Balik Pulau has a secret.
The Penangites might not want you to know this. And the truth is, few Malaysians probably do. Ask people where they can find Penang’s best Assam Laksa, and you will probably be directed to Air Itam, or Penang Road. But the best answer to this question lies in the town center of Balik Pulau.
How did we stumble upon this secret? This story begins on one special Sunday morning when we dragged our butts out at the crack of dawn to go cycling with Matahari Cycle Tours.
Cycling with Matahari Cycle Tours
Our tour started out in a little carpark, where we were assigned bicycles that had been calibrated to our height and weight. All this information had been sussed out prior to our trip, and I appreciated the attention to detail given how we were all of different confidence levels. Our thousand-dollar Giant bikes were state-of-the-art equipment, which made us feel like we were on our very own Tour de Penang. That being said, my flimsy shorts did not provide any form of discernible padding. After 21km, this proved to be a very sore point.
Once we were all geared up and ready to go, we set off in a single file through the countryside of Balik Pulau. Our guides, SJ and Princilia, ensured that we were treated to a diversity of ever-changing landscapes. Through quiet little hamlets and lush padi fields, along winding river streams and picturesque towns, I was constantly overwhelmed with a sense of privilege that I was privy to scenes exclusive to those who had ventured to this part of the woods. We even had a moment with a pair of cows, cheeky fellas who decided to make our ride that much more exciting by plonking themselves in the middle of our path along the bend of the creek. That proved to be a real test of our sense of balance!
Simply cycling would already have been an adventure, but the other activities curated for us made it a true induction into a side of Penang oft hidden from tourists. We had a hand at using a long pokey apparatus to wrangle rambutans from a tree, enjoyed the town’s unique kueh kueh with the most fragrant cup of coffee, and had our clothes nibbled on by goats at the Saanen Dairy farm. SJ and Princilia were a veritable wealth of information, answering our many questions with ease in addition to sharing their stories. It was also clear that they had forged strong friendships with the people of Balik Pulau.
I’ve to admit that there were times when we felt like giving up because the weather was so unforgiving. But apart from the constant banter and encouragement from our guides, what kept us going was the safety vehicle that waited for us at every stop. It was well-stocked with chilled water and 100 Plus, which ensured we were constantly hydrated. Knowing that the safety vehicle was nearby also gave us the assurance that help could be rendered quickly in case of any emergency.
World’s Best Assam Laksa
I haven’t forgotten about the Assam Laksa. Truth be told, by the end of that 21km, we were all pretty spent. Our final challenge was to cycle on the padi fields, which is no mean feat when your butt is numb and the penalty for losing your balance is taking a dip with the padi. But we persevered, and at the end of the road, in a little hut overlooking an incredible view, was the most amazing spread of Assam Laksa, spring rolls, fried chicken and iced tea.
We felt like the winners of a reward challenge on Survivor. Every bite of the Assam Laksa – this tangy, umami-filled, springy, noodley goodness topped with a mountain of ingredients – felt like a godsend. The spring rolls were crisp, the chicken wings juicy and the sweet iced tea the perfect thirst-quencher. We were incredibly grateful that our hosts had made the effort to buy us all this food from Heritage Assam Laksa and allow us to enjoy it in this incredible setting. (Read: Gastrogasmic Street Food Guide to Penang)
If there was ever an experience that made my heart sing, this was it. Cheesy as it sounds, it’s one of those moments when your heart feels like it’s bursting to the brim with joy, contentment and gratitude. A fullness that only comes from forging new friendships, being treated to views you never expected to see in a city you thought you were familiar with, and enjoying the privilege of savouring Penang’s best Assam Laksa.
Matahari Cycle Tours
These fantastic folks offer a range of tours in Malaysia so do check out their website to see which one suits your schedule best! Tours are 100% personalised to your group’s needs and proficiency level.
We are also privileged that Matahari Cycle Tours is offering a 10% discount to all our readers! Simply quote “etsyexplores” in your booking to enjoy this!
Check out our Gastrorgasmic Food Guide to Penang for our favourite street food in the city!
Have you been to Penang before? Share with us what you love about it in the comments below!
This article first appeared in ETSY Explores.