The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - South by South West
This is part of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang. Click here for the index. This is a Grade 2 walk when done correctly. There are maps of key areas on this route in another report. 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.
One of my favourite visits 'first time around in Penang' was to Pantai Panjang, probably the best palm fringed beach in Penang, in the far south-west of the island and approached only by a footpath from Pulau Betong. Since then, Kem Bina Negara (a government hideaway for personal development of key staff) has occupied the area immediately behind the beach and it can now be reached by road. Nevertheless, Forest Ang's book describes a delightful walk to the beach from Gertak Sanggul which we decided to do in reverse as the then 10.30 403 bus to Pulau Betong makes an excellent connection at Balik Pulau with the 09.30 501 bus from Teluk Bahang - two Chinese Higers together and BOTH working, although PHH 8260 didn't last the week out. By March 2015, the 501 retiming would necessitate taking the 12.00 403 service and all the buses were Scanias.
Breakfast was a (Hokkien) Prawn Mee at Teluk Bahang and when we got to Balik Pulau there was time to pick up some snacks for the journey. The only good thing about the new road is that there is not much traffic on it, there's a fine view of the actual Pulau Betong:
Also, a fine view across to the hills in the north-west of the island, to the left is the National Park above Pantai Aceh, to the right Bukit Elvira and Bukit Laksamana in the background:
This is what we found at Pantai Panjang:
Even though it was a weekday, it was the school holidays and there were a few (Malay) families here. The map in the book shows the trail going off from the far end of KBN, but the boundary fence was hard up against the jungle and the beach sweeper said 'no path'. Back at the entrance, the security guard politely said 'no entry' and 'no path'. So I guess it is no more.
Returning towards Pulau Betong, the first turning that might have gone up the hill was closed off just up from the road with a metal fence. (I deduced later that it was to connect with a cleared area of land at the top of the hill intended for a mansion.) The second turning, a concrete path, opposite the speed bump where the panoramic view was taken above, looked more promising. Very soon it divided in two, we tried the right fork but it died at the top of the durian orchard but there was a nice view north. Returning to the left fork, this time the path went beyond the orchard into some old rubber, but the conditions were such that I sent Yuehong back, it just wasn't her kind of country. Being pig headed, I didn't want the day to go to complete waste and I battled upwards as the rubber became more and more overgrown. Finally, just short of the ridge, it was rather clearer and here I found two Chinese rubber tappers who were clearly astonished by my sudden appearance. They vaguely indicated how they had got there from Balik Pulau and when I asked about Gertak Sanggul, they indicated a right turn would be needed at some stage, so at least there was still some kind of path in existence. Finding their route down was easier than the way I had come up, but when I tried to maintain my height I found myself successively in young rubber and then mature rubber until I could go no further, I had no heart for more jungle bashing. Descending I finally came across a very welcome concrete path climbing into the hills. Success at last, it had presumably come up from Pulau Betong village:
I was very pleased I had not inflicted the last hour on Yuehong, she wouldn't have spoken to me for a week if I had. I soon found myself at a 4 way junction which I suspected was the critical one in Forest Ang's trail. To the left was a house, the track on the right seemed to lead back above Pantai Panjang and so I headed straight on into the secondary jungle and old rubber trees. Very soon, I came upon a concrete bridge which I again supposed (correctly) was the one he mentioned. Just to the left was a house and immediately afterwards at the fork, I veered right so as not to climb further and hence I maintained my existing height.
Thereafter, once I had had the reassuring view of the Pantai Panjang area far below where we had been a couple of hours earlier, it was a very pleasant and straightforward stroll through fruit orchards and rubber smallholdings. .
By now it was slightly downhill which meant that I was 'gong with the flow' of the paths which removed decision making. A lovely old man proudly tending his lemon grass confirmed I was heading in the right direction and there was a final view of Pulau Kendi before I dropped into Gertak Sanggul.
I was contemplating some liquid refreshment but as soon as I hit the end of the road a 308 bus appeared and turned round. 'Every 30 minutes' said the driver and two minutes later there was another one - once again two working Chinese Higers. I went home via Balik Pulau with a 401E and a 502. I must have passed Yuehong en route as she had a long wait for a 403 at Pulau Betong and decided to go to George Town on a 401E. I stopped for a Nasi Kandar at Komtar and caught up with her at Tanjung Tokong, judging from the waiting times given for the 102 bus from the airport which we both noted, we were only a couple of minutes apart here - I already had the rambutans but she needed to buy the next morning's breakfast bread.
We resolved to go back two days later and do the trail in reverse to sort out the Pulau Betong end, the potential long wait for the bus would not be a problem, given that there is a small coffee shop with suitable refreshment for hikers there. I confess that it was not a complete success to the extent we succeeded only in finding a pleasant circular route back to Gertak Sanggul about 1.5km from where we had started out.
At the end of the week, with due diligence we went back and sorted it all out!
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson