The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Pulau Betong
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
This is the reverse of the walk we did with Mike Gibby two weeks earlier.
IMPORTANT – This is a connoisseur's walk put together as a cumulation of a number of other shorter walks, some of which involved in getting lost or spending more time than we would have liked looking for ways through overgrown fruit orchards, rubber estates or even jungle. Normally I say that it would not be too difficult for other serious hikers without previous knowledge of the area to use my account to follow the same route but this is probably not the case here. It's a marvellous walk with literally a bit of everything, but not one to be attempted casually without knowing the alternative exit points should a turning be missed or interpreted wrongly.
We had another 'customer' for our Pulau Betong circular, Neil Hamilton, and since it is generally accepted that no walk looks the same when done in reverse, Mike Gibby was happy to do it all again. This is the scene at the Chinese temple, we haven't traded in Mavis, she was parked up near the Chinese school so we could avoid a hot walk down the road later. Yuehong shot off up the hill like a scalded cat, she is now ridiculously fit and I padded along at the back. Normally we stop at the of the climb for water, but this time the other three ploughed straight on much to my amazement. This turned out to be the pattern for the whole walk...
There was no point in my trying to take the lead to take some pictures, I would have been trampled. I held back to try to capture the atmosphere and then had to near break into a trot to catch them before the next junction. Yuehong offered to get Mike started on the rubber estate, it was extremely unfair of me to suggest he might remember where to turn off, like Chinese women, those trees all look the same to us occidentals.
I showed them where to go and ushered Mike and Neil through the 'door' while Yuehong dropped back for a comfort stop.
It was the first time Neil had been 'off piste' with me, I'm not really sure what he made of it but he was unnecessarily concerned that Yuehong might get lost. "Not a chance" I said "she does this bit better than I do." So down we went and crossed the stream to the Da Ba Gong shrine.
It's an idyllic spot and it was high time to top up with water.
Off we went again, I'm a sucker for these epiphytes on old durian trees, but, oh dear, I'd been left behind again. Yuehong turned left unhesitatingly into the long grass and was away.
Onwards and upwards with your scribe left gasping for breath.
I finally caught up with them as they vanished through the gap. "Sharp left" I shouted before they could go wrong.
With all the snipping and subsequent traffic we've thrown at this trail, it's a doddle for the most part save where the wild boar swimming pool had filled up with overnight rain. The ferns beyond were now well and truly trampled and Yuehong roared off across the moonscape. Is that really the same lady who struggled up here some 6 years ago?
Into the ferns we were led with the sharp left where they finished, then a halt when the memory card failed. I got everyone restarted and off they went.
I don't greatly like this section, but the road is quickly reached these days and again I was left to watch my colleagues vanish into the distance.
When the road got blocked, Mike knew it was time to turn left. Two minutes later I caught them up admiring what looked rather like a dead end. "Now what are you going to do about this one?" Actually a tree had come down in the last week and we would have been the first people down here since. Yuehong got out her secateurs and immediately set about creating a way to the right which would have been the conventional way of doing things.
However, by now we were only 5 metres from the path below and it took no time to clear a way through down to the left. Yuehong completed her first ever solo clearance and rightly looked proud of her efforts. We'll go that way the next time.
We crossed the two streams and I declared a refreshment stop. Yuehong passed round the bananas and I sipped my Tiger. All too soon the others roared off up the path.
They rushed past the first Burmese house and down the track. At least Yuehong knew to turn sharp left at the junction. "Look at the view!" I said but they were already gone.
The Burmese family know we are quite harmless and even the dogs have given up on us, Yuehong led the way upwards.
Of course, when the path seemed to run out, they turned to me to sort things out. No problem, we just used the same route as we did the other times, it's just a bit overgrown as no one else ever comes this way these days.
At least by leading at this point I could show them where to turn left, otherwise they would have been off along the Bukit Gemuroh ridge which definitely was not on today's itinerary. Neither was Bukit Pulau Betong and next I guided them off to the right and down past the Forestry Department sign.
I tried to explain the required general direction but 'down' was all they wanted to hear. Yuehong had struggled here last time and I wanted to encourage her to use a different technique based on using muscles rather than relying on poles. It wasn't perfect but it left her feeling a lot less uncomfortable when we emerged.
Of course, by now our colleagues had the bit between their teeth and had charged off into the steep durian estate where it would be a little while before they encountered a path. As usual, we went left to the top of the main path and sauntered down it, definitely the knee friendly route.
Each to their own, we met up near the bottom and in no time we had all piled unto Mavis and returned to the temple. Neil asked if there was anywhere he could get a beer (I think Mike had planted this one) and not being too familiar with this end of the island seemed suitably impressed when we drove round the corner to the Hai Ching. He even joined me for a Char Koay Teow and Yuehong stuffed herself with a box of sticky rice, normally a capital crime on her part, she was a very happy bunny.
I was just happy to take a breather, we had whizzed round the circuit in an hour less than when Yuehong and I had done it as a practice run. More importantly, her knee had shown absolutely no reaction which bodes well for the remainder of the visit - this being a walk which Mike described as being about as much as we would enjoy. I think our next hike will be conducted at a more sedate pace and free of the camera and the pressure to produce a report.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson