CYCLING SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA
13 April 2016 – Cape Town, South Africa – Singapore (by plane)
Although I did not get to see everyone I wanted to and did not do all the things I planned, it was time to say goodbye to friends and family, and I left lovely Cape Town for the long flight to Singapore via Dubai and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The flight was not too bad, as long haul flights go, except that I had a 6-hour layover in Colombo. Interestingly enough, it was Tamil New Year and a public holiday in Sri Lanka, with the result that there was free fruit, tea and coconut milk rice-cakes for anyone who so wished. I must say, the rice cakes were lovely, especially since they were served with a very potent chilli paste.
14 April - Singapore
I finally arrived in Singapore, drew some expensive Singapore dollars from the ATM, bought a SIM card for my phone, and hailed a taxi to the Tree in Lodge Hostel, a well-known hostel amongst cycle tourers. SK, the owner of the hostel, cycled from Finland to Singapore a few years back and had been hosting cyclists from around the globe ever since. I was impressed that he waited up for me at that ungodly hour and was ready to help me carry my bicycle and bags inside.
It was nearly midday by the time I woke and I headed down the well-organised streets and suburbs to Chinatown, where I found Chinatown to still be Chinatown. Albeit squeaky clean, there was the usual abundance of delicious food and strange dried items—from seahorses to flying lizards. I loved the way that the old Chinese shophouses had been renovated and were still in use, making a colourful picture against a backdrop of modern skyscrapers. With a stomach full of pork pau and dim sum, I headed back to the hostel to assemble the bike and to get things a bit more organised for my trip, as it was not going to happen on its own.
I woke to a roommate announcing that there was a free tour of the parliament house; I quickly downed a cup of coffee, and off I went. Once again, it was an enjoyable day of fascinating history, jaw-dropping architecture, and delicious eats. I walked and walked, along the banks of the Singapore River, past fascinating pieces of art, past tourists sitting at riverside restaurants, and past locals rushing to and from work. Later, I headed back to the hostel, thinking of picking up the tripod and heading out for a few night shots. Things did not quite work out that way, as at the hostel I started talking to the other cyclists, two more cyclists arrived, we had a few beers, and in the end, it was a rather social evening.
I was warming to Singapore and stayed two more days. Firstly, I looked for a new laptop, as mine was slowly packing up (in the end I decided against it). After sunset, I took a walk to the waterfront and took a few very poor hand-held shots of the laser show. Why is it that I never have the tripod when I need it?
19 April Singapore – Johor Bahru, Malaysia 40 km
It was the last day for most of my roommates in the Tree in Lodge Hostel. We had coffee, chatted, and said goodbye, after which everyone headed off in their own direction. I headed for the Woodlands checkpoint, following the map that SK (the owner of the hostel) sent me. Seven kilometres from the border, SK waited for me along the road and we had a cold drink together.
Once again, I must say the staff of the Tree in Lodge Hostel is awesome and go out of their way to help. Thanks, guys!
I crossed the border into Malaysia at the busiest (and most organised) border-crossing I have ever come across. Malaysia is now starting to feel like home! Although it was rather early and I had hardly cycled, I decided to stay in Johor Bahru as I have never stayed there before. I found myself a room and then went in search of the usual (an ATM and a SIM card). Johor Bahru is fast changing—from a seedy border town to a rather hip and modern city. Unfortunately, the lovely old quarters seemed to be losing its character as the old shophouses were making way for new malls and shopping centres.
I, fortunately, found a room in an area where there were still plenty of typical eateries, where toothless men sat smoking and playing board games while sipping tea or Tiger beer. I grabbed myself a mutton curry and rice - I must admit that the Malays know how to cook a decent mutton curry.
20 April – Johor Bahru – Pontian Kecil – 60 km
I completely overslept and only woke in my windowless room after 9h00. Not that there was any hurry to go anywhere. It was humid and I was completely drenched, way before I even started cycling. I thought of taking a smaller road along the coast, but Malaysia is developing at such a pace that what I thought would be a small road turned out to be a highway!
There was not much I could do about it but stay on the highway as I could not see any small roads on my map. It was easy cycling all the way to Pontian Kecil (where I have stayed previously) and even though I did not look for it, I immediately spotted the cheap hotel where I stayed before. I took a walk to the supermarket, bought some food and other bits and pieces, and headed back to the coolness of my air-conditioned room. Phew!!!
21 April Pontian Kevil – Batu Pahat – 70 km
There was no doubt that I was now back in the tropics. It must have been real hot, as no sooner had I left, and a lady on a motorbike handed me a bag with an ice-cold “100 plus”. It was highly appreciated, and it went down rather well. Later in the day, a Malay man stopped and gave me a bottle of water and even offered me a lift to Batu Pahat. He must have thought me a real mad woman, cycling in the midday heat and refusing a lift!
The previous night I contacted a warmshowers host but did not get an answer so found an air-con room at the Garden Hotel at a special price. Later that evening, his email (which he sent the previous night already) came through but by that time I was already showered and comfortably ensconced in my room.
22 - 23 April Batu Phat – Malacca - 100km
The price also included breakfast, which came as a surprise. After a good plate of fried rice, I made my way north to Malacca. I found plenty of interesting roadside stalls to quench my thirst, and although it was boiling hot I pulled my cap down low and soldiered on. Once in Malacca, I headed for Ringo’s Foyer Guest House and warmshower host, Howard. It is a real cool hostel where cycle tourists can sleep on the roof terrace for free.
The next morning I went for a little run along the river and saw Malacca from a whole new perspective. It was a sweltering hot day, and I was happy for my roof top spot where there were just the slightest of breezes.
24 April Malacca – Lukut 75 km
Again it was a day the high humidity left me totally drenched before I even started cycling. It was, however, easy cycling along the coast and I stopped for breakfast at a fraction of the price in touristy Malacca. One could tell it was another unusually hot day as even the Muslim ladies were swimming – burka and all!!
I think seeing all those ladies in their wet burkas was slightly too much for this conservative society as no sooner had I left the coast and found a man masturbating along the side of the road!
Once I reached Lukut, I was ready for an air-con room. I found a homestay (not all that cheap), but it was worth it just for the powerful air-con.
25 April - Lukut – Puchong – 80 km
I left earlier than usual and headed for Peter’s place in Puchong. I was looking forward to seeing Peter and his family again. Again it was easy riding, half through palm oil plantations and half on a busy main road past the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit and airport. I reached Peter’s place early and was welcomed with a cold beer and a warm pie! This was heaven to me as there is nothing I hate more than a warm beer and a cold pie!
26 - 30 April/1 May - Puchong
Although the room I occupied before was left to an Airbnb tenant, Peter put me up in an apartment, and although unfurnished, it had a fridge and a bed and was just perfect for my stay. I decided to fly to India to collect the stuff I had “posted” while there in January. Seeing that the parcel had never left Kochi Post Office and was still there, it was best for me to go fetch it! As the box contained all my “valuable” items, i.e. sleeping bag, tent, stove, etc., it was worth my while to go there to collect it. The price of the flight tickets varied from day to day, and as the next cheap ticket was only on May 2nd, I decided to wait the few days and save some bucks.
There was very little for me to do except go for a run in the mornings and take a walk to the shops to get some food stuff.
Peter took me to the airport at the ungodly hour of 3h00 in the morning as my flight to Kochi was at 6h00. It was an uneventful 4-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, and I arrived in India at 7h00. I found a really nice room at Kevin’s Homestay and went in search of my parcel, which I found intact at the post office. The reason for the non-sending was listed as two-fold. Firstly, the item was said to contain “batteries” (maybe referring to the solar panel, but can it store energy?) and secondly, the item was listed as containing “powder”. Could that have been the instant noodles? The parcel was returned due to security reasons, and they did not refund me the postage.
With all my goodies safely back in my possession, I went in search of my favorite steamed momo restaurant.
It was off season, and Kochi looked slightly forlorn in the depressing heat. Most of the tourists had gone, and long-term tenants had already left in search of cooler climates elsewhere.
“What you still doing here?” someone asked, clearly indicating that the tourist season was over. Even the fishing boats were in the port and looked sadly abandoned in the midday heat. Fishermen, half lying, half sitting, were lethargically watching the flies crawling over their meager catch. The normal colourful clothes now looked faded as they slowly flapped in the breeze. How very different it all seemed in comparison to the high season. Even with the heat and humidity, I still liked India. Maybe it’s the madness, the contrast, the craziness of it all. I stood looking at the incredible amount of plastic pollution on the shore, and when I turned around and saw that someone was knitting a cover from the branches of the tree behind me, I thought, "This is India".
3 - 4 May - Kochi
A free day in Kochi gave me time to explore, even though I did not feel much like exploring in the heat. I did, however, buy a suitcase to put all my stuff in, as lugging a huge box around proved to be rather difficult.
Then it was off to the local washing area, where laundry still gets done by hand in large concrete tubs, then wrung out and hung on a twisted rope line, no pegs needed. All items are neatly ironed, the old fashioned way, with large cast-iron irons filled with coals. How nothing gets lost is another of India’s many mysteries.
Again, it was the contrast in India that left me speechless. In this very polluted country, it is, at the same time, also a very green world. The clothesline (made of coconut husk) is not only green, and replaces nylon rope, but it is also considered one of the strongest. The line is twisted, and corners of the laundry are slipped into the twists, making pegs unnecessary. How very clever!
With everything done, it was time to head back to Malaysia. My flight was only at 23h30, so I had loads of time to kill. Just before 19h00, I headed down the road to catch the 19h00 bus to the airport. At 80 rupees, it was worth it, compared to 1,200 rupees for a taxi. But this is India, and not all went smoothly! Soon after we left, we were refunded our 80 rupees and told the bus was broken, and we had to make another plan. In the process, I met Bianca, from Switzerland, who was also on the bus and bound for the same flight as me. There was nothing left to do but hail a tuk-tuk, and off we went in our air-con Ferrari in bumper to bumper traffic, making it just in time for our 11h30 flight! There is never a dull moment in India.
5 May - Puchong, Malaysia
AirAsia is a budget airline and by that I mean BUDGET! There is not even a glass of water for free, the mere fact that it was not a paid-toilet came as a surprise. I’m not complaining, just saying! We did, however, land smoothly and I took the train to Putrajaya Central where Peter picked me up and dropped me at the condo. I caught a few winks as I lost a few hours and then slowly started getting my stuff ready to leave again. That night a most spectacular storm broke over Puchong and what a spectacle it was!
6 May - Puchong
The morning was fresh after the previous night’s storm, and I headed out on my morning jog, past municipal workers mowing the lawn, leaving a freshly cut grass smell hanging in the air. Past the lake and the new MRT still under construction, past the lady selling the fried snacks, and I was enjoying the familiarity of what has become my morning jog. It was my last day in Puchong, and I did my laundry and packed my few belongings, finding that I now suddenly had a whole lot of stuff I did not have before.
7 May - Puchong to Kuala Selangor – 73 km
I went for breakfast with Peter and Alice and knew I was going to miss them terribly. It was, however, time to move on, and as always, I was happy to be on the bicycle again. I soon found the back roads, which by now I knew existed, and slowly made my way to Selangor. Just off the main road, I found The Melawati Ria Hotel at a very reasonable price and was happy for the cool of my tiny air-con room. In the hotel lobby, I met Saras, a teacher from Puchong, who promptly invited me to come with them to see the fireflies. I had a quick shower, and off we went. It was bucketing down with rain, but still we took the tiny rowboat and had some real good sightings of fireflies.
8 May - Kuala Selangor
I heard that there was a fair amount to see in Selangor, so I put on my running shoes and headed out the door. First, I went to the nearby small Nature Park. It was not for the fainthearted, mosquito-wise, and I had to step up the pace a bit. I dragged my weary body up Bukit Malawati, a small hill where once stood a fort, captured by the Dutch in 1867 and recaptured by the Sultan in 1873. The only remains are part of a retaining wall, some cannons, a poisoned well, a 200-year-old Angsana tree, and a bedrock that some people believe was used for beheading traitors but most likely was utilised by the Sultan only as a lookout over his stronghold. All made for a rather interesting run, although there was more sightseeing than running.
9 May - Kuala Selangor - Melintang - 75 km
The road was already baking in the sun by the time I left. I filled up with water and went in search of the back roads, of which I found plenty. I love these small back roads through the palm plantations, as they are quiet, with hardly any traffic, just the occasional small kampung and playful monkeys darting across the road.
I found it interesting that the Silvered Leaf monkeys are born with orange fur while the adults are black in colour. Apparently, the fur does not change colour until three to five months after birth. The young are cared for by females communally and are not weaned for 18 months, even though the biological mother stops lactating after just 12 months. How fascinating!
I stopped in Pantai Redang and parked under the wishing tree; entangled with red ribbons, it made for an interesting photo. To make a wish, one throws a red ribbon, knotted on both ends with coins, into the tree. I made a wish, but as I did not buy a ribbon and just threw one that was lying on the ground, I'm not sure if my wish will come true. Hahahaha.
I continued across many rivers, jam-packed with fishing boats, past ornate Hindu temples and small villages, until I reached Melintang. It was nearly 16h00, and the usual food stalls were already in full swing. As I had not eaten all day, the smells drifting across the road from these stalls were enough to make me call it a day and look for a room. I then devoured a whole plate of noodles with boiled eggs!
10 May - Melintang – Sitiawan – 60 km
It was a rather uneventful stretch as there were no convenient small roads to follow. Under normal circumstances, I would not have stopped in Sitiawan was it not for the fact that I discovered that I left my laptop charger in my hotel room in Kuala Selangor. I found a hotel room with the hope to purchase one in Sitiawan, as it was quite a large town. To my shock and horror, I soon discovered that there was no charger available for my brand new laptop. How on earth do they launch a new laptop without providing the necessary support?? All my ranting and raving did not make one iota of difference, and it was, most certainly, not going to make one fall out of the sky!
I phoned the hotel in Kuala Selangor to ask if they have found it but the answer was negative. Later I called again and asked them to re-check the room, and when I phoned back half hour later they confirmed that they have found the charger!! I was doing my happy dance! Normally, this would be the happy ending to the story, but the saga continued as there was no direct bus back to Kuala Selangor and I was reluctant to cycle the 140 km back and return the same way the next day.
The only bus option was Setiawan - Kuala Lumper – Klang – Kuala Selangor, a 2-day overnight journey and the same way back again. Phew, I’m exhausted just saying it! I decided to sleep on it.
11 May - Setiawan
I packed a small bag of necessary items and headed out the door, ready for my long bus ride, but on second thoughts turned back and decided to take the very costly taxi option. At 500 Malaysian Ringgit (App. $125) it was nearly the price of the laptop but on the positive side, I could go to Kuala Selangor and back in a morning. For someone who hardly has any money this was maybe not the best option but I did it anyway and went there and back in no time at all. I am now the proud owner of (I’m sure) the most expensive laptop charger in Malaysia.
12 May - Setiawan – Taiping - 90 km
“How old are you?” and “You must be very strong!” are just some of the typical remarks I hear around this part of the world. I must look like crap, but then, on second thought, I am starting to resemble Daisy de Melker. I generally reply that what I’m doing is nothing, seeing that there are women in their own country who give birth naturally! Now, that is strong and brave, if you ask me. I’m merely pedaling a bicycle—there is no comparison!
It was a short cycling day, but there was no need to push on to Panang, which was another 80 kilometres down the road. Along the way, I met two Belgian cyclists who were nearing the end of their year-long cycle journey from Belgium to Singapore. They looked fit, lean, and tanned—but most of all, happy. Those are signs that cycle-touring must be good, for one. Although they were looking forward to seeing their children and grandchildren again, I’m sure they will also miss their life on the road. We chatted for a while and then continued on our respective ways again.
I pulled into Taiping, thinking that I might give the zoo at night another try, this time with a tripod, but it started raining before it even got dark, so nothing came of my nightly visit to the zoo.
13 May - Taiping – Penang - 98 km
I was late in leaving, as I had not fallen asleep until the early hours of the morning. Fortunately, it was an overcast day, making for easy riding all the way to Penang. Not that I was not sweating buckets; it was still incredibly humid, but at least I was not under the scorching sun.
I pulled into Penang thinking that it was going to be a quick in and out, just to arrange for a Thailand visa. I did not realise it was a Friday, and that meant waiting until Monday to hand in the passport and hopefully get it back the following day, making it Wednesday before I got out of there. In the meantime, I found myself a cheap room at the Love Lane Inn. The room itself was rather bare-bones, with just a mattress on the floor (no “bathroom inside” this time, hahaha). The price, however, reflected the lack of amenities.
I could hardly wait for the famous street food to get under way as I was (as usual) ravenous. I headed for my, by now, favourite food stand and gulped down a whole host of exotic eats. I made a copy of the passport (which I will need for the visa application) and then headed back to my mattress on the floor.
Next morning it was on with the running shoes and off to explore by foot, down the road to the water’s edge, along the promenade, past the old fort and past a host of old colonial buildings, some renovated and some still waiting in line.
I hesitate to call what I do"running”. I’m only chugging along with a grimace, gasping for air, arms flailing wildly. With all that effort I should be moving at quite a pace, but in reality, I’m hardly moving at all. It is quite extraordinary how others can make it look so easy! Drenched with perspiration, I returned to my mattress, just to find that there was no water to shower due to a broken pipe. I packed up and went around the corner to another, and much better joint for the same price. At least now I had a bed, bedside table, writing table and two chairs, as well as a “shower inside” but toilet still outside, hahaha!
After my morning run, I met up with Rickee Lee, a native of Penang and fellow cycle tourer. We went for breakfast and chatted away about all kinds of things. It's amazing; the awesome people I meet along the way!
On Monday morning, I took the bus to the snake temple situated on the outskirts of town. The temple itself is quite old and was constructed in 1850 by a Buddhist monk. I was surprised to find that the snakes were not in cages but were slithering everywhere. I had to tread rather carefully as these pit vipers were everywhere. I took a few pictures and made a hasty retreat.
Finally, Tuesday arrived, and I picked up my passport with a new Thailand visa (valid for two months) and was ready to roll again.
18 May - Penang – Alor Setar - 103 km
I have just about had enough of all this the negativity in Southeast Asia, and if one more person tells me I’m too old to cycle, I’m going to fucking punch them in the face! I know, I look old for my age, but, Christ, I’m not 100 years old! All this “How old ARE you?” said with a lifting of the eyebrows are starting to get on my tits. Alternatively, I guess, I can just don a burka! One could swear the right to ride a bicycle here is strictly reserved for the under 25s! That’s my little rant over for the day.
I did not get away until after 9h00, but it was easy cycling and the weather a pleasant 30–33°C. I stayed on the main road and once again passed a multitude of roadside stalls selling interesting food and drinks. There was also no shortage of huge aviaries (for the lack of a better word) that are used for farming swiftlet nests. The edible nests are made of solidified saliva and are used in soups; it's still a very popular, albeit expensive, dish.
The rainy season is on its way and many of the rice paddies were being prepared for planting. It is such a labour-intensive job that I’m starting to appreciate every grain. I reached Alor Setar (that became Alor Star along the way) in good time and found the Comfort Hotel, which must be the cheapest in town. The room had no “bathroom inside” this time, but the bicycle could be inside and the communal bathrooms were at least clean looking. The night market was just behind the hotel, and I did not just have one dish but two!
19 May - Alor Setar, Malaysia – Hat Yai, Thailand - 106 km
Ha, not a single “How old ARE you?” today. I think they could see I had this aura saying…….”don’t even think about it!”. Hahahaha. I cycled the 60 kilometres to the border and crossed into Thailand, easy-peasy! I did my usual SIM card/draw money thing, and then cycled a further 57 kilometres to Hat Yai. I found a host of cheap hotels around the railway station - I picked the Park Hotel that turned out quite reasonable at 350 Thai Baht (less than $10) for a large room with wi-fi and bathroom.