Distance - 30km
Weather- Hot and windy
Lots of hills
When I awoke in the morning my mind was immediately plagued with the memory that we had no money and our ATM cards weren't working. I couldn't sleep any longer. I needed to work out how we were going to call Australia and sort out this mess, and also where to buy tickets to Koh Lanta, and where to catch the ferry... but first I had to eat.
The breakfast was mainly Malaysian food - rice, spicy curry, strange sausages... so I had my fill of toast and fruit. I asked how much the hotel charged for international phone calls but the cost was far too expensive - expecially since I expected to spend a lot of time on hold.
I decided to walk to the busy shopping area near the port (only 2km away) and try to buy a phone card, and go back to the ticket office where I was told I could buy tickets to Koh Lanta.
As usual I underestimated the heat and was dripping with sweat by the time I arrived at the port. I asked around but couldn't find any phone cards. I did find a SIM card with really good international rates, but I didn't have enough cash. I decided to try an ATM and see what happened. The first ATM I tried worked. Our main card (Wizard Clear Advantage Mastercard) was working again! So I was able to buy the SIM card to call the banks. Phew!
Next I asked at the travel information office near the main terminal, and found out that there was a ferry that left from the Awana Ferry terminal on the other side of the island at 9am the next morning, but since it was international we needed to be there at 8am. I asked her about Tiger Travelines, which I had read about online but which many people condemned. She said it wasn't running anymore and this was our only option. But the tickets were pretty expensive in Asian terms (AU$115 each) so I wanted to talk to Sam first. She said she'd put two tickets on hold for a few hours.
Back at the hotel we decided that we'd come this far to catch the ferry to Koh Lanta, so rather than going back to the mainland to cross the border into Thailand we might as well go ahead with my plan to travel by sea.
I no longer needed to call Wizard but we were still worried about the NAB cards, so I called their international number. I didn't have to hold for long (I know, very surprising) and when they checked they said the cards and the account should be working fine, just sometimes overseas ATMs say they will accept your card, but they don't. We still didn't know why all our cards decided to stop working on the same night, but at least all seemed to be ok now.
We packed our bikes, bought the ferry tickets, and set out for the other side of Langkawi, where our ferry terminal was located. It was a beautiful but tough ride up the mountains along the coastline. It was only 30km but for our legs this was day six of cycling and they were screaming for a rest.
We made it to the SW corner of the island and started looking for a hotel. The first few we asked were quite expensive, quoting school holidays and saying we wouldn't find a better deal. But just up the road there was a group of seven hotels/resorts all next to each other along the beachfront, and there we were able to negotiate for a nice unit, 20m from the beach, for AU$23. We put our swimmers on and ran straight into the clear, calm water. We couldn't believe how warm it was! This was how a rest day was meant to be!
We wanted to go see a waterfall we'd read about so we dragged ourselves from the water to find a taxi to take us there. We negotiated with a driver to take us there, wait 1.5 hours for us to trek there, swim, trek down, and then bring us back. But as we were arriving we saw a string of cable cars going up impossibly high into the mountains and almost decided to go there instead. We'd come for the waterfall though, so we decided to see it through.
The waterfall was a disappointment. Lack of rain on the island meant it was a water-trickle, rather than a fall, so after a quick dip we ran back to the taxi to get him to take us to the cable cars. We suffered another disappointment though when we were told that ten minutes earlier they'd closed the cable cars, due to the wind. Funnily enough, anyone who had already bought a ticket was still able to ride it so the wind can't have been that bad.
To soothe our disappointment we hired two 'segways' and rode around the park to the amusement of onlookers. The machines move forward, back and sideways based on your movement, and while it took some getting used to, we had a great time.
In the evening we had our last Malaysian feast, including 'coconut and other fruit' drink, which was not as tasty as we'd hoped.
Distance - 115km
Weather - Hot, strong headwind
The morning was humid and within minutes our bodies were drenched with sweat. We were determined that today we would reach the island of Langkawi off Malaysia, so we needed to make it to the port of Kuala Perlis.
A strong head wind plagued us all day, but for the last 30km it grew even stronger, almost blowing Shanna off the road at times. The sun was hot and it was a long day of cycling, but we managed to reach the port in time for the 6.15pm ferry to Langkawi.
During the ferry trip a Malaysian video was playing on the TV screens. We couldn't understand whether it was meant to be scary or funny, and amongst the other passengers there was a mixture of reactions so that didn't help us. Despite not being able to understand what they were saying, and even though the acting was terrible, we found our eyes riveted to the screen for the one hour voyage watching a bizarre mixture of comedy and horror that we won't soon forget.
As we arrived in Langkawi the sun was setting, and the scenery was breathtaking. Beatiful beaches and harbours with a backdrop of mountains. We were looking forward to a few rest days on islands like this one.
We needed money so Sam went to an ATM. But despite trying five different ATM's and three different bank cards, nothing was working. We didn't have enough money (cash) for a hotel and it seemed our cards, according to two different institutions, had somehow been cancelled. It was midnight in Australia by this time, so we couldn't call the banks.
This also meant we couldn't buy our tickets for the ferry we wanted to catch in the morning to Koh Lanta. Plus we weren't sure where the ferry left from (despite our best efforts to find out) and the ticket office was closed until 9 the next morning. Looked like we had no choice but to stay on Langkawi for another day, and sort things out in the morning.
At the start of the day David tried to pursuade us to stay for another day. While it was tempting to rest and enjoy a trip to the local fishing village and the fireflies at night, we were so close to Thailand, we just wanted to get there.
As our new Sardinian friend Willy prepared to head off, we realised that we should soon follow before it got to hot. So whilst we enjoyed our traditional Malaysian breakfast of sweet pancakes, rice bread dipped in curry and milo we said our goodbyes to him with hopes of seeing him again when we return to Australia. He was riding to Kuala Lumper and then flying to Melbourne, where he would spend some time cycle touring before finding work for a year.
We left soon after and David jumped on his bike to ride with us part of the way towards Butterworth. We were riding along at a nice leisurely pace behind him when he got a call that his wife who lives in Kuala Lumpur was at his house and he had to turn around and go home. With some parting instructions on which way to go, and some final photos, he was gone.
It seems we've finally worked out a system of riding so that we both take turns at the front. (Although Sam still a lot more than Shanna) It was timely that we'd worked this out, because it was a difficult day with headwinds. It was also mentally tiring, as halfway through the day we realised the GPS had taken us away from the route David had recommended, and as a result we were riding much further than we needed to. When we thought we were so close to Thailand, it was difficult with tired aching legs, groaning sick stomachs and sore knees to accept that we now had further to go.
We stopped for some long breaks to rest our tired bodies and in the mid-afternoon, when the lightening and thunder started and a few drops started to fall, we gave up our plans of riding 100km for the day and looked for a hotel.
Weather: Hot and steamy followed by a storm and pouring rain.
It seems that we've entered a period where every afternoon/evening it rains. Some days we've made it to a town in time, often we haven't. On this day the rain started pouring down while we were riding and we were soaked through. We only had 10km to go to the next town though, so we kept going, hoping that soon we would find a hotel and be dry and comfortable.
We had already checked at three hotels (either too expensive or too noisy) and were headed for our fourth when a man stopped to speak to Sam. He said he had a guest house 2km away that would cost us just RM$30 for the night, so we decided to follow him.
When we pulled into his driveway I saw a sticker on his car for the website www.bicycletouringmalaysia.com and I remembered reading in other people's cycling blogs about a Malaysian who hosted cyclists in his home. They all recommended visiting David and at the time I had tried to find him on warmshowers, but without any luck, so had forgotten about it. He had found us.
David had been hosting cyclists for about six years and estimated 200 visitors in that time. On that day he had a Sardinian (not an Italian) staying and they were off to an Indian wedding that night. Now we were too. We quickly showered and put on our best clothes before climbing into the car.
The wedding was about an hour away and by the time we arrived we were starving, having hardly eaten all day. Luckily there was lots of yummy food to eat when we got there. We filled our stomachs with rice and curry, met David's family, and had photos with the bride and groom. We then got back in the car for the long drive home.
During the car trips we'd talked to William and David about their travels, past, present and future, and realised they were two of the most genuinely friendly people we'd met. On the way home we stopped at a foodcourt to try and fill William's craving for a Thai style banana pancake, but had to settle for crispy roti (like a pancake) and chocolate. While we ate we watched a Manchester United game on the big, public TV, and saw Rooney add to greatly to collective Malaysian happiness when he score a goal (almost everyone in Malaysia goes for ManU).
Back at David's we were too exhausted to even make use of his wifi before going to sleep on a bed of funny shaped rocks.
Weather: Hot and bothered
Our riding on this day followed the pattern we have established - ride as far as we can before it gets too hot, stop for some food and internet during the hottest part of the day, and then ride again for a couple of hours before it gets dark.
We were lucky on this day that the rain didn't fall until we'd already found ourselves a comfortable, cheap hotel with much more space than we were used to. We got the last room in the place and while we were filling out the papers two more groups arrived looking for rooms. School holidays were starting that night.
As I quickly flicked the pages of a largely uninteresting Malaysian newspaper (in English), I stumbled upon a news item which I was eager to read. It was about the debate over whether Malaysian pounds should be allowed to sell unwanted dogs and cats to people who want to eat them.
The article went on to say that while many in Malaysia don't like the idea of eating them, many countries do eat dog - like China, Vietnam and the Koreas. And some countries eat cats. Like Australia.
Did I read that right?
I reread the paragraph but it was definitely what the article said. In Australia we eat cats.
I was amused but also surprised that someone could print this article with what was glaringly (to me) a lie.
But then I remembered that we live in a diverse multicultural society, one that includes immigrants from all over Asia, and all over the world. So, could it actually be true that in Australia we do eat cats and/or dogs? Has anyone ever heard of this thing happening in Australia, or even been a part of it? Send in your answers and let us know!
Weather- Hot, then heavy rain, then dry, then rain...
Rode the final 30kms in the rain.
As we walked through the door, across the broken concrete pavement, gingerly lifting our heavy bikes from the high curb we noticed two cats hissing at each other. Presumably they were feral ones, and it wasn't unusual to see two cats in Malaysia so thinking nothing of the occurrence we got on our bikes and began pedaling.
The Malaysian countryside changed quickly from the urban industrial coastal province of Banting with its thriving mostly Indian population into the sparsely populated rural countryside, occasionally littered with Warung's (outdoor roadside eating places), dilapidated tiny villages with small motosikal repair shops and massive palm tree plantations (Malaysia is the worlds biggest exporter of palm oil, an oil that is rich in saturated fats giving it a delicious artery clogging taste. Most of these exports go to India and China).
We continued riding and along the roadside we saw a few more cats, which was still no big deal, and we stopped for lunch at a small warung selling a selection of hot fish, mutton, and chicken curries. It looked like a delicious Indian affair so we loaded our plates up with chicken curry, rice and a bean and vegetable mix. But as we took our first bites we realised it wasn't actually Indian but the original local cuisine, littered with hot spicy chillies and no other discernible taste. Whilst we have gotten more used to hot foods here the taste of Chili permeating everything must be an acquired taste (one the Indonesians also enjoy). We forced down less than half, looked down at our feet, saw a few more cats, and then left.
An hour later the storm which had been threatening began to speak to us, primarily with angry thunder and short sharp burst's of lighting flashing across the sky. The sky ahead of us looked clear so we began to push the pedals round and round as hard as we could, vainly hoping we could beat the storm. And for a moment it seemed we had, and I began to think in my mind that maybe this time we had won.
But I was soon laughing at my silly self belief when without a minutes notice the heavens opened up and hammered us with a torrential downpour, and through the haze of rain that was clouding my vision I saw them scatter into the bushes, just a couple more feral cats and I thought to myself, I wonder what those guys do when it rains. I'm still not sure what they did, but we kept riding, soaked to the bone, the headwind trying to blast us off the road, and amazingly after a little while, we felt refreshingly cold for the first time in Malaysia...
We enjoyed a rest day at the Banting Hotel, where the friendly staff went out of their way to help us and we were surrounded by food stalls, an internet cafe and a supermarket.
We caught up on the latest House episode and some much needed rest, and during the afternoon when the rain poured down we were glad we'd chosen this particular day to have a break from the bike.
The day after our rest day was hot. Very hot. An English newspaper I found during the day had an article about the hot spell Malaysia was experiencing at the moment. We decided to ride hard until the early afternoon and then escape the heat in the afternoon.
We did a good pace on the flat road, but the scenery didn't change much and the biggest challenge was maintaining focus on avoiding potholes. At one stage, my focus slipped as I day dreamed and as a result I missed Sam's warnings about a massive pot hole. My bike thumped down and up the other side again. A few heated words were exchanged about the importance of missing these huge bumps.
I was a bit shaken and my pace slowed a bit. I didn't realise how much though until I looked up ahead and I couldn't see Sam. I wasn't too worried, I knew he'd go down the road for a while and then pull over to wait. But as what seemed like miles (probably about 2km) ticked over there was still no sign of him. I scanned the front of every service station and food shop I passed for his bike, but no Sam. I started to worry that I had passed him, and where should I stop to wait for him... but just then I saw him sitting in the shade on the side of the road. We grinned sheepishly at each other and he told me he'd held onto a truck for a while and had gotten further ahead than intended.
We made it to the town of Kuala Selangor at about 2pm and quickly found a hotel on the main road. The price was ok, it had air-con, wifi, food stalls nearby and seemed quiet. Perfect. We planned to get an early night and be on the road by 6am.
But the other 'guests' of the hotel had other plans. From 11pm until 3am we were kept awake by a constant stream of loud, drunk people returning to the hotel. Where they had been, we had no idea, as we were about 3km out of the town. And during the afternoon we'd seen only one other person in the lobby, so assumed they didn't have many guests. But we heard them all loud and clear during the night. Every time we would be close to falling back into an exhausted sleep, another group would return, yelling their conversations. Just when we resolved that next time that happened we were demanding our money back and leaving, the noise must have stopped. Because next thing we knew it was 7am and we couldn't get out of bed. We were so tired. Angry that our plans had been ruined again, we packed up and hit the road.
Distance - 125km, most of it hills
Weather - Hot, muggy, a little rain but just enough to bring out the mosquitoes
The day began a little late, and as we groggily opened our eyes to peer through dusty curtains we realised the sun was already getting high, and it was pretty bloody hot. Ten minutes later we were on our bikes and the dead cat was gone, replaced with a new, slightly different colored one standing in the same spot, bizarre I thought, reminds me of the deja-vu scene in The Matrix were Neo sees the two cats...
Anyway, as we stared at our huge road map of Malaysia we realised that we were going to have to stop a lot today to check directions as the roads wound in squiggly patterns all over the giant sheet. Adding to this we soon realised that unlike the past few days, the hills would be relentless.
And yet despite these new challenges, as the day wore on we found that we had more to distract us, to challenge us and to engage our senses. Bags of twisties consumed, strange oranges eaten, yoghurt drinks skulled, lunch's of halal prepared rice and hot curry suffered and come midafternoon we had been riding almost non-stop.
Grinding the pedals with all our energy and yet still there was no relief from the hills or the heat, when suddenly we came to the crest of another hill and saw and heard in the distance the Malaysian Grand Prix. It was here at the top of the shill that the condition of the roads became beautifully smooth, a stark contrast to some of the rocks and gravelly hills we'd earlier negotiated. The road headed steadily down, the head-winds gradually subsided and the heat began to abate.
By 7pm we had ridden just over 120kms, our longest day yet and amazingly, if the light had of permitted we felt as though we could have kept going. But we were glad we didn't when Shanna spotted a bargain hotel just off the road, where they carried our bikes up the stairs to a beautifully air-conditioned room.
We found a burger-stall on the street and scoffed down two beef and egg burgers each whilst slurping an entire 2ltr bottle of Kickapoo Joy Juice, before passing out for the night into a deep and delirious sleep.
Distance - 84km
Weather - Very hot, humid
We didn't get up at 5am as we'd originally planned, but the sun was rising as we rode out of Muar, and having feasted on a breakfast of drinking yoghurt and chocalate muffins we were ready to go, if not yet wide awake. (Lately we've taken to drinking a lot of yoghurt in an effort to restore the balance of good bacteria in our stomachs.)
Our plan was to ride hard before it got too hot, stop in the middle of the day, and then ride again in the late afternoon when it cooled down.
Not long after we started we found a giant bicycle and bemo. It was strange, because it was seemingly in the middle of nowhere, not even on a main road. It made for some good photos though and an interesting break in the landscape.
Just before midday we realised we were really hungry. We'd eaten a chocolate muffin each and more yoghurt, but we were ready for some real food. Sam spotted a busy local restaraunt (local alfresco style) and we decided to follow the idea that if the locals go there, it must be good.
We were each given a plate of rice and led to the trays with steaming curries. We piled our plates with vegetables, chicken and what we suspect was goat. Although we'd been worried about how hot they would be, we were delighted that they were delicious and mild enough for our palates. If we lived there we'd go there all the time too! For two plates of curry, vegetables and rice (one each), an egg and two cans of drink we payed only fourteen Malaysian dollars, a bargain for such fantastic food.
We spent a lot of time during the middle of the day catching up on some things online (including working out the Lonely Planet blogger concept) and got back on the road with just a couple of hours before dark. We thought we'd get about 50km done but even though the road was flat, there was a terrible headwind that slowed us down. Plus, we had to keep stopping to check the GPS as we were in a section where the roads were not straight and didn't connect easily.
With twilight fast setting in we stopped at a bike shop in a fair size town to ask for directions to a hotel. At first they gave us directions to a hotel about 15km away near the beach, which was not only out of our way, but we suspected it would be expensive. We asked if they knew of any others and they said there was a hotel in town but that it wasn't very good. After chatting, asking us questions about our bikes and Australia and taking some photos with us, two of them escorted us to the hotel on their bikes, explained to the reception girl about our bike trip, shook our hands and left.
The hotel was expensive! The most expensive we've come across yet, except Singapore. And it was a dump. The rooms were dirty and the bathrooms dirtier. Plus there was a cat outside we suspected was dead, and Sam's prodding proved us correct. We debated staying there, but it was getting dark and our only option was to find somewhere to set up our tent. Shanna wasn't keen on the tent (I've become accustomed to having cold showers after a tough days cycling) and Sam was concerned we wouldn't get the sleep we needed in this humid weather without aircon. So we didn't have much choice. We managed to bargain RM$10 off the price of the room but it was still overpriced.
We ate KFC (it's a bargain here compared to Australia) for dinner and wished we were back at the curry house...
Day 1 in Malaysia - 92km
Day 2 - 80km
Weather - hot and humid, constantly
Reading about Malaysia you read a lot about the food. And our trip has so far proven that they talk about food for a reason.
Whether it be fresh bananas, corn on the cob or Indian curries, the food here has been delicious and cheap. We've stopped at many roadside stalls to buy snacks and meals and each time we've been greeted by friendly people and tempting smells.
We've also found that more people speak English here than in Singapore, which is strange given that Singapore is meant to be English speaking... and the people here don't treat us like freaks, but are very warm and welcoming. They ask many questions but in a genuine way. We are not usually beeped at or yelled at from cars and trucks, and neither do the drivers of both seem intent on hitting us, as was the case in Indonesia. All in all, aside from the heat and inconsistent road condition (pot holes and bumps)cycling in Malaysia has been great.
We've met great people, like the cyclist working at the service station (hope you went well in your Mountain Bike race yesterday!) who insisted on paying for our drinks, and then bought us an extra bottle of water and can of Red Bull), the McDonalds employee who saw that we didn't have enough money for our meal and chipped in a dollar of his own, and the guys selling corn who went and bought a bottle of sprite and some ice for us because they didn't have any cold drinks. And then there was the girl working at the hotel who gave us a discount on our room ($40 Malaysian, around $13.50AU) because she was worried we would hear noise from the 24 hour 7-11 across the road (we didn't).
Our third day in Malaysia we had made it to Muar, were we were planning to arise early and clock up some big kms the next day.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia