The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - The Carpet Revisited
Sungai Ara to Balik Pulau

This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This is a Grade 2 walk although quite long. 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.

As of 2015, there are significant changes in the route which are recorded below in red, overall these probably make life a little easier (27th January 2015).

In 2013, we followed a walk which owed everything to an excellent trail account I found on the web - (Link broken by 1st November 2018) - written by a local mountain biker who included first class directions and pictures to back them up. It was high time to return to the area.

The Sungai Ara Valley is a very attractive area to walk in, there are many well kept paths but there is just one big problem as far as we are concerned and that is its relative inaccessibility from where we live. We no longer go to or via George Town unless it is absolutely unavoidable and that meant four buses! It's not difficult because the first two were our regular 101 and 501 to Balik Pulau. From there it was a 401 round the bottom of the island via Teluk Kumbar to Bayan Lepas where we walked back and around the corner, knowing that a 302 or 308 bus would then get us to starting point at the bottom of Jalan Kenari. So it was well gone twelve before we started hiking. We went up to the Indian temple as before and turned right. The rape of the lower Sungai Ara Valley in the name of 'progress' continues unabated. The two pictures show the situation in February 2013 and March 2014 from almost exactly the same viewpoint.

During our previous walk, we had carried on up the valley and curved around in a U following a gently sloping route. Today, we would cut across the open end of the U and this would involve a steeper climb although as it turned out we were on old motorbike trails which were well graded. We turned right at the first opportunity, it's a very distinctive landmark.

More were to follow, including what must be the most ramshackle house I have ever seen on the island attached to an electricity supply (albeit long disconnected). All attempts to keep unwanted visitors out had long been abandoned, basically we followed the main path up ignoring turns which by and large seemed to go off on the horizontal.

Traditionally, the people working these hills have been Malaysian Chinese, but where the path more or less finished there were the unmistakable signs of a Burmese invasion. Yuk!

We were close to some kind of ridge and it made sense to walk along the top of the rubber and in just 100 metres we came upon another path, I guess it will also have come up from the valley road. It suited our purpose to follow it up.

The ground was open but parched, the top of this small ridge has been cleared so there would be no water retained from the rainy season. Most of the young durians had simply dropped off, on just a few trees they were starting to develop normally. The small tank at the top was empty

We had come to the end of this durian estate, there were some small border markers. Moving on we could see a small hut ahead, yet another path coming up to our left and on the right what I correctly surmised would be the concrete road we had used on the previous walk here. Our easiest route was to the hut where we found a larger tank which showed just how urgently rain was needed. Coming up to this point was a brand new concrete road.

This was the other path down, I don't know whether these last two start together and split or are separate throughout. One for another day... Around the corner, the rest of the new concrete road was being put in, to join with the existing one. We have been told that it's worth the investment as the motorbikes are an inefficient way of carrying produce compared to a pick up or small truck.

We were right next to this critical junction where we had to turn left, the track ahead is another 'unknown' maybe it goes down (steeply) eventually or maybe it's another fruit orchard dead end. This is classic relaxed hash country and my old group had clearly been here recently.

It was lunchtime and we paused at a hut across the way from this one, the occupant bring us out an extra chair. We were surrounded by dogs and cats until one of the farm owners up from his home in Batu Maung came by on his motorbike. He had been to mainland China and was unimpressed, the pollution was terrible he said. We walked past the bird's nest factory, turned right past the vegetables and then left and headed up past the mast (see our previous walk for details, the fourth picture is from that trip).

We'd only been here once and Yuehong's memory was hazy. She sounded distinctly disappointed when I reminded her we still had to climb to the ridge, today's heat was getting to her despite the supply of frozen towels. It's an unexceptional but pleasant enough climb with odd branches off which could be ignored. Just after the next bird's nest factory there are a couple of houses, one with many chickens. As before we went straight ahead up to a third nearby building and turned right whereupon we followed the path up to the ridge. The two square rocks are all that is left of the former ridge path behind Yuehong - that hill top at least still seems to have some degree of natural vegetation. We had again come in to the right of her and had followed the path down to the left of her last time.

Opposite the birds' nest factory farm now take the (new) concrete trail that heads up into the rubber (the path described above had been abandoned by 2015), emerging at the same point as above.

Along the ridge in the opposite direction there was a path through the rubber but it didn't go very far past the black plastic water tanks where we turned right to follow a well graded path down. It was a nice touch to see the rubber recycled to help maintain it.

Unfortunately, when the hill became steeper, the path turned sharp right and we had to return towards to the previous route, where we were confronted with more signs of 'progress'..

Maybe in a few years they will plant some trees and it will look more like the Titi Kerawang concrete road, but right now it's not got a lot going for it. (By 2015 the road had been completed with a concrete surface.)

Last time, we had noticed that this house had its own concrete road link to lower down and so we used this, it was far shadier. There was a small price to pay at the bottom: 

In another 10 minutes we were on Jalan Tun Sardon, and by 17.00 we had caught a 502 bus down to Balik Pulau. There's a large, rather characterless coffee shop nearby but it has a well stocked fridge and a purveyor of steam buns outside. I still needed a takeaway Nasi Kandar dinner  in Teluk Bahang and this time I remembered to buy the bread. It was a very pleasant outing if a little bit short in terms of new discoveries.

Sungai Ara Valley


 ____ = Concrete Road

 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy '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