much rainfall, it can just look like a big bog and quite unimpressive.

Meromictic Lake Turtle Beach

There’s also a small turtle sanctuary here that houses a few turtles in rather sad-looking tanks, plus some tired information boards and displays. Entry is free and it makes for an interesting side-trip after you’ve spent enough time on the beach. Click here for more information on Penang Turtle Sanctuary.

Monkey Beach (Teluk Duyung)

Monkey Beach offers the most things to do of all the beaches around Penang National Park. Although there remains the ever-appealing option of simply lying on the beach under the sun, which is absolutely possible here.

The water might look idyllic from a distance but unfortunately once you dip your feet in you’ll soon realise it’s by no means crystal-clear. Combined with the ever-present threat of a jellyfish floating past, it’s not really suitable for swimming.

Kayaks can be hired at a couple of locations along the beach, or you can relax at Tiger Monkey Bar and Leisure, a super-chilled beach bar and camping area set right on the beach. Kayaks cost RM30 for one hour, can accommodate three people, and lifejackets are provided. There are also ATVs to hire to venture into the jungle.

The monkeys are an occasional companion during any visit to Monkey Beach (clue in the title) and it’s fun to have a drink and watch them go about their daily activities. There are a handful of simple beach bars to choose from where you can buy beers, soft drinks, and snacks. Either enjoy them in the restaurant, or take them to the beach and look out to sea.

At the western edge of the beach, a trail begins which leads up to Muka Head Lighthouse. The hike is straightforward to follow as there are no deviations off the main track and occasional signposts appear along the way, charting the distance to the top. As always, take plenty of water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.

The lighthouse is sometimes closed for maintenance and is a low-key affair at the best of times. If it is open, the walk up to the spiral staircase affords 360-degree views of the Andaman Sea, mainland Malaysia, and the whole of Penang Island. It’s very much worth the effort if you can manage it.

Penang National Park itinerary

Your itinerary at Penang National Park can be completely flexible, depending on your mood and fitness.

One suggested itinerary is:

  • Arrive as early as possible (i.e. 8am)
  • Buy supplies from stalls outside entrance gate
  • Arrange a boat transfer from Turtle Beach in a couple of hours time
  • Pay National Park Fees (cash only)
  • Hike from the entrance to Turtle Beach (1.5 hours) – click here for the step-by-step hiking guide
  • View the Meromictic lake
  • Relax on Turtle Beach, sunbathe and paddle in edge of water (watch out for jellyfish)
  • Visit the Penang Turtle Sanctuary
  • Boat to Monkey Beach
  • Lunch at Tiger Monkey Bar and Leisure
  • Rent kayaks and cruise around the bay
  • Optional hike to Muka Lighthouse if it’s open and you have the energy
  • Drink a cold can of Tiger looking out to sea after your hike
  • Boat back to park entrance
  • Head back to your Penang hotel

We’ve not included exact timings as it depends on your hiking pace and how long you like to relax and take over lunch/beers. Expect to spend at least 5-7 hours in total if you follow this Penang National Park itinerary.

Tips for visiting Penang National Park

  • Arrive early to beat crowds and heat
  • Avoid weekends if possible as it can get busy with domestic tourists
  • Buy snacks at the entrance shops, the vendors are friendly and helpful
  • Wear appropriate shoes if hiking but carry some flip-flops to slip into on the beach
  • Bring cash for national park fees, lunch and other small purchases at the beaches
  • National Park HQ closes at lunchtime but this shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve arrived early
  • Take lots (and lots) of water on the hikes
  • Watch out for the monkeys who love to snatch anything within reach
  • Mosquito repellent is essential on the hikes

Accommodation at Penang National Park

If you don’t fancy squeezing all of this into a single day, consider staying overnight in the National Park. There are no hotels or lodges and the only option is to camp, either at Turtle Beach or Teluk Kampi.

You can hire all of the equipment you’ll need; keep in mind the facilities are rustic, but the peace, tranquillity and sunsets more than make up for it.

Final thoughts on visiting Penang National Park

Even though it’s one of the smallest national parks in the world, Penang National Park squeezes a lot into its limited square kilometres. It offers easy access to pristine tropical rainforest, with the option to undertake challenging hikes, if that’s your thing.

Otherwise, it’s an ideal place to get away from the city and relax in a peaceful location, either on a boat or sunbathing on postcard-worthy, tropical sandy beaches.