The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Third Time Lucky
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
One of the great joys about travelling around Penang is its unpredictability. We expected to have a prawn mee at Teluk Bahang for breakfast but the Chinese eating stalls were all closed. Instead we had a delicious Roti Chanai, freshly cooked bread with a curry sauce. For a Chinese bus PHH 4498 merits the term 'reliable', it has only failed once to take us over what is the most demanding route on the island.
And as if one breakfast was not enough we had another one when we got to Balik Pulau as there was 20 minutes to wait for the 403 bus to Pulau Betong. Balik Pulau still has a few traditional treasures, one is the Lah Guan Goldsmiths, where the owner proudly showed me a full page story in a local paper on his business, mainly hand made silverware. Alas, I had no time to read it as I was called away to the bus which was about to leave me behind.
By 11.00 we were based in the Hai Ching Coffee Shop at Pulau Betong, where Yuehong was hoping to establish exactly where the path to Gertak Sanggul started. It helped that she knew the Hokkien name Mei Hu (= "May Woo") and at first the gentleman with the newspaper was not convinced we were serious. But she told him the story of my jungle bash four days before and he agreed to draw a sketch map. It wasn't long before I recognised parts of it and to convince him I showed him some of the pictures I had taken then. In fact, it wasn't that difficult, the key was to walk back about 100 metres towards Balik Pulau and turn right on the bend with a temple sign.
Given that this end of the village is largely a Chinese fishing community, it's not too surprising that the road boasts several temples. This is the major one, our first target was to reach the col above the entrance hall (the top end of the north map in other words)..
Further along someone's house appeared to have had a 'change of use', I don't recognise this set of characters at all.
As for the serious business of the day, the next key point was to take the path on the left into an oil palm smallholding, the first I can recall seeing on the island.
The concrete path was a well graded zig-zag, the palms restricted the view but eventually, I recognised the point where I had staggered out of the rubber. Suffice to say this ascent was a lot easier and took a fraction of the time compared to the first attempt.
So one outstanding issue had been settled, it was time to enjoy what is basically a very pleasant contour walk. The key points are to go straight ahead into the secondary jungle at the col (ignoring the contour path on the right which is probably now a dead end and the concrete trail uphill on the left) and to take the right fork after crossing the small bridge next to a house. After which, it was all pretty straightforward, there was just one further Y junction where the left fork is needed - it almost immediately passes the remains of a wooden house.
For various reasons, albeit Yuehong said there was just one, I wanted to return to Pulau Betong eventually, but first we had to sort out what had gone wrong two days earlier. In the event, it was painfully obvious. Coming up from Gertak Sanggul in the opposite direction, the path comes to a point where there is a left fork with a gate and then immediately a right fork which goes up the hill on a wide concrete trail. Proceeding straight ahead here, there is soon another fork which obviously I had forgotten about... Previously we had taken the right turn which was the root cause of our ending up back at the other end of Gertak Sanggul, instead we needed to go left passing just next to the 'dog house' instead of some metres above it.
Very soon afterwards there is another fork, where we needed to take the right hand trail (carefully noted coming down) and then we could relax. High above Pantai Panjang, an area of land has been cleared, presumably for some planned rich man's mansion - probably the fenced off trail from the KBN road leads up to it. On the way down we narrowly avoided a large spider which would certainly had one member of the party screaming if full contact had been made...
Down at the bottom, I checked out yet another temple, this one is of the commercial 'tell your fortune' variety, hence no doubt the invitation to place MYR 3 in the box!
Down on the roadside, the blachan was out in the sun, this is strong smelling prawn and chili paste used in making Balik Pulau's iconic dish, Laksa. It's a taste I have yet to acquire and it was just as well that it was some way short of the Hai Ching Coffee Shop. As Yuehong accurately commented, the 'Time for a Tiger' moment was the real reason I wanted to return here rather than go on to Gertak Sanggul.
There was no point in disagreeing, I had what I wanted and I noted that the walk must have been on the easy side as Yuehong had quickly regained her appetite. When the bus came at 15.30 as expected, unusually it was a Scania, Chinese PHH 8260 had obviously disgraced itself, as we have said many times it is not a rare event for the Higers. It started to rain, gently at first and then with increasing ferocity as we neared George Town, fortunately, there is sheltered access to our regular Nasi Kandar at Komtar. We hadn't brought the umbrellas so when we got to the bottom of our road up to Seaview Garden we were stuck for 10 minutes until it eased. So far, we have been extremely lucky and kept dry while out on the hill, but sooner or later we are going to get a soaking.
The path between Pulau Betong and Gertak Sanggul is simply one of the nicest walks on the island and deserves to be better known, it's too far from George Town to ever attract large numbers of hikers even at the weekends. We'll certainly be bringing our future visitors here to enjoy it.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson