I knew next to nothing about Penang, Malaysia before Jake and I were told by EFL (the language school that handles our visa and work permit, and the same school where we took our TEFL course) that we would go there to get our Thai visa.
We found out that our paperwork was ready just 3 days before our visa expired, so we very quickly planned a trip to leave Thailand 2 days later. The last minute planning and surprise destination resulted in a great mini-vacation, and we ended up really enjoying our time in Penang.
Motorbike ride along the coast and Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach is a small beach in Penang National Park in the North-West corner of Penang Island.
We took a very scenic 30 minute motorbike ride from our hotel the Kimberley House, along the coast, to the entrance to Penang National Park.
From the entrance you can either do an hour and a half long hike, or take a boat to get to Monkey Beach. If we had had more time and worn better footwear, we would have wanted to explore more of the National Park; but we arrived in the mid-afternoon wearing sandals, so we decided to take a boat over to the beach. There are a number of small stands at the entrance offering tours and boat rides. I can’t remember how much we paid, but I believe the boat ride to Monkey Beach is usually about 50RM (~$11USD).
The beach itself is small and relaxing with very clear, beautiful water. Since Malaysia is a majority Muslim country (61% of the population in Malaysia overall, and 45% of the population in Penang are Muslim), we felt a little uncomfortable spending too much time in our bathing suits. From what I’ve read, if you go to a hotel pool or touristy beach where there are lots of foreigners, bikinis are the norm. In general, bikinis and bathing suits are fine at the beaches in Penang, but when we visited Monkey Beach the only other visitors were Malay who swam fully covered from head to toe.
I did wear my bathing suit to go swimming and the water was very warm and surprisingly easy to float in. However, I spent the majority of my time on the beach, in a t-shirt and long shorts, and felt completely comfortable.
Monkey Beach is named for the crab-eating macaque that live there. Within a few minutes of our arrival the macaque emerged from the trees to roam the sand and try to eat our food.
Despite their name, the macaque do not eat crabs and instead eat mostly fruits, seeds, and a variety of plants and animals. They are amazing to see up close, but after some time spent monkey-viewing I felt like I couldn’t relax on the beach too much, or else the macaque would steal our stuff!
Many macaque, especially those that live in places like Monkey Beach, are not afraid of humans at all. They steal food both from garbage cans and directly from people. One study found that 14% of the macaque’s diet came from food provided by humans. I was a little afraid of some of them, and did surrender Jake’s backpack to a sneaky macaque at one point, but Jake had no problem getting it back.
My favorite was the infant macaque latched onto his mother’s stomach.
At low tide the beach was covered in sand dollars and some of the fastest moving snails I’ve ever seen.
Monkey Beach is a great place to relax and read a book in a hammock or on one of the lounge chairs (find a spot away from the monkeys!), see some macaque up close, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.