Sunday, April 3, 2016

Penang : Balik Pulau Rural Cycling Romp

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Penang : Balik Pulau Rural Cycling Romp
Balik Pulau to Pulau Betong : 27th March 2016
Distance  : 28.02 km     Level: Medium
Time : 7:45am to 12:00pm
Time Taken :  4 hours 15 mins. (including stops for brunch, exploring the mangrove swamp, fishing village, rest, regroup, and lots of photo ops and detours).

Route Recommendations :
1. The route is relatively flat; the only moderate climb is up to the viewpoint opposite Pulau Betong and at Jalan Pondok Upeh. Most of the stretches avoid the main roads and as we rode through the kampongs the route was relatively shady too. Don't rush, cycle at a leisurely pace to enjoy the rural scenery and atmosphere.
2. Some highlights along the route:
    - the narrow roads through the villages and the tracks along the canals. It was past padi harvesting season, and the paddy fields were dry and brown.
    - the rocky beach at Pantai Malindo is a good spot for photos.
    - the Pantai Malindo Mangrove Reserve although not as big as the ones in Kuala Sepetang was a nice place to visit, it has board-walks for taking a stroll through the reserve.
    - the fishing boats at Kg. Pulau Betong Jetty the can be quite scenic. We were there during low tide and the fishermen were waiting for the tide to come in.
    - stalls near the Kg. Pulau Betong Jetty where fruits such as bananas, etc. are sold cheap, much cheaper than in the town and definitely very much cheaper than in the city.
    - generally, take time to view the local life, how they make salted fish and also belacan.
    - the street art murals at Balik Pulau town are beautifully done and has spiced up the place.
 3. Balik Pulau town is renown for it's Penang Laksa, but locals patronise another shop slightly further into the village; for location of the village laksa, click here.
    There is also another place, Pat's place nearer towards Sungai Pinang that sells lovely food in a rustic garden setting; for location of Pat's rustic place, click here.
4. The Balik Pulau New Market has a food court with many stalls. Among the favourite is the Wantan Noodles, Chee Cheong Fun and freshly squeezed nutmeg juice.
5. The fastest route to Balik Pulau from George Town by driving is via Jalan Paya Terubong and Jalan Tun Sardon.


Gary Wan & me slowly pushing our bikes up Hakka Hill, Balik Pulau.
Balik Pulau, a small rustic town with it's rural surrounding is a lovely place to cycle at. We had cycled there before to go hunt for good Penang Laksa (not the touristy one in the town, but deeper into the village) and had a interesting two kilometre ride-push up to the Hakka Village. It was a good ride too as I made new friends in Gary & his family from Bukit Mertajam. But that ride was only sort of a teaser, we only skimmed the surface of what Balik Pulau has to offer. So now three years later, we were back and with a local friend in Francis to lead us and show us his "kampung.

Two days prior, I had flown in to Penang and as usual brought my trusty friend Goofy along (Goofy is my Brompton bicycle). From the Bayan Lepas Airport I cycled back to Tanjong Tokong, hoping that I will be riding faster than the previous trip (... click to see that blog). But somehow or other, the distractions (or should I say attractions) were too great and it was a slow, slow but interesting route back with several stops.
The first stop was Telok Tempoyak for their famous Ikan Bakar. I climbed one hill to go for the "Original Ikan Bakar", but it was closed .... and my tired legs almost gave way in disappointment. Okay.... don't despair; there is always the other one... so down I went the hill and climbed up another one to reach D'Seafood Paradise. It was worthwhile to climb two hills to savour this... see the photo above, looks yummy right. And that's not all, one eats with a great view of the sea as Telok Tempoyak is set in a nice little bay (... click here for photos of the bay & beach).
(... click here to read more of Telok Tempoyak Ikan Bakar)

Taking almost the same route down towards Queensbay, I was in for a pleasant surprise. the building of Phase 2 of the Penang Island East Coast Cycling Lanes have begun! Construction have almost reached the 2nd Penang Bridge and at the rate the works is going, I reckon the lanes should be ready and reaching up to Bayan Lepas in a couple of months.... *keeping fingers crossed!*

On reaching George Town, I rode pass by this stall, it is an interesting stall where patrons sit squatting akimbo on stool placed upon long benches. Trishaw pedlars used to patronise stall of this type which usually sells Teochew porridge, hence the name "Squatting Teochew Porridge". Due to trishaws presently not being so common a means of transport, this stall is the last of its type - so I just had to stop and experience it (..... read more at Squatting Porridge blog).

The most important aspect of this trip was meeting up with Francis. We had chatted and became friends on Facebook but had never met face to face. He had posted beautiful photos of his cycling around Balik Pulau, his kampong as he eloquently put it. These photos caught my attention and I was eager to see more of the place, and requested Francis to lead a ride around his kampung. He was most happy to oblige and we rounded up a few friends to join us to make it all the more exciting.
Other than being able to explore more of Balik Pulau, I was even more eager to finally meet Francis in person. He is another Ah Pek, so it should be easy for us two old dogs to click together.


Cycling Route - Balik Pulau>Sungai Burung>Pantai Malindo Mangrove Reserve>Kg. Pulau Betong Jetty>Pulau Betong>Pondok Upeh>Balik Pulau.
The route is from Balik Pulau town towards Kampong Pulau Betong in the south east. Along the way it pass by rustic village roads, rocky beaches, a mangrove swamp.
(... click here to get a satellite view of our route, to see how green the area we where riding is.)

7:45am - After meeting earlier at the Balik Pulau New Market and having had our breakfast, we rolled off. After a very short stretch along Jalan Tun Sardon, Francis led us off the busy main road... and Presto! We were cycling on narrow roads & lanes of the village, along a shady route passing by timber kampong houses that sat so naturally into the greenery around.

Small streams flowed through the area, and down in one we saw a horse grazing in the water with baby catfishes swimming around his feet. Horses are not naturally found in Malaysia and this was a surprising sight. Further on we saw a sign advertising horse rides.... ah... no wonder! For those interested in horse riding, the contact is Countryside Stables and their contact numbers are +6012-4080678 & +6012-4871107. The operating hours are 2:00pm to 7:00pm; They are located at Jalan Hilir Sungai Burung, GPS: 5.339344, 100.198060.

Further along we passed by paddy fields, harvesting was just over and remnants of brown paddy stalks met our eyes. And then ahead.... green vegetable plots!
Kampong houses, horses, paddies and vegetable farms... Yes, we were definitely seeing a rustic side of Balik Pulau... and we had just started!

Cutting through a gravel road we reached another side of the locality, a side of irrigation canals reflecting swaying coconut trees on the water surface while above birds flew freely around. I am loving this!

Our first destination - Pantai Malindo, where there is a rocky beach and a small river came to meat the sea. It's low tide and mud-skippers could be seen hopping about, and in the far background is Pulau Betong which we will visit later.
The rocks are not natural and have been placed there as part of the state's reclamation of these mud-banks.

That's us at the Mangrove Forest Reserve just next to Pantai Malindo. I was surprise to find these mangrove swamps on the island, never thought that they would be there. And it's a blessing that they are, as they cushioned the place from the effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

There are even board-walks in the mangrove forest. We did a walk around, the trees looks young and not as old as those at the Matang Mangrove Reserve.

It was the dry and very hot season caused by the El Nino effect and coupled with the low tide, the swamp was dry of water. El Nino did have an effect on the weather and ALSO had an effect on us, there we were acting like children, swing from the tree and roots, happily laughing among ourselves.

We continued our ride, this time cycling through a banana plantation...

... and then had fun with animals like these turkeys...

... geese, and these red-faced fire ducks (actually they are called Muscovy Ducks).

At Kampong Pulau Betong, we stopped at this place for brunch. They sell good Penang Laksa and Penang Hokkein Mee. Several locals have become enterprising and have converted the front portion of their houses to mini foodie places.

This particular stall owner was even more enterprising, nearby his stall he is experimenting with bee farming and harvesting the honey. Hmmmmm.... with it's multitudes of flora to feed the bees, will we be hearing of Penang Balik Pulau Vintage Honey soon?

His bee farm is small, here's Larry showing a piece honeycomb he picked up; it is now a pale yellowish-white colour and not orange-ish as the honey has been drained out.

At the jetty, it's low tide and the boats are lazing on the river bed...

while the fishermen were lazing in their hammocks. They are waiting for the tide to come in before setting our on their fishing journey.

Francis then took us on a short climb to view Pulau Betong. The island is uninhabited save for a fish farm.

Enroute back, I caught sight of these many shovelling what seems to be chocolate, they are not, these are belacan made from fermented krill. The one which the men are handling are almost ready, exuding a strong pungent smell away from which many will run from. To me, it was a whiff of paradise, I love belacan and how it enhances many local food.

Our route back took us through Jalan Pondok Upeh, a well chosen one as it was shady and had a bit of climb for us to sweat it out before ending the ride. Reaching Balik Pulau we took a short detour into the old town centre to view the street art wall murals painted by Russian artist Julia Volchkova :
Hakka Dancing Girl.

Silat Master.

Old Fisherman.
Sin trying to emulate the old man mending his fishing nets; he ended up looking like he was counting coins... without a net it's hard to get the pose right.
(... see more of Balik Pulau Street Art Wall Murals)

We ended the ride with mugs of Freshly Squeezed Nutmeg Juice at new market. No, they are not a new Guiness flavour, but this time round, although refreshing to drink, they had a strong bitter underlying taste. I have a feeling the operator of this stall did not pare off the nutmeg skin properly, hence the stronger bitter taste.

Yes, we did get to see and do much, it was a great morning ride!
Many thanks to Francis for making this possible and showing us his kampong.

Thanks too to Kuan for helping marshal us.
And to the rest, it was great riding with you all!

(For more photos of the ride, click here!)

Related Blogs :

Balik Pulau Street Art Wall Murals : March 2016
Interesting pieces of beautiful street art murals found at the rural town of Balik Pulau located at the other side of Penang Island.

Ikan Bakar (Charcoal Grilled Fish) @ Teluk Tempoyak Penang
Very tasty grilled fish seasoned in delicious sambal-rempa seasoning; worth every trouble getting there! - Teluk Tempoyak, Batu Maung, Penang, Malaysia.

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Malaysia - KevinTheBigCity Tattoos, Kuala Lumpur : July 2014
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  1. Wow! This is so awesome! Can I join you next time?

    1. Hi Nadela,
      Sure can, but not sure when I will be doing it again.
      If you can't wait, the map in the blog shows our route and the places we went too.
      Are you staying in Penang?

      the AhPek Biker

  2. Thanks for sharing the map! It looks great

  3. Thanks for sharing !!! Just started to cycling with my little folding bike !!! Great distress activity