Penang Island has a wonderful blend of relaxed island vibe together with all the mod-cons of a bustling modern city. As with many areas of Malaysia, Penang reflects a blend of East and West as well as old and new. The capital and historic city of George Town, has preserved a wealth of both Colonial and Asian heritage buildings, which make the main town centre together with the quaint side streets a truly picturesque city to explore on foot. In additional to George Town being compact and thus easily accessible by foot, Penang also has a fantastic free bus system in and around George Town. These Penang free CAT (Central Area Transit) buses make getting around even easier!
Beyond George Town, Penang Island has so much more to offer, from a floating mosque to magnificent sunsets at Batu Ferringhi Beach. From modern shopping malls to the beauty of nature found in the Penang Botanical Gardens and Penang National Park, Penang really has something for everyone. And then, of course, there is the wonderful array of street food found on practically every corner - no wonder we ended up returning to Penang for a month-long stay!
VISIT PENANG NATIONAL PARK
Situated on the Northeast tip of Penang Island, Penang National Park is a fun and free day or half-day activity for any nature lover. The Park can be reached by local public bus from most of the island for very affordable rates. If you are a few people or pressed for time, taking a Grab Taxi is another feasible alternative. There are various hiking routes within the park which are thankfully mostly shaded by the lush green forest. Some of the routes are in need of a bit of maintenance, but if you are a regular hiker you won’t find them strenuous at all. You can also reach many of the park attractions by boat, which can be arranged at the park entrance or negotiated with the boatmen directly (much cheaper!). We walked from the main entrance towards Pantai Keracut Beach. The trail took us about 1.5 hours including a few photos and video stops along the way!
Our first destination was the Meromictic Lake… So what is a Meromictic Lake you may ask? Well, it is a lake with layers of water that do not intermix, in this case, the salty seawater and the fresh mountain water from the land. Now that may sound very impressive, but to be honest, it really wasn’t much of a sight at all! Perhaps the tide was too low or perhaps it is simply more of a technical wonder rather than a visual one. Glad that we had not especially detoured to see the lake, the trail continues straight onto Pantai Keracut Beach. There is often a debate regarding Pantai Keracut Beach vs Monkey Beach. Visiting both beaches will, of course, allow you to make up your own mind, but in the meantime, we will give you our opinion of our visit which was in the middle of July 2019.
Pantai Keracut Beach is a lovely wide and sandy beach with some tall trees along the sand edge providing much-needed shade (although you will want something to sit on as the trees also deposit very prickly small cones). The beach is definitely quieter and more relaxed than Monkey Beach, but swimming is unfortunately not allowed! The beach has a fairly steep drop-off into the water and the waves clearly dump along this shoreline. Keep in mind that there are no vendors at Pantai Keracut Beach so be sure to pack your own drinks and snacks. If you just want to sit and relax in the beauty of nature, then this is a good spot for you.
While you are at Pantai Keracut Beach, you should definitely visit the Pantai Keracut Turtle Sanctuary. Don’t have too high expectations, the Sanctuary is very small with only a few tanks. It is, however, free to enter and if you are lucky, there will be baby turtles which were by far the highlight of our visit. From here we made arrangements to hop aboard one of the boats heading towards Monkey Beach. There were plenty of boats and the fee was very negotiable so we were glad we had not made prior arrangements at the park entrance.
So, how does Monkey Beach compare to Pantai Keracut Beach? Well to be honest after some of the reviews that we had read, we expected Monkey beach to be packed and overrun by monkeys - this was not the case! Yes, the beach is a lot busier than Pantai Keracut Beach, but the one big advantage is that you can swim at Monkey Beach! The water quality is not fantastic, but it is no worse than Batu Ferringhi or any other beach around Penang Island. The beach is narrow but quite long so you should easily find a spot that suits you. There are a few vendors selling snacks and renting sun loungers. I am sure that if you wave your snacks around or leave them lying around the monkeys will be on you in a flash, but we did not notice them really bothering anyone. From Monkey Beach we took a boat back to the park entrance where we hopped on a bus to Batu Ferringhi. If you are a keen hiker, you will definitely want to spend more time exploring some of the other trails of the park.
IS BATU FERRINGHI BEACH WORTH VISITING?
Batu Ferringhi is probably the second most visited destination on Penang Island after the main city of George Town. Last time we were in Penang we didn’t have time to visit Batu Ferringhi so this time we were dying to go see what all the hype is about. The long sandy beach is dominated with water sport activities and if that’s what you’re looking for, then this is definitely the place for you! From crazy jet ski’s chasing each other on the water to people flying through the air suspended by brightly coloured para-sails, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to adrenaline water sport activities. The safety may be questionable, but it sure does look like fun to Parasail at Batu Ferringhi Beach! There are also plenty of demarcated swimming areas, but to be honest, despite the bath like temperature, the water is not very appealing as it is rather murky. So as a beach destination, I have to say that we were slightly disappointed. That being said, everyone will tell you that the sunsets in Batu Ferringhi are the most beautiful in Penang and here we can say that the sunset did not disappoint!
We walked the length of the beach, which is filled with beach bars and cafes, all the way to the jetty. Here, we got to watch some local fishermen casting their nets, while the setting sun turned the skies into the most beautiful canvas of colour. So yes, our sunset from Batu Ferringhi Beach was most definitely the most beautiful in Penang! With the sun having set, we made our way towards the main street to explore the well known Batu Ferringhi Night Market. One thing we had not realised is that the Batu Ferringhi Night Market is NOT a food market! It is a narrow alley of stalls which get set up along the sidewalk after 7 pm and mostly consists of clothing, handbags, watches, local crafts and the usual market type trinkets. Walking through the night market feels very much like the tourist beach resort area that Batu Ferringhi is.
We made our way along the length of the night market in search of the best place for local food in Batu Ferringhi. This search led us straight to Long Beach Cafe, which is a food court area with a great variety of local food stalls as well as plenty of western food options. In addition to the fantastic food variety, we were very happy to find the cheapest fresh fruit juice in all of Penang! After eating and drinking far too much, we hopped on the local bus to make our way back to George Town. So yes, we do believe that Batu Ferringhi is worth visiting, but just don’t expect crystal clear beach waters!
VISIT THE PENANG TANJUNG BUNGAH FLOATING MOSQUE
Yes, the Penang Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque is generally open to visitors. Do remember to dress respectfully as it is a place of worship. There are also garments available for free for you to use if you are not suitably enough dressed. The mosque was constructed in 2004 after the older mosque nearby was damaged by the tsunami. Although the mosque is not actually floating, it appears such at high tide when the water hides the supporting pile foundations. The location of the mosque over the water is rather unique and really does add to the beauty of the mosque itself. We enjoyed making our way to the adjacent small beach for a different perspective view of the mosque. If you’re travelling north along the west coast of Penang Island, be sure to stop off here.