The western and south western part of Penang with Balik Pulau and Pulau Betong hold quite a few treasures. Seldom visited by the mainstream tourists, this part of Penang is surprisingly local and remote.
While the mainstream tourists enjoy themselves in Georgetown (Armenian Quarter) for the fantastic heritage or at Batu Ferringhi, an occasional visitor makes the effort to visit the Tropical Spice Garden, Butterfly Park in Penang or Teluk Bahang.
The southern areas of Penang are usually forgotten. And, to my shame, that included me, until now!
Balik Pulau is located in a surprisingly rural area with padifields and typical Malay houses, unique for Malaysia.
The name of town means literally "back of the island" which makes sense as it is "behind" the hills. It's a widespread town with few buildings higher then a few floors.
In Penang Balik Pulau is famous for the durian, a favorite fruit for almost all Malaysians. Around town there are several belachan (belacan) factories.
Belachan drying in the kampungs of Balik Pulau
Belachan is made from fermented shrimps, then , sun dried and cut into rectangular blocks. The purpose is to use in dishes like curries and sauces. It has a strong smell which many Westerners do not appreciate but it is essential in many dishes.
When you get out of town, you might see the belachan drying in the sun. It doesn't look too exciting but trust me, it is delicious in many dishes.
The town center has two famous Laksa shops. Although laksa is by many (including me) associated with "spicy", the laksa lemak offered in these shops is smooth. The soup is thick and almost creamy.
According to some locals including our real estate agent Mr. Yeoh, the laksa lemak served in both of these shops are the best to get in Penang. And although I do not pretend to know all the laksa places in Penang, this laksa was amazing. And apparently I am not the only one, even at 3pm it was still jam-packed!
One of the two famous laksa lemak food stalls in Balik Pulau
The town is has a typical kampong atmosphere and still all the facilities you possibly want are available with a bank, post office, market, supermarkets, food stalls and bus station. The feel however is as if being in a totally different part of Malaysia, only 30km or so from Georgetown.
Typical traditional Malay houses
At the far south of Penang, following a remote little rolling road lies a small beach and Kampung Pasir Panjiang. The island Pulau Betong is nearby too.
Pulau Betong at the west coast of Penang
The beach at Kampung Pasir Panjiang is remote, no public transport reaches the beach through a small and hilly road with here and there some spectacular views towards Pulau Betong. It's a truly beautiful and hardly touched area.
The beach is small, it is directed south and when I visited it was clean and good for swimming, including with little kids.
The Tsunami of Christmas 2004 was mostly felt in this area of Penang. It was mostly in north and west Penang the tsunami made casualties and ravaged the land. Here too some people died in the rising of the water mass.
Getting there and away
In fact, it is all remarkable close to Georgetown, but it's not that easy to travel to without your own transport. If you don't have your own transport, take the bus, there are regular buses from Komtar and Nibong bus station
There are three main roads connecting George Town with the south west part of Penang
- Follow the motorway in the direction of the airport. Take the junction to Balik Pulau in Bayan Lapas using the P11 and P14
- Alternatively you can go further south to the airport and follow the southern road (#6) over the southern part of the Penang hills to Balik Pulau.
- A much nicer alternative is to take the road to Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. Follow directions for road #6 to the Teluk Bahang Dam and through the hills into the lowlands of Balik Pulau.
For those who love a real treat, get a bicycle and cycle all along the island, the whole loop is about 65 km.
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