The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - Bukit Pulau Betong
Climbing from the South Side 

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. 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 tend to go up Bukit Pulau Betong once a visit and today was a chance to take fellow hiker Nathan up for his first time. A year ago, we did the traverse east to west and found the descent so overgrown that we narrowly avoided missing the ridge. The novelty for this hike was starting and finishing in Gertak Sanggul instead of Pulau Betong - it being a Monday, the Hai Ching coffee shop was closed.

We're well past the half way point of our annual visit, we've completed some 60 hikes together but just 25 have merited a report as the rest offered insignificant novelty or were explorations which became part of a later report - it's quite liberating leaving the camera at home. Naturally our target is 100 hikes which barring further mishaps we should make comfortably because this hike was our 10th in as many days since we returned from North Sumatra.

We parked as before opposite the JKKK Gertak Sanggul and went up beside it to where the road starts next to the last house on the left.

Nathan has been with us enough times not to show any surprise and he followed Yuehong into the bushes, remember there's a left turn after about 50 metres.

We've described the ascent in detail before, now we've cleared nearly all the prickly vines it's really quite civilised although it's not yet ready for the mountain bikers who will need a bit of 'DIY', frankly hiring a JCB for the weekend would sort it. Even the landslide has only wiped out about half the width of the road.

After half an hour we were at the top of the initial climb and taking water. I didn't bother to take any pictures on the 'superhighway' - there are several here and more in other reports. What I did do was to look for any old paths down, the jury is out on that, but I did stumble on two more of my current obsession. The rubber roller (press) on the left is a less usual design, it's got 'Kuala Lumpur' cast on the round part at the top. 

By the time I caught up with them they were almost at the end of the road and when we got there we topped up with water before heading up.

Yuehong asked me to guide us although I am sure she could have done the job just as well as for the most part it's either an old path or open rubber.

Near the top, it's a good idea to bear right to avoid an overgrown area. Very soon we were on the ridge, the flat area is a distinctive landmark (at least to us).

We followed the ridge, it was just a case of taking the line of least resistance although we diverted slightly to the top of the former rubber estate. It had taken 1 hours,

We had actually brought Nathan up here a few days earlier, this is a picture from earlier in the trip, today was rather overcast. I then introduced Nathan to 'Old Faithful'; which has been my marker up here for several years. 

The ridge, quite frankly, is a pain these days. It sees very little traffic and the prickly vines are doing their level best to colonise it. Every time we pass we try to snip as many as possible but we can barely manage to keep the route clear. Now if only more hikers were to come this way...

There's a clear transition at the end of the ridge because above is the Forest Reserve, Yuehong and Nathan posed at the unmarked boundary. You didn't think that anyone from the State Forestry Department would have the balls to make it to here? Are you mad?

The immediate area had suffered from the November 2017 'Great Storm' and we had to duck and weave for a while before we broke into the main forest. It seems that this has never been cleared and there are some stunning examples of rain forest trees here. 

All too soon we were at the summit area, it had taken about 2 hours from the start although we had not pushed ourselves. We sat by the marker stone and I broke open the Tiger. It was so long since I had been here that I had to look carefully for the way down which I knew was to the right. Beyond where we were, the hill dropped unacceptably steeply except behind the marker stone so that was easy enough.

I have to say that with a couple of exceptions, the ridge is clear and easy to follow.

It seemed that several of the smaller blockages had been cleared leaving only a few trunks to hurdle.

When we had to divert, the rule was to recover the ridge as soon as possible and to ignore more open areas way from it. I knew we were doing well when I could see trees at our level ahead of us even though we were going down and soon we traversed the critical col - missing it would have condemned us to an extremely unpleasant descent to the left or right. 

After the col, we had a slight rise to a minor summit. We took water and Yuehong showed Nathan where we were using her 'App'.

Down we went and I persuaded Yuehong to lead. It was a poisoned chalice, as had happened when we came up, the area between the forest and the rubber was hard going.  

Never mind, we made sure we hit the col, it being more accessible than the other end, the forestry department had managed to bring up one of their yellow decorative signs. It had taken just hour from the summit. Nathan had also been here a few days before and the short scrubby descent to the house came as no unpleasant surprise. I had business to conduct here, look behind them!

Yes, it's another pair of rubber rollers (presses). This one is similar to that seen earlier, but carries just the word 'PLUTO'. I wasn't allowed much time to record them before we were on our way down again. Rather than take the easy way out which would leave us to walk 1km on the road, we turned right on this path as Yuehong and I had done recently.

It's a very nice path but instead of following to the end, we soon turned left. When I had my mega blister, my loving wife had demanded I drive her to Gertak Sanggul and then later pick her up in Pulau Betong. Sitting in a coffee shop and drinking Tiger for the duration sounded like a recipe for a disaster to me so I had limped up here to sort out this version of the descent.

Yuehong is pointing out that the path continued down but of course she didn't know that it ends at a stream in about 200 metres. Instead we had to go up and over into a recently cleared area/  

It looked quite nice for all of about 10 seconds before she realised that it was not at all knee friendly.

It's not a way she will come down again but it had to be tested and in any case, it'll be easy to go up here. From the abandoned house, it was a short walk down to sea level and then back to the car.

I know very few people who have climbed Bukit Pulau Betong and Nathan makes #7. If any others have been up there, they certainly haven't reported it on the web.

Three years ago, the next door flat to ours was sold to a British couple who then proceeded to strip it down to bare concrete. The noise and dust were unbearable, the last time I spoke with them was to ask why they didn't just buy a new flat and spare all around them 3 months of hell. Of course, I didn't get an answer. By the time we returned a year later (November 2016), the 'renovation' appeared complete but there was no sign they had been back at all. Now two years later, they have finally been back and with no experience of Penang it took them a month to get the flat organised to a state where they could live in it. They didn't stay long afterwards and I am pleased to say it seems that they have gone 'home' again.

'Ignorant' is the politest word I could use to describe them. This sign has now appeared by their front door. Everyone in Penang takes their shoes off before entering a home, there is no need to remind them and in nearly 50 years of experience I have never seen such a notice outside one before.

Of course, these signs are produced primarily for temples visited by ignorant foreign tourists, perhaps they have ambitions in that direction... 

Gertak Sanggul 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