A Mini Beach Adventure in George Town

loading Canoeing behind Wawasan Open University.

The trek may not be smooth going but it is worth the effort.

Behind 8 Gurney.

Sometimes you aren’t in the mood to head for the hills in your hiking shoes, preferring instead to just amble along the beach in your flip flops. If you are in Batu Feringghi early in the day before the tourists and jet skis take over, you can walk the long stretch of beach and appreciate the waves lapping on the sand, beautifully framed by the surrounding forested hills.

The beach at Tanjung Bungah makes for a pleasant stroll too. Or if you hike or take a boat to the National Park, you can enjoy the truly glorious beaches at Pantai Kerachut and Teluk Kampi.

And, as I recently discovered, it is possible to walk along the seafront in the city, albeit not for a great distance. One morning, I headed with a friend to walk along Gurney Drive for a bit of gentle exercise.

First we walked along the short stretch of pavement behind the 8-Gurney condominium buildings with sand and sea to our left, fishing boats in the near distance, and the city centre high-rise buildings and Penang Port against the horizon. There were no fewer than three active fishing communities nestled below the modern towers during this short walk. At the end of the pavement we walked across the sand in the shade of the enormous raintree in the back garden of Woodville, the chateau-like mansion that was built in the 1920s for wealthy Penang tycoon Lim Lean Teng.

This part of the beach was quite clean, as was the section lying directly beneath the popular hawker centre, Northam Beach Cafe. But after clambering over some rather awkward concrete steps the beach was filthy; and the gardens of the Istana Kedah which fronts the beach here, though well-manicured, were also strewn with rubbish. We walked along the sand past Wawasan Open University, a tall tower built at the back of Homestead, the former family mansion of the Yeap family. The gates onto the beach were open as some students were about to take canoes out into the water.

Beyond Wawasan, we walked through an area of hidden wasteland. This lies behind a property showroom – trees from what once must have been a large garden arc over the beach, where another fishing community has built makeshift accommodation, complete with a shrine to a Chinese deity. I couldn’t help thinking that with a bit of imagination and a lot of investment the area has the potential to be a glorious city beachside park.

The back garden of Woodville.

Irrawaddy Pocket Park.

Clambering over a pile of rubble, we crossed a footbridge over a large storm drain and found ourselves on the beach in front of Ocean Green, the well-loved seafood restaurant behind the Paramount Hotel. We explored a little further, behind Soonstead Mansion, but came to a dead end at the sea wall built around the buildings behind the Mayfair condo building. Backtracking towards Ocean Green, we took a short cut through another fishing village and joined an access road that led us back to the main road, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. It had been a leisurely 15-minute stroll along the beach, but rather than retrace our steps, we decided to cross the road and walk back “inland”.

Directly opposite us was Jalan Arratoon. We took the second right into Jalan Irrawaddy, a quiet, leafy street. This residential area was built up in the early 1930s and was the location of government quarters, including Burmah Square, which are now primarily offices and restaurants.

The mature trees along Jalan Irrawaddy made it a cool and pleasant return walk past the gaily-painted murals on the wall of the Alliance Francaise building and the tinkling sound of the piano accompanying young aspiring ballerinas at the dance school. I noticed with annoyance that a car was parked in the middle of the Irrawaddy Pocket Park, a small patch of urban greenery set up by the council in front of a TNB station. At the far end of Jalan Irrawaddy, we turned right and entered the Northam Suites Hotel car park. From the other side, we merely had to dash across the main road and were back at the end of Gurney Drive again. But I was left with an urge to see if it was possible to get further along the beach, perhaps all the way to the centre of town, so we made plans to come back another time.

Sleeping on the beach.

A couple of weeks later, we retraced our steps. This time, when we reached the dead-end behind Mayfair, we took off our shoes and waded into the sea. Moving slowly to keep our feet on the sand rather than on potentially slippery or sharp rocks, we were able to sidle around and get to the sand on the farther side, behind the offices of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). At the other end of this beach we climbed easily onto the gently sloping rocky shelf that runs beside the Penang Club grounds, surprising a handful of people enjoying their breakfast in the cafe; from their perspective we probably appeared to be walking on water!

The rocky slope continued beyond the Penang Club as we passed behind Runnymede, the venerable old hotel that once competed aggressively with the E&O but now lies partially demolished and gently decaying behind a high corrugated iron fence. We pushed our way through the shrubs that are rapidly taking over Runnymede’s sea frontage, accidentally disturbing a man sleeping underneath a makeshift shelter on the rocks beyond.

With the tower of the KWSP building looming above us, we reached another dead end – this time an insuperable obstacle. Ahead of us was a wooden deck, belonging to the mansion used as offices by a business entity, perched high on a rocky outcrop surrounded by water too deep to paddle through – and we had no desire to swim in the murky water.

We were defeated, and retraced our steps past Runnymede and the Penang Club. Between the MACC office and Mayfair, we found a path alongside a large storm drain and were able to follow that back to the main road. It was such a shame we couldn’t hike all the way to the city centre, but it was an enjoyable trek nevertheless!

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