Category: Penang National Park

Penang naturally

Teluk Bahang Jetty at dawn

Teluk Bahang Jetty at dawn

Most people go to Penang for food and its beaches but ALAN TEH LEAM SENG chooses a path less trodden that leads to the Penang National Park in the north-western corner of the island.

I AM upset. Someone has thrown fresh orange peel on the sides of the jungle path. Who are these inconsiderate people who don´t give two hoots about keeping our environment clean? There are bits of orange peel everywhere! What a mess!

I reach into my backpack for a plastic bag and as I bend down to pick up the “garbage”, I take a closer look and realise that the orange-coloured things are not fruit peel after all. Instead, they are a species of saprophytic mushroom that appear like magic after a heavy downpour.

These bright mushrooms are just one of the wonders that trekkers may see when walking along the trail at the Penang National Park. Located in the north-western corner of the island, the park is easily accessible from the Teluk Bahang village.

The best time to start the trek is at dawn when the first rays of the sun are just beginning to peek over the horizon. The air is cool and wildlife activity is at its peak.

Get A Permit

Trekkers are required to register at the National Park Information Centre before entering the park. This is directly opposite the Teluk Bahang Jetty. Entrance to the park is free and entry permits are granted upon registration.

Remember to ask for a park brochure as it contains a location map to help you plan your walk. The national park is huge and a visitor cannot complete all the trails in a single day. After all, the park is home to five different habitats � lowland dipterocarp forest, highland dipterocarp forest, mangrove swamp, sandy beach and meromictic lake.

Perhaps it´s a good idea to start at the main entry point at Teluk Bahang village.

This trail takes a manageable two hours to complete and best of all, it gives a good representation of all the habitats in the national park.

There are plenty of signs posted along the way to guide you so you won´t get lost. The first 20 minutes is the highlight of the trail as it provides a scenic view of Pantai Pasir Pandak.

Jungle And Sea

Pretty white blooms seen along the trail.

Pretty white blooms seen along the trail.

This part of the trail is my favourite as I get to enjoy the best of both worlds all at the same time. On my left is dense jungle complete with a cicada-led orchestra while on the other side is the sea, offering a view of the white sandy beach with a couple of boats bobbing up and down.

Pause for a moment and listen carefully to hear the gentle lapping of waves on the white sandy beach. It leaves an everlasting impression in the deep recesses of your mind.

Don´t be tempted to linger too long as you will be coming back along this very route, so continue walking and rest assured that you can enjoy the sight when you return in about 90 minutes´ time.

Apart from the gorgeous scenery, look out for fruiting Pandanus plants. The green fruit turns a bright orange hue when it ripens. It is very easy to find due to its size.

According to my guide, this fruit is a good source of nutrition for local animals.

Hanging Bridge

Hanging Bridge

Hanging Bridge

Soon you will come to a short hanging bridge. From this point, the trail splits into two. Take the one leading into the interior.

Almost immediately, the surrounding changes completely. The dense tropical forest emerges and envelops you like a long lost friend. As you walk in deeper, it starts to reveal itself and its secrets.

There are lots of birds here. Bird watching enthusiasts should remember to bring their binoculars and a bird identification book.

I manage to spot several barbets, woodpeckers and, between the break in the thick forest canopy, even a white belly sea eagle soaring high in the sky. The park is home to over 170 species of birds.

Other animals, apart from monkeys, are a bit difficult to find as they are usually shy and will often slip away as soon as they to catch a glimpse of a squirrel dashing across a tree at lightning speed.

The first half of the walk is uphill.

However, the elevation is not very steep and children above 12 years of age are allowed to participate in this activity.

Remember to take occasional breaks and drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.

Watch Out For Buffalo Gullies

While walking along the path, do look out for waist-deep gullies or ditches running alongside you. Many people wrongly assume that these large farrows are the works of Mother Nature when rainwater erodes the soil surface. Actually, they are man-made!

About a century ago, Achenese immigrants who migrated from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, came here to source for wood for the construction of homes and fishing boats. Teams of buffaloes were used to drag the huge timber logs along these gullies.

Ferns, Bamboo & Orange Peel

As you move higher, the vegetation changes again. You see fewer trees and more fern-like plants. Even the air is cooler.

It is around this section of the walk that you notice the “orange peel” mushrooms.

Their conspicuously bright hue makes them very easy to spot. Don´t touch them though as they ould be poisonous.

Bamboo grooves are also common as the trail takes you past several small streams. The crystal clear water is cool and provides a refreshing wash for your face and arms.

The more adventurous can follow the streams a short distance and try to locate solitary pools. According to one of my guides, M. Shanmuganathan, there are lots of freshwater prawns there. He and his colleague, Fazly Zainol, attached to the Golden Sands Resort´s recreation department, are well-informed guides who are a constant source of information about Penang´s rich natural history.

Fallen Giants

The second part of the forest trail goes downhill and is less strenuous. Don´t go too fast as the trail can be quite slippery. Watch your step and look out for huge fallen trees that may obstruct your path.

Stop occasionally to look for wild orchids among the branches. These are not usually visible to trekkers as they are located high up in the trees where they can get maximum sunlight. As such, when huge trees fall, they offer a golden opportunity to see the orchids up close.

Where To Stay

Further down the trail, close to Sungai Tukun, is one of the two specially designated campsites in the Penang National Park. The authorities have provided this secluded area for campers to help reduce human impact on the environment. There are washrooms with running water, an event hall, observation decks and a surau.

Another camping area is at Pantai Kerachut, on the other side of the park.

Golden Sands Resort at Batu Feringghi

Golden Sands Resort at Batu Feringghi

If you´re not keen on camping, you can stay in nearby hotels in Batu Feringghi. Among the most environmentally conscious hotels here is the Golden Sands Resort which organises jungle walks to the Penang National Park twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays. Guests who want to take part can register either at the recreational department desk or at the reception, a day earlier.

The package, costing RM38 per person, includes a guide, return transport to Teluk Bahang village and bottled mineral water. Participants must assemble in the lobby at 7.30am to take the air-conditioned van to the park.

The four-star resort has ample facilities for family holidays, with two lagoon-style swimming pools with a relaxing 20-seater whirlpool complete with a wet slide.

Kids will have a whale of a time at the Adventure Zone, the first of its kind comprehensive indoor layground in Penang, complete with thrilling drop slides. It is located at the beachfront between the Golden Sands Resort and Shangri-La´s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa. For details, contact the resort at 04-886 1911, email: [email protected] or go to www.shangri-la.com

Trekking Tips

Enjoy the slightly hilly terrain, clear blue sky, crystal clear stream and keep an eye out for the flora and fauna in Penang National Park. Keep to the well-maintained path to avoid stepping on the fragile plants lining the sides. If you have to observe anything closer, watch your step and put everything back into its place. Remember you are a guest of Mother Nature and you should not remove or disturb anything at all.

Bring drinking water and make sure you have a pair of walking shoes with good grip as the terrain an be slightly slippery.

Occasionally, a fallen tree may obstruct the path. Don´t be in a hurry to get past it as the collapsed “giant” may reveal treasures you will not normally be able to see. Carefully observe the epiphytes like colourful orchids growing on its branches.

Golden Sands Resort guests can also rent fishing rods complete with bait from the recreation department. Wear gloves when examining sharp rocks or shells found in abundance along Pantai Pasir Pandak.

A pair of binoculars will come in handy too, as the park is home to a variety of forest dwelling birds. Either dawn or dusk are the best times for bird watching as the birds are specially active during this time in their search for food.

How To Get There

To get to Penang Island, drive across the Penang Bridge (Toll charge RM7.70 including return) or take the ferry at Butterworth´s Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim (also RM7.70 return). Many tourists who drive prefer the latter as they can enjoy a scenic cruise across the narrow channel. To get to Golden Sands Resort, just follow the street signs to Batu Feringghi. The Penang National Park is a 5km drive towards Teluk Bahang village.

Contact

Penang National Park, Jalan Hassan Abbas, 11050 Teluk Bahang, Pulau Pinang. Tel: 04-8813 530 fax: 04-8812 016, email: [email protected], website: www.wildlife.com.my

Teh Leam Seng

Category: Penang National Park