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Hiking Penang National Park in Malaysia

by Daniel Lawton

“Penang is an island off the northern coast of Malaysia. I went there to obtain a 60-day Thai visa, which was a worthy excuse to stay a few days longer. The island is awash with multiculturalism because of its location as a strategic point during the days of spice trading. Residents are of Indian, Chinese and Malay ancestry and it is possible to visit a Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple, mosque and Christian church on foot within 30 minutes.


I had read in the tourist map that Penang National Park, a large forest preserve on the fringe of the ocean, was a gorgeous hiking spot, so I decided to give it a whirl. Getting there was much easier than I expected.


The infrastructure and public transportation in Malaysia is much better than that of Thailand; I hopped on a sparkling clean, modern- looking bus that swooped me up from right in front of my guest house and dropped me off an hour later 50 meters from the park entrance.


I was told, by a female park ranger wearing a burka, that admission was free, but that I would have to pay 5 Ringets (approximately $1.75 ), if I wanted to stroll among the trees in the rainforest canopy walk. I did, so I shelled out the cash, grabbed a remarkably well-illustrated trail map and entered the park.


Because of the delicate, creamy pallor of my skin, I had come prepared with 45-proof sun block—strong enough to protect a baby’s bottom in the Sahara—but to my delight almost all of the trails were under the dense rainforest canopy.


However, that did little to prepare my from the crushing heat. At 10:30 a.m., the temperature was already in the low-nineties. The humidity felt like it had to be a minimum of 80% percent and within ten minutes my shirt was so drenched with sweat that I could ring water from it. I tore it off and put it in my bag. Yes, it’s generally a poor idea to trek topless through foreign rainforest, but when the heat is so oppressive that you feel like you’re locked in a moving sauna, your options are limited.


Despite the weather, the park’s landscape was stunning. The well-maintained trails weaved down the coastline, abutting the crystal-clear water. Every so often, there would be a break in the foliage where one could take in the majesty of the ocean, the jaw-dropping cliffs and, in the distance, view the skyline of downtown Penang.


In addition, at regular intervals, small side trails would lead off on to the beach. One of my favorites was a foot path that lead to a rope swing, where I enjoyed the breeze while watching fisherman in tiny skiffs collect their lines.


Penang Park has six well-established trail destinations, most of them are either scenic vistas or beaches, th


But, I only had about two and half hours total, so I walked to a place that was inexplicably called “CMC point.” It was a golden, sandy beach where one could sit in the shade on a pack of boulders and stare out at the water. It was nice, but it was freakishly hot, and I found myself quickly desiring the canopy’s shade.


Although there are numerous stairs, bridges and other features built into the trails at Penang, there are still some tricky parts where a twisted ankle could easily occur. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in one particularly difficult section, a rope had been stretched between two boulders that could be used as a sort of primitive guide rail to help hikers stay upright.


On my way out of the park, I took a slight detour to check out the canopy walk. If you never been on a canopy walk before, it typically consists of a rope ladder stretched between trees with some wood planks inside. The first time you walk on one, it’s insanely scary, but it loses its edge pretty quickly.


Frankly, the canopy walk in Penang was pretty underwhelming, but for two bucks and five minutes of your time, it’s worth it. From there, it was only ten minutes back to the front of the park. It was now around 1:30 p.m. and my body was soaked in perspiration, but the coolness of the ocean breeze had somewhat mitigated the fierceness of the heat.


However, the moment I left the canopy, I was blinded by the tropical sun and scurried toward the bus station for cover. It is hot in Southern Louisiana in the summer, there’s no doubt about that, but the heat in Southeast Asia is a completely different animal and a brutal one.


Nevertheless, Penang Park is a much do if you happen to be in the area. In addition to hiking trails, it also has a number of primitive camping sites, just in case your sweat lodge at home is malfunctioning.”