The island of Penang may be synonymous with urban George Town and the crowds of Batu Ferringhi, but on its south-western edge lies the sleepy district of Balik Pulau. Flanked by the island’s central mountain range and the Malacca Strait, the area was home to nutmeg, clove and rubber plantations during the colonial era. Today, it offers delicious food, quaint villages, empty beaches, and peace and quiet.
Fuel up with a hearty bowl of prawn mee (noodle soup) at Kedai Makan Dan Minum Choo Kim Choon (Jalan Balik Pulau). The no-frills eatery soaks its ingredients in pork bone broth for added flavour. You’ll then be ready for the 700m hike up to Pulau Betong Durian Orchard (Kampung Bakar Kapur), dodging farmers powering their motorcycles uphill, while balancing baskets of durians on their heads. If you’re lucky, they might crack open a fresh one for you.
Balik Pulau is known for its Penang assam laksa (noodle soup with chilli, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger flower and mackerel). Try it at Café Ko Cha Bi (fb.com/cafekochabi), where the colourful tables and black-and-white wall paintings of kampung (village) life add to the old-school vibe.
Cool off with a dip at Pasir Panjang Beach (off Jalan Gertak Sanggul). Unlike the beaches in Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah, which are lined with resorts and condominiums, these white sands are largely untouched.
Then, rent a bicycle at Audi Guest House (609 Jalan Pulau Betong) and follow the 20km dirt route from Pulau Betong to Pantai Malindo Beach and back, cutting through picturesque paddy fields and prawn fisheries. The sea breeze picks up during the late afternoon, making it the perfect time to complete this two-hour journey.
Catch the sunset at Bukit Genting Hill (Jalan Teluk Kumbar), which offers panoramic views of paddy fields and beaches.
Next, head to Khun Thai (khunthai.com) before dark and ask for a table on the beach. Despite Balik Pulau’s remoteness, this Thai restaurant is often packed to the rafters. End the evening with a meal of spicy stir-fried clams, sambal prawns and steamed fish.
You can get a taxi from George Town to Balik Pulau; a one-way trip will cost around MYR50 (S$16) and take an hour. You can also hire a cab for the day for around MYR180 (S$58). If you’d prefer to drive yourself, there are car rentals in George Town.
Alternatively, take the Rapid Penang bus 401 or 401E (express) from the Jetty Terminal in George Town to Balik Pulau Bus Terminal. The fare is MYR4 (S$1.30), and the journey will take 60 to 90 minutes.