Sunday, August 21, 2022

Penang: Cycling The Kukus Highway - Bayan Lepas To Tanjung Tokong

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Penang : Cycling The Kukus Highway - Bayan Lepas To Tanjung Tokong
Penang : Friday, 22nd June 2022
Cycling Distance: 42.61 km.       |       Level: Hard                         
Time : 10:30 am to 6:45 pm
Time Taken : 8hrs 15mins. (including stops to enjoy beaches & parks, rest, breakfast, lunch, tea-time, and lots of photo opps).

Route Recommendations:
1. Traffic Directions!
    Malaysia's traffic is right-hand drive, so drive or cycle on the left. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    This route tries to avoid as much as the main roads as possible; it does go along some busy roads but it also went onto quieter river-side paths, residential roads, parks and even through a couple of cemeteries. Generally the route is fairly flat, with a major climb at Jalan Bukit Kukus, and some minor climbs at Boundary Road Mount Erskine locality.
    It's a route of mixed shady and unshaded roads, the over-cast skies did help. 

3. Places of Interest
    Enroute were several places of interests, some of which we visited and others we did not for lack of time (Note: click on GPS coordinates for directional map to respective places):
- Sungai Bayan Lepas riverside paths (start point at junction of Jalan Garuda & Jalan Tepi Parit (GPS: 5.29469, 100.26368); roughly diagonally opposite the Airport Corner Food Court (GPS5.29402, 100.26470)
Sungai Ara Waterfront (GPS: 5.32530, 100.26698) with the Sungai Ara river flowing through.
- Bukit Kukus Paired Road (GPS: ), presently the highest elevated highway in the country.
4. Food
Breakfast: Fried Noodles at Airport Corner Food Court (GPS5.29402, 100.26470), near the car-park of the Penang International Airport.
Late Lunch: Penang Lor Mee & Pat Poh iced drink at Rifle Range Food Court (GPS: 5.41011, 100.29000) in Air Itam.
5. Weather
    July is one of the hottest month in the country, with the east coast of the peninsula enjoying plenty of sunny, dry days; and the west coast experiencing hot and humid conditions, interspersed with short, intense downpours. So do cover up or apply sun-block lotions.
At Penang, mid-afternoon temperatures were 32°C and night temperature averaged 24°C. There was some light drizzle in the late afternoon and evening.
    A useful weather forecast site is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

6. Communicating with Locals
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Malaysians can speak fairly good English; but in the rural areas the locals speak only some rudimentary English, so learning some basic phrases in Bahasa Malaysia will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.

7. Staying in Touch
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Pre-paid phone sim-cards are easily available from most phone shops in the main towns.

8. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.

I am from Penang and am a proud & loyal Penang Kia. Often I fly back to Penang Island, after landing at Penang International Airport, I would then cycle back to Tanjung Tokong to stay with my mom.... (haha... this AhPek is mama's boy, surprised?)
Usually I will cycle from the airport via the coastal route which will also goes along Penang's East Coast Cycling Lanes and North Coast Cycling Lanes (see A Homecoming Ride blog).

But this time I will be going by a harder route, I will call it the Penang Central Spine Route, as it goes along the edges of the hills near the centre of the Penang Island. This is the new Bukit Kukus Elevated Highway, leading from Lebuhraya Thean Teik in the north to Bukit Jambul and Relau in the south. It runs through the hilly gap formed by Bukit Kukus in the east, and Bukit Bakar Arang & Bukit Susu in the west.
But this new highway is only partially completed, see plan above; and is targeted to be fully completed in 2025.

But what has cause this itch to ride at the Bukit Kukus Highway?
Well it's a bit of an ego thing; see about seven years back we had cycled at the then reputedly highest elevated highway in the country - the 58.2m high Rawang By-Pass (see above photo).
We thought we had done well, AND Then early this year came along the Bukit Kukus Highway, with its highest section completed in January 13th 2022. At 59m high it surpassed the Rawang By-Pass by a nose to become the Malaysia's Highest Elevated Highway! AND for me, it became another milestone to be conquered!
AND WHAT'S THIS? - a blog that starts with a photo of a family sitting on a Chinese tomb? (see top-most photo). This was one of the interesting thing I saw along the way!

This route tries to avoid as much as the main roads as possible; it does go along some busy roads but it also went onto quieter river-side paths, residential roads, parks and even through a couple of cemeteries. Generally the route is fairly flat, with a major climb at Jalan Bukit Kukus, and some minor climbs at Boundary Road & the Mount Erskine locality.
It's a route of mixed shady and unshaded roads, the over-cast skies did help.
Cycling Distance: 42.61 km.                   |                    Level: Hard                         
(Click here for the Google Map Bayan Lepas To Tanjung Tokong via Kukus Highway Route Cycling Route Link.)

10:40am - This ride started with a sort of twist. The previous day, I was suppose to fly in and arrive at the Penang International Airport by around 2pm, giving me ample time to cycle the 40+ km. route. But Batik Air rescheduled the flight to arrive at 7 pm instead. Drat! That will be too late and too dark to cycle back!
There have been complains of other airlines rescheduling seats that have been booked much earlier so that the same seats can be sold at a much higher price later! I do hope this is not the case with Batik Air!
Anyway I had promised to tell friends and readers on how riding this route will be. Living up to my promise,  the following day, I hailed a Grab ride from Tanjung Tokong to the airport at RM28, telling the driver that I will be cycling from the airport back to Tanjung Tokong! He must have thought that I am one crazy AhPek!

Anyway, I "landed" safely at the airport by Grab taxi .... hahaha! I scooted over to the Airport Corner food court - do not let the name mislead you; this is not inside the airport! Instead it's a small stand-alone food court along Jalan Garudanear the airport open-air car-park. It serves cheaper affordable food to caters to the air-port staff, taxi-drivers and others (like this AhPek) looking for cheaper affordable food. Here I had a quick breakfast of mee goreng before starting off my ride.
From the food-court, I went diagonally to ride along the appropriately named Jalan Tepi Parit (which means river-side road in Bahasa Malaysia); this is a quiet river-side path that runs beside Sungai Bayan Lepas and leads to the coastal main road. I like riding here, it's almost traffic free - serene with beautiful scenes (see above photo and the top-most photo)

But I am not the only one enjoying the riverside peaceful solitude, along the way I notice several monitor lizards, these were quite big; almost 5 to 6 feet long! This morning's overcast cool weather had encourage them to come out. I often ride along this route on the way out from the airport, now one can see why - it's so green here and the air is so fresh!

While here do pop in to visit a joss stick factory to one side of the river-side road. This factory makes huge giant joss-sticks that are usually lit at the front of Chinese temples. They also make the giant dragon joss-sticks. According to the owner, they have been here for a couple of decades!

Jalan Tepi Parit does not lead all the way to the coastal road, but instead becomes a gravel road that leads to Kampung Binjai. To continue to the coastal road, just after the joss-stick factory make a left at a bridge to cross over to the other side of Sungai Bayan Lepas, and ride along Jalan Kolam Ikan - not far ahead is the coastal road i.e. Jalan Permatang Damar Laut.

Just into Jalan Permatang Damar Laut, if one is lucky one will see planes approaching to land at the airport. I wasn't so lucky this time, the above photo is from an earlier ride to Gertak Sanggul!

Having heard much about Pantai Esen with it's beautiful, pristine beaches, I decided to take a detour there to experience the place for my self. To reach this beach is via Jalan Permatang Damar Laut which is a 4-lane carraige-way with a central raised divider; the entry point to cross over to Kampung Permatang Damar Laut (and from there to the beach) is at the junction where Yeaw Seng Motor Services is (GPS: 5.27611, 100.26883), do be careful as this is a busy junction. From here tarred roads will lead up till the Pantai Esen ATV Extreme Park (GPS: 5.27170, 100.26899); after which it's gravel/laterite tracks which goes up and down slopes. Cycling here is not easy on the 16" wheel Brompton and at certain steep/rough stretches I had to come down and push.

11:50am - But it was a worthwhile effort, the beach is beautiful and calm - quite as it was a weekday. Nice as can be seen in the photos above (which were taken by some helpful young ladies having a picnic there).

I would have love to cycle further in to view places further in (such as Esen Hill, Tua Pek Kong Shrine, etc.); but the tracks got sandy and rougher and I reluctantly turned back. Perhaps next time I will come with a mountain bike or to hike!

Happy, I rode back out stopping for a cuppa at the D Padang Kafe road-side stall, which is aptly near Kampung Seronok (which means "Enjoyable Village" in Bahasa Malaysia). Just for note, somewhere at the beach near here is the unique Permatang Damar Laut British WW2 Bunker (GPS: 5.27868, 100.26003). It's not accessible by bicycle as it's on a sandy beach. 
Ahead, the small town of Bayan Lepas is now overshadowed by a long fly-over, and the old shop-houses may be easily go un-noticed. But cycling has it's advantage and I saw those old colonial houses are still there, and especially like those (the green and yellow ones in the photos above) at the quiet start of Jalan Dato Ismail Hashim (the one with the green and yellow shophouses in the photo montage above).

Riding along the main road, I suddenly saw this bullock-wheel timber house and had to turn in to have a closer look. It's a very green house made all the more unique with bullock cart wheels as part of it's decoration! Apparently it's owned by a landscape architect ..... 
Nearby at Sungai Ara, the Fig Tree Hill Resort has bullock cart wheels in there theme too..

1:25pm - About another 2.5km away is another destination not to be missed; it's a small but lovely park called the Sungai Ara Waterfront, or the Sungai Ara Linear Park.

It may be a small park, but it was very well landscaped .....

.... and Sungai Ara runs through it; at this point it's a small bustling stream. Further up-stream it's even nicer: we cycled there during the Magic Carpet and Up The Carpet rides.

The park was set up by the local authority with joint efforts by the local residents. It is heartfelt to see that recycled tires and other materials have been made into animal sculptures such as penguins and parrots!

Locals have even planted and maintained a very nice and very green community garden at one section of the park!
These are through the efforts of a local group called Riverside Funmers - who take farming to a fun level!

As I exited the park, another unexpected surprised awaited me!
At the nearby Guan Yu Temple celebrations were ongoing to celebrate the birthday of the deity - Guan Yu. - who is more familiarly know as Guan Di; the God of War. and legendary renown for his loyalty and righteousness. Preparations were being made for the evening's festivities with orange-coloured pineapple candles all laid out with the names of devotees tagged onto them.

To one side a temporary altar has been set up for prayers to Buddha, Guanyin and others.

And fronting the riverside were golden statues of the animals of the Chinese Astrology, starting with the Rat and ending with the Pig. I am a Dog and that's why my blog call sign is "Old Dog Rides Again!"

Often festivities includes Chinese Opera, but these day Chinese puppet shows are in the vogue too.

I had a nice interlude of Penang White Coffee at the Yuecheng Tea Garden (悦成茶园), it's a welcomed short break as a tough stretch lay ahead - the Bukit Kukus Elevated Highway!
View of the Bukit Kukus Elevated Highway, showing it standing on tall piers, wending it's way above Jalan Paya Terubong.

2:45pm - Coming in from Bukit Jambul, it's a tough but manageable climb, and one is rewarded by the nice and green scenery.

Views of the Paya Terubong locality from the peak of the highway - there is a shared cycling lane along the highway.

Also there is a dedicated walkway for pedestrians, a strong concrete wall separates this from the highway to keep the walkers safe. This view is towards top of the highway coming from from Balik Pulau via Jalan Tun Sardon which is a treacherously steep road with fast traffic.

From there it was coasting along Jalan Paya Terubong, all the way down to Air Itam; ahead ia a glimpse of  the Kuan Yin Statue with it's unique pavilion. This road is rather busy so do ride with care even-though there are shared cycling lanes here.

3:00 pm - Arrived at Air Itam and saw this new street are called the "Generation To Generation Mural".
Air Itam, nestled at the foothills of Penang Hill, is one of the most happening places of the island. Almost as old as George Town, it was first developed in the late 18th century, soon after the founding of Penang Island by Captain Francis Light in 1786. British East India Company officials intended to turn Air Itam, including Penang Hill, into an agricultural area and established spice farms. To this day, fruits and vegetables are still grown at the hills of Air Itam; fresh produce are then brought downhill daily to the wet markets throughout George Town.
The mural signifies the generations that have settled down here and established its lively environment. Making it all the more important to pass on the culture to the next generation as shown in the mural. The number ‘11500’ is the postal code of Air Itam.

Goofy (my copper-plated Brompton P6R) with a much better view of the Kek Lok Si Temple & the Guan Yin Statue in the back-ground.

Just slightly ahead is the road that leads to the Air Itam Dam, and from there tracks lead down to Balik Pulau. To the left is the Air Itam Tua Pek Kong Temple, with many life-sized statues of Chinese gods & deities.
I had intended to to cycle along those tracks the following day, but had to abandon it due to a change of plans. Anyway, Click here for the Google Air Itam Dam To Balik Pulau Cycling Route Map Link.

Continuing my journey down Jalan Air Itam, I made a quick stop to pay tribute at the Air Itam War Memorial.

3:30pm - Made a left up Boundary Road for a very late lunch of Penang Lor Mee & Pat Poh iced drink at Rifle Range Food Court. Whenever in Penang, I try to have Pat Poh, which is only available there - it's a cooling herbal tea drink good to counter the heat when cycling in hot weather.

From Bayan Lepas till here, I had been going along fairly busy roads, time to go off these busy roads - starting off onto this narrow lane at the side of the Penang Waterworks Quarters (GPS: 5.40978, 100.2935 ) that led to .....

..... these shady roads, where I stopped to say some prayers, as this a connects to .....

..... trails passing through the Batu Gantong Cemetery!
(and said more prayers to ask permission to pass through and also to take this photo).

It's only a short 500 metres stretch, but with hairs on end, I rode through in a hurry to the exit point which is at the Batu Gantung Village.

This AhPek will have to go for knee surgery in late August 2022, and will be in a better shape to continue with more riding adventures.

2nd September 2022
Hi! I am back after a knee cap replacement surgery done at the Ara Damansara Medical Centre. My left knee was badly bent due to bow-leggedness and it became difficult and painful to walk. Knee surgery had to be done to straighten my leg so that I could walk without pain. More details of this in another blog, in the meantime let's continue on with this ride:
To avoid using busy the Scotland Road & Western Road, my planned route to connect from Batu Gantung to the Jesselton Heigts neigbourbood was to go through a paver brick lane skirting the Penang Turf Club, but a security post at one end barred non-members from entering even this lane. Alternatively, it was through new roads at the Penang Retirement Resort that hopefully connects through. But in front of this, at the foothills, was a new guarded development, it's private and NO ENTRY for this AhPek too - so I can't tell whether it connects through to Jesselton Heigts.

So with no trespassing at these places it was a U-turn back along Jalan Batu Gantung to head towards a busier Scotland Road. Along a stretch of Jalan Batu Gantung were these very old Angsana trees, so old that their wrinkling barks showed their age. Many of the George Town older roads are lined with these huge Angsana or Rain Trees which are often over a century old.

Fortunately, it was only a very short 200m. stretch along Scotland Road after which I turned left into the quiet residential area of Brooks Road. This road partly skirts the turf club and also connect to Jesselton Heigts neigbourbood, and along it a 1,000m marker of the turf club can be seen. It's a fairly shady road with some new town-house development.

At Jalan Jesselton, it was a short detour to view Konishi Castle. This house built along alpine design, belongs to Tan Sri Fumihiko Konishi - who graduated in 1966 from the Tokyo University of Pharmacy. After studying English, he traveled abroad to different countries and finally deciding to settle in Malaysia in 1968. Using his chemical knowledge, he founded Fumakilla in Penang (now Texchem), he have since started many businesses and now owns 45 companies which includes Sushi King and seafood production company in Myanmar.

5:15pm - Another short breather stop at Jesselton Pocket Park. This is one of the many pocket parks around the island, small but cozy parks within walking distance from the neighbourhood.

Jesselton Heigts neigbourbood connects to Pesiaran Kuari that lead will lead to the Penang Youth Park. Photo combo above shows Pesiaran Kuari and part of the park.
No cars are allowed into Pesiaran Kuari so it's CAR-FREE.... hooray!
This area holds a lot of memories of younger days; at one far corner is a small water fall and behind it are hiking trails that start from opposite rear of the Western Road Catholic Cemetery and the lead up to concrete swimming pools at Strawberry Hill and then onwards to Penang Hill. It was also at the Youth Park that I got bitten by a snake during scouting days. That's a twisty tale told in another blog.

Wanting to avoid the busy main roads; from the Youth Park, I crossed over Waterfall Road (Jalan Air Terjun) to the residential area on the other side and after a couple of turns arrived at the Bodhi Heart Sanctuary. It's a quiet place where many go for meditation retreats and self reflection. Several years back I had "discovered' the place during a temples cycling jaunt around this locality. Running late, I didn't go in - just took some photos at the entrance.

See what I mean, even an old goat took things easy there and was sort of meditating!

Ahead, I made a left turn to enter the Cheah Kongsi Private Cemetery, easily recognize as there is an old entrance arch. This section seems to be an older part of the Mount Erskine Cemetery - it's very green and shady. Further on, a steep slope led me to Hong Seng Estate.

Hong Seng Estate aerial photo (from Penang Monthly Magazine
(Composite photo was created by Eugene Quah from drone footage courtesy of Eddy De Vosse.
"Hong Seng Estate, with it's main access from Jalan Mount Erskine, was founded in 1803 by Oh Chong Leng (胡宗宁), a businessman from Amoy (Xiàmén), The Estate covers 25 hectares of land in total, with the village taking up around 11.5 hectares. To open up the land plots were leased out to settlers at a monthly rental of RM40 per land plot. The settlers erected houses on the land, and their descendants today continue to pay no more than RM70 per month in rent to the trustees.
(Write up on the above photo is a condensed extract from an article titled "Hong Seng Estate: The Urban Kampung by the Hill" by Eugene Quah and published in the July 2022 issue of the Penang Monthly MagazineTo read the full article, subscribe to Penang Monthly, they have interesting and in depth articles on Penang, including a couple of Penang cycling articles by this AhPek!)

Being partly surrounded by the cemetery, some of the houses literally sits next to tombs, as can be seen in above photo (photo by Eugene Quah from Penang Monthly Magazine).

Prior to doing this ride, I had read interesting posts on WWII bunkers in the Penang Walkabouts FaceBook group and was on the lookout for these during my ride. Saw the above two which are located at the adjacent cemetery along the access road leading out from Hong Seng Estate to Jalan Mount Erskine. I had missed the ones at Permatang Damar Laut & Relau.

What I saw next quite surprised me! It was a local family sitting on one of the tombs near the bunkers. But why were they happily sitting there?

I turned around and saw what they saw - a beautiful panoramic view of Gurney Drive and George Town! The tombs here follows the good feng shui principal of "sitting on mountains, viewing the sea". With it's unfettered view, it was also a strategic location for the war bunkers!
I posted the above photos in a Penang Walkabouts FB group and was bombarded with comments!
Some from those who were familiar with the location (as can be seen in the previous photos of Hong Seng Estate), and with local customs were good and understanding; while others where shocked and complained about the rudeness of the family, see the comments at this link here.
But the FB posting also brought about a good thing; the tomb is that of Mr. Wong Kam Poh (a renown Penang Footballer during the 1950s) & his wife. And family members who saw the photo were happy to share the story of their father, and also their own photo of the tomb! It also brought about Mr. Wong's son & daughter reconnecting with some old childhood friends whom they have not seen for decades!

And after that it's a home-run stretch passing by two more World WarI I bunkers along JME.
For those interested there is another impressive one at Tanjung Tokong near the Pearl Garden Cafe, a few kilometres away.


Poor Goofy's the leather seat of its Brooks B17 Saddle had got torn and it's nose had dropped off. It's suppose to have a TEN year guarantee, but too bad it's a few months past it's 10th year life.
Any way it was quiet an adventure, as from Riffle Range Road onwards, I hardly used the main roads!

And here's a nice YouTube video of Bkt. Kukus Highway by Yihchang.

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