Penang isn’t viewed as a hotspot for tropical resorts. Spending a few days in the Georgetown area will show you why – a densely populated place featuring urban development right up to the waterfront, you can only imagine what the water is like.
Up and down the east coast, residential, commercial, (and across the strait in Butterworth, industrial) development makes going in the ocean a less than appealing prospect.
The west coast, while much less developed, is also not a great place to go for a swim. This part of the island features mostly mangroves – great if you’re going kayaking, but not so wonderful if you are looking for a paradise beach.
The north coast is the best option for those seeking relaxation in Penang. Yet, peace and quiet are at a premium here as well, as resort areas like Batu Ferringhi are rife with mass tourism developments, and watersports (like jet skiing) are a very popular activity here.
Think you’ll have to board a ferry to Langkawi to find your beach? Hold up just a minute. There is a spot I need to tell you about.
Introducing Monkey Beach
I first became acquainted with this hidden gem during my first venture overseas in 2010-2011. After asking the owner of the homestay where I was staying about Penang’s best beaches, she expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for Monkey Beach.
Not everyone was convinced – a young Swedish woman decried the presence of trash on its shores. I wavered on whether or not to go before deciding to see it for myself.
After a few moments of doubt, I decided to go. I’m glad I listened to the locals over the subjective whims of a fellow foreigner – otherwise, I would have never discovered this underrated spot.
Getting to Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach is situated within the bounds of Penang National Park, which protects the flora and fauna found in Penang’s most unspoiled northwestern corner.
Whether you are in Georgetown or Batu Ferringhi, you’ll need to hop on Rapid Penang bus #101, as this route terminates at the front gates of the park.
After signing in (admission to the park is free), you’ll have two options.
The easy way
Take a speedboat to the beach. This will take about five minutes, and will cost about 20 RM ($4.90 USD/$6.30 CAD/£3.65GBP/€4.15EUR) each way, though prices may be negotiable.
The sweaty way
Hike through the jungle along the coast. The walk will take about 75 minutes each way, and will take you past a beach where Universiti Sains Malaysia has a dock and a marine biology research post. Keep on the trail past this point – this is not Monkey Beach.
The third way (what I do)
Hike in, cool off at the beach, and then take the boat back. You’ll save money over the easy way, and you’ll earn your swim on the way in!
Monkey Beach: one of the most special places in all of Penang
I’ll be honest: activity at Monkey Beach has picked up over years. There are vendors who were never been around before, and instead of being able to count other travelers, on one hand, I had to use two hands on my most recent visit.
Despite this, Monkey Beach is easily one of the most chill places in Penang.
Go for a swing on a tire, or read a book while relaxing in a hammock. The choice is up to you!
There are plenty of excellent photo ops up and down the beach. Just don’t do what I did on my first backpacking trip and put your camera in the pocket of your swim trunks. Despite a rice bath back at the homestay, its sea-soaked circuits were fried beyond repair.
As mentioned above, there are plenty of food/drink sellers here now. Don’t expect a deal – you’re paying for convenience here.
Ready to leave? Find a boat captain (who may be having a midday siesta – remember, this beach is quiet most of the time) and strike a deal for a return trip to the front gates of the national park. Do NOT pay more than 20 RM if you can help it.