Bukit Panchor: An Oasis of Nature

loading The 1.8km-long tarred road takes you through the heart of Bukit Panchor's lush forest.

Clear streams, rich wildlife and towering dipterocarp trees await just 10km from the hustle and bustle of Nibong Tebal.

Iguanura corniculata, a species of endemic palm found in Bukit Panchor State Park.

At the south-eastern border of South Seberang Perai lies the 446ha Bukit Panchor State Park – Penang’s one and only state park.

Originally gazetted as the Bukit Panchor Permanent Forest Reserve in 1963, it was elevated to the status of state park in 2008 because of its rich biodiversity and recreational potential. It is named after Bukit Panchor, a 416m peak that marks the park’s southern border with Kedah. Lush lowland dipterocarp forests dominate most of the park, accompanied by large stands of shorea, tembusu, medang and kapur. Pockets of freshwater swamps also exist along the park’s numerous streams.

Bordered almost entirely by sprawling oil palm estates and villages, parts of the park were selectively felled in the 1940s and 1950s before it naturally regenerated to its beautiful state today. It is especially rich with plant life, with about 224 species of trees found during a 2016 study by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. One plant worth mentioning is a species of endemic palm found only in the park, the Iguanura corniculata, which is also featured on the park’s official logo. Several other species of endangered flora such as the Shorea leprosula, Shorea parvifolia and Dryobalanops aromatica are also found within the confines of the park.

Entrance to the Bukit Panchor State Park.

Cascades of Sungai Buaya which flows near the entrance of the state park.

Apart from healthy populations of wild boars and long-tailed macaques, Bukit Panchor also has a large roosting population of bats concentrated in the park’s two caves, Gua Tongkat and Gua Kelawar. In 2008 the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia organised a scientific expedition to Bukit Panchor and found eight species of bats dwelling in these two caves.

A study in 2013 on the herpetofauna of the park discovered a new species of swamp-dwelling skink, apart from about 66 known species of frogs, lizards, snakes and turtles. Bukit Panchor is also a bird watcher’s paradise, being home to about 130 species of birds. It is listed as one of the 10 main bird-watching spots in Penang – one can come across many rare forest birds such as the black-and-yellow broadbill, orange-breasted trogon and blue-throated bee-eater here. The park also holds the significance of being the only place in Penang where the great argus and giant pitta have been spotted.

Occasional rest stops along the trails provide the weary trekker with a place to relax.

The author negotiating his way into the Bukit Panchor Bat Cave.

Flowers of the Sal plant (Johannesteijsmannia altifrons).

Most visitors to the park are day trippers, coming in the afternoon to dip in the cool waters of Sungai Buaya or for a picnic along the riverbank. Well-maintained facilities such as a canteen, kitchen, toilets, pavilions and a prayer room make any trip to the park a comfortable one. For the occasional overnight visitor, camping grounds and chalets are available for rent.

Key attractions in the park include a 200m wetland boardwalk. This short walk, suitable for all ages, takes one through a small area of inland swamp behind the park’s camping area. The perpetually soggy ground here has created a very unique microhabitat, where many wetland species like the putat and asam paya thrive. It is also a favourite among birdwatchers, who can be seen waiting patiently among the thorny palms of the boardwalk to spot birds.

There are a number of trails that criss-cross the park. These are maintained by the Penang State Forestry Department and provide not just an invigorating recreational experience but also a very educational one – as many plants and trees that line the trails have been meticulously marked with scientific names and information boards.

Thorns of the asam paya palm.

The most popular trail is a 1.8km shady tarred road that runs from the entrance to the headwaters of one of the many streams that flow through the park. While it was purpose-built as a road, it is seldom used by vehicular traffic and its gentle slope and amazing forest atmosphere have made it popular for walks among the locals. Huge stands of meranti trees along both sides of the road and a thick undergrowth of palms shade out the sun, making the trail a comfortable one even during noontime.

For the more adventurous, an exciting two-hour jungle trail to Gua Kelawar awaits. The trail is mostly a laterite track, which goes up and down the slopes and across fallen trees and streams, before coming to a cluster of large boulders, right in the heart of the jungle. The cave is not a limestone cave, but instead a gap between huge granite boulders under which hundreds of bats have found a haven to roost. Care must be taken not to disturb these nocturnal creatures. One should keep silent and not venture too far inside. Visitors should also look out for flying stick insects, which are abound in this forest.

A Tacca-Bat Flower.

Apart from its recreational importance, Bukit Panchor State Park also plays a vital function as an important water catchment area for the Bukit Panchor Reservoir, one of the oldest reservoirs in the state which supplies water to the surrounding villages. Its ecological function as a green lung and an area of high biodiversity extends beyond the borders of Penang into Kedah as well – the forest is the last expanse of large pristine wilderness left in South Seberang Perai and the neighbouring Bandar Baharu district of Kedah. Its numerous High Value Conservation and Demonstration Plots, as well as the numerous research studies conducted there, point to the fact that this forest will continue to be an important site for biological field work in Penang.

With the recent nationwide emphasis on “lung cleansing” tourism and the Seberang Perai International Conference on Ecotourism and Conservation Efforts (SPICEC 2018) happening at the end of this year, Bukit Panchor with its well-maintained facilities and rich biodiversity is poised to become an ever more important ecotourism destination in the years to come.

Getting There

Bukit Panchor State Park is open every day from 7am to 6pm. Entrance to the park is free.

If you start your journey from Penang Island, cross the Second Penang Bridge (Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, E28) and turn southward onto the North-South Expressway, E1 towards KL, Ipoh and Jawi. Continue for about eight kilometres before getting off at Exit 156- Jawi. After the Jawi toll, turn left onto Jalan Sungai Bakap (Route 1) and continue straight for 1.5km before turning left onto Jalan Besar (P146). Continue along Jalan Besar for 3.7km before turning left again onto P144. In about 500m along P144 you will reach a junction, where you then turn right onto Jalan Sungai Kechil (P146). After about 1.3km, you should turn left onto P148. Continue for 2.6km until you see Jalan Taman Bukit Negeri on your right. Turn into Jalan Taman Bukit Negeri and continue straight. In one kilometre, you will come to another junction where you should turn right again. Continue for 300m to reach the Bukit Panchor State Park entrance. Alternatively, use these coordinates on your GPS device: 5.160576°, 100.548008°.

For further enquires,
contact Pejabat Renjer Hutan Seberang Perai Selatan at +604-539 2977.

Rexy Prakash Chacko is an electronic engineer by profession and a nature lover by passion. While he spends his weekdays earning a living at the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone, his weekends are spent reflecting and recharging on the green hills of Penang.

Related Articles