The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Bukit Pulau Betong Direct
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 significant less straightforward sections. 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.
This account is linked from my Penang Peaks page which lists peaks over 400 metres as well as other places of interest and viewpoints. To find other hikes which visit this peak please check the maps of this are using this link.
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 (360 metres). Recently we had sorted a new route down from it and our first aim today was to climb up directly. This we sorted and we then carried on up using what turned out to be the quickest and easiest ascent of the summit we have found so far. I'd previously been up, I think, 6 times via the main ridge, 3 times from each side but these are less than direct.
The extended dry spell has been broken by a few showers and the rubber has greened up. In the absence of an obvious path, we cut across from the main Gertak Sanggul path.
We continued along the top of the bananas and found the remains of a 'Hakka path' into the rubber.
It wasn't difficult but it was slow going, for the most part there were no flat terraces.
There were the remains of some walls and when we could see that the area above was more overgrown we decided to check to the left.
Good decision! We entered a more open durian orchard and just above us was a different kind of wall.
It was a classic zig-zag concrete path and luckily (?) we had hit it at at a bend where it was next to the rubber. Sorting out where it had come from would have to wait and Yuehong took the opportunity to clear her boots.
The next bend brought us to the edge of the fenced off citrus orchard which we had previously seen from the other side. Our path was covered in 'out of season' leaves but well graded and progress was now much quicker.
Durian turned to rubber and the path finished at a black water tank.
Never mind, looking back, our original rubber was now clearer in comparison. In the nature of things, each orchard / estate is wedge shaped getting narrower going up and this one was now barely a dozen rubber trees wide.
Yuehong will do anything to avoid coming down an area like this, but going up is fine. She grabbed my secateurs snipped a couple of vines and shot up to the ridge while I tried to persuade my recalcitrant camera to behave as it doesn't like the current warm temperatures. We'd been here before and walked down to the point where we had turned left and gone down through some abandoned rubber to the orchard below.
Today, this is where we would start our climb. I said that I doubted anyone ever came this way but as soon as cleared the rubber, Yuehong proved me wrong. The three cuts seem to be the Forestry Department's way of marking a route.
More marks followed, some seemed to be quite recent.
I wouldn't call it a trail and it's barely a ridge, we simply went wherever it was most clear as we climbed gently upwards. Only at one point did we have to divert left to round a fallen tree.
As we neared the top, Yuehong strode on and demanded to know where the marker stone was so I showed her. It had been just 25 minutes since we had left the last orchard.
We'd been here a few days before on an east to west traverse and she'd asked me which way next and suggested right. At the time, I'd said that only a madman would go that way and now I'd been proved completely wrong. Having said that, I'm not sure I would be able to hit our starting point today going down without 'cheating' with a GPS system and missing it might be uncomfortable...
To take the normal 'exit', basically we carried on towards the large tree (left picture). The path is really slightly right but that's blocked at the moment, we knew to curve right before joining it a little lower down. The position of the ridge (down) is pretty clear to see, at least to us, and if you get it right you'll soon get to this landmark tree.
To start with, it's not difficult to stick with the ridge and again there are some markings on trees.
The last two times we had come down here, we had been tempted into indiscipline after rounding blockages as the forest is quite open.
Instead we returned to the main ridge as soon as practical and found the right way down.
We were rewarded by coming straight onto the main ridge in 25 minutes; we had come down almost the same vertical distance through the Forest Reserve as we had climbed up. Ahead was old rubber with the usual associated prickly vines.
On our first visit, we'd tried using lower rubber terraces but they were not continuous owing to boulders and we had come back up and cut our way through. In fact, it was really quite clear behind the curtain of vines and we again stepped through the ferns.
Ahead was a newly cleared area, the old rubber was still burning. I don't think it is at all a clever idea to clear the ridge like this, it will take a long time to establish trees here and they will require a lot of water to be pumped up. Far better would be to leave it a little 'wild' which would also act as a natural water store.
Still we had a lovely view of the coastline leading up to Pantai Aceh and the National Park,
Just below us, we could see the top of a durian orchard and a readily accessible concrete path which would have been hidden when we walked along the ridge previously. So we no longer needed to fight the vines to reach our normal descent some 500 metres further along.
After our brief foray into the sun, it was good to return to cooler shady conditions. We soon turned left and dropped down to the familiar house.
We turned right and dropped down slightly to this junction. It was now my job to take the left fork and sort out the rest of the morning's concrete path. Yuehong would go on down to the famous path as her knee would not take kindly to the scramble down the overgrown rubber and I borrowed her 'toy' to complete the day's recording on her App. This time I remembered to take a picture of the house along the path.
I also knew to maintained height going behind it up to where we had entered the Forest Reserve earlier, I then retraced our steps to the top of the rubber plantation where we had come up.
It was easy to follow where we had come up, the plants were still bent, and in just over 10 minutes I could see the plastic water tank at the top of the concrete path. I went down the ever lengthening zig-zags and beyond where we had joined I found a gap in the wire fence into the next orchard.
There was now an excellent view of the west coast mangroves and the hills above Pantai Aceh.
The way the zig-zags work, it's never obvious till the last minute where they will end. I entered an area with oil palms and below me I could see one of Pulau Betong's newer and more reputable temples and I knew exactly where I was.
I went through an open gate and the path evaporated into an open area with a house on my left. I came out at the temple shown in the first picture at the top of the report,.this is the view looking back. To access the path to climb up, take the track just to the left of the temple and where it curves left carry on straight ahead and the way up to the gate is on the left just after the house on the right, the dogs will show you the way...
It had been a very swift descent and Yuehong was still picking the seeds out of her clothes when she heard the dogs announcing my imminent arrival.
Now we are both pretty fit, we've been experimenting rather more and with entirely new paths like those we have found in this area, Penang never ceases to delight. After this hike, it's tempting to say that anyone can now climb Bukit Pulau Betong. We'd been out less than 4 hours and, by using the better quality ascent, we could complete the circuit Yuehong did in less than 3½ hours. I would expect younger hikers to do it in 3 hours. It wouldn't take much longer to come up to the last house shown above and therefore avoid the section of overgrown rubber.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson