Like most days I overslept, which caused all my plans to shift a little. Today was supposed to be “hiking to the lighthouse” day, since it fell through yesterday; which turned into “recuperation from cheap beer” day. So I zombie walked up the street in the scorching hot sun of another Penang late morning to Mum & Pops. Mum already knows what I want, so she passes on my order to the roti guy who slaps together one roti canai with egg and onion, and then informs Pops about the mug of black coffee. So the coffee shook off the morning zombie feeling, and I was feeling pretty fueled and ready to go on a hike.
Through the gates of the National Park, and into the jungle I went, although, it really didn’t feel like it, because I was walking on a sidewalk. I was thinking, “What the heck kind of trail is this? This is more like following the yellow brick road.”. I was hoping their version of a trekking trail wasn’t a sidewalk across the coast. After about a km or so, the trail came to a T- intersection and started looking more like a jungle trail, what a relief! After about another 45 minutes of hiking, and waiting for an oncoming stream of about 100 students, I arrived to the research center, which is the second unofficial checkpoint. I walked along the beach here and found a few shells, than picked up the trail again, which wasn't easy, because there's a major obstruction of a fallen tree and branches that you have to crawl through. In fact, it looked so old, I wasn't sure if I was actually on the right trail or not. I crawled though and proceeded, there was a sign posted that said, 1.7km to Monkey Beach, I was still on track. This section of the trail got a bit more challenging, and the obstructions got more frequent. Also, there were some stairs with missing planks and nail pops on the trail. In other words, you have to be extra mindful, because they obviously don't perform much maintenance; I guess that's part of the free admission. It's been my experience in Southeast Asian countries that safety comes last, actually, rarely at all. This section of the trail took a while, at least it seemed like a while. Finally, I came to the last set of stairs which descended down upon Monkey beach. I was so excited, hundreds of crazy monkeys! I stopped and got my camera out, so I could catch all the action of hoards of crazy monkeys as they danced around and did their monkey thing. Well . . . I got to the bottom of the stairs and there was only 1 monkey sitting on a big rock, and as soon as he saw me, he took off and disappeared into the jungle. The beach was completely devoid of life, not even a stray dog.
Unfortunately, what I did see, was a lot of garbage. So maybe "Garbage Beach" might be more appropriate. Garbage has been a huge problem in Penang, and according to the locals, it's better now than it was before.
As far as the missing monkeys go, I talked to some other travelers, and it seems as though it depends on what time you go. Sometimes there's monkeys and sometimes there aren't. I arrived to the beach around noon, so maybe it's better to go earlier in the morning.
At the end of the beach the next trail head starts for the ascent to the lighthouse, which is located at 227m above sea level; another 1.2 km. I only brought a 1.5 ml bottle of water and it was well below the half mark. If you're going to do any of this trek, I would suggest bringing 2 bottles, because you do get really dehydrated fast here.
After a grueling uphill battle of trail and stairs, with 3 breaks incorporated into the climb, I made it to the top. I came up the last bit of trail and I could see the lighthouse, what an incredible feeling . . .
. . . a short - lived feeling though, only to be crushed by the fact that the gate to get into the lighthouse area was locked and nobody was there. I immediately told . . . myself, "This is freakin crazy! It's only 13:30!". Pure craziness, a major tourist attraction for this little town, and it's closed and surrounded by a 4 meter fence with bobbed wire on top. I thought to myself, "No way did I just hike 4 km, 1 km of which, was a crazy stair-master hill, just to be turned away by a chain link fence. So walked around the perimeter of the fence, just to see if maybe there was another way in. On the 3rd side, there was a small gate with a padlock on it, but the padlock wasn't closed (that could be considered open, at least open for interpretation). So my fingers found there way between the links of the fence, and were able to pop the lock off. "Oops, the door's open!" Next thing you know, I'm given myself a guided tour of the lighthouse.
The time for this trek was 5.5 hours round trip (with many breaks). In retrospect, the view from the light house sucks in comparison to the Penang Hill view or even the view from the park that connects with the Botanical Gardens Park. I would just go to Monkey Beach, find a hammock and chill out for the day. Watch your shoes and stuff though, if monkeys do show up, they will steal them.