TheDuh's Great Rides Series - Gunung Jerai
report and photos by Darren Lee
(Polar graph coming soon)

If you're from the North, and especially if you're from Kedah like me, chances are that you've heard of Gunung Jerai, otherwise known as Kedah Peak. It is, in fact, the highest peak in the north of our country, although the fact that it rises to 1,100 metres right in the middle of the state of Kedah, which is pan-cake flat and the rice bowl of Malaysia, does makes it look like some sort of geographical anomaly.

So, in cycling, why isn't it as well known as say, Genting Highlands? Well, for one thing, it's out of the way.... "terpencil" as you might put it. It lies 30km to the north of Sungai Petani and 30km south of Alor Setar, the state capital. In between... hmm... nothing much, unless you like visiting one-road towns scattered here and there.

Secondly, the mountain road up with largely a one-lane affair, and it gets quite narrow as you negotiate the switchbacks. And oh boy, there are plenty of them to scare the crap out of you.


(Pic above) A switchback. I (conveniently) was using a phone camera with panoramic feature, so this photo is a combination of three smaller photos. As you can see, the road is narrow, with absolutely no shoulders. I was actually grateful to stop and rest too ...

Thirdly, there's nothing up there, apart from a government run "hotel" which didn't look too good to me (maybe hotel isn't such a right term....). However, having nothing up there is actually a good thing for us cyclists, you see, since that keeps the traffic volume to low levels. You don't want to be hurtling down the mountain into a Naza Ria crammed full of people going up for a holiday...


(Pic above) 'Tis the view that greets you at the top as you rest your tired legs. Lots and lots of greenery. There's a small park (left of the photo) for kiddies to play around in the cool 1,100 metre altitude.

The climb itself... well let's see. It is a constant 8% for 10 or 11km (depending on where you stop). And I do really mean constant... there just aren't any steep-ish sections and neither is there any place for you to 'recover'. It just grinds on and on, and can be quite demoralising if you can't handle the punishing terrain for close to an hour.


(Pic above) It's just you and the open road...

Interestingly, its distance and average gradient is the same as l'Alpe d'Huez, and I would have counted the number of switchbacks to see if they match too, if not for the fact I was dying a thousand deaths trying to reach the top. I heard from the local riders that the record stands at 45 minutes. Pretty fast, considering that the record for L'Alpe stands at around 36 minutes (Marco Pantani, 1997 - of course that came at the end of a really long stage...).

(Pic above) Another 3 km to go..... uggghhh.... I forgot to mention there's a museum about 3km from the summit. Good place to rest and catch a breath. It did look rather interesting but I sure wasn't going to leave my bike there all by itself...

Getting there: Take the Federal Highway (main trunk road) out of Sungai Petani and head north. Alternatively, exit the PLUS highway at Gurun (the nearest 'big' town) and head north. The start of the climb is just by the trunk road - you can't miss it.

(Pic above) Are we in ..... Salem high country? These pine trees mean you're almost at the top. Just a few more corners to go.

Thanks for reading!

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