The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Pulau Betong Delights
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 with a short but significant less straightforward section. 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.
For several weeks now our excursions have been dominated by what I would call 'social hiking' where we have acted as guides for other enthusiasts. It's always fun to share one's passions but these days we are not in the habit of taking others on our voyages of discovery and we craved a return to a bit of controlled bush bashing. I alighted on the lower slopes of the north side of Bukit Pulau Betong as an ideal target.
Looking up from the Chinese temple where we often park, we could see a strip of rubber running up to a ridge which masks the actual summit of Bukit Pulau Betong.
I haven't shown the initial climb as it is reported numerous times elsewhere in this section. At the top we went slightly right on the main path to Gertak Sanggul. As elsewhere, most of the durian trees are in flower, since the rains had effectively stopped by early December, this has happened earlier than normal and already many farms are running short of water. There is a real risk of a degree of crop damage and failure.
When we came to the small bridge, we left the main path and carried straight on. Surprisingly there was washing hung out to dry at the burned out house.
Despite appearances, the path is well defined and clear. It follows a stream and there were signs that the wild boar had been visiting, presumably driven out of their preferred habitat by the dry spell.
There certainly wasn't much water in the stream and further up it was easiest to walk up its rocks. Soon we could see a well maintained durian orchard ahead. It was Yuehong's first time this way although I had checked it out on a day when she had hobbled back down to Pulau Betong after she had slipped and twisted her knee nearby.
I knew exactly where to go and Yuehong, as I had before, got a pleasant surprise when she found herself at the end of a standard concrete path.
It certainly made the climb more pleasant and soon we could see a familiar traditional house across the valley.
We call this the 'Young Man's Orchard', having inherited it and tidied it up, over the last few years he has cleared the very old rubber almost to the ridge, installed a path and planted bananas and durians all the way up. It's very much a 'family and friends' operation and we hope the near drought will not have damaged his young trees. This was as far up as we were going - I had thrown this diversion in just in case our main exploration turned out to be a failure. So we turned left, went past the house and continued down the hill.
We ignored the first concrete path on the right and took the second one back up the hill. It's old rubber and offered welcome shade, the local dogs greeted us with their usual best 'come this way' bark and Yuehong stepped over the chain designed to deter unauthorised motorcyclists.
We've been this way twice before but turned back both times with no apparent exit. I must have been nervous this time as I completely forgot to record the house where the main path ends. Instead here's one I took 5 years ago.
I never had any intention of climbing from here to Bukit Pulau Betong, it's Forest Reserve with steep rain forest and no path. We made our way to the ridge slightly to the left behind the house. It would have helped if I had remembered there was a path which curved around most of the way up. This upper area is still rubber.
At the top corner we met the rubber shown in the first picture of this report. No doubt we could have found our way down through it but that represented a pretty dull option and it's quite steep. Today's plan was to find a way down to the left from the ridge to the right, it too would have been cultivated for rubber at some stage.
It made sense to start from near the lowest part where the ridge dips at the edge of the forest. We agreed on a slightly less overgrown spot.
The initial transition is always the most overgrown part so out came the secateurs and in no time we had a suitable hole and started our way down the terraces. We were in no hurry and made steady but unspectacular progress, there would have been no reason for people to come this way normally.
After some 20 minutes we could see gingers ahead and bananas beyond, a sure sign that we were approaching a cultivated area. These transits hold no fear for us, but it's always satisfying when we emerge. Yuehong was so happy that she failed to notice that I had skirted a 2 metre boulder and found herself sat stranded half way down. It was all my fault of course for requesting the picture on the right but she soon sorted the problem by sliding gently down the rest.
This was the sight that greeted us and look, there's the end of a path up through this orchard. This kind of thing happens for us so frequently that it can't be a matter of 'luck', it's the result of careful planning. Never more so than today because, just 24 hours earlier we had done a survey walk up from near the Chinese school and found our way here. I would have known roughly where we were from my maps but Yuehong's app was more exact and before we started our descent we not only knew we had a broad target some 50 metres in height below but also in which direction to go down from the ridge. This kind of thing allows us to do a complete circuit rather than an 'out and back' hike.
There's a broad concrete path down and out of season it's covered in leaves but not at all overgrown. On our left, a rubber estate had been converted to some kind of citrus fruit. On the first visit I had checked it and found there was a path down but today we wanted to record the main way out.
We dropped into another durian orchard which had seen better days, too many of the trees were tall and straggly and unmanaged. There was just one junction, we had checked the path on the right and found it curved round to end at the boundary of the orchard along the path which we use to access the Bukit Gemuroh ridge and hence climb Bukit Pulau Betong.
Soon we came to the farmer's house, it would have had a pair of rubber rollers once but someone had given them a new home.
The house was abandoned, the path became wider and it would have been possible to bring a 'pick up' here at harvest time but the gates were wide open. Nearby on the floor we found a copy of part of a tenancy agreement (in English) which indicated that the orchard had been rented between 2014 and 2016 for MYR 12,000 a year. In theory this would have been an absolute bargain as it covered some 30 acres and as such would normally have contained at least 500 trees, do the maths! Whatever the reason, it seems to have ended in tears and now I guess that there is very little maintenance and that visits, official or otherwise, are mainly made to pick up some of the much reduced crop.
Further down was another orchard in marginally better condition which was best described as 'mixed fruit'. We passed a turning circle at the top of a concrete road on the left. Above it we could see a path going up towards where we had been earlier.
We weren't far from the bottom now, the 'road' swung left and we came out about 200 metres west of the Chinese school. It's easy to spot the turning, the owner of this traditional Malay house is obviously a keen gardener.
With the Hai Ching now wiped off the face of the earth we adjourned to the Jia Siang where they would rather serve us a meal but will grudgingly come up with just a Tiger. We were well satisfied, we had enjoyed two days of hiking on new paths in what we had thought to be a totally explored area even if I had failed to add to my current tally of 180 surviving rubber rollers on the island.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson