In a previous post some years back, I talked about the Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve at Port Dickson, which contains coastal hill dipterocarp forest. Another location where similar forest exists is at Penang National Park. The park sits at the north-west corner of Penang Island and is the smallest national park in Peninsular Malaysia at only around 2500 hectares, but nonetheless is one of the most interesting, as it contains a myriad range of coastal habitats.
These habitats range from lowland to hill dipterocarp forest, various types of mangrove swamps in pristine state (more sandy and without much of the thick grey sludge/mud you see elsewhere), transitory littorial forest, and casuarina beach strand forest. It seems there are also old coconut plantations in the park, adding to the diverse mix of habitats in such a narrow, small area.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to walk the trails in the park, and had to contend with a boat trip around the seaward fringes of the park, ending at a beach called Monkey Beach. The forest here is beautiful, although most of it is old secondary forest, interspersed with pockets of primary jungle perhaps.
From what I could see looking in from the outside, the forest here is dominated by Shorea curtisii stands, which typically grows in hill dipterocarp forest everywhere, but normally at higher elevations.
Probably because there is much less human traffic here compared to the other beaches in Penang, the seawater here looks greener and more pristine, and sea turtles actually come ashore to lay their eggs here. Rocky outcrops dominate most of the boundary between sea and land with some boulders resembling curious shapes, or so my boatman pointed out, only broken up occasionally by the sandy stretches of the beaches.
Perhaps in the future, when I am in Penang, I will make a trip into the recesses of the park, and visit the meromictic lake and small streams and rivers that flow through the park. Aside from other island habitats like Pangkor Island, Penang National Park offers a glimpse of natural coastal habitats that are still quite unchanged from the times of Sir Francis Light, who first landed on Penang Island some 230 years ago.
NB: There seems to be some conflicting info on the web, regarding the actual size of the park. A few sources state its size at around 2500 ha, but most recent sources give the size as 1200+ ha. The main PERHILITAN website gives the size as 2563 ha, which is made up of 1182 ha (land area), and 1381 ha (marine area).