The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Bukit 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.
Yuehong and I had successfully checked out the western approach to Bukit Pulau Betong some two weeks earlier (where there is more detail of the earlier part of the walk) but we had deliberately not continued up to the summit. I had promised Rexy Prakash Chacko that I would take him up what can be a rather tricky ascent and I was happy to welcome along Peter van der Lans as well as he wanted to see how we had done the first section which had caused him no end of trouble. In the event we were a party of 5 as Peter also brought along a couple of young house guests who assumed that the route could not be too demanding if their guide was to be a man who was older than their combined ages. Thanks to Rexy giving me and the others a lift to the start we were able to get going by 09.30 again. Peter took the first of a couple of 'consent' shots and the youngsters raced off ahead of me up the famous path towards Gertak Sanggul.
I wasn't in a hurry as I knew what kind of terrain lay ahead and paused to record a rare sight in February 2017, namely a durian tree in flower, I think it was just the 10th we have seen out of thousands we must have passed.
It was a beautiful morning and we had a splendid view down to Pasir Panjang:
We turned left and passed between the two bamboo stands and the others roared ahead of me up through the rubber. At the top I caught up and recorded my second 'consent' shot. Ahead lay 3½ hours of bashing through the undergrowth. Rexy and Peter knew what to expect but I doubt the other two did.
Peter and I agreed that the first key step here was to go slightly left as this leads to a narrow ridge and this quickly leads to a small hill. Again, we had both gone round the side of it and I can only assume Peter had somehow got disorientated at the far end because I had discovered the next narrow ridge which descends slightly and comes to a stand of bamboo. Behind lies the main ridge which ultimately would lead to Bukit Pulau Betong. Unfortunately, it seems also to have been the boundary between two long abandoned rubber estates and that meant it wasn't really the best route up. We started off slightly to the right and scrambled up a succession of terraces.
The group didn't know it, but this was probably the roughest section of the hike because soon we could transfer to the left side where the rubber was relatively clear and we followed a terrace round the side of the hill. Of course, that didn't last for long because we had to climb upwards again and the obvious path had not been used for some considerable time meaning we had to divert frequently. However, it wasn't too long before a sunny patch announced we were approaching the ridge, it had taken about one hour since we had taken the plunge and Peter was back in familiar territory.
I sneaked to the back to take a rest, but soon found that having been up here very recently, I could spot the easiest ways through than just trying to follow the ridge. At one point there is a clearing and then another familiar stone heralded the end of the rubber and the start of Pasir Panjang Forest Reserve which confusingly covers only the summit area of Bukit Pulau Betong.
When I was here a year earlier, I had found that there was more or less a ridge path all the way up, but now for much of the way there were trees down as I had found elsewhere on the island following the storms in October and November 2016. However, there were still many beautiful large trees to admire. Rexy checked our position from time to time and we caught up the others at the final blockage where there were many signs of the wild boar population. I knew we were near the summit and quietly slipped away to make a start on my liquid lunch. After a few minutes, I was still alone and had to call out to gather the troops together.
It had taken us another hour from when we had joined the ridge, making it two hours since we had left the young rubber. There was some discussion about where we needed to go next and I was very pleased when Rexy's toy confirmed my opinion.
In practice, that meant turning off at about 60 degrees from the direction of our approach and I had been concerned that the ridge might not have been distinct enough. In practice, while we had to make allowance for trees being down, we got it spot on and in half an hour we had found the narrow ridge we needed to connect with a minor summit.
From here there was still some scope to go wrong but we were within striking distance of our next target, which was the col which marks the end of the Bukit Gemuroh ridge. Again this was readily accomplished in just 20 minutes.
We took another break and I showed Rexy the way down to Gertak Sanggul. There were signs of 'life after death' from the State Forestry Department. The generic sign is a little strange as it straddles the border between the Pasir Panjang and Bukit Gemuroh Forest Reserves. In fact a trail had been cut along the border on the north side so we followed it down towards Kampung Pulau Betong.
I had to restrain my colleagues enthusiasm because it would not have been a good idea to go too far this way. Instead we had to cut left because I knew we were very near a durian estate. Of course, it was a little overgrown out of season and the slope was a trap for the unwary.
Never mind, I was standing on the end of a concrete path and in no time we were down at the Chinese school on the main road. Rexy went to recover his car and the rest of us walked past the famous 'belachan factory'. I have to confess that this shrimp paste rarely appears in any dish I consume, it's another 'marmite' product like durians, you either love it or loathe it, no-one has a neutral opinion.
I insisted the group try the Hai Ching's Koay Teow soup which I had rated highly on the previous visit and of course this gave me an excuse for further necessary rehydration. Afterwards we went to Balik Pulau for some delicious Chendol and we broke up. I think it had been rather tougher than Peter's guests had expected. For my part I was very happy as I had achieved exactly what I had set out to do and we had avoided getting lost or even missing the trail anywhere. It's a fascinating hike in one of Penang's least visited areas.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson