A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia

four seasons in one cycle

all seasons in one day

For the first time in our cycling trip we set the alarm to go off when it was still dark. Munching on bananas as we packed our panniers we were about 5 kms out of Ipoh before we saw the sun peeking up over the horizon. A tad extreme perhaps, but we were more than a little anxious about the cycle into the Cameron Highlands that lay ahead - easily the biggest and longest climbing day of the entire trip so far. The distance wasn't too daunting - 90km in total - but half of it was a solid uphill climb and of most concern to us - it was a food and water desert. The temperature in Malaysia is so punishing it makes Vietnam seem positively arctic. It is uncomfortably hot by about 9am, unrelenting till about 4pm so we needed to get as high as we could as early as we could to escape the stifling heat.

About 12 km out of Ipoh we stopped just before the turn off to the Cameron Highlands and a small Indian eaterie and virtually ate and drank it dry. Too polite to ask, they dutifully obliged when we asked for 2 dosa and an omelette each for breakfast, 7 litres of water and 6 roti and about a litre of daal secured in a plastic bag with an elastic band around it to go. So with the smell of lentils, cardamom and hot bread wafting out of the food bag attached to the bag of the pannier we started the climb.

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Predictably by about 9am it was baking hot and with very little shade our eyes were soon burning from sweat. I studiously stared at the kilometre gauge on the GPS which inched forwards painfully slowly.

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It was only by the time we reached about 900mts above sea level that there was some reprieve from the heat. The air was noticeably cooler and we noticed with some relief that it was clouding over. This relief did not last long. The smattering of light clouds quickly turned heavy and grey. As we struggled to the 1200 metre mark the heavens open and rain lashed down with fury. Virtually unable to see and, unbelieveably, feeling cold for the first time in about 2 months we stopped for shelter in a garden centre with a little cafe among the strawberry plants for a cup of tea to warm us up. Two hours later and still no mercy. Eventually we waded out onto the road that was virtually a river but after 10 km of cycling as if we had our eyes shut with ineffective brakes as the roads were too slippery we took refuge again under a bus shelter conceding defeat that we were not going to make it without motorised assistance. We were going to need to hitch a ride.

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Happily in the typically generous malaysian way we did not have our thumb out for long before a lorry driver transporting plants to a nearby garden centre picked us up and nestled the bikes in with the flowers in the back of the truck while we thawed out in the cab. As he dropped us off only 5 km from Tanah Rata the rain had lifted and we cycled into the village with the sun peeking through the clouds about 10 hours after we started.

We spent a day relaxing in the highlands, relishing the cool climate, wearing a jumper in the evening for the first time in months. Tea is grown in abundance here, although mainly for consumption within southeast asia. We whiled away an afternoon feeling quintessentially english sipping tea overlooking the plantations and went for a (short) walk in the mossy forest which looks like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel.

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The descent out of Tanah Rata towards Kuala Lumpur was even better than the climb. The road was narrower and lined with trees sweeping down towards the coast. Initially we planned to stop at a little town called Slim River because we liked the name. However when we arrived it was clear than the name did not live up to our misplaced expectations as there was very little there with only one very run down looking guesthouse. Staying the night was not quite off the cards as Selma the waitress in our lunchstop was very excited about us coming through by bike and as she delivered our daal and roti announced that we could stay with her - but we would have to wait another 6 hours until her shift finished. As lovely as Selma was, we decided to catch the local train the rest of the way (about 60km) into Kuala Lumpur; unexpectedly and prematurally calling time on the Asia leg of our cycling tour.

Posted by mrs lewis 23:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Bicycle have bicycle can

sunny 30 °C

After a day sightseeing in Bangkok we boarded the train to Malaysia. When we had arrived in Thailand and realised we would not be able to cycle through southern Thailand due to the flooding, we though we would do the prudent thing and buy train tickets down to Malaysia well in advance; on the first day we arrived in Thailand, 2 weeks before the wedding. However, on enquiring at the station we found out that due to Songkran festival, tickets for the whole week preceding the wedding were sold out apart from 2 seats left on the train that got in on the same day as the wedding itself. We snapped them up but it was always going to be a race against the clock to make it on time. The train trip down was great with decent beds and a nice restaurant car to relax in with real food whilst taking in the views of the Thai countryside - makes the UK train service look pathetic with its yukky cheese and onion pasties.

We arrived in Malaysia early on the 14th and had a morning cycle to reach the ferry terminal for Langkawi. We missed the 12 o'clock boat by seconds due to not having any local currency and needing to find a cash point so had to wait for the one at 1430. With the wedding beginning at 1700 and with 28km to cover once the ferry docked it was going to be tight. Predictably the ferry was late and we arrived with only one hour left to go and still in our lycra. Luckily we met a Malaysian cyclist on the ferry and true to cycling fraternity form he offered to help us - coincidentally he was staying in the same hotel as us. Cycling to the other side of the island was not going to be an option with only an hour to go. We would have to leave our bikes at the ferry port and take up our new friends offer of a lift in his rented car. We put our bikes in the car park and waited for the rental car to turn up. At 1620 and after several phone calls to the car rental shop there was still no sign of the car so we jumped in a taxi and asked him to drive as fast as possible. We arrived at our hotel with 15 minutes to spare, had a quick shower, changed and got in another taxi to the wedding venue. 1705 we arrived, five minutes late but we had travelled overland from Hong Kong, cycling 4,000km through Asia, so all in all a pretty good effort. It was lovely to see so many friends from home after such a long time and the wedding was a joyous occasion with a very well suited couple - congratulations Dean and Michelle.
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After a few days in Langkawi (another beautiful island which has experienced some less than desirable effects from tourism) we made our way back north to an island in Thailand called Ko Lipe. When our friends who were supposed to be meeting us at the port didn't show up for the departure we figured our six months in a warped world of cycle touring had made us unbearable company but turns out they all got conned and ended up being taken on a 8 hour journey back onto the mainland and round half a dozen islands after being told the 2 hour ferry journey had been cancelled, all so the travel agent who sold them the tickets could earn a few extra Rimbit on the tickets. Travel agents in Asia are generally conmen; another profession along with estate agents that will hopefully be phased out in the age of the internet. Unfortunately I can't see this happening to people who work in advertising.
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We had a great time on Ko Lipe and the nearby pristine island of Ko Adang. Both islands sit within the Ko Taratao Marine National Park and we did some beautiful snorkelling during our stay. After a few days spent with the Leeds Uni crew it was time to hit the road again. We took a boat to Georgetown on the island of Penang, a delightful town with well preserved colonial buildings and an incredible mix of cultures and food, including Indian, Chinese, Malaysian and Thai. Little India was particularly interesting and was like being back on Brick Lane but with better food. We feasted on dosas, rotis and curries of all types as well as fitting in a days cycling around the island.
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Another wonderful thing about Malaysia is the people; perhaps the friendliest we have come across on our trip. Their two favourite words appear to be "can" and "have", a nice change from hearing Vietnamese saying "no, no, no", and this really reflects their warm, welcoming demeanour. On arriving in Malaysia, we asked to two ladies at the ferry port a number of questions each of which was met with either "can" or "have".

"Can we take our bicycles on the ferry?"
"Can, can"
"Are their routes for cyclists?"
"Have, have. Bicycle have, bicycle can"

Yes, Malaysia is truly the place for those seeking positivity. Positivity have, positivity can. Bicycle have, bicycle can!

The following day we took a ferry over to the mainland and began our route south to Kuala Lumpur via the Cameron Highlands. After a very boring day of cycling (unfortunately much of Malaysia has been turned into palm oil plantations to feed our growing addiction to processed food) we reached another lovely little town called Taiping which had a large Chinese population who had moved there at the beginning of the twentieth century for tin mining, proving that China's current mission to buy up every resource left on earth is not a recent trend. The following day the cycling got better as we reached Ipoh at the foot of the Cameron Highlands. The next day would be one of our biggest challenges, a 90km ride including a single continuous ascent of 1500m, with no services of any kind, in 35 degree heat. Yikes.
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Posted by roblewis 04:19 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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