Terrific Sights on Offer Up Bukit Seraya

By Rexy Prakash Chacko

November 2023 PEAKS AND PARKS
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Looking towards Kedah from the slopes of Bukit Seraya.

Hike At A Glance

Length: 3 hours 30 minutes to the Tualang tree (it takes almost as long to get back the same way. An alternate, shorter route through the orchards connects to Sungai Lembu, close to the starting point).

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult .

Interest level: Very High.

Signposting: Plenty, however there is a labyrinth of confusing side trails going off the main trail. Hence, it is best to navigate using a hiking application or follow someone who hikes in the area.

Likelihood of getting lost: Medium.

Number of hikers: Few.

WHEN ONE THINKS about hiking in Seberang Perai, the very first destination which comes to mind is Bukit Mertajam. This hill is thoroughly hiked by the locals, and offers a maze of trails up to its summit. However, to its east stands another peak, which, until very recently, did not garner much interest from hikers for being shrouded in mystery and plagued by tales of being haunted. 

This hill is the 445m-tall Bukit Seraya, the second highest peak in Seberang Perai. “Seraya” refers to the Rubroshorea curtisii, a tall and conspicuous forest tree that dominates hilly areas in Peninsular Malaysia, recognisable for its billowy crown of silvery foliage.[1]

So, what does Bukit Seraya offer a hiker like me?

We start our hike at Jalan Machang Indah 1, right beside the small industrial estate bordering Kedah. Walking up the road, a hiker’s rest shed on the left side of the road greets us. Having barely started the hike, we do not stop. Instead, we march on through the well-marked trail. It meanders gently up the oil palm estate and then through a secondary forest. Dense thickets of prickly Nibong palms (Oncosperma sp) tower around us, something I rarely see while hiking in Penang Island.

Seraya Dam.

After a half-an-hour walk, we reach the rim of an old abandoned dam, filled with murky water. This is Seraya Dam, a long-forgotten, British-era reservoir, largely due to the inaccessible jungle. Thanks to the assiduous efforts of local historian, Eugene Quah, century-old engineering documents relating to this dam have been unearthed, shedding light on the fact that this gravity type dam, built in the 1920s, was part of the larger Prai Water Supply scheme—a response to the water shortage problems of that era. Water from this dam was conveyed through a 10-inch-wide pipe to Prai; and at the time of its commissioning, was estimated to be able to supply 38,000 gallons of water per hour. [2]

We marvel at the engineering feat as we cross the rim of the dam to where a small rickety wooden plank connects us to the continuing trail. This trail then becomes generally flat and easy going. Soon, another historic relic catches my interest—a rusted railroad switch track.

I wonder what would a rail track be doing in the middle of the forest?

It turns out that this relic is connected to the Seraya Dam too. It was a part of a locomotive rail line used to haul materials for the construction of the dam.

A junction along the trail.

The trail starts to climb gently again and we hear the faint sound of gushing waters. Before we know it, we are standing in front of a small waterfall, plunging off a cliff into a pile of jagged rocks. This is the Tok Janggut Waterfall, named after tree roots which grow along the vertical plunge of the waterfall, giving it the appearance of a long beard (from the Malay word, janggut). We break for a quick snack at this point. As I enjoy the waterfall and its surroundings, I notice something odd. There are many loose and sharp rocks beneath the dense mat of aroids near the waterfall. The slopes also look unnaturally steep, as though they had been hollowed out. I wonder, could this be where the rocks used to build the Seraya Dam were quarried from?

The murky waters of Seraya Dam.

Beyond the waterfall, the trail begins to ascend steeply towards the peak. As we trudge up this section, it begins to rain heavily. Out come our raincoats and in go the electronic gadgets. Slowed down by the torrential downpour, it takes us a further hour and a half to reach the misty peak of Bukit Seraya.

A very unique tree stands at the summit, one with tentacle-like spreading buttress roots, which hikers refer to as the “Octopus Tree”. Now having victoriously summitted the second highest peak in Seberang Perai, we stop for a lunch break. 

Wild figs.

Having heard tales of a towering tree often referred to as the “Bukit Seraya Tualang Putih” (White Tualang Tree) prior to this hike, we hatch a plan to locate it. Our smartphone hiking applications show that this tree grows on the lower slopes northeast of the peak, and so we follow a trail leading down that direction. We see several confusing junctions leading away from the trail, but our doubts are allayed when we spot markings with the bái (白) Chinese character on several trees by the trail side. My two companions on this hike, Heng and Peter, who are well versed in Chinese, explain that bái (白) means “white” and is certainly a marker pointing in the direction of the Bukit Seraya Tualang Putih Tree. 

The Bukit Seraya Tualang Putih Tree is probably the only wild specimen of Tualang (Koompassia excelsa) in Penang.

We follow these markings steeply downhill. Then, the trail becomes almost like riding mudslide due to the torrential downpour. We slip but remain safely anchored by the climbing ropes along the trail. After about an hour, we reach the edge of the dense forest; but where is the tree? 

Turning around we spot a huge trunk at the forest edge and as we look up, lo and behold, the Bukit Seraya Tualang Putih Tree!

Tok Janggut Waterfall.

Towering at least twice as high as the surrounding forest canopy, this Tualang tree (Koompassia excelsa), is probably the only wild specimen in Penang. Ranked as one of the tallest tree species in the world, its bark is smooth and light brown—almost white— (hence the name Tualang Putih), if spotted from far.

I have never seen a tree this tall. We gaze upwards to its canopy in awe. Each of us take turns guessing how tall the tree is, when I spot an eagle’s nest on one of the higher branches. As the rain tapers away and the mist clears, I quickly snap a few precious clicks of this majestic monolith for the delight of Penang Monthly readers. While the weather put a damper on our adventure, this hike is nothing short of terrific, offering everything from a historic dam to a gushing waterfall and a towering tree. What more can I ask for? I will certainly revisit, but this time, on a sunny day!


[1]  Gardner, S; Sidisunthorn, P; Lai, EM (2015). Heritage Trees of Penang. Penang: Areca Books

[2]  Brisbane, DW (1923). Prai Water Supply. The Far Eastern Review

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 Industrial Zone, his weekends are spent reflecting and recharging on the green hills of Penang.