BALIK Pulau – the mere mention of the place evokes thoughts of durian.
Aficionados know where to hunt down the King of Fruits in this well-known district, south of Penang island.
While tourists come from near and far to seek out the seasonal fruit, durian lovers are known to even charter flights to Penang for the purpose.
This is because Balik Pulau, literally meaning “back of the island”, boasts many durian orchards and this is where the best fruits can be found during the season.
Unknown to many, however, there is much more to Balik Pulau than its durian bounty.
Many may not be familiar with this section of Penang island because as its name suggests, it is somewhat hidden and less developed.
But therein lies its charm.
Balik Pulau MP Datuk Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said that for starters, one was able to view and enjoy the “most beautiful sunset on the island” at Malindo Beach in Balik Pulau.
“It is a famous spot for locals and tourists alike.
“This stretch of beach in Kuala Sungai Burung will also give you the best view of Pulau Betong when the sun sets,” he added.
Muhammad Bakhtiar said people would flock to certain areas in Balik Pulau every year, even before the start of the durian season.
“Balik Pulau is essentially considered to be the last bastion of greenery on the island.
“People also love coming to the only place on the island that has lush padi fields, between Balik Pulau town and Pulau Betong, for its scenic views.
“Thanks to the Penang Inter-national Container Art Festival, Kampung Terang in Balik Pulau has gained popularity for its towering mural installations, drawing admirers to the padi field,” he said.
Balik Pulau’s street art murals have previously been featured in StarMetro.
Drawn by Russian artist Julia Volchkova, the iconic murals of Balik Pulau like “Wrinkled Old Fisherman”, “The Silat Master” and “Hakka Dancing Girl” depict a bygone way of life.Muhammad Bakhtiar said cyclists have also made the place famous, as most cycling tours were organised along the scenic route.
“Gorgeous scenes of sprawling padi fields and rolling hills are perfectly enjoyable while riding,” he said.
Cyclist Mervin Goh, 32, who was with his group of friends near Pulau Betong, said the quiet and rustic village atmosphere was worth their journey.
“We cycled all the way here.
“Where else can you find such a calming scenery with the winds rustling padi stalks on Penang island?
“My friends and I make it a point to cycle here every Sunday,” said Goh, who is a salesman and lives in Teluk Kumbar.
Food-wise, Balik Pulau offers many mouthwatering delicacies.
It is famous for its authentic Malay and Hakka food, in addition to laksa Siam, fish curry and stuffed bean curds.
The traditional Penang asam laksa is also popular with locals and tourists in Balik Pulau.
The culinary experience doesn’t end there.
At Nada Natural Farming, food and drinks served at its cafe are made from locally sourced ingredients, some of which are grown at the farm itself.
City folk who want to experience farm life can also visit the Saanen Dairy Goat Farm.
The family-run farm sells goat milk products and offers experiences such as feeding the goats.
As Penang is known for its nutmeg products, visitors to the nutmeg factory in Balik Pulau can see the fruit being processed, if tours are available.
Another landmark is the 139-year-old Balik Pulau Hospital, said Muhammad Bakhtiar.
He said the township was set to have its first private hospital and that a memorandum of understanding had been signed by two private entities in February to build the hospital on a 2ha land in Bandar Baru Air Putih.
“We will see the first private hospital in Balik Pulau in five years’ time, which will help to reduce crowding at the district hospital,” he added.
Muhammad Bakhtiar said there were also plans to improve the livelihood of farmers in the area with the setting up of a farmers’ market after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
“Farmers will be able to bring their produce directly to this market without going through a middleman, thus giving them better profits,” he highlighted.
He said many would forget that Teluk Bahang, which is part of Balik Pulau, had many attractions too that brought in quite a number of local and foreign tourists.
“Among them are Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm, Escape Theme Park, Penang National Park and beautiful beaches,” he noted.
Muhammad Bakhtiar cautioned against overdevelopment, saying that it was the last thing that Balik Pulau needed.
“People here want Balik Pulau to remain as it is, although they would like to have basic amenities such as a better hospital and infrastructure.
“For example, the bottleneck at the Teluk Kumbar old road, which leads to Balik Pulau town, needs a solution.
“Perhaps the Federal Government could add another lane to reduce the traffic congestion there,” he suggested.
Durian farm owner Tan Chee Keat, 31, said Balik Pulau had never been short of crowds.
“Durian season or not, people simply flock here for other attractions during weekends and the holiday season.
“The durian season ended in mid-August but I still have a busy schedule daily, just answering calls from customers asking if the fruits are still available at my farm.
“Although it is off-season now, many people visit my farm.
“These visitors will also visit other attractions such as the Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm, the Container Art and Escape Theme Park,” Tan added.
Kamariah Abdul Yusoff, 62, who has a kuih shop at the junction of Pondok Upeh, said Balik Pulau was the best place to live in.
“The greenery here can still be seen despite development.
“I was born here and have seen how the town and its outskirts have evolved over the years with much-needed development for a growing population.
“My three children are always back during the festive seasons as Balik Pulau is still a place they call home.
“There is a certain charm here, compared to other places on the island,” she added.
Bicycle shop owner Lim Eng Keat, 68, finds the environment in Balik Pulau laid-back compared to other places on Penang island.
“I think we have the least number of high-rise buildings.
“Many on the island have bought landed properties in this area because the price is competitive compared to other places that are more developed.
“Hopefully, Balik Pulau will not be developed to the extent that it loses its greenery which gives the place a certain serenity,” added Lim.