You see, beyond the glitzy fame and glittering fortune of Georgetown and the multitude of land reclamation, premium condos and commercial development along the shores of Penang, lies a dormant town named Balik Pulau. A countryside landscape so breathtaking, this could be the last green lung left before this small island becomes a 100% concrete jungle.
This is the first chapter in the Penang travel series that I hope to conclude before the year ends. Stay with me, and let's start by wandering into the charming world of Balik Pulau …
The main T-junction of Balik Pulau that connects Jalan Tun Sardon and Jalan Balik Pulau, where you can find Nan Guang coffee shop that is famous for the Balik Pulau asam laksa.
Young and old, lovers and haters. Everyone comes to Nan Guang for the Asam laksa (or the Siamese laksa, but on a lesser scale), washed down with an icy glass of nutmeg juice with sour plum.
The Nutmeg Juice @ Nan Guang and the trader capitalizing on the crowd; durians for desserts after the satisfying bowl of laksa, anyone?
It took us a good 40 minutes or so to travel from the Penang bridge exit to Balik Pulau for the asam laksa. Although slightly less than 30km in distance, the traffic around Bayan Lepas and Paya Terubong, the convoluted path of Jalan Paya Terubong-Jalan Tun Sardon and the hilly hike along a one lane road took its toll on the estimated time of arrival.
But this was a holiday. And nobody's supposed to rush like the rats that we are during peak hours in KL city.
Classic hair salons, barbers, fresh tropical fruits by the roadside and the seller deep in concentration – skilfully cracking open a durian.
Balik Pulau wet market; beside Nan Guang along the main road. You can also find a mobile stall selling soya bean drinks and 'tau fu fah' (sweetened soya bean curd) in front of the market.
I won't hide the fact that I have been avoiding asam laksa like the plague since probably, a decade ago. It was a terribly horrific experience from one asam laksa stall in Ipoh that got me turning upside down; the 180 degrees shift from a lover to a hater.
And 10 years later, here I am casually enjoying my bowl of asam laksa in Balik Pulau; generously loaded with more than a handful flakes of fish, julienned cucumber, mint leaves and a spoonful of pungent shrimp paste. The soup was spiked with a balanced tinge of tamarind juice and chili paste, while the rice noodles reminded me of Kuala Kangsar Pak Ngah's; less translucent with more rice flour than fillers.
The laksa soup was not spicy (at least to me), and very palatable. I simply cannot recall the taste of the other famous one in Ayer Itam wet market, but this shop is definitely a much cleaner premise compared to Ayer Itam's.
Chuan Heong also serves Balik Pulau Asam Laksa, with a legion of fans of their own. Yet, not as popular as Nan Guang as most loyalists believe that the latter's the original version. (However, stories about how Nan Guang's current owner took over the recipe and stall from the actual maestro came up in this post)
That being said, if you are in Penang for a short trip; say, lesser than 3 days, 2 nights, I would suggest for you to try Ayer Itam's version instead. Or the one at Joo Hooi on Penang Road, so you can enjoy the famous cendol as well.
But if you have the time to spare, or are trying to stay away from maddening crowd posing with graffitis and steel sculptures in the heart of town, then consider going west.
Discover the West coast of the island, where you will find lush greenery still maintaining their lustre and charm. Balik Pulau, Teluk Bahang and ultimately Batu Ferringhi are good spots to capitalize on without ruining a perfectly planned Penang journey.
Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Balik Pulau
Xuan Wu Temple @ Balik Pulau, Penang
After all, Penang's not exactly your idea of a gargantuan-sized island. Like how we did dozens of food stops and various tourist haunts along the way, covering almost 360 degrees around the island yet with ample time to spare to laze by the sandy beaches and watch sunset from the Batu Ferringhi beach. And from our hotel room's balcony.
More on that to come in the following chapters.
For the entire of next week, Motormouth will away on his last traveling stint this year.
Destination? Where a lot of pork and beef dishes thrive, and a certain half-formed duck egg's supposed to be an iconic food item indigenous to the country. Happy holidays to those on the roads, and remember to EAT well!
BALIK PULAU ASAM LAKSA @ NAN GUANG
67, Jalan Balik Pulau,
11000 Balik Pulau, Penang
Click here for the Google Map for this Penang trip (updating)
GPS Coordinates : 5.352207,100.235834