Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Best Cycling Trails In Penang

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Best Cycling Trails In Penang
Penang, although a small state within Malaysia, is an interesting place of melding cultures, of a fusion of people resulting in an unique society showing the best of each culture. It has a long history of a port which has led to many interesting old buildings and on the other hand has also preserved its many green areas. It's a state with two parts, Penang Island with some nice beaches, coastal roads and hills; and Province Wellesely (officially called Seberang Prai) on mainland Peninsular Malaysia. And there is George Town, the capital which is an UNESCO Heritage Site. Together they provide an attractive range of rides, from easy to hard.
Here are some of the cycling trails in the state that I liked best:

1. PENANG CYCLING LANES
Although in Malaysia dedicated cycling lanes are in its infancy, Penang is leading the country and is making headway in implementing cycling lanes. Phase 1 of the East Coast Cycling Lanes was completed three years ago, and Phase 2 is being constructed and almost reaching up to the Second Penang Bridge. Phase 1 connects to Phase 2 at Queensbay via a three-storey cycling/pedestrian spiral bridge, call the Jambatan Harapan (Bridge of Hope). Cycling in Penang won't feel complete until having done these lanes.
These lanes goes along nice stretches of beaches, green reserves, boat piers and spectacular views of both the First Penang Bridge and Second Penang Bridge. Several dedicated cycling bridges have been built to facilitate these lanes including a crooked one, and the Jambatan Harapan, a three-storey ramp bridge. One can start any where along the lanes, either from down-town George Town, or at Karpal Singh Drive or from Queensbay.
Or use it to commute down from the Penang International Airport.
There is a Penang Cycling Lane Master Plan to provide a full circuit of dedicated bike lanes around the coastal fringe with radial paths linking inwards to the island centre.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

2. ROUND PENANG ISLAND CIRCUIT
Stronger cyclists can take on an adventure of cycling an eighty-three kilometre loop around the island. Start point can be anywhere along the coastal area; a good place to start is at the Penang Esplanade (Padang Kota Lama) and cycle clock-wise so that the one is always on the coastal side. It will take half a day or even more if one stops often to appreciate the people and the countryside along the way (like yours truly here!).
Participants of the CFAL ride taking on the viaduct at Bayan Lepas.
The route will take one along the east coast up to the hills beyond Bayan Lepas where road viaducts present a majestic view. Then it's across the hills to the Telok Bahang Dam and down the sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi before returning to the Esplanade. It's a good mix of urban, rural and green views with a challenge of some moderately steep and curvy slopes.
If it's in season, one can get to savour the durian, the King of Fruits, or take a detour into Balik Pulau for some good Penang Laksa.
For those interested in taking part in a public group round island event, there's the annual CFAL (Cycle For A Lane) Ride. One will have to ride faster in the event as there is a cut off time of five hours.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

3. GEORGE TOWN HERITAGE CORE AREA
An easy ride to appreciate the charms of old Penang is around the UNESCO Heritage Core Area. See the city's colonial past in the many old houses and also enjoy George Town's renown street art. And pop into the many coffee-shops to savour Penang Laksa, Char Keow Teow, Penang Cendul and other delectable street food for which the island is famous for.
Those without bikes can rent them from several shops in the core zone.
Venture slightly out of the core area to Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive) and there are sampan boats moored at the seaside waiting for photos to be taken.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

4. PENANG ISLAND NORTH COAST ROUTE
Victory at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
For a good half-day exercise, this is a favourite week-end route among local cyclists. Most will start from the Esplanade (but one can literally start anyway near one's residence) and ride up along the north coast to Tanjung Bungah or Batu Ferringhi. If time permits, one can ride all the way up to the Telok Bahang Dam.
The route will take one from the city to the rural outskirts and onwards to through nice beaches with unique names such as Sunshine Beach, Shamrock Beach and even Miami Beach.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

5. BALIK PULAU
Balik Pulau in Malay literally means "Back of the Island" and this town is really at the other side of the island. Bring your bike up for a half-day's romp at the outskirts of this small rural town, a good place to start is at the Balik Pulau new market and head outwards to enjoy the rural charms of this back-of-the-island place.
Ride through the rustic narrow sandy lanes of the kampungs, onto roads fringing padi fields and even head for a mangrove swamp, and at the same time enjoy the warm hospitality of the rural folks. Then return back to town for some good Penang Laksa and perhaps view the beautiful murals there.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

6. THE CARPET
The CARPET is a small piece of turfed area somewhere mid-way up the hills at Sungai Ara; from there one can have a good view of Penang's east coast and the two iconic bridges. Getting up there is the exciting thing and it ends with a reward of the good views.
For those who do not want to tax themselves and go all the way up, the lower fringes within a forest reserve is a beautiful place to enjoy a serene ride among the greenery to the sound of bustling brooks and babbling springs.
A good start point is from the Palazzia complex at Bukit Gambier as en route there are small villages too.
(... see route map) (... see blog)


OR take up the challenge and cycle all the way up to the Carpet, certain stretches can be a bit steep but the quiet route through a secondary forest is very rewarding.
(... see route map) (... see blog)
For those who want a real hilly challenge, ride all the way up to Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera), start point is from the entrance to the Penang Botanical Gardens (..... see map).

7. PEARL HILL
Pearl Hill is a pearl within the PEARL OF THE ORIENT. It's a small hill at north-east part of the island, easy to get to and gives a good climb on a medium distance stretch. One can make it as part of the North Coast Ride (#4 above), or just start from somewhere in Tanjung Bungah (eg. the Mutiara Food Court).
Right up at the top is the Datuk Kong Temple (珍珠山大伯公) which has a location that affords good views of the coastal city-scape on one side and the sandy beaches on the other side. The hill's strategic position was so important that during the Second World War the Japanese built bunkers along it's slopes; take a hike around and one will be able to discover these bunkers.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

8. THE BUTTERWORTH OUTER RING ROAD (BORR)
Start from the Raja Uda Ferry Terminal on the island side and bring your bicycles along for a Penang ferry ride across the sea to Butterworth.
On arriving at the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal on the Butterworth side, ride up the ramps leading away from the terminal. From there is a great view of the port with ships moored at the harbour. Then head outwards along the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) that hugs the coastline. One will pass by large container areas and with views of the gigantic yellow container cranes. Traffic is light here, but do watch out for motorcycles who go contra-traffic.
A good via point, is the Pantai Bersih R&R, for some drinks or seafood while having a good view of the sea with Penang Island on the other side. The peak point for this ride can be the Tow Boo Kong Temple at ,with it's magnificent entrance archway, before turning back.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

9. GUAR PETAI
Guar Petai was a former quarry, stones from the hills were mined and clay from the pools were excavated for a nearby brick factory. This quarrying and mining activity surprisingly had not marred nature but in fact had unintentionally left pools of clear emerald-blue water, turning the place into one of the most beautiful spots here.
One can start from Butterworth or Bukit Mertajam OR just continue onward from the BORR trail. Along the way are scenes of streams surrounded by green or golden padi fields.
The final stretch is a short off-road track passing the brick factory before reaching a reddish alien-looking landscape which is Guar Petai. Take some time to hike a short distance up the red hillocks for a good view of the emerald pools set amidst green foliage.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

10. GERTAK SANGGUL
Gertak Sanggul is located at the remote south-western corner of Penang Island. Presently it's an off-the-radar place which makes it a nice solitude place for some peace. There's a nice short stretch of beach with wooden boating piers sticking outward to the sea. And nearby is the Hai Boey Seafood Restuarant (海尾海鲜), an appropriate name as Hai Boey means Sea's End in the local Penang Hokkien.


Start off from Queensbay and ride towards Bayan Lepas, if one is lucky one will catch sight of a plane approaching to land at the far end runway of the Penang International Airport. At Teluk Kumbar town, taking a left will lead away from the bustling roads onto a quiet road leading to Gertak Sanggul. The hard-core, can take the road at the far end, it leads to the outskirts of Balik Pulau on the other side of the hill - use a mountain bike for this as many stretches are steep and off-road.
(... see route map) (... see blog)

To see other interesting cycling trails in Penang, click here.
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