Georgetown is perennially packed, almost every famous spot would test your patience in the beeline.
Therefore, for those seeking a slower pace of life and get closer to untouched nature, head over to Balik Pulau, a southwest part of the island.
Literally translates as “the back of the island” with approximately 17,000 hectares of land, predominantly blanketed by lush greenery, sheaths of paddy fields and rolling hills, it has all the ingredients for a getaway from the city life.
Once you’re done drilling down the list, durians are not longer the first image that comes to your mind when you think of Balik Pulau.
1) Explore The Town Center And Nearby Landmarks
Balik Pulau isn't all boondocks though. The town center, or more endearingly known as Kongsi - which means “to share” in Malay, embodies an image of rural charm. Long ago, people of all races mostly worked in surrounding plantations and stayed together in communal timber longhouses, hence the name.
Days can be spent scouring its streets in search of ferment fruits, local cakes, spices and dry goods, as well as heritage buildings such as antique shophouses and an old empty wet market, built in 1904.
For those needing a new Instagramable spot, check out the massive wall murals by Julia Volchkova
, which lends an enigmatic charm to the humble buildings.
Spiritual sanctuaries are a fascinating testament to the multicultural makeover - Masjid Daerah
is attractively assembled with Middle Eastern architecture, fronting large paddy fields is the recently revamped Sri Manalmedu Muthu Mariamman Temple
, Xuan Wu Chinese Temple
, built in 1800, sits behind the St. George’s School
and Church Of The Holy Name Of Jesus
is a colonial-style church at the heart of the town.
Gently swaying, green-and-yellow shaded rice paddy fields
are a dominant part of the scenery here. But watching is only half the fun.
Let your hair down, kick off your shoes and meander around the unpretentious land, rub shoulders with farmers and acknowledge the sheer effort put in.
2) Tropical Fruit Feast Like Never Before
It’s no secret that Balik Pulau is home to delectable durians
, and between May to August, the orchards are a tourist drawcard. These highly-raved fruits are never short of variety, each boasting distinctive taste and smell. So much so, tours and activities are organised for durian devotees.
Among the reputable names are Lim Brothers Farm
and FCS Durian Orchard
. The former also sells sticky-sweet durian kuihs while the latter has an eye-catching wooden opener that could open a durian in less than 30 seconds.
Leave some stomach space for other tropical fruits like cempedak, duku langsat, petai, machang, longkong and ciku. Relish your fruit feast under a canopy of lofty trees, being blown by cool breeze and listening to soundtracks of chirping birds and rustling of leaves.
Heavyhearted to leave? Some orchard owners also provide homestays for reasonable rates.
Moreover, check out nutmeg and clove trees midst the hills, which bear fruits in July and between November and January.
3) Meet And Greet New Farm Friends
Balik Pulau’s diversity is hardly limited to fruits. Looking at the blissful blend of dense jungles and emerald hills, you sure know flora and fauna are part of the play too.
Saanen Dairy Goat Farm
is where gleeful goats become your best friend. Entrance and the grass to feed the goats are free of charge. However, it’s not all about patting and pampering the goats, who watches you as intently as you watch them, since visitors will be exposed from milking till distribution process.
Check out their ice cream, yogurt, feta, goat’s cheese and pudding made from fresh milk. At times, kids-loving events like DIY goat’s milk soap and frying milk doughnut are organised too. If it weren’t for the fence and amiable owner, you’ll be tempted to snatch one meh-meh
cutie back home.
If goats are not up your alley, the next stop will unleash your inner Zorro. Nestled in the heart of Sungai Burung, an agriculture area, Countryside Stables Penang
permits both adults and children to enjoy horse and pony riding.
There are a variety of horse breeds such as Polo Pony, Pure Bred Arabian Horses, Thai, Myanmar and Malaysian Ponies, along with a few donkeys and deer. This place bears a unique scenic appeal since its encircled by picture-perfect landscapes.
More a floral person? Visit Audi Dream Farm
, which hosts a visually-stimulating collection of flowers and range of birds and fishes.
4) Flex Your Muscles With A Dose Of Adventure
Bicycle tours are popular in Balik Pulau. What better joy than passing by calm plantations, mangrove swamps, countryside houses on a network of labyrinth routes while inhaling fresh air and gazing at the verdant hills.
Fret not about getting yourself a bike, there are a number of reasonable rental shops around.
For adventure souls who prefer legs over wheels, the undulating hills offer an excellent base for jungle trekking and hiking. The paths can be rough and rugged, so make sure you’re well-kitted.
At the peak, be blown away by the incredibly pretty scenery.
5) Shopping At Factories!
Do you remember bedak sejuk
? Yes, our childhood favourite cooling sensation and it’s being manufactured here at Lean Seng Bedak Sejuk
. Watch how the powder is made from broken rice and given the soothing fragrance from pandan leaves and of course, grab yourself armloads since it comes with health benefits.
At another quiet hamlet, near Pulau Betong, lies Chop Kim Hoa Belacan
where belacan (shrimp paste), an ingredient heavily used in Malay and Nyonya cuisine, is produced. Don’t let the humble outlook of the factory fool you, as the end products are exported over to Holland, England and Australia. Says enough about the quality.
Also, do visit Stepping Stone Center
, a small arts and crafts workshop run by Asia Community Service. Here all the items such as homemade soaps, candles, pottery, printed batik and bags are hand-crafted by employees with special needs. Those looking to lend a helping hand or perk up good-time, are always welcomed too.
6) Splendid Stays At The Heart Of Balik Pulau
Made for the nature-purist at heart, Malihom Private Estate
is a postcard-perfect wooden sanctuary that blends seamlessly into the forest.
Inside, it hits the sweet spot between country charms and contemporary comforts. When not resting your gaze on Mother Nature and soaking in the outdoor swimming pool, pamper yourself with their traditional Malay massage.
Despite a new kid on the block, Botanica Mansion
is already in the running for one of the most beautiful mansions in Penang. It’s the place to be if you’re looking to add elegance and fine-dining to your equation.
It oozes an English mansion feel with lots of care lavished onto the charming garden outside. While inside, engage the perfect blend of heritage preservation and modern improvisation with mural art by Ernest Zacharevic. Don’t miss their afternoon tea!
7) Food, Food, And Lots Of Food!
It’s hard not to pity people who only come to Balik Pulau to bloat their stomach with durian or schlep back to Georgetown for delicious food. Be it the assam
(made from tamarind and fish) or lemak
version (coconut cream base), laksa is a must-have here! Kim Seng Kopitiam
and Laksa Janggus
are highly patronised by locals.
If that’s not enough to drag you into a gastronomy hunt, how about crab noodles at Mee Ketam Pondok Upeh
? The ambiance is laid-back and the flavours are downright delicious!
Generous portions of crustaceans are perched on noodles and ladled by scarlet-red gravy. The best part? Your wallet remains intact after a huge meal.
BP Anjung Indah Seafood
needs no introduction in Balik Pulau as its constantly on seafood lovers wish list. Food may be the pull factor at first, but upon reaching you’ll be amazed by the breathtaking views overlooking the town and artistic sculptures within.
Among the mainstays on the menu are steamed fish, green curry, tomyam, lemongrass chicken and fried squid. Intimacy isn’t lost in the fanfare, so it’s a solid option for a date.
For more than 30 years, Uncle Seng
has been churning out mouthwatering sotong kangkung that are easily on the wallet too. Imagine boiled octopus and kangkung
liberally coated with homemade chili paste and finished with sesame seeds. Yum!
Inner hipster calling for some attention? Then head over to Cafe Ko Cha Bi
. Expect colourful wooden tables and catchy wall paintings that are meant to drive up your Instagram likes.
But the menu here is all about enjoying local delights such as laksa, Hakka rice, assorted noodles, ice kacang and how about nutmeg smoothie?
8) Embark In Water Activities That Not Many Know About
If you’re tired with ground activities and have a notion that no trip to Penang is deemed complete without tucking your feet into beach sand and admiring tranquil ocean, then frolic over to Pasir Panjang Beach
. This beach is clearly off the beaten path as tourists are almost non-existent, allowing you to swim in the pristine water, chase little crabs and collect shells on white sand and let loose with pals over a picnic with minimal distractions.
There’s also a tiny fishing village
where you’ll be greeted by the old-school fishing boats docking the shores, fishermen tending their nets and locals quickly nabbing catch of the day. Besides that, some of the friendly fishermen offer boat rides until the mangrove area and the nearby surrounds.
If you’re heading down to Teluk Bahang, you’ll notice a small signboard “Air Terjun Titi Kerawang
” near a sharp turn alongside stopgap stalls, make sure you don’t ignore it as what lies behind, after a short walk, will knock your socks off.
Ringed by dense greenery is a secluded waterfall gushing over rocks and settling down at a natural jacuzzi at the bottom. During weekends and public holidays, this place is usually flocked by all walks of life.
So the next time you're thinking about heading up north for a holiday, take a detour and give Balik Pulau a shot. We guarantee that you'll be amazed by its beauty.