The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Gertak Sanggul
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
Time was running out towards the end of our Penang visit, I begged one more trip to the pleasure zone and Yuehong agreed: "As long as we're quick about it."
And so it was that we woke up early, grabbed breakfast and boarded the 101 bus for Teluk Bahang. "You can have a second breakfast, I'll do without" she said, but when I indicated I was heading for a Roti Chanai instead of a Prawn Mee, of course she joined me. It was to be one of those days when everything worked perfectly, I wouldn't say it went to plan because there wasn't one. PHH 4498, my favourite Chinese Higer, turned up spot on time as usual and whisked us off as the 09.30 501 service to Balik Pulau. (Note since then the bus has been retimed, see above.) It's a thoroughly local bus and as regular travellers we recognise certain rituals. Every barber's shop I have ever been to has the day's newspaper available and in this case it comes by bus and the owner rushes out when the horn sounds for him - I guess the drivers all get their hair cut for free here. In Balik Pulau there are three stops in the main street in less than 100 metres and we got off at the last to pick up the snacks for the journey:
We walked back down the main street to 'Rambutan Halt' and immediately a 401 bus pitched up. At Teluk Kumbar, we elected to get off before the main junction and walk down to where the 308 bus emerges from a circular tour of the village - much more pleasant than sitting next to the main road - but once again there was no wait and it dropped us off just before Gertak Sanggul at 10.45 - the shot below shows the place although it was taken on a previous walk, Yuehong does not carry a change of clothes! The start of the route is absolutely no problem, you just have to follow the electricity cables until they run out and then carry on. The first landmark of note is a large white house, and the five barking dogs not only indicated that the owner was at home, they also brought him out. He was no longer familiar with the hill trails, but stated that the concrete road (protected by a barrier) behind his house goes up to the ridge - we marked it down for another visit and could see it snaking up the hill from our own trail shortly after. In the event as we found two days later, access to the ridge this way was no longer practical.
While I was taking the last shot, Yuehong was applying the insect repellant - unlike my vile personal shirt odour it doesn't work for leeches, note the newly acquired (third) walking stick, each one is kept at home and will be placed on our Tua Pek Kong altar if we ever acquire one! Out towards the horizon was Pulau Kendi, for the next two major junctions we kept to the left as local opinion was that the right hand paths would not go through to Pulau Betong and we didn't feel inclined to challenge that. Two days later, being bloody minded, we checked this out. The first got to the ridge and no further, the second 'sort of' got to Pulau Betong but involved a lot of bashing through overgrown rubber.
The path then drops down slightly to cross a stream and I had some hopes for the path that continued straight ahead at the next junction (we had come out to the left of Yuehong last time), but instead it expired in a couple of hundred metres at a small house. The lady seemed very surprised to see us and since we had no common language, we had to use the evidence of our eyes that there was no way out ahead.
So back we went and started climbing, still on a familiar path. These magnificent epiphytic ferns look quite large in the picture, but are actually dwarfed by their host.
Soon we were on the incomplete Gertak Sanggul Expressway. I have heard from two different sources that this was part of a (deservedly) failed Japanese project to build a golf course up here in the 1990s. At the top of the climb there are two junctions in quick succession. We declined the first opportunity to turn right as it looked at best as if it would follow the contours into the overgrown rubber. Instead we opted to turn right at the second, a much more substantial affair albeit it was also mainly used by rubber tappers (we knew that left would have led back to the west end of Gertak Sanggul).
The climb was unexceptional, the one person we saw also had no common language being a guest worker from another ASEAN nation to the north west. In no time we were at the top and it was time for a drink. I scouted ahead along the ridge to the right, there was another rubber plantation on the other side of the hill, I could see no decent ridge path beyond it but I could see we were high above the regular Gertak Sanggul - Pulau Betong path. So we went only about 50 metres on the level behind Yuehong, crossed to the other side of the ridge and as soon as we were offered a fair path down we took it.
If we had had a gentle climb up from Gertak Sanggul, then we had a repeat descent. Very soon the path became a motorbike trail and we could see a house below us. To reach it we had to turn right - whether the trail behind Yuehong goes through we don't know. The dogs were asleep on duty initially but soon got their act together. There was a further path up just beyond the house, again end point unknown, the picture shows the house from the Pulau Betong end and the path we used comes from beyond it. Like the regular lower path, this one makes for very pleasant walking, there was one motorbike trail coming in from below (possibly from "the house by the bridge") and one small track into the jungle before we came to the next major junction. It was lunch time, we had come from the right, the left path is yet another 'unknown'... All of which makes this one more route which is easier to find going downhill than it is uphill.
By now we were getting our first views of Pulau Betong which confirmed my suspicions that we would join the regular trail at the four way junction at the summit of the climb from the village, which indeed we did.
We had made astonishingly good progress, it became clear that we were probably going to catch the 403 bus out at 14.00 instead of the hoped for 15.30. Even though I stopped to grab what will have been my last (free) durian for 2012, we still arrived at the Hai Ching Coffee Shop with an anticipated 20 minutes to spare. The Tiger was slipping down rapidly, I made time to photograph (with permission) the traditional front room and then Higer PHH 8260 turned up 5 minutes early which made for a quick final gulp. As a result we had more than half an hour to kill in Balik Pulau before the 15.00 501 bus to Teluk Bahang. (From February 2013 this has been retimed to 15.15.) No problem, we simply took our last bun back to where it had come from four hours earlier and sank another bottle. For some reason, once people encounter us they don't seem to forget the experience.
We loaded up with rambutans and longans and sailed over to Teluk Bahang, where we opted for a take away as it was still only 16.00. The ais kacang took longer to prepare than it took to demolish and Yuehong closed her eyes in sheer ecstasy, it was another case of a 'Quickie' sometimes being every bit as delicious as taking your time.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson