A little-known path up Bukit Juru’s 646 steps is a rewarding experience – one that is incomplete if you do not take the opportunity to sample the deliciously fresh seafood nearby.
Hut at start of trail.
A little curiosity about lesser-known hiking trails in Seberang Perai – apart from the Bukit Mertajam trail – and some Googling led me to the 646 steps of Bukit Juru. For me, Juru meant the modern buildings of the shopping centre, Autocity, usually zoomed by on the way to KL. I was intrigued to learn that there are kampungs and forests in the neighbourhood too.
Finding the start of the trail was easy. On the North-South Highway towards KL we took the exit to Juru, turned immediately right into Jalan Kebun Nanas, and then left at the T-junction into Jalan Perusahaan. After a few minutes of driving, we came to a junction with traffic lights and turned right into Jalan Juru. Soon after, the road forked and we took the right turn towards Kuala Juru, and stopped immediately at the car park on the right side of the road. Already, mere minutes from Autocity, we found ourselves surrounded by the rural sights of villages, paddy fields and plantations.
Opposite the carpark was a signpost that read: “Jom Kita Pi Naik Bukit Juru Setiap Hari Ahad Masa 8.00 Pagi” (“Let’s hike Bukit Juru every Sunday at 8.00 in the morning”). I am pretty sure the Sungai Sembilang Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK Sungai Sembilang) is no longer meeting to climb the hill; we were there at 11am on Sunday and the number of cobwebs crisscrossing the path suggested it had been more than a few hours since the last person had climbed these 646 steps!
Shady trail at summit.
We took the road to the left of the sign as directed, and after less than five minutes of walking through an old coconut tree plantation we came to an elaborate rest hut and the first of the 646 steps, next to a signpost announcing this area as the Bukit Juru Forest Reserve.
Due to the thick forest, there is no view from the top, but there is an attractive and shady trail leading along the summit.
The hill is not high; I have read that it is only 200m at its summit, compared to Penang Hill’s 833m, and the steps are easy to climb. The path is shaded for the entire route, so although we were climbing during the late morning it wasn’t too hot. In many places the steps were completely covered by fallen leaves, and I would imagine it would be very slippery when wet.
Bukit Juru summit.
We noticed chilli plants growing beside the steps and stuffed our pockets with cili padi for home. Just after this we had to crawl underneath a large fallen tree. A signpost notified us that we had reached 200 steps, and after that the path became rather more difficult to negotiate. We had to watch out for prickly palm fronds hanging down dangerously and inconveniently at eye level, and in places a machete would have come in handy for hacking down the undergrowth encroaching on the steps.
About two-thirds of the way up, we scrambled up a steep and slippery bank beside the now-impassable steps, and were rewarded with a fine view. After a signpost announcing we had completed 500 steps, the path became even more overgrown. We pushed on through the undergrowth and reached the summit after about 25 minutes of total climbing time. We rested for a while in the hut at the top, which was next to another signpost congratulating us on having reached the summit.
Due to the thick forest, there is no view from the top, but there is an attractive and shady trail leading along the summit. We followed it for a while, but could see no obvious way to descend the hill using a different route; nor did we see any obvious trail down the other side of the hill, which would have led to the coastline opposite Pulau Jerejak. Anyway, by this time we were hungry and keen to try some of the famous Penang kampung seafood, so we retraced our 646 steps back down to the base and our start point.
We knew that Restoran Nelayan in the fishing village of Kuala Juru, a five-minute drive down the road from the hike start point, has a good reputation for seafood. Unfortunately, it being Ramadan, the restaurant was closed. Instead, we drove over to the village of Bukit Tambun about 15 minutes away, where we knew there were also seafood restaurants beside the water.
Kampung Bukit Tambun is a fishing village on the banks of a river, Sungai Jawi. At one time, the ferry to Pulau Aman left from here, and the jetty area remains a lively eating destination as well as an active fishing port. We chose Restoran Jety, which is located next to the river, and even better, is directly adjacent to the place where fishermen bring their clams for cleaning and packing for distribution. We expected that the clams served at the restaurant would therefore be good and fresh, and were not at all disappointed. Neither were we disappointed by the fresh fish, prawns, noodles and vegetables we also shared.
Bukit Tambun was historically a prosperous small town in the heart of the sugar estates of Province Wellesley. Its former glory is still evident from the neat shophouses on either side of the main road through the village and a glorious mansion, now rather dilapidated.
One of the shophouses, now almost derelict, was built in 1866 as the Chinese townhouse and ancestral hall of Khaw Loh Hup, the father of Kapitan Khaw Boo Aun (1837-1906). Kapitan Khaw Boo Aun was the leader of triad society Ghee Hin, and a member of the Perak State Council. Under his management, the family’s plantations grew to more than 2,000 acres of land.
Bukit Juru Trail map.
Apparently, when Khaw Boo Aun died in 1906, he lay in state in his coffin at his Bukit Tambun house for three years before it was transferred back to China for burial. While the historical importance of this village has been largely forgotten, its residents have taken to the current fashion in Penang for street art – but in their own style. Most of the occupied townhouses vie with each other to display the most colourful mural.
All in all, while the hike was neither long nor challenging, combined with a little history, a little street art and some excellent seafood, it made for a very enjoyable excursion.