The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - Pulau Jerejak Part 1
An Unheralded Part of Penang's History

This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This part is a simple Grade 2 walk. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed, I am grateful to Mike Gibby for passing me this scan.

There are three parts to this report of my March 2017 visit. Click below for the other two parts, the fourth part dates from December 2017, the fifth from 2020.

Pulau Jerejak Part 2 - a hike along the main ridge of the island

Pulau Jerejak Part 3 - the North West corner of the island

Pulau Jerejak Part 4 - more on the South East corner of the island

Pulau Jerejak Part 5 - A misguided tour

This part covers the south-east of the island.

When I lived in Penang in the 1970s, Pulau Jerejak was firmly off limits, it was used for a high security prison camp / detention centre. Of course, if I had climbed into the Relau Hills for the view, then the foreground would have been completely different. 

At other times in its history, Jerejak had accommodated quarantine stations for newly arrived migrants and camps (a more active kind of quarantine) for those suffering from leprosy and later tuberculosis (TB). Its isolation from mainstream Penang has meant that its range of hills (rising up to just over 200 metres) has remained almost untouched leading to repeated proposals - yet to be acted upon - that it be turned into a formal forest reserve. Since the island was 'normalised', many of the old structures associated with its former status have been demolished and a small dockyard developed on the east side (this is on the site of Camp 1). On the west side, a government owned resort was built but it failed to attract sufficient customers and it closed in 2016. Until then a regular ferry service had run to the island from near the Queensbay development on the mainland, these days an informal service is operated from further south at Kuala Sungai Keluang by boatmen who also run fishing trips.

Mike Gibby has developed a fascination for the island and is trying to record as much as possible of the remains of  its history, recognising that current proposals to develop the island including a bridge, top end housing and inevitably more resorts, if carried through, would result in the almost total erasing of what is actually a significant part of local heritage. Its somewhat unseemly past is a 'hard sell' for those in government who would rather such things hadn't existed but at the same time, promoting more widespread knowledge of Jerejak's past might also make it a 'hard sell' for the developers. After all, not many people would want to buy a place to live in if it was known to have once housed a camp for lepers and all around were graves, some marked but many more probably unmarked.

While he has visited many times, Mike had never really gone 'off piste' and was very keen to walk the south - north ridge over the island's highest point. In return for a conducted tour, I would provide the experience and know how to make that possible. As we were to discover, we were actually following in others' recent footsteps, but they don't seem to have left a public web trail. It was a fascinating day out and necessarily the report that follows is very different from my normal one.

We were dropped near the site of the former Camp 3, conveniently close to the memorial to two sailors of the Russian Cruiser 'Zhemchug' which was sunk by the German battle cruiser 'Emden' in Penang harbour on 28th October 1914. Their bodies were washed up on the shore of the island and buried here. The main memorial (right) is in the Western Road Cemetery.

Offshore there are fish farms and a view of the second Penang bridge.

Little is left of Camp 3. What may once have been a church, carrying a 1930 date, now seems to be a multipurpose shrine. The yellow altar is for Chinese fishermen, on the right is Tua Pek Kong with his walking stick and on the left a Malay shrine with a tiger. Other shrines nearby reflect the same influences, shown is one overtly Hindu and one very Malay with sarongs and songkoks. Who says multi-culturism in Malaysia is dead? Given Jerejak's history it is not too surprising that it is considered home to all sorts of spirits.

This is the view north with ruined jetty, administrative office, more fish farms and the dockyard beyond.

Nearby is a reminder of what Malaysians do best, namely to destroy their history, this seems to be the material corresponding to the accumulated demolition of the buildings at Camp 3, those at Camp 2 have suffered similarly. We walked along the path northwards, away from the shore there were some tantalising remains. First a brick structure  which was probably a retaining wall for the water tank shown and then after scrambling up between two concrete posts, the remains of a reservoir.

Next on the left almost hidden by the vegetation was what Mike told me was a prison, the first building carries a 1930 date. The facilities behind were reminiscent of the losmen which I used in Java in the 1970s.

We crossed a small bridge with water pipes either side and on the left was another ruin, said to be that of a courthouse, which was logical given the proximity of the prison. Next came an isolated grave, more ornate than most  of which there are many here. Unusually this was inscribed in English. "In memory of the late Madam Tye Kheng Sooi. beloved mother of Mr. Chew Patt Choon, Mr. Chew Patt Joo, Madam Chew Gaik Heoh, born 12th October 1887, died 13th August 1945" Sadly having survived the Japanese occupation she was not to enjoy 'liberation'.  

Finally in this section we came to the remains of a large complex, almost impossible to photograph among the trees, Mike explained that this was a camp for those who were described as Eurasians - probably historic rather than recent mixed parentage and which was also used to accommodate educated Chinese. As a result, the facilities were almost palatial. The small building seems to have been a kitchen, behind was accommodation for the residents, the pillars indicate some kind of verandah.

We had been following a wide track and as it curved round and started to climb it was clear it had been sealed with concrete at some stage. Mike speculated that it was needed for communication between the two sides of the island some time well after independence as children based on the south-east corner of the island would have had to cross it to attend school. Along the way were signs that, not so long ago, the state forestry department had laid down trails, presumably for use of visitors to the resort on the west side of the island. Now all the signs had fallen off and I doubt many weekend visitors came this far inland.

Just after the col, there was a path right and here there is a water tank, it looks to be a replacement of an earlier one whose base is still present. This was the end pf the first part of our hike.

I understand that continuing down the road would have brought us to the closed resort. At the time of writing, visitors are firmly discouraged, security guards are employed to ensure there is no vandalism or theft.

Click here for Part 2 - Pulau Jerejak ridge walk.

Pulau Jerejak
(ca 1960)


 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy 'Off piste'

 ____ = Seriously 'Off piste'

(Only the paths used are shown, there will be many more.)

Click here for information on the maps.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson