Hiking Trails of Penang Island

Its been a long time that I’ve wanted to make a trail map of the trails in Penang Island. From the time I began using a GPS device (my phone app, Sports Tracker) in 2011, I’ve been constantly tracking the various trails we have on the island. By no means would I say this is a complete map but this is the closest I have gotten in my 13 year hiking journey (I’ve been hiking since I was 12)!

If Penang were to be compared with the other cities in Malaysia, I can very confidently say we are the hiking capital of Malaysia!
Here is a rough picture of the trails we have in Penang. I hope to complete more in the days to come and make this map a lot more colourful!

Trails of Penang Island

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Penang’s Voodoo Lily (Armophophallus prainii, കാട് ചേന)

On a recent hike in the greater Penang Hill region, I stumbled upon rather alien looking plant. A long tongue sticking out of a lily like vase. A whole clump of about a dozen of them in full bloom!  On a quick internet search and a tip from my friend Peter, I was  found out that it was the Voodoo Lily (Armophophallus prainii). Not too sure how common they are in Penang, but this was my first time seeing them in about 13 years hiking the hills of Penang! They are related to a more well known cash crop, the Elephant Foot Yam (ചേന) which is a tropical tuber crop grown across South Asia.

It is not often that you come across something as alien as this, so enjoy the photo of these uniquely shaped flowers.

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Don’t normally take photos with flowers, but when I do, its a Voodoo Lily!

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PART 2: Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment?

This post will be a continuation of the last post, Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment? and it will explore the ever increasing threat of encroachment in Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve’s southern end. Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve is a forest reserves in  the central hills of Penang.  When the Tun Sardon Road was built, it  cut through  this forest reserve,effectively slicing it into two separate chunks, the bigger northern tract of the  forest reserve and the smaller southern tract which has been badly fragmented. In today’s post we will be exploring a small part of the northern edge and the southern chunk of the forest reserve.

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A google earth image of the forest reserve, with Jalan Tun Sardon slicing across it. The red pin points show the places where active clearing or tree felling is currently happening.

Most people often stop by Anjung Indah to get fresh air or to buy durians before heading down to Balik Pulau or to Relau. However most don’t realize that one of Penang’s most embattled forest reserves is at either side of this pit stop. If we were to walk up the slope behind the Anjung Indah carpark and the Thai Restaurant, and further into the forest reserve you would probably see that clearing had come up right to the forest reserve edge about 6-7 years ago (adjacent land is privately owned).

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Hillside clearing which happened 6-7 years ago right at the forest reserve boundary. Trees perched precariously above the steep slope.

Further in a small section of the slope within the forest reserve has collapsed. This area was clear cut 6-7 years ago when a path was made through the forest before works came to a halt. Land clearing activities in this side of the slope has been dormant for the last 5 years, however the slope has yet to recover and stabilize fully.

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Part of the slope which caved in, at the periphery of the forest reserve

Moving on to the southern section of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve, one can notice that this area is now a hotbed of clearing activity,both legal and illegal. Improper demarcation of land boundaries has meant that parts of the fragmented southern tract of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve has been heavily encroached upon.

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A signpost indicating the southern part of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve.

If you were to cross the Tun Sardon road from Anjung Indah  and walk into the southern half of the forest reserve, you will  walk on a wide cement trail and pass a maze of fragmented forests and farms. Forestry Department signposts have been left idle while the surrounding forests have been cleared out.

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Forest reserve boundary,showing the border between a private piece of land (indicated by the gate) and what was supposed to be a forest reserve. However the forest which was supposed to be on the right side is long gone.

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Evidence of agricultural activity in Forest Reserve land. Rehabilitation or encroachment?

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Even Forest Reserve signs have fallen to the ground.

Going on straight from this area and climbing up the road which goes gently up the  Bukit Pondok Upeh  slope, one would also notice that small pockets of the forests have been cleared to plant ginger. This small farm which would only be about 1-2 years old, was seen further up along the trail. Tree stumps from clearing activity are still very apparent in this patch.

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About two years ago this small patch was a secondary forest, now a new ginger farm has sprung up in this area.

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All that remains of the forest in this patch are the stumps of trees which were felled to make way for the ginger farm. Ginger fetches a good price in the markets below and thus it is no surprise why they are being cultivated with increasing intensity.

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New ginger farms have replaced the forest.

Ever increasing farming is an increasing threat to our shrinking forests. Will we let this forest reserve fade away from memory?

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This picture sums up Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve today. A forest  being squeezed out of existence.

Bukit Relau a.k.a Botak Hill: Destruction

Bukit Relau was the talk of the town in mid 2013. Its bald spot is visible all the way from the Penang Bridge and during a clear day,from the Mainland.So just what happened at the top?
Hopefully, my hike up to the peak today sheds some light.All pictures were taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Camera

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Back in 2012

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As it is now

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Summit covered in fog

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Image         “Botak”ness

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There is still hope.Shoots have started sprouting from the soil 🙂

Hike:Bukit Relau a.k.a Botak Hill

Bukit Relau a.k.a Botak Hill is one of the lesser peaks in Penang which made a surprise appearance on the front pages of local dailies when its top and eastern slopes were indiscriminately cleared in 2013. While its peak stands at around 413 meters,5 meters shorter than its nearest neighbor Bukit Kukus,it is still a challenge climbing this hill as its slopes are steep and at places around 40-60 degrees!

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Bukit Relau Trail Map. This map does not show the current scenario where the top is bald though.
4.00KM up to summit,1.5 Hours.

Any of you who might be interested in trying this hill out,please make sure you are “well versed” in following Hash trails which might have abrupt ups and downs and not forgetting points where you gotta do trail blazing too!

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Bukit Relau covered in fog

The trail starts in the relatively new township of Bukit Gambir.Most people know it as the place where there is a small shrine/ “Tokong” on the hill.

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Bukit Gambir township

If you are coming from Bukit Jambul you’ll be able to see Ashley Green bungalows on  your left.Take the left turning after Ashley Green and continue your way up till you come to a small mosque.Before the mosque there should be a road leading up the hill.This is the starting point.Park your car here.

Walk up this road for around 10 minutes before you come to a junction.To the left an unpaved road goes into the bush while to the right the cement road leads up to the temple. Take the left turning and continue for another 5 minutes before you hit yet another junction. At this point there should be a marked signboard with the words “TUA PEK KONG”.

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Follow this signboard.

Follow this turning up and within 13-15 minutes you should be standing in front of a Horse Farm which apparently has more dogs than horses 😛

The real jungle trail up the Bukit Relau slope should start 1-2 minutes from this point. Continue straight ahead after the horse farm along the paved path keeping an eye to the left for any Hash markers. At around KM 2.50 from the start there should be a Hash trail going off to the left. There will also be many bamboo trees at this place.

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The jungle trail head.While markers are not visible in the picture,it should be visible when you walk by.

Take this turn,cross the stream and continue along this trail. The first five minutes after taking this trail you’ll pass through a small patch of bamboo forest which I would like to call the “The Relau Bambooseum”. Do tread carefully along this patch as it is well known that Bamboo groves are home to our not so approachable slithery friends!

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“The Relau Bambooseum”

After passing through the “Relau Bambooseum” you’ll have to take a right turn which leads you to a small steep slope.Climb over it and continue along the marked trail for another 30-40 minutes before you reach the Relau summit range.
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Looks like a salt lick,any idea?

Take note that at certain points along this trail,the path thins out and you’ll be required to do some trail blazing too. When you finally arrive at the Relau Summit range take the left turning and within 5-10 minutes you’ll be at the edge of the “Botak Hill” clearing.

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At the summit range.Take a left to get to the Botak Hill patch

From here it takes you a 10 minute uphill walk to reach the Bukit Relau Summit.Follow my next post to see the real scale of deforestation in Bukit Relau. Anyways Happy Hiking!

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Botak hill Patch.Continue walking along the trail to reach the summit

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Views from the deforested Relau Peak.

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360 shot from the deforested summit range.
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