‘The beach suddenly turned quiet’


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 01 Oct 2020

Away from society: Azlan (right) chatting with a visitor at one of the shacks in Monkey Beach while Honey rests on a bench. — LO TERN CHERN/The Star

BALIK PULAU: A hermit living in Monkey Beach near here was not aware the country implemented a movement control order (MCO) on March 18 until he went to Teluk Bahang to get supplies a month later.

The only inkling he had of something amiss was that no one was heading to Monkey Beach, a popular tourist spot in the northwest corner of Penang island that can only be reached on foot or by boat.

It was only when he took a boat to Teluk Bahang to stock up on supplies that he found out about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 54-year-old man, who only wanted to be known as Azlan, said visitors to Monkey Beach informed him about Covid-19 but he did not know how serious the situation was.“For five years, I lived on this beach. Tourists would come by the hundreds every day.

“In March, the beach suddenly turned quiet. Nobody came at all and I was confused. I thought it was due to bad weather behind the hills.

“In April, my supplies ran out and I took a boat to Teluk Bahang town and found out about the lockdown, ” he said.

When the townsfolk told him Covid-19 was spreading in Penang and explained the MCO to him, he was filled with fear.

“I grabbed only whatever essentials I needed and quickly went back to Monkey Beach, ” he recalled.

Cut off from civilisation, Azlan said he last went to George Town in March 2018.

“I was born in Singapore and grew up in Australia because my father served in the Royal Malaysian Air Force and was based there.

“Then for 11 years I had a job in Europe as a technical diver fixing oil rigs and earned a big salary.

“I can speak eight languages –Dutch, German, French, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, English and Bahasa Malaysia.

“After retiring, I returned to Batu Ferringhi and opened a guest house but closed it after seven years and moved to Monkey Beach to get away from society, ” he said.

On the beach, Azlan’s simple shack has basic amenities such as a washroom, a kitchen and electricity from a generator.

His friends are Honey, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, Amoi, a four-year-old mixed Rottweiler, and several cats.Azlan said before Covid-19 broke out, about 90% of visitors to the beach were international tourists.

“Between 30 and 50 people would set up tents and camps here before the pandemic. Some even camped here for up to two months, but now it’s rare to even have 10 people spending a night here, ” he said.

Monkey Beach, properly known as Teluk Duyung, is a 700m stretch of sandy beach behind Penang National Park.

The land near the beach is privately owned and not under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Department, which managed other beaches within the park such as Pantai Kerachut and Teluk Kampi, where there are official campsites.

While day trips are permitted, camping in national parks nationwide is prohibited during the MCO.

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