Hike: Bukit Zizai Trail

TRAIL GUIDE
Duration : 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes
Length : 2.3 km (Uphill most of the trail)

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Bukit Lang or now more commonly known as Bukit Zi Zai is one of the lesser known hills in the island. Before the trail to Bukit Zi Zai was upgraded by YB Teh Yee Cheu and the local residents in 2015, most people only knew this hill as the hill on which Teik Quarry is, a huge quarry which has defaced the western slope of the hill. Amongst the adventurous hiking circles, this hill was known for the “haunted house”, a dilapidated century old house at the top of the hill which looked eerily haunting before it was spruced up. Today, a good trail winds its way up Bukit Lang/Zi Zai from the Tanjung Bungah area, making access to this once remote and isolated place all the more easier.

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The “Haunted House” or now known as the Bukit Zi Zai Lodge. It has been given a new coat of paint and has undergone minor repairs ever since the trail was spruced up in 2015.

To get to the starting point of this trail, one has to come into Jalan Lembah Permai which can be accessed from the Tanjung Bungah coast or the hilly and winding Guilemard Reservoir road from Pepper Estate. Once you are along this road, lookout for the Tenby School (Tanjung Bungah Branch) and turn into Lintang Lembah Permai 1, which is the road in front of it (If you are coming from Pepper Estate, you will be turning left at the traffic light in front of Tenby).

Keep going for about 500 meters straight along this road. At this point you will notice that the road takes a bend to the left and continues to TAR College Penang. Do not take the bend but turn right instead,and continue for about 300 meters till the end of the road. At this point you will notice that the road hits a dead end and a signpost in front of two rocks greets you to Zi Zai Lodge. This is the trail head.

 

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Getting to Bukit Zizai Trail Head

This trail head is not just the trail up to Bukit Zizai but also a connecting trail which leads you to the Botanical Gardens, Penang Hill,Western Hill,Batu Ferringgi and Mount Erskine . The signpost at the start does depict that quite vividly.

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A welcoming signpost to all hikers.

From the starting point continue up for about 1 minute before you come to a junction where you notice a huge rock right in front with a painted arrow pointing left. Take the left junction and you will soon be bashing your way through some grass into a small stream at the edge of the forest. Cross this stream and you’ll notice that the trail takes an upward fork and continues up the hill slope. Continue along this trail, uphill. The trail is dotted with DAP flags which have been stapled to the trees as markers.

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DAP everywhere!

Continuing for about another 30 minutes, you will come to a small rock ledge which has been named the “Peace Ledge”. From the “Peace Ledge” you’ll be able to get a glimpse of Tanjung Bungah through a small opening in the forest. Take a short rest here, as you are only half way through the trail.

 

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Looking into a different world.

Continuing along the trail, it continues upward and comes to another junction in 1 to 2 minutes. At this junction, you have the option of going to “Living Waters”, a small stream along the slope about 10 minutes from this point, or continue upward with our Bukit Zi Zai trail.

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Thick forest along the trail.

The trails continues upward in a similar fashion for another 30 minutes, leveling at a few parts but generally, steep.
Here, you will come to another junction where the left fork leads you to the “Bolster Rock” , an oblong rock, 30 meters away, which supposedly has the shape of a bolster.

 

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Bolster Rock Junction.

Take the main trail (right fork) which continues upward. Within 10 to 15 minutes you will be at the Zizai Lodge, which is our destination. Take a good rest here and check out the century old bunglow which has been spruced up but has retained a few of its age old relics among which is a beautiful altar and a table. You have the option of continuing up to Penang Hill along the trail to the right of the house entrance (which is another 2 hour 30 minutes away) or continuing the same way downhill. Happy Hiking!

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The Zi Zai Lodge.

 

 

Hike: Bukit Penara, the Center of Penang

Bukit Penara is an easy Two and a half hour hike you can do on a busy weekend. Standing at 561 meters above sea level, this unassuming and trapezoidal looking hill has a checkered history which has shaped many events in Penang. Not only that, if an “X” is drawn across Penang’s map,Bukit Penara comes almost at the middle of this “X” making it the geometric center of the island.

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Bukit Penara view from Bukit Relau,

It was the strategic base of the Malayan Communist Party in Penang, but the days of Malayan communism have all but faded. What remains is the farms and historic temples which dot the hillside. Its on Bukit Penara’s slopes that what is reputably the largest Buddhist temple in Penang, Kek Lok Si stands majestically with the imposing Kuan Yin statue watching over Air Itam. Today, due to its strategic location,it is the site of three communications towers which can be seen clearly from Air Itam,Balik Pulau and Penang Hill.

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Ayer Itam to Bukit Relau Trail Map.

There are many paths up to Bukit Penara but in this blog post we will be looking at the one which starts near the Kek Lok Si Temple. The trail up to Bukit Penara starts at the same place where the Tiger Hill trail starts from and only parts off after reaching the Air Itam Dam . This post assumes thay you already know your way up to the Air Itam Dam. If you don’t please refer to my older blogpost  Ayer Itam to Tiger hill to get the directions (https://rexymizrah.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/ayer-itam-to-tiger-hill/).Reaching Air Itam Dam you will be able to see a panoramic view of the dam,and the hills beyond. The taller hills to your right constitute the Penang Hills complex while on the left beyond the dam,you see a small,densely forested hill. This is Bukit Penara.
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Bukit Penara, visible across the other side of the dam.

Take the straight path which goes to the right,in the direction of  Bukit Penara. As you do so,you will be walking across the dam to the other side where there is a carpark. At the other side walk up to the carpark and within two minutes you will see a junction with a road on the left winding up the hillslope and another to the right circumventing the dam. The road which goes left leads you up Bukit Penara but we will be using this only on our descent (You always have the option of walking this way up too.)

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An Interesting find near the Air Itam Dam.

Take the right path and continue along it for about 13-15 minutes before you hit another junction where you will be able to see a small well kept motorbike path on your right winding its way through the dense forest. Take this turning and continue up along the cement road for 15 minutes before you come to a Chinese temple.Continue heading straight ahead after the temple and within 2 minutes you should come to a small rest shed. Take a short rest here. At the shed the path branches out in 4 different directions. The one in front of you leads you down to Balik Pulau, the one on your right leads you up to a Chinese Temple,the one behind you leads you back the way you came and the one on your left which might be a bit overgrown leads you up along an old farmer’s trail to Bukit Penara. Take the left turning and make your way through the dense undergrowth.

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Path through the farm.

While it may be overgrown, patches of cement on the ground tell you that you are going along the right path. Continue along this path and you will come to a small farm. Here the path is easier to follow. Always keep to the path which circumvents the farm at the edge of the forest. You will be able to see how the farms keep expanding and are already at the edge of the Bukit Penara Forest reserve. Let us hope no further encroachments happen.20141206_105106
Cleared land right up to the edge of the Forest Reserve.How long before the Forest Reserve itself is encroached?

The trail takes you at the edge of the forest and you will be able to see a spectacular view of Penang’s Southwestern Coast  and parts of Balik Pulau.

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A beautiful view along the way.

In another 12 minutes you will see that the path enters the forest again. Keep following the path and stop when you come to a Forestry signboard highlighting the Do’s and Don’t’s inside a Forest Reserve. This place is overgrown with young ginger shrubs,but look carefully and you will be able to see two paths winding off from this point, one winds off to your right going in an upward direction following the forest fringe, while the straight path goes deeper into the forest. Follow the straight path.
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At this signboard take the straight path.

The straight path is a jungle trail which connects up to the Bukit Penara service road. Continue along this trail for the next 9-10 minutes and you will hit the Bukit Penara Service Road. At this point you will see a path across the road which leads to the 150 year old Cheng Yee Chan Temple while the service road winds its way up to the Bukit Penara Peak.

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Junction to Cheng Yee Chan Temple.

Follow the road up and within the next 12-15 minutes you should be at the top of Bukit Penara.
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Communications towers atop Bukit Penara.

As you wind your way up you will be able to see three communications towers. You’ll know that you reached the peak when the road ends at the TM Bukit Penara Station. Do not enter the Communications Stations unless you have permission to do so.

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TM Station at Bukit Penara Peak.

On your way down you have two options, either to follow the earlier mentioned route or the easier walk down along the Bukit Penara Service Road. The walk down along the Service Road will take about 30 minutes before joining up to the Air Itam Dam carpark. For those who have’nt been to the Cheng Yee Chan temple,seeing this old temple is worth the visit. Just take the earlier mentioned turning and within 6 to 7 minutes you would be at the temple. Shavua Tov!

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Cheng Yee Chan Temple.

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 🙂

Rexy’s Thoughts: Penang Hill Special Area Plan (SAP)

In the last one month Penang Hill has made headlines again. Not for landslides this time though,but instead for a revival of development plans on its slopes which include among many others building a cable car which runs from Botanic Gardens all the way to Teluk Bahang.

While special care has been taken when dishing out this new set of plans to develop Penang Hill under the ecotourism banner, questions remain as to how the implementation of the many projects under this plan will impact the health and continued existence of hills. A recreational spot for thousands of Penangites,we are not willing to see this hill of ours become a barren moonscape.

Anyway the plan is still in its draft stages and for the last few weeks,the Penang State government has taken the proactive step of engaging the public in getting feedback for the implementation of these plans for Penang Hill.

ImageThe Penang Hill Special Area Plan (SAP) draft was up for viewing till the 11th of December 2013 in Komtar and the Penang Hill Lower Station

Well here is my take on two of the more questionable projects under this plan.

1. Proposal for the Construction and Completion of a Cable Car System to Bukit Bendera.

Cable cars are often mooted as a more eco friendly access uphill as compared to service roads. But while its green side may be applauded, there are a few points which require special attention.

a) Supporting Towers.
All cable car systems require supporting towers to carry the weight of each cable cart. Building of supporting towers are said to involve minimal damage to the surrounding eco system but :-

i) Will each supporting tower require a service road to upkeep their maintenance?

This will involve a lot of clearing of vegetation especially along environmentally sensitive ecosystems in parts of the cable car pathway 

ii) Penang Hill slope is very prone to landslides and slips especially along slopes with more than 25 degree inclination. How will the cable car be engineered to overcome this problem?

Lets take the example of the Mat Chinchang cable car in Langkawi. This model cannot be followed here in Penang as it consists of pillars which are directly drilled into the limestone mass of the mountain. Landslides are of a lesser chance in Mat Chinchang as the top soil is thinner than that of Penang Hill which is more of a granitic mass and has thicker top soil. The cable car route from Youth Park and Botanical Gardens would follow an already landslide prone slope and which was hit by 10+ landslides in the month of September 2013 alone.

While the slopes between Teluk Bahang and Penang Hill have little or no history of human induced landslides, they are sharply steeper than the slopes between Botanic Gardens/Youth Park and Penang Hill  with Class 4 slopes (gradients of more than 35 degrees) at many parts. Landslides are a certainty if any concrete structure is built on these slopes, as construction in the forest leaves gaps in the forest floor which are prone to landslide when it rains

ImageProposed route for the cable car consists of 3 separate streches between Penang Hill and Teluk Bahang (8km),Penang Hill and the Botanic Gardens (3km) and Penang Hill and Youth Park (3km)

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Stretch between  Penang Hill and Bukit Laksamana and down to Taman Rimba Telok Bahang.Between Penang Hill and Bukit Laksamana hill slopes drop 250-300 meters steeply. Between Bukit Laksamana and Rimba Telok Bahang,the trail is also a steep drop of 350-400 meters. Part of the last non degraded stretch of rainforest left on Penang Island. Contains Class 4 Slopes

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Part of the visible slope of Penang Hill and serviced by the jeep road and many natureGentle slopes but very prone to landslides. Has Class 4 slopes but lesser than yellow area.

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Landslide at Station 84,located in the Red area

How do you ensure fatal landslides do not occur along the path of cable car in such a landslide prone area?Will the path of the cable car crisscross current nature trails and will the nature trails be affected (i.e. public barred from using the particular trail)?

b) Impact of Cable Car on Biodiversity
Penang Hill’s ecosystem is the one of most well preserved and untouched natural landscape left on the island. Building this cable car network is inevitably going to create gaps in the forest which would be detrimental to the ecosystem and might result in erosion of forest floor soil

i) How many square meters of land will be cleared to make the base of the supporting towers?

 Bigger the base of the supporting tower, the more trees are cleared and more exposed soil.

Image                        The thick forest between Bukit Laksamana and Penang Hill.       

ii)Most cable car paths require vegetation below it to be felled to prevent the cable cart from colliding with the trees. Will this be carried out for the Penang Cable Car? If so, a total of 14KM has to be cleared for the cable car path. How many hectares of forest will need to be cleared for this project? Will it affect environmentally sensitive areas especially near the summit of Penang Hill,Western Hill and Bukit Laksamana?

Image  An example of a cable car path.Note the blue box shows the area where the  vegetation has been cleared for smooth movement of  cable car.

c) Impact of Cable Car on Water Catchment Areas

i) The Cable Car from Botanic Gardens up to Penang Hill will cut through the Waterfall Catchment Area which feeds the reservoir in the Penang Botanic Gardens.

ii)  The stretch of Cable Car from Penang Hill to Teluk Bahang also cuts through two important water catchment areas on the island which are:-

-The stretch between Penang Hill Summit and Bukit Laksamana cuts through the Batu Ferringgi Catchment Area which feeds into the Batu Ferringghi Aquaduct and the Chin Farm Resevoir.

– The stretch between Bukit Laksamana and Teluk Bahang cuts through the catchment area for the Teluk Bahang Dam.

With this in mind, how do you ensure that while the construction of the cable car is carried out, siltation of these important catchment streams does not happen?

What would the implications of a service road to upkeep the Supporting Towers be towards these catchment rivers?

ImagePilling work upstream to build Supporting Towers for the Cable Car may result in siltation of rivers like the on shown which feeds into the Batu Ferringghi Aquaduct.

2. Proposal for the Development and Hiking of Existing Girdle Road and Forest Trails

I would applaud this idea but I would like to remind the authorities that while it has noble intentions to develop forest trails caution needs to be practiced such that the NATURAL CHARACTER of the trails are not disturbed

A few  suggestion on preserving trails include:-

i)Do not cement or tar existing nature trails
Most tourists/hikers love the feel of natural ground below their feet. Tarring or cementing trails only creates a non natural environment and leads to erosion and cutting of slopes. It is also a sore waste of taxpayers’ money to tar/cement  a trail in the jungle, when tourists/hikers come to experience “real” nature

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Cementing of trails is an unnecessary waste of taxpayers money.It also clears alot of vegetation in its path

ii)Markers should be placed at each 10-20 meter intervals along trails.

iii) When nature trails are widened, trees which are along the trail should not be cut down but instead the trail made to skirt around the tree.

Hike:Batu Ferringghi to Teluk Bahang

Distance: 5.2KM

Time: 2.30-3.00 hours 
This trail is one of the more well used trails you could try in the Batu Ferringghi area. It crosses a steep hill ridge and leads you down to the Teluk Bahang Recreational Forest. Although short in distance,you gotta be prepared for the steep ascents and decent along the trail.

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Trail Map courtesy of my new Garmin Forerunner 405.

The starting point for this trail is opposite the Bayview Beach Resort.As you pass Bayview (heading on the road toward Teluk Bahang),you’ll notice an Indian Eatery and  beside it a small path going away into the bush.

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Along the trail you’ll be able to get glimpses of the majestic Bukit Laksamana

Park your car here and take this unpaved path and in 5 minutes you’ll come across a junction.The path that goes straight leads you to the once famous Chin Farm Waterfall while the right fork continues up along our trail.

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Hills of Northern Penang. Steep,untamed and wild!

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Chin Farm Waterfall,once a tourist spot in Penang,today relatively unknown to many.

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At the junction you’ll see a path diverging off to the right.Take this turn.

In 5 minutes of taking this turn you will come to yet another junction.Take the left turn and continue beside the river till you come across a huge water tower.

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Chin Farm Water Tower.

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Forestry Department has done a good job in erecting a signboard along the trail.

After the watertower the trail is quite clear and well marked.Continue on,passing a river and finally you’ll be standing in front of the grand Batu Ferringghi Resevoir.

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You’ll be surprised as to what you’ll find along the way.

 You could take a short rest here,as the rest of the trail meanders through thick jungle after this point.

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The still waters of the Batu Ferringghi Resevoir

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Batu Ferringghi Resevoir. Follow the arrow down.

At the reservoir,you’ll see a small arrow pointing down towards the dried river bed. Go down this path and cross over to the other side.Be careful as the stones might be slippery!

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Looking up to the dam from the dried river bed.

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Dam Overflow

As you come to the other side you’ll see yet another signboard which leads to a clear path  into the forest.Brace yourself as the path might be really steep and requires some effort. After 40-50 minutes of climbing you’ll come to Rain Gauge 15.Continue another 15-20 minutes and you’ll be at a junction with a signboard.The trail ahead continues up ahead while another leads steeply down on your right.It is marked as “Simpang 4”.Follow this downward branch.

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Take “Simpang 4”

It will take another 1-1.15 hours of steep descent before you finally come to the Teluk Bahang Recreational Park. At all junctions after the signboard on the hill,be sure to take the “Simpang 4” turning.

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Part of this trail is called “Denai Permatang”.

Along the way,look out for the viewpoint where the Foresty Department has built a watchtower looking down at the idyllic township of Teluk Bahang. On reaching Teluk Bahang Recreational Park,you could either take a taxi from the Butterly Farm or walk to Teluk Bahang town and take a bus back to Batu Ferringghi. Happy Hiking!!

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Teluk Bahang

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Finishing Point.

Botanical Gardens to the Old Crag Hotel

Not many are familiar with the Old Crag Hotel on Penang Hill.It was built in the 1890’s by  well known Armenian hoteliers,The Sarkies.Today it stands derelict,crumbling in the sands of time.Even though its a mere shadow of its former glory, its still remains a sight to behold

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The Old Crag Hotel,opened its doors in 1895.Today it continues to stand albeit weathered by the elements

There are a few ways to reach the Crag Hotel.The trail we are using is a moderately hard trail which goes up the northern ridge of Penang Hill and cuts into the Crag Hotel Area.

The trail starts at the well known Point 46 trail inside the Penang Botanical Gardens.For those of you who may not be familar,at the Botanic Garden Gate take the road which leads straight into the garden followed by a left turn.Continue uphill and you’ll soon see the trail head on your left.

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Trail Map

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Starting Point

Hike up this trail and soon you’ll be at a leveled area within 15-20 minutes.We decided to break for a short rest here,as we were exhausted after the steps up to this point.

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Continue right and follow the path straight into the Water Catchment Area.You’ll hear the sound of gushing water as you approach this area.Continue along this trail into the restricted area(Jangan Cemar Ayaq kat sini tau!!Nanti Kena Tangkap plak!!) and you’ll meet a river in two minutes.

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Cross over it and continue going on for 5-10 minutes and you’ll come to a junction.Along the way,you’ll pass an overgrown rain gauge too.At the junction take the left turn.

ImageIts steep uphill and most of the way there is little tree cover.Brace yourself for the heat.

In 10-15 minutes you’ll come up to a rain gauge, Rain gauge 3 to be precise.Take a short rest here and continue on.Image

In another 15 minutes you’ll come to the next rain gauge, Rain gauge 4.If you haven’t taken a rest along the way,be sure to take a rest here,as the path continues uphill after this rain gauge.After Rain gauge 4.Its almost 45 minutes to 1 hour to the next rain gauge.Terrain can be tough for some so do rest along the way if you feel like doing so.

ImageWithin 10-20 minutes leaving Rain gauge 4 you’ll come across a junction with a turning forking off to the right and another going straight ahead.ImageTake the trail straight ahead.The path which goes right leads you down to Tanjung Bungah and along the way you’ll see an interesting abandoned house. The story of the house recently caught the attention of the press.To know more,do follow this link,http://thestar.com.my/news/story.aspfile=/2013/1/13/nation/12570647&sec=nation

Anyway back to our trail.Continue on straight and you’ll come to Raingauge 9.We were planning to break for lunch at rain gauge 9 but we decided instead that we’ll have a small snack and continue on to Penang Hill.Penang Hill may seem very near from here,but infact its still an hour away.Image

At rain gauge 9,you’ll notice two paths.One goes down to the left and another goes straight ahead.Take the left turn and continue down.Within 30-40 minutes you’ll be at the bottom of the small,damp valley.Image

Be sure not to spend too much time here as this is “leach territory”. An army of leaches are waiting round the clock to pounce on you and attack you 🙂 Oh well,we tried our best to go fast but even then,these little slimy creatures soon found their way and stuck like sticky tapes to our body.

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Back to the trail.At the bottom of the valley you’ll notice a small rocky outcrop with an underground stream gushing underneath it.Cross over these rocks and continue up.Within 20-30 minutes you should be standing at a drain just below the Crag Hotel.Take the right turn at the drain and you’ll be able to come up to the Crag Hotel.

Be sure to spend a few minutes to appreciate this beauty as it slowly fades into the annals of history.

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Hike:Sungai Ara To Malihom

   Sungai Ara-Relau hills are mostly privately owned farms and orchards with little natural character remaining  but still it is an interesting and pleasant hike to do. (especially so if you’ve never ventured to this part of Penang) I went for this hike with the Anak Hutan Hiking group.

   We started from a small cement road leading away right after the Sungai Ara Muniswaran Temple.If you are coming from the main Sungai Ara Road turn right after Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sungai Ara (opposite Fisherman’s Grill).Go up straight along the road and you’ll see the temple on your right. (The trail is just beside it)

ImageTrail head is at the “Start”

The trail basicly meanders through orchards and for the first half an hour or so you’ll be walking just beside the lesser known Sungai Ara waterfall stream. (Looks tempting for a dip!)

 Soon you will come to a junction with a small shed.Take a short rest here and continue along the left fork.As you keep going,the trail becomes more and more uphill. (still manageable-lah)

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A house along the way up.

A word of caution-keep watch for cyclist coming downhill. (You don’t wanna be hit by one of them!!)

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  Map of the whole trail.

The trail is great for fruit lovers as you’ll be seeing many fruit trees along the way.(but no plucking!!) Langsat,manggis,rambutans,durians,nutmegs,passion fruit and lime just to name a few.

ImageA strange fruit along the way.Anyone can help me identify this?

ImageFor my Malayalee readers out there,I’m sure you know what this is!!Nellikka (നെല്ലിക്ക)!!

After about 1 hour 30 minutes along this trail,you’ll come to the top of a small ridge.From here the trail seems to meander down into the valley below.There will be a view of the Balik Pulau-Pulau Betong area from here.

ImagePenang’s Southern Hills.Bukit Genting,Bukit Gemuruh and Bukit Pulau Betong.

ImageView of Pulau Betong and the Straits of Malacca.

Follow the trail down.5-10 minutes after following this trail downhill you will abruptly come across a cement covered drain along the trail.Follow this.It will lead you to a well maintained cement road which leads up to Malihom. 5-10 minutes along this road with excellent views of Bukit Genting and the Pulau Betong coast,you will come to the Malihom resort entrance.(For more on Malihom please do visit their website – http://malihom.com/)

ImageAt the Malihom Entrance.

ImageAnak Hutan group.Taking a break for lunch near Malihom.

Malihom is a private estate,so hikers please don’t trespass into the compound unintentionally or make too much noise.Once you’ve enjoyed your rest at the Malihom entrance you’ve got a choice either to follow the same way down or to follow the cement road down to the new Teluk Kumbar-Balik Pulau Road. Happy hiking 🙂