The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - 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.
We've been in Penang for about 6 weeks and I have juggled the walks so that we have covered almost every accessible area between Pantai Aceh and Pulau Betong and one missing part was the far west of that. In early 2017, we had sorted this out (Pulau Betong Explorer 1) and I had repeated the section with a group of friends shortly after. However Peter van der Lans had reported that the route was now hard to follow and for the sake of completeness (and idiot obsession) I thought it a good idea to check it out.
There's been more than a slight change at the start of this walk and so we changed our parking spot to the nearby Chinese temple so Mavis would be in the shade. It would have been rude not to have paid our respects to the resident deities.
The oil palms which had covered the lower area of the climb were life expired and have been swept away. Much of the area now has bananas and usually this means fruit trees will follow.
One result of the extra light was that we spotted a set of old 'Hakka stone steps' on the left. Now we have done this zig-zag concrete path more than a dozen times and as we find it hard to resist trying something new, up we went.
Very pleasant it was too, that is until the path disappeared when we came to a level area. It wasn't clear whether it was invisible in the undergrowth or had finished.
There was nothing to do but continue up through the bananas, after all the rain, it was a little slippery or worse in places and eventually it tested Yuehong's good mood to breaking point. Actually, things were now much better as we had come into an area of durians which was clearly approached from above.
It was probably basically the same path again and we quickly climbed up.
We even found the end of a short concrete path which quickly linked us to the normal route.
We had our usual water stop and afterwards, everything was back to normal.
This is a true 'Gibby path', (very) gently undulating with a variety of fruit orchard and rubber.
As it was a beautiful day's weather, we got the picture postcard view of Pasir Panjang, it turns out that fellow hiker Peter van der Lans was having a morning on the beach there. We pressed on, leaving the classic route at the next junction to go between the bamboos. We passed a rack of tapper's gear, it seems common to wear rubber Wellington boots, I can only assume this is some kind of protection against incurring snake bites. The young rubber here is now producing or more accurately capable of producing.
We very quickly got to the upper part, our target was at the edge of the trees, somewhere behind the two large boulders.
This is where 'the story really begins', time for a snack and smearing on protection. The exact entry point doesn't really matter, it was just a case of choosing one which wasn't very overgrown.
Behind is a small ridge and there's some kind of path coming up from the right, from where we don't know. It's quite clear that people come this way and we have always assumed they are wild boar hunters, this meant that the secateurs were barely needed.
We knew to bear right on a short connecting ridge and then climb up into an area of old rubber, with a barely perceptible summit, there is more than one way through here as there are old terraces running along the hillside.
At the end point ahead (and down) is clearly a mess, but to the left and just a little bit down is the connection to the ridge leading to Bukit Pulau Betong. As long as you know it's there and pay attention, it's hard to miss.
This year, there were prickly vines almost all the way up from here, dealing with them took time, but the alternative was to end up scratched all over. Once that was done, only the slippery slopes between terraces were an issue.
On the two previous occasions, we had cut left into some old rubber which was still in quite good condition, but this time we found trees down just to the left of the ridge (ie along the border between two previous rubber estates) and we were forced upwards. Just as it became clearer ahead, Yuehong's bad knee started to complain bitterly and the rest of the climb wasn't pleasant for either of us, even though we knew it wasn't far to a more level area.
I got roundly cursed for returning to useless 'old rubber' and I started frantically looking for the route left which would get us out.
I find it easier to spot coming in the opposite direction and I must have walked straight past it because we started to come to minor large boulder landmarks which were not on the day's itinerary. I parked Yuehong and went back, it didn't take long and just in case, I noted that we had to turn very close to this red barked tree which seems to like growing in old rubber.
There's the gap and the way down, in the 3 weeks since we had last been here, the gingers had grown up a bit, but fundamentally nothing had changed, it was just a question of being sensible...
... because if you are not, this is how you will end up. You'll see that Yuehong had recovered her good humour, not least because it is barely 15 minutes from the red tree till the point at which we left the rubber. Last time, we had turned left to look for an access point to the cleared area, this time we went right which was a much better idea.
From the cleared area there is a good view of Bukit Pulau Betong and also out towards Bukit Batu Itam in the National Park in the north-west corner of the island.
The old house is a great place to take a break and the path on downwards is very gently graded.
From the final descent, we had a good view of 'Bukit Kampung Pulau Betong' with the higher hills (Bukit Relau and Bukit Penara) behind. I took the final picture as we approached the end of the hike for the 'time stamp'. Somehow we had managed to spend nearly 6 hours on the hill, but there were some lengthy 'pit stops' and the actual time on the move would have been considerably less, with a car waiting, we can now time our walks with eating and drinking in mind for afterwards.
After we first did this route I wrote "I'm still not sure if Yuehong understands why we did this walk at all". I'm sure that hasn't changed but for me hiking in Penang is about enjoying different types of walk and creating a degree of 'challenge'.
Anyway, it was an excuse to return to the Hai Ching nearby but we were too late for the midday food, it was all gone. This time we had just the one dinner - a delicious steamed pomfret / bawal in Sungai Pinang - and I drove home very carefully being somewhat tired in every sense.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson