Malaysia

We‘re cycling for the first time outside Europe and get adopted by a local cycling gang

January 2018

🚴🏻‍♀️🚴🏻‍♂️ Singapore to Langkawi (1000km)

After munching through Christmas season, we were ready to be in the saddle again – preferably in the sunshine and not in freezing Europe. We booked two tickets to Singapore with the plan to make our way to Hanoi in North Vietnam by the end of April. Solid plan! Only the bit about sunshine was slightly off as we arrived during monsoon season.

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Got a few looks cycling like this around in London and around Buckingham Palace!

Arriving in Singapore, we headed straight to Tree in Lodge hostel, an eco/bike hostel we’d heard about on the road in Italy. It was the perfect spot to start our trip – we got advice on the whole route from those who had done it before, met a cycle tourer who had been on the road for 10 years, and were able to fix some serious bike mishaps before we left.

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Cycling hostel “Tree in Lodge” was first recommended by Jens in Italy
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Spacy luminous trees in Singapore’s Marina Bay
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Lucy making friends

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We left the hostel, heading straight for the border with Malaysia which was a surprisingly easy affair since there was an entire lane dedicated for motorbikes and bicycles (we were the only cyclists). We were greeted by everyone who saw us – from people in bus stops to border control asking us for our YouTube channel.

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One of many new selfie friends

First stop Johar Bahru over the border, then on to Pontian where we arrived after a long day with no accommodation sorted. We cycled along the beach, saying hello to a man in orange, looking for a guesthouse to no avail. We cycled around the city, did another loop and due to the busy traffic decided to give up on our hope of something cheap and pay for a hotel. Pulling in to the hotel, who should pull up next to us but the man in orange who had followed us. Jackie introduced himself as a member of the Pontian cycling club and offered us a home in the cycling club house (with a beach view)! We quickly said yes, following his car to the bike shop and then following him on his bike to our new home. After the grand tour, he told us he’d be back in an hour for dinner! At dinner we met many of the other club members who then came back for a party at the house, convincing us not to leave the next day but to cycle with them to Tanjung Piai, the most southern tip of the Asian continent.

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Jackie and crew showing us every local dish…
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…and drink

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Initial gratitude that we were just cycling the 50km round trip with our hangovers, rather than the 80km we had planned, quickly gave way to fear when the club chairman arrived in swanky cycling gear on a speedy road bike. Thankfully we took our time, stopping for lunch, visiting the fish market, popping in on other club members at work, and stopping at a farm to try all kinds of fruit, including durian, potentially the most revolting fruit of all time.

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Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance, whereas others find the aroma overpowering with an unpleasant odour.

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The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, […]
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[…] and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage.
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Our goodbye committee!

We stayed for two days, enjoying the hospitality of the Pontian cycle club, before setting of to Batu Pahat along the flat Malaysian west coast.

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Many flat green kilometers to ride. Easy.
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Off-road adventure ending up on jungle tracks

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We arrived in Batu Pahat where Jerry, owner of a local cafe and cycle enthusiast himself, had agreed to host us on the cafe’s top floor. While we, exhausted from the ride and temperatures, fell on our mattress, guests were finishing up their dinner below. Once closed, we headed out with Jerry who treated us to local specialities like rice porridge and coconut buns.

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The next morning we had our longest leg to go. We cycled 100km to Melaka, a picturesque small coastal town with a river running through the city from north to south, home to countless restaurants, cafes and graffiti. Howard, introduced to us by Jackie and the Pontian club, is a passionate cyclist and owner of the amazing hostel Ringos’s Foyer. He invited us to stay for a few days to rest and enjoy the city.

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We rested well by day and at night we cycled, to a night market one evening and on a tour of the city on another, taking in all the sights.

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After staying another day, and then another, we accepted that we had to get back on the road and set off inland towards the hills, staying one evening in Gemenchen and another in Penak where we set up our mattress and mosquito net in a Chinese temple. We woke surrounded by the locals spreading lanterns out on the floor around us to test them for the days festivities.

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The day’s route included a stretch on the motorway which we were worried about. We should have known better – as ever, people gave us plenty of room and their only concerns were to welcome us to Malaysia, honk their horns in delight rather than annoyance, and give us a huge wave, all limbs out of the car! One man we had been chatting with on a scooter circled back via a shop to give us cold orange juice and a carnation!

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We stopped for some shade at a bus stop where a man on a bike told us we had to follow him to his durian stall. Scared that we were going to have to eat a whole durian, we were relieved when he only wanted us to pose for a few photos with it – we may now be the new face of durian in his village!

Our next stop was Bentong, a lovely small town where we stayed at the local fire station!

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The next day we met up with friends Anne and Soong for lunch and to share stories and tips for the road ahead. We cycled on to Raub that evening, with books from the inspiring couple in our panniers.

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We left Raub, aiming to cycle the 143km to the Cameron Highlands, 1,600m above us, in two days. We were 15km from a rest stop where we planned to pitch our tent that evening when it started to throw it down. We persevered uphill and Jan joked that it was time for Sardinia’s Ottavio to show up in his Citroen Belingo. Moments later, 3 men in a pick-up truck stopped, telling us we couldn’t cycle or camp in these conditions, threw our bikes in the car and drove us the remaining 90km to the top! We felt a bit like cheats, but were at least dry.

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After visiting their office to meet their colleagues, we were suddenly in the Cameron Highlands a lot sooner than planned. The area is cool, around 18 degrees, and famous for its tea plantations, vegetable growing, fauna and flora. We spent the next couple of days hiking, being taught archery, drinking tea and eating strawberries!

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After our cool break, we descended those 1,600m in 80km of bliss! We made it to Ipoh that evening, known for its limestone hills and caves within which temples are built.

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We moved on to Taiping, where we met two other cycle tourists, Edgar cycling to Bangkok, and Basti who had cycled here from Munich, on the road for 3 years, planting trees along the way.

We got advice for our next day’s route from the local bike shop owner and set off along back roads. On the way we pulled in for a quick stop and got called over by the owners of a new restaurant that was having its grand opening for family and friends. They invited us to join in, piling our plate high with 3 different types of delicious curry, fuel for the rest of the day’s ride!

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After a long day we rolled onto the car ferry to Penang where we spent a few days. We travelled to a secluded island with a group from the Angmoh hostel, went to an adventure park and also took part in Thaipusam, a 3 day celebration with pierced devotees carrying decorated frames, fresh fruit and milk climbing over 500 steps to the waterfall temple, where they place tributes at the feet of the deity and pour milk over it.

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After an action packed few rest days we headed out on the early ferry to Langkawi with our bikes. On arriving we cycled north to Tanjung Rhu, a beautiful beach that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, setting up camp and staying for 3 nights!

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Carved a new spoon after we were one short. Jan was very pleased with himself.

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Eventually we headed south, waterfall hopping on the way, to Couchsurf with Prince before we leave to cycle to Thailand tomorrow!

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12 thoughts on “Malaysia”

  1. What a wonderful account of your journey through Malaysia. It was a pleasure to get to know you both and you have proved here how approachable you make yourselves to local people when you travel by bicycle. Go safely

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like you two are having an amazing trip!! Bet you both have buns of steel by now!!

    Looking forward to seeing you both back in the UK and hearing more of your stories 🙂

    Love Mrs Appleby (ha!) xxx

    Like

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