Malaysia’s island* state of Penang is rightfully known for being a food and heritage paradise, but there are a few other things to do besides eat and wander around historical neighborhoods. Hiking on Penang Hill is one, and trekking in Penang National Park is another. That’s right, Penang has its own national park which covers a corner of its northwestern point, featuring beaches, forest paths, and a little turtle conservation center.
While sometimes described as the world’s smallest national park, it is still a decent place to get lost (figuratively speaking) in forest and hike to secluded beaches. There are two main beaches- Monkey Beach and Turtle Beach – which you can hike directly to on different trails from the park entrance. The latter is where the turtle conservation center is located. When I visited, there were a few mid-sized turtles and a few tiny babies. I’m not sure if there are monkeys at the former, but there are definitely monkeys in the park on the trails.
If you’d rather not hike through the forest, you can take boat rides at the entrance to get to the beaches directly.
Right before Turtle Beach, there is a meromictic lake, where there are two distinct layers of water – one saltwater from the sea, and the other freshwater from the rain. However, this lake is only full during the monsoon season from May-November so unfortunately, when I went there in January, it was just a dried lakebed.
How to get there: In Penang, you can take the 101 or 103 bus from the KOMTAR bus terminal and get off at the final stop, which is the park. The ride takes around 45 minutes.
Note: The park is free but you just need to register at the front desk.
*Penang actually consists of an island (the main part) as well as a small part of the mainland coast next to the island. This mainland part is called Butterworth, which is also the name of the train station which you travel to to get to Penang island (from the train station, you transfer to a ferry).
Turtle Beach Meromictic lake
Turtle center (above) and one of its residents (below) as well as a few hatchlings (second below)
Park entrance, where you sign in at the building on the right
Park map. The two main trails are to Monkey Beach (D) and Turtle Beach (F)