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Air Itam to Balik Pulau

For some time now I've been wanting to hike from Air Itam to Balik Pulau (which literally translates as 'the other side of the island'). We finally got around to it on Monday: GJ and H, and Tammy and Jon from Wholey Wonder.

We started our journey at Purple Stone Vegetarian Food Center in Air Itam, around 8am. We ate loads of delicious and extremely cheap things to set us up for the day. A selection of bao to share, some people at the buffet, and I had won ton mee. I was delighted to be able to get a nasi lemak parcel. They sell the normal versions everywhere on street corners for between 0.50 and 1.50 rm, but they contain anchovies and egg. The little triangular parcels are so enticing, so I was happy to get a veggie one (containing peanuts, veggie sambal and a little mock meat) for the road.

Tammy and Jon moved their car (with us in it) to the top of Kek Lok Si where there's cheap parking. We walked down a bit to find the start of the hiking route. It was blocked by a police barricade, and we were told there was a landslide and no way through to the Dam.

Not the type of people to let a little landslide derail our plans, we walked to the road that goes around to the other side of the Dam to see if we'd have better luck there. It wasn't long before we were distracted by a trail into the jungle, and we left the road. This trail rapidly deteriorated until we found ourselves fairly stuck on a hillside. After a few false scrambles, Tammy noticed a trail of paper triangles stapled to various leaves and trees, so... we followed it. And followed it. And followed it. We climbed, sliding through the mud, clinging to trees, clawing at roots. Some of the trees have spikes growing out of their trunks; I grabbed them once or twice. We chatted about snakes and monsters. It was tenuous at times, but finally whoever laid the trail of paper triangles came through, and we made it back to the road. But not the road we started from... the road we had been blocked from heading down originally. We continued along it and ran into no more problems, which I suppose means we managed to clamber around the landslide somehow.

The next landmark was the Air Itam Dam and reservoir. We walked clockwise around, stopping at a couple of Chinese temples on the way, until we reached a fork. We took the left track, and proceeded west. After this point it was mostly a gentle downhill slope. We proceeded through plantations of herbs and fruit (spotting bananas, papaya, and jackfruit, amongst others), and got some amazing views over parts of the island I haven't seen before.

It took us about two and a half hours to reach the start of Balik Pulau. We walked for another hour, seeking Chin Choo vegetarian, which I had on my map. Alas, it wasn't there. At least we tried. There's a little history in Balik Pulau, but it's a very small town so not a lot to see. We decided the beach was too far to continue walking to, as the others wanted to do other things with the rest of their day.

We took the bus back to Air Itam, and then drove to Janxden near Gelugor for a late lunch.

Photos from the hike and GPS trace.

🏷 air itam balik pulau hiking #justgo Penang

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