Balik Pulau: The Other Side of Penang, Malaysia

It was supposedly just a drop off, but our driver became our instant tour guide as we explore the other side of Penang, Balik Pulau. 

Just when I thought that I've been to every corner of Penang after visiting it for the nth time, I saw a bus at the KOMTAR terminal that had a signage going to "Balik Pulau". It roused my curiosity of that unpopular side of the island state. That was a year ago.

Fast forward today.

Me and my buddy were on the fourth year of our annual two-month backpacking trip and for this year, we chose to go back to some of our favorite countries (and cities) to have a slow yet meaningful time to these chosen locations (which was mainly dictated by airline seat sales). Same Same Summer Trip 2017 was also remarkable because for the first time, we tagged along our moms for the first leg of the trip in Malaysia; they backpacked with us in Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and then Penang

Balik Pulau Penang
Busy afternoon scene in Balik Pulau
It was a nice morning as me, my buddy, our moms and Julius were having breakfast at Hotel Neo+ Penang when we decided to check out the buzz on the other side of the island. We then booked a car via an online ride sharing app and just pinned "Balik Pulau". Our driver was asking us on the specific location we were going and we're all dumbfounded as we knew nothing about the place (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Penang).

Still confused, the driver, Alan, then decided to just play as a tour guide for the day which made everyone happy. We didn't negotiate as to how much it would be as he said that we'll just pay whatever the amount will be shown on the online meter. So off we went on that glorious sunny morning.

Balik Pulau, which literally translates to “the back of the island”, is a town located on the Southwestern part of the island state of Penang. Established in 1794, this quiet agriculture district is home to the island’s famous products such as nutmegs, cloves and durians.

The almost one-hour ride from our hotel in Georgetown was smooth.  Alan brought us first to Teluk Kumbar fishing village. The village is actually halfway between Bayan Lepas and Balik Pulau. The place is known for seafood restaurants that lined the shore. It was a quiet morning and we just did a quick stopover.

After the fishing village, we emerged on an almost deserted road that led us to our next stop; a farm resort which is owned by our Alan's friend. 

Nature Fruit Farm Resort Balik Pulau
Nature Fruit Farm Resort
We entered a quiet village with only a few houses in sight. There were more trees and greens in the area that's almost devoid of manmade structures. We were welcomed by the owners who immediately showed us around the Nature Fruit Farm Resort.

I was drawn to some Traditional Malay and Chinese houses that are for rent (check for discounted resorts in Balik Pulau). There were no guests at that time so I checked out these houses and felt in love with the serenity of the place that I wished we had a spare night to stay here.

Nature Fruit Farm Resort Balik Pulau
Me wanting to stay a night in this traditional Malay house
I went back to where the group was and found myself on a rustic coffee shop on the main structure that was totally instagrammable. The wooden furniture and funky light fixtures added to the homey and cozy feel of the place.

Nature Fruit Farm Resort Balik Pulau
Very homey
The moms were busy going around the huge estate (inspecting each and every plant) while me and my buddies were taking snaps inside the café. We had to leave after the tour with a promise to come back here for a nice retreat next time.

Nature Fruit Farm Resort Balik Pulau
Alan brought us to a nice surprise; I love how spontaneous this trip was getting.

We stopped by on a road and were greeted by the great view of the sea framed by the lush greeneries. I hurriedly climbed down a concrete path and reached the deserted beach in Pulau Betong.

Balik Pulau Beach
Beach in Pulau Betong
The sugary ivory sand was in perfect harmony with the blue tones of the sky and sea. We were running around like kids as the place was empty. I felt bad when I realized that I should’ve brought my bikinis with me. 

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After the beach trip, Alan pulled over to a certain spot along the main road. Apparently, there's a huge mural art on a wall. The shophouses were made to life by an artwork of Julia Volchkova (a Russian artist who’s starting to make her own name in the mural art scene in Penang started by Ernest Zacharevic). It seemed like the artsy vibe of Georgetown is starting to reach in Balik Pulau. 

Julia Volchkova Balik Pulau
The Silat Master by Julia Volchkova
We then went to a quiet fishing village in Pulau Betong. We walked over to a bridge underneath a river that serves as shelter for the small fishing boats and saw the laidback atmosphere of the village. A small fish market near the bridge was almost empty aside from two vendors, probably because it was lunchtime.

Pulau Betong Fishing Village
Pulau Betong fishing village
We then headed to the town center where a small rotunda can be found. It seemed to me that we were on a different island because of the dated structures and slow-paced life of the people; a stark contrast with the busy city life of Georgetown.

We saw another mural of Julia Volchkova at the parking lot of a market. We took turns on capturing its greatness amidst the busy afternoon goings-on at downtown Balik Pulau.

Julia Volchkova Balik Pulau
Wrinkled Old Fisherman by Julia Volchkova
Having a local guide helped us to try out something new for lunch. Alan showed us the famous laksa place in town where they serve a local version of the famous Penang Laksa or Balik Pulau Laksa

Balik Pulau Laksa
Balik Pulau's Asam Laksa and Siam Laksa (MYR4.50 | US$1.05 each bowl)
I already tried Georgetown’s Assam Laksa twice (and some great Penang Food) and I find it too sour so I was excited to try out Balik Pulau's own version of laksa. We got three orders each of Siam Laksa and Asam Laksa plus Kopi Ais. Sadly, I didn’t like those two as well. The sour taste of the noodle soup was overwhelming as with the shrimp paste (petis udang).

Balik Pulau Laksa
Balik Pulau's Asam Laksa, not a fan of the sour and fishy taste.
There's a stall right beside the eatery that sells this nut crusted rice cake dessert. The moms couldn't help but try it out and we all loved it!

Balik Pulau Food
Nut crusted rice cake for dessert!
The rice cake, which I failed to get the name, was reminiscent of some of the rice cakes we have in the Philippines. The sweetness from the cake and the added texture of the nuts made it a perfect dessert after our laksa adventure. We also wanna try the famous durian of Balik Pulau but went there on a wrong season, next time perhaps.

Balik Pulau Food
Too bad I didn't get the Malay term for this rice cake :(
Alan ended the trip with a visit to the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus. My buddy’s mom was sad though as it was closed that day. We went back to Georgetown around two in the afternoon and had a great time recalling some fun stories during the trip. It was definitely a blessing for us to meet Alan as he provided the best spontaneous tour ever.

Balik Pulau Church
Church of the Holy Name of Jesus
Balik Pulau is completely different from the bustling city of Georgetown. Its laidback atmosphere is perfect for those who are looking for an alternative vacation while on the island. The place was made more charming by the warmth of the people. Balik Pulau is definitely a must-visit while on the island state of Penang in Malaysia

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Penang Tours
Alan Tan
Contact Number: (+60) 16.458.5216 | (+60) 11.3357.9163
Wechat ID: alanpenangtour
Email Address:

Nature Fruit Farm Resort
311 MK 7 Genting, 11000 Balik Pulau,
Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Contact Number: (+60) 4.866.9241 | (+60) 12.488.7773 | (+60) 12.588.7773
Email Address:

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