The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails 2024 - Paradise Lost?

Click here for the full list of Penang Walks.
Click here for a guide to Penang's Peaks (16th March 2020)
Click here for Walks Listed by Starting Point.
Click here for the Top Ten Walks.
Click here for a list of further Selected Walks.
Click here for information on Rain Gauges.
  and Catchment Areas (updated 27th January 2024).
Click here for Penang's Rubber Heritage (updated 8th March 2024)
Plastic Pollution - An unacceptable way of marking trails (updated 12th February 2023)

As time allowed, I used to roam the hills in Penang back in the 1970s, I had a day job (at USM) and a demanding hobby (steam trains) so it was hardly an obsession. These days I'm long retired as is 'steam power' and since 2010 Yuehong and I have spent the 'Northern Winter' on the island getting to know the place rather better. When we started there was little published information beyond Forest Ang's handbook for the Malayan Nature Society which covered mainly the northern hills. There were just a few reports on the web, mainly from fellow non-Malaysians. Over the next ten years, as these pages show, we got just about 'everywhere', particularly discovering the 'Fruit Orchard Trails' in the south of the island.

By the time the pandemic arrived. Penangites were beginning to discover the joys of hiking beyond the inevitable Moongate Trail but since they are invariably younger than us, have jobs, and can only go out at weekends and public holidays, we hardly saw them. However, since 2020, our pleasure has been much reduced by some unfortunate developments.

1. The restrictions of 2020 / 2021 /2022 spawned a huge interest in hiking and quiet trails which previously saw little traffic became increasingly busy. Each weekend brings more reports on the web, particularly on the semi-official 'Hiking Trails in Penang' Facebook page

2. The PBA's policy of turning a blind eye to restricted areas such as the Fettes Aqueduct became unsustainable, the Chin Farm access route was closed which meant that key paths from the Aqueduct to Rain Gauges 17, 20 and 21 were no longer accessible. At the same time, the Tropical Fruit Farm expanded its operation southwards which cut the path to Bukit Laksamana past Rain Gauges 22 and 23.

3. The National Park now charges non-Malaysians RM 50 for entry through the main gate at Teluk Bahang, an outrageous amount considering the state of the paths in that area.

4. There has been a 'Durian Boom' which has led to much needed replanting, but also a clearance of much of the remaining disused rubber estates. Many of the older generation of (mainly Hakka) farmers who, having worked hard to educate a younger generation, have found, perhaps not surprisingly, that their progeny don't want to follow the same path. So when rich city outsiders knock on the door they feel that they have no choice but to 'take the money and run'. Equally unsurprisingly many newcomers know little about their new businesses and quite a few soon lose interest leaving ugly half baked clearances. Worst of all are those who choose to erect impenetrable fencing which blocks traditional paths across their land. There are several instances we know of, the most egregious is that on the concrete road running west from Anjung Indah just below what is now known as 'Eagle Hill'. The pictures show 'the shape of things to come'.

Steel fence Razor wire

An armed guard... ...and a view point for visitors

5. There has been a proliferation of totally unnecessary trail marking. Perhaps fortunately, my age and Yuehong's bad knee mean that we haven't experienced much of it at first hand. There are few 'jungle' trails in the south-west of the island (many of those that appear to be such actually run through abandoned rubber estates)  The most significant is the one that goes from the Genting Pass along the ridge to Bukit Pulau Betong and down to Pulau Betong / Gertak Sanggul. 10 years ago it was barely passable, now with the explosion in interest in hiking, it is completely clear and with no major junctions and just access points from adjacent orchards, the last thing it needs is markers. By November 2023, the ground was clear of plastic but the trees were festooned with an astonishing variety and high density of all kinds of markers including discarded convenience food wrappers. The number of different kinds ran into double figures and in places it looked like a string of Christmas fairy lights only they didn't switch on and off. It took us several visits to return the path to its natural state, the incredible thing is that the brainless perpetrators of this 'vandalism' probably think they are following a 'green' lifestyle.

This was collected on just one day from the area immediately east of the summit of Bukit Pulau Betong.

Amazingly, we did a similar clearance a year ago. If you were responsible for any of this, hang your head in shame.

Having cleared the rubbish shown above, we returned in early March to discover that someone had remarked the trees with high quality black and yellow adhesive tape. We subsequently removed this too.

The pictures below put it in context. Note the recently added brown signs which do conform to the new Hikers' Roundtable guidelines, the new tape certainly does not!

Along the way, we visited Bukit Pulau Betong which of course was similarly decorated. The 'low point' was Bukit Long Tambang where markers before and now were scattered seemingly at random around the peak area even though the trail is now quite clear from regular use by hikers. We also found another fresh set of markers using black paint, there were some red paint markers too; presumably the miscreants reckoned that they would be harder to remove. I do not understand why these people cannot be 'named and shamed' on the 'Hiking Trails in Penang' Facebook page

Also on Bukit Pulau Betong we found this 'TS' (= Trigonometrical Station) dating back to colonial days which had been vandalised. Individuals are applying freelance versions of the approved brown signs to ever more minor peaks and I have now read of an official 'safe hiking' event on Bukit Papan complete with reusable markers and 120 participants; the word 'inappropriate' springs to mind. Where will it all end?

All of which may explain why we no longer post hike reports, mass hiking on this small island by its nature is not sustainable. Or, to put it bluntly, with more and more of Penang becoming a concrete jungle, we may be approaching a tipping point. And that's before you throw in the total failure of successive Penang State Governments to map out and implement a viable and sustainable development policy.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson