From durian feasts and one of the island’s best assam laksa to secluded beaches and idyllic homestays, this slice of country living is Penang’s underrated highlight
In partnership with Penang Global Tourism
Located on the western end of Penang Island – its name means “the other side of the island” – a world away from the bustle of George Town, Balik Pulau is a bucolic wonderland. Imagine spending a day or two on meandering bike rides through emerald paddy fields, fruit orchards and animal farms, stopping now and then to pet friendly goats and admire the surrounding hillsides. That’s the kind of slow-paced kampung living Balik Pulau offers, not to mention a few charming homestays, beautiful beaches and delicious local dishes.
Read on to discover an overnight itinerary where you can experience the magic of rural Penang for yourselves.
Morning: Lay of the land
While the sun is low in the sky, take advantage of the mild weather to explore Balik Pulau on two wheels. Several shops offer bicycle rentals if you want to go at your own pace – there’s nearly 20km of rustic dirt road to cover. Alternatively, you could sign up with one of many tour companies or the local visitors’ centre for guided bike tours that last two to three hours and cover the essential highlights, including coastal fishing villages and fish markets. There’s also the option to do tours in the late afternoon if you’d rather catch the evening breeze.
Lunchtime: Local culinary heritage
George Town may be chock-a-block with dozens of must-try dishes, but Balik Pulau has its own claim to fame. A few of the stalls here claim to serve the best rendition of Penang’s renowned assam laksa, #7 on CNN Travel’s list of World’s 50 Best Foods. Grab a plastic chair on the sidewalk at the often-busy Kim Seng Kopitiam, which is especially popular for its “lemak” version of the traditional noodle dish. Kim Laksa at Nan Guang Coffee Shop offers a competing bowl, and you can snap a selfie at artist Julia Volchkova’s Wrinkled Old Fisherman mural nearby afterwards.
Afternoon: Factories and farms
Balik Pulau is home to possibly the last family-owned bedak sejuk factory in Penang. Perniagaan Bedak Sejuk Lean Seng is a multi-generational business that goes back nearly 50 years, specialising in the traditional cooling cosmetic made with dried rice paste and pandan leaves. Wander through the modest, yet impressive set-up where everything is made by hand, or sign up for one of the group workshops offered by the Yeoh brothers, who took over operations from the previous generation.
After that, it’s time to return to nature and pet a few animals! Saanen Dairy Goat Farm has well over 100 goats, including kids, and is free to enter for individuals and small families. With advance notice and RM7 per person, you can also have a guided tour that covers various species of goats, breeding and other animal-care matters, as well as enjoy a tasty sample of goat’s milk or goat’s milk ice cream.
Alternatively, visit Audi Farm, where you can feed goats, rabbits and fish, ride camels and ponies, as well as explore a mini farm. The Audi folks also arrange morning and evening bike tours around Balik Pulau, as well as garden cooking classes and other excursions that include pick-up and drop-off. There’s even a guest house on-site so you can slow down and enjoy a night or two of the kampung life.
For a more energetic experience, check out Countryside Stables. Run by a professional horse-racing family, the sprawling space is home to several dozen horses, and amateurs of all ages can have a go at guided horseback riding. If you prefer to hang back, feeding and petting horses is also an option.
And of course, no trip to Balik Pulau would be complete without a serious durian feast. Arguably Balik Pulau’s most famous durian farm, Bao Sheng is a third-generation, organic and sustainable enterprise nestled among forested hills. Durian season runs from May to August, during which visitors can sample up to 23 varieties of durian – simply sign up for a two-hour or half-day all-you-can-eat pass. Durian enthusiasts can also choose to stay overnight in one of the farm’s rustic and comfortable villas with a shared pool.
Night: Bed down like a local
To enjoy the full experience of Balik Pulau, plan to spend the night at one of its many homestay or farmstay options – some of which are nothing less than stunning and host families offer an intimate look into local culture, organising excursions, local feasts and everything in between. Home Stay Jalan Bharu, for example, features several simple and colourful chalets, and invites guests to play traditional games such as congkak and gasing and serves delightful homecooked meals.
Next morning: A coastal jaunt
If you’re driving back to the city, budget some time for the former fishing village that is Pasir Panjang Beach, located less than 30 minutes southwest of Balik Pulau and possibly one of the most beautiful in the country. The currents can often be a bit too strong for a swim, but a meditative walk or picnic along its palm-fringed shores and powdery white sand will deliver one last dose of tranquility that is Balik Pulau’s claim to fame.
For more information on Balik Pulau and other exciting places to experience in the state of Penang, please visit Penang Global Tourism.