The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - A Round of Golf?
Trying (and Failing) to Understand Human Greed

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.

There is a map of a similar route followed by a group of mountain bikers in 2008 - Close examination of it suggests that they turned left to gain the ridge somewhere before the ruined house described below, it would have followed a similar alignment to our previous descent here (see link below) but presumably following a path! I wouldn't like to bring a mountain bike here these days. See also Another Pulau Betong Lollipop, Another Round of Golf and A Game of Two Halves.

From a web search, an Environmental Impact Assessment for a golf course at Gertak Sanggul was commissioned by Kasumidai (the name of a Japanese Country Club with a golf course) in 1991. It was submitted by 'Total Resort Sdn Bhd' and accepted in 1992 (the company has since vanished without trace). I had assumed that the project was started some time after that but collapsed in the late 1990s when the economies of the South-East Asian nations were in total melt down and their currencies near worthless, unable to service dollar denominated loans. However, its demise may predate that. It is well established that successive State Governments in Penang (and no doubt the British authorities before them) have had no regard for the welfare of the green hills that make the island so special and presumably such permissions as were necessary were easily procured. Quite how the tiny streams that make up the small Sungai Gertak Sanggul were ever going to supply the necessary water for a thirsty golf course is beyond my understanding but I'm not an 'eco' professional. The project initially involved clearing a hilltop completely and building an access road. Unfortunately for both the hill and the developer, the road was never completed and the hill left bare, a situation that remains the same today some 20 years later. Currently, the land belongs to E&O Holdings who obviously know what a crock of shit it represents and are trying, so far unsuccessfully, to sell it on. Today's hike was designed to find access from the south-west and inspect the cleared area which is clearly visible on Google Maps Satellite View. The picture says it all, the higher hill behind is Bukit Pulau Betong, the top of which is protected as a forest reserve.

For the first time in recent years, we started our hike in Gertak Sanggul, which being a largely Chinese village had a small temple with a convenient shady parking spot for Mavis not far short of where the 308 bus turns round. It was nicely decorated for the Chinese New year celebrations and naturally we had to pay our respects.

A contractor keeps a number of old trucks and equipment nearby but I doubt they are old enough to have been part of the golf course project. The start is impossible to miss, it's the continuation of the road in.

The climb is well graded and shady, on the right at least is (very) old rubber.

Near the top of the climb the road turns sharp right and we turned right again soon after (ahead leads eventually to Pulau Betong).

It passed through an area that appeared to be an almost unmanaged fruit orchard which had been part cleared.

The road finished at a typical hut which seemed to be lived in by a migrant worker. It was a good place to take a drink on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far.

We had discovered the path onward on a Pulau Betong Lollipop walk and knew to climb away from the valley and curve left into an old rubber estate.

Generally the path was fine but in places where a tree had come down, the path would be covered mainly with prickly vines, this time it was easy to go around, we were now beyond the point where we had joined it going the other way.

Sometimes it took just a couple of minutes to clear the offending vines.

The path ended at what had probably been a hut and beyond was an abandoned orchard.

We knew we had to climb from here, the only question was the direction. Yuehong consulted her toy and it agreed showing we needed to go somewhat right as well. There appeared to be the remains of a path going up, it just needed non-stop snipping of the prickly vines to maintain progress. It faded away and we continued up in much the same manner.

It was slow progress but not uncomfortable and in due course we found ourselves on a wide ledge which seems to have been an attempt at a road. Parts were quite clear, others less so, and the secateurs were regularly called into action.

Yuehong joined in the fun where she felt I had been inadequate and the mass of ferns was not entirely bad news as it showed we must be approaching the cleared area. This first bed was readily skirted.

The second was another matter, our destination was somewhere ahead. There was no alternative, they had to be trampled and/or cut hopefully in a manner which would allow us to find the route should we decide to return.

There's a general picture at the top but these two show the south-west end, it's about 50 metres wide and several hundred metres long and with today being extremely hot, it didn't do us any good to have to cross it.

Quite what possesses people to abuse nature like this is beyond my understanding, it seems to be related to greed. In this case, the work needed to replace the soil, grass it and maintain it would have been enormous, not least because there would not have been enough water available in the area. It took a little while to find our way out at the far end and then we joined what had once been a wide trail which we had used in both directions recently..

It gets less overgrown going down and eventually turns into the notorious incomplete super highway.

We soon came to the point where we could turn off and slip down the short connecting path to a network of fruit orchard paths.

I had cut through the undergrowth recently, but the look on Yuehong's face told me that I hadn't done a very good job. When we reached the second stream it was time for another refreshment break. Yuehong is more sensitive to heat than I am and she was not at her best, in the end for the first time this trip we managed to finish all the water we had brought.

We had a short but pleasant climb and as we passed the bamboo hut and its dogs, Yuehong's slipped which was not good news for her bad knee. Fortunately, she was able to 'walk it off'. 

My lovely wife had brought along a goodly supply of Tiger in anticipation (correctly) of a longer than average outing and I consumed the last one under a durian tree with some well developed fruits.

Yuehong sensibly took it very slowly down the concrete road and I went ahead to recover Mavis. By now it was the late afternoon and the tide had come in floating the fishing boats off the sand.

It had indeed been a long session using paths which see little use even compared to 5 years ago when we started serious hiking in Penang. There are few paths in the south of the island which are kept open by the passage of hikers, if the farmers don't need them then they will surely be lost.

As it was we made our way back via our Sungai Pinang restaurant which was doing a roaring trade. When we got home, Yuehong rushed to the swimming pool to get her temperature back to normal. I am less than keen, the pool is kept very well but whenever I swim in the tropics I tend to get ear infections.

Pulau Betong Area


 ____ = Concrete Road

 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy 'Off piste'

 ____ = Seriously 'Off piste'

(Not all paths are shown, there are many more
which are seasonal or just go to houses.)

Click here for information on the maps.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson