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 3 walk unsuitable for those without experience of off-piste hiking. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed, mine is the normal blue squares, Yuehong's separate section the brown squares.
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
The Pulau Betong / Gertak Sanggul area offers much more than the rightly famous path that links the two, but making the most of it is another matter altogether. We'd spent several days making fools of ourselves but ultimately we now had a good working knowledge of the trails and some bits of 'off piste' that would connect them. One of my pet hates in Penang is good paths that just stop in the middle of nowhere and one in particular was irking me, it finished at a small Da Ba Gong / Tua Pek Kong shrine in an abandoned orchard. So much so that I had dragged Yuehong there the day before and had left her while I went up beyond it and had found I was only a short way from the young rubber trees which were the first part of the western approach to Bukit Pulau Betong. I will cast a veil across the second part of that recce which was an abject failure which I had the sense to abort an at an early stage.
Today the plan was to revisit from the opposite direction, the 'off piste' section was so short that it would not threaten Yuehong's bad knee and from there she would make her way gently back to Pulau Betong while I would check out the southern approach to the ridge below Bukit Pulau Betong which we had not used for some 5 years which is a long time for a route that was only ever lightly used and that by rubber tappers. In the event, the day worked perfectly.
We normally park up at the temple, but today it was hosting a funeral for one of the village's grand old ladies, apparently the third such in quick succession, I guess it must have been down to the recent hot spell. So we parked closer to the start of the famous path. Given we were starting a bit later than what we would consider ideal, I suggested Yuehong ask Tua Pek Kong to organise some cloud cover for the initial ascent and, as our credit line is obviously good, he obliged. That meant we got a good view of the Hakka walls revealed by felling the oil palms.
A month ago, the rubber tree leaves were orange and red from the dry weather, they've since dropped, the rains have come and there is new growth. Apart from the durian fruits, mangosteens are now showing.
We walked along the famous path, just what the owners of these bikes were doing remains a mystery. Wild boar hunting? We turned left at the last northern orchard.
That's another old wall and up we went into the young rubber, previously we'd used this to access the Bukit Pulau Betong ridge from the west side. Today, when the path went left we went straight on.
Our target was the corner where there is a dry streambed. I'm pleased to say that Yuehong spotted the entrance immediately, of course it had been ever so slightly snipped the day before.
We followed the rubber terrace a short way and then crossed to the other side of the small valley. We continued on an opposite terrace, then ploughed through some ginger until we could just see the roof of the Da Ba Gong temple below. After that we scrambled down the bank, climbed over a tree, went through the bamboo and crossed the stream. Total transit time was just 10 minutes and that wasn't enough to trouble Yuehong's knee.
This is a great short cut compared to following the famous path and cutting back. At this point Yuehong went straight on and would loop round and return to Pulau Betong, a perfect 'new walk' for her.
I went left into the long grass, as before it looks hard going but is actually very easy, I knew to head up the valley slightly to the left to the final durian, that was another 10 minutes.
Through the hole we had made earlier and onto the wide path with just a couple of trees to skip over.
It was just 5 minutes to the fern patch, the entry point I guess will soon get hard to spot coming the other way.
I'm pleased to say it was still cloudy as I crossed the 'golf course' and very soon I came to the bottom of the climb, it's just to the left of the exit.
This was more than a bit of an unknown as we had only been up here to the ridge once and that was in December 2012. What appeared to be a path initially, soon headed off to the right but I continued upwards.
There wasn't much to photograph, it was generally clear of undergrowth and there were very few trees down, none of them any size. The climb took 30 minutes, but I probably spent 10 minutes of that snipping the prickly vines . At the top I checked left but I soon decided this was the wrong way to go. I went back and continued to the right until very soon I saw what I was sure was my route down, we'd used it twice before this trip. As a quick check I went a few metres up and found the small red barked tree which is my marker.
Without Yuehong who takes this very carefully, I was down and out into the cleared area in no time.
Since our last visit, our friend had installed a new concrete path to improve access. It curved around to the west, passing a newly cleared area with the terraces still visible before skirting some young rubber and joining the original path.
Just round the corner was my favourite resting point in this area. It was time for some refreshment at the lovely old house.
There's new clearance all along the path down, the hut on the right was previously almost hidden. When I got to the junction before the final descent, I was surprised to see Yuehong waiting. She'd been there just 5 minutes resting her knee as she'd spent half an hour talking with someone working in an orchard and had worked out that I would be due soon.
With the rain, rubber tapping had restarted. Next to where we had parked was a ghoulish small private temple, the figures are all from 'hell'.
Again we had two dinners, the first a simple one at the Hai Ching and then a bigger one at Sungai Pinang. The main hill was covered in black clouds and we passed through a shower of rain, very welcome for the fruit orchard farmers. Yuehong went for a swim and I would have relaxed except for the fact that I had been bitten all round my ankles.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson