The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Reverse Pulau Betong
This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This is a Grade 4 walk unsuitable for those without experience of off-piste hiking. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
We had attempted this walk a few days earlier, but had failed ingloriously, even if we discovered a new path along the way. I did not attempt to repeat the photography of the first section and since this is a well known path, I have copied and pasted the original at the end of this report. By arrangement, Yuehong had the same T shirt on but attentive observers will spot a change of trousers! In fact, we made an effort to get started earlier and at 09.30, we could do most of the initial climb in the shade. This report picks up the story at the point where we did a sharp left turn to leave the 'famous path'.
In the last few days, the path had been transformed because the vegetation had been cut back. We assumed that this was for the forthcoming durian season. In fact, at the junction where we had turned right on the first occasion it would have been easy to miss the path altogether.
Then Yuehong reported a motorbike ahead and this was the gentleman who had been doing the cutting, actually he was just finishing clearing up to the Da Ba Gong temple at the end of the path. Before we took the path on the right, we just had to go the extra 200 metres to make a visit.
Arguably, it's not as isolated as that above Titi Kerawang which is famous for its Hakka feasts, but I doubt this one sees many visitors. The smaller building houses a 'special rock' and the larger building an altar, note the lighted candles and the two walking sticks which are Tua Pek Kong's trademark.
We returned to the junction, turned left and everything was 'normal' again. After we crossed the small bridge, we went along a clear stretch and the path more or less came to an end opposite the single durian tree.
Yuehong decided to take the shady route round, I marched through the long grass and we climbed just a short way to a small flat area with some rubble.
Moving ahead we passed a ruined building and this time, kept just to the side of the streambed instead of crossing it.
It was typical 'old rubber', fairly clear but with the odd prickly vine as obstruction and snipping these slowed us down a bit. Another sign of its former use was a 'Hakka wall' to the left and here we went to the right roughly following the contour keeping the gorge quite close.
Then 'Eureka', there was the abandoned house and we had completed this short section much more comfortably than before. We walked on up with the fern patch to our right.
There's no real path anymore but the area is clear of undergrowth.
One final rise and we were at the col. Yuehong's holding the piece of black motorcycle plastic we had seen before and it was time for some well earned refreshment. As always Yuehong checked to see how far we had come, '6.62' km was displayed. However, the good news is that we can find our way through here in either direction and we should be able to come this way on future visits to Penang as there are no open patches to get overgrown - there used to be a path through the large fern patch but that must be regarded as 'lost'.
I have done a little Googling and it seems that the E & O Holdings own 348 acres of land here intended for the infamous golf course. Obviously, they cannot or will not complete the project and at their last AGM it was announced that they are looking to dispose of the land. That area corresponds to about 1400 hectares, which is equivalent to a square with sides 1.2km long! Or put another way equivalent to 30 - 50 small durian orchards. Only if the abominable 'three islands' reclamation project off the south coast of the island goes ahead will the land ever become very valuable and at the moment that project seems as likely to proceed as the golf course. Maybe some large mainland Chinese company will take it off their hands and develop a giant durian estate to help satisfy the export demand which is driving durian prices to ridiculous heights... (I really ought to be careful what I say in this respect, too often I have seen stupid ideas like that come to pass.)
Anyway, we were now at the top of the never completed access road. The upper section had to be negotiated carefully but after the first crash barrier, you could still easily ride a mountain bike along it - getting it there would be another matter.
We turned left at the corner, the entrance is obvious, my memory from 5 years ago is that the continuing road itself rapidly became impassable. Going down, the route of the path was obvious, but a fairly heavy pruning of the small bushes was needed for a comfortable passage. I did originally intend to cut all the way down to the original junction below, but that would have needed more cutting than I could be bothered to do as the last 50 metres or so was parallel and just above the valley path - Yuehong is on the path down and I'm on the other path just a few metres away.
We were now back on a first class 'Gibby path', completely clear and well graded.
Without really climbing much the path swung round to the left and joined the next valley at a junction and then continued up over another concrete bridge.
The top of the climb is at the next junction. "Not this time!" I said to Yuehong, 5 years ago we had found that it leads to a house and beyond was more than a little overgrown old rubber...
It may be a 'hovel' but the state of this accommodation shows that (migrant labour) poverty is no excuse for living surrounded by rubbish as we have seen all too often elsewhere. We continued down into yet another attractive durian orchard.
At the point where we could see down to Gertak Sanggul we took the path up to the left to the small house.
Beyond it, the non-fruit trees (mainly rubber) are being cleared, at least three came down while we passed through although we could still follow the old stone steps for the first half of the climb to the ridge.
It was a bit of a pain, but by no means difficult to get through, the worst part was the lack of shade on a very hot day.
I guess the rubber at the top is safe, most of the fruit farmers know it helps regulate the water drainage. The Pasir Panjang Forest Reserve starts on the left at the col and that should be safe! When we came to the sign, we turned right and started the descent to Pulau Betong.
Even at my age, I find this kind of thing quite straightforward because there are almost no vines to trip over and very few small bushes. For Yuehong with a dodgy right knee it's another matter. It's probably only about 200 metres in all, so I just leave her to it which is what she much prefers.
It was actually exactly the same route we had followed a few days before in the opposite direction. There was still an uneven short distance across the durian orchard before reaching the end of the path. I just kept my distance and my mouth shut for the time being.
We paused for 'recovery' and some rehydration before what is a fairly gentle descent by Penang concrete path standards. Nevertheless, I left Yuehong to her own devices so I could recover Mavis from the Chinese temple and meet her by the Chinese school.
With over 11km 'on the clock' we could excuse ourselves the luxury of two dinners, soupy stuff at the Hai Ching nearby and something more substantial in Sungai Pinang.
I cannot stress too much what a great walk this is for the experienced hill walker in Penang. It's 'use it or lose it' stuff, the mountain bikers came this way 9 years ago but can't any more. It would be a shame if it was to be lost to pedestrians too.
What's left of the oil palms on the initial climb gave us some much needed shade and I spotted evidence of a new group (at least to me) - The Balik Pulau Hikerz. We saw several pieces of their paper along this classic route.
Now this is a part of the route where I have yet to make a mistake, I find going south easier than coming north. There's wonderful mixed vegetation, in addition to the bamboo and fruit trees (mainly durian) there's rubber young and (very) old.
There's also the odd view of the sea. Previously, we had taken the left fork which sort of leads to Bukit Pulau Betong, but it needs a strong masochistic streak to make it up. Instead we took the 'safe' right fork.
The path drops slightly and goes into a quite long section of old rubber. Organisers of exercise events are no doubt well meaning, but almost universally lazy and ignorant of the environmental consequences of erecting signage. These date from 2014 and no doubt it will be many years before they disappear naturally. Why can't they remove them immediately after the event?
Eventually we got to the first of the southern huts. Just below it is a junction which invites you to go left coming north - something Yuehong was to do later in the day. The consequences, though would never be serious as there's a house just round the corner and I don't think the path goes any further.
Next we came to one of Penang's notorious dog houses, I've never stopped to count them but there are lots and there always seems to be a young set of replacements present. Just around the corner we got our view of Pulau Kendi.
For the continuation, click here to return to the start.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson