Singapore to Thailand 2012
Singapore to Thailand 2012
November 4th, 2012
Kathryn and I have been having a wonderful time in Singapore. We've especially enjoyed the area where we are staying. Little India is charming and eclectic. Yesterday, we met up with a friend of a friend from the Oregon coast. Ching was intent on making sure we had what we needed for our trip. She is fantastic and graciously met us at the hotel and, right away, talked us through our route out of Singapore into Malaysia. Then she took us for some terrific local foods. We had crispy Chinese rojak, spring rolls with shredded turnip and crab. One roll was mild and the other spicy. We had a noodle dish of Char Kwai Teow and chicken rice. Everything was delicious. We talked about many things in Singapore. Ching told us how driving a car is truly a luxury. The certificate, not a license, to drive a car for 10 years is $50,000. The cars are also extremely expensive. A Mini Cooper costs $190,000 including the certificate. The cost doesn't seem to be deterring anyone from driving as every street is congested with traffic. This city/country seems to have enormous wealth.
Ching highly recommended doing the night safari at the zoo but we read the animals tend to hibernate when it's raining. The rain felt good in the humid air but, at $26 a ticket, we really didn't want to wander in the rain and not see any animals so, unfortunately, headed back to the hotel. We got off the train a few stops early to walk down Orchard Street with block after block after block of ultra high-end shopping centers. I'm not sure I've ever seen as much shopping as there is in Singapore. I found the idea that people are buying all this stuff overwhelming. As much fun as we have had, seeing this level of commercialism and concrete sent me over the top and I was ready to get going.
In the morning, Sunday, we packed up our stuff and loaded up the trikes. I had a bit of a problem when one of my pannier clips that connects to the rear rack wouldn't open. It took awhile to figure it out and somehow using a small flathead screwdriver wedged under the latch worked. We loved staying at the Perak Hotel and some of the staff saw us off taking pictures. It was super hot and humid as we found our way through the busy streets of Singapore and within minutes I was dripping with sweat. After just 4.5 miles we pulled over to take a break. We noticed a small organic grocery and decided to spend the last of our Singapore dollars there. A few miles later I pulled into a bike shop hoping for help getting my SE Asia map loaded on the Garmin GPS. Whenever I brought up the map feature the Garmin showed us in the ocean off the coast of Singapore. Not very helpful. Unfortunately, the bike shop people had no idea how to help and we returned to the trikes. At mile 9 we pulled over again to take a break under the shade of the large tree snacking on some nuts and dried mangos. That seemed to give us a burst of energy that helped us ride the last 10 miles through Singapore crossing into Malaysia. We met a young Japanese tourer but he didn't speak English and all we could do is smile at each other. The border crossing was uneventful and our passports got stamped quickly. Just as we came into Johor Bahru the skies became dark and menacing. We decided to call it a day and found a wonderful hotel that was just opening. The price was right and we checked into a very nice room for $35. We barely got the trikes secured when the skies let loose with a torrential downpour and powerful winds. The oppressive heat throughout the day took a lot out of us. I wanted to explore the area but decided to put if off until tomorrow. What I really needed was a shower and a good nights' sleep.
The plan is, essentially, to start riding in Singapore and end in Beijing, China. This route will take me through Malaysia and the length of Thailand. The distance is approximately 4,500 miles and, at my turtle pace, should take around 6 months. I'll start in November at the end of the Monsoon season in SE Asia and, hopefully, get to Beijing in May before the suffocating smog and heat make it impossible to enjoy this great city. Everything in-between is, somewhat, up in the air.
Over the summer, I put out a call for companions and a few people expressed interest. Kathryn, aka the Baglady, bought an airline ticket. She also rides a recumbent trike and we should be quite the sight on the roads of Asia. We are both experienced travelers having each done many solo trike trips. Kathryn is also an avid hiker and has, impressively, completed the Appalachian trail. Although traveling solo is very rewarding, I feel like having company will quiet some of the anxiety of traveling. During the rough patches we'll have someone to turn to as well as someone to share the beauty with. Even though I've never had any trouble traveling solo, I know my friends and family are very relieved that Kathryn is joining me. We have been conversing through Facebook and phone over the last couple of months. It feels like we have similar travel styles and enjoy taking it slow. We'll assess each day as it comes without any concern for the number of miles ridden. I expect that 2 trikes will attract even more attention than one. We will be meeting a lot of people on this trip. 2 older women riding trikes through Asia - just the idea makes me smile.
I have spent the last 2 weeks in Los Angeles visiting with family and making last minute preparations for the trip. Flying to Asia from Los Angeles is easy and usually means there is only one connection. I'll be flying Eva Air with a stop in Taipei. As with all my international flights, I won't be putting Myrtle in a box. Since my new trike folds, I'll take the seat off, fold the trike and put bubble-wrap where ever I foresee any chances for damage.
Even though I've never had any problems or damage to the trike from air travel I'm always super nervous and looking for any advantage. It occurred to me that if the airlines were dealing with a mobility device they might take extra care. After considerable conversation on the BROL (bentrideronline) trike message boards, I've added 2 disabled placards. I was advised by a disabled rider who regularly flies with a trike to take my extensive injuries seriously to make traveling just a bit easier. Essentially, she gave me permission to use the disabled placards relieving me of any guilty feelings that I might be committing a serious faux pas. The airlines are not allowed to asked about a disability - all you have to do is claim it. This triker also suggested I refer to the trike as a racing wheelchair. This will make more sense to non-riders than calling it a recumbent tricycle. I'll be getting to the airport an hour earlier than required to give the baggage people more time to deal with the trike. On all my flights this extra time has been greatly appreciated.
I am especially eager to try out my new trike and leaner body. I've taken 60 lbs off my body reaching all the weight loss goals I set to achieve before starting this tour. Since we won't be camping, my gear kit will also be lighter. Moto-Myrtle on my last tour weighed about 160 lbs with the motor, batteries, Cargo Monster, gear and water. My new Myrtle weighs about 75 lbs loaded with gear and water. That is a difference of 145 lbs that I'm leaving behind for this tour which should make everything remarkably easier.
Woohoo - Singapore, here we come!
I am always super nervous about flying and especially when I'm flying with my trike. I rolled Myrtle up to the counter and, as usual with international flights, I didn't have any problems. Myrtle was folded with lots of bubble wrap but wasn't in a box. The check-in agent asked a few questions and then took the trike with no extra fees. My flight to Singapore took-off on time at 1 am from Los Angeles. This flight had 2 legs. The first was 14 hours to Taipei which was very turbulent. My seat was in the last row which probably made the turbulence worse. I actually got sick twice but had taken enough Ambien that I didn't care. I was able to sleep which was a relief. The lay-over in Taipei was short and after another 4 hours I landed in Singapore. Myrtle arrived in baggage claim without a scratch. The heat and humidity hit me forcefully as I walked outside dragging my panniers and my trike. I found a van to my hotel in Little India. My tour buddy, Kathryn, was waiting excitedly at the entrance. It was good to see her and arrive. Kathryn's journey to Singapore was far more eventful. She got the last flight before super storm Sandy ravaged the east coast and closed down air travel for a week.
We got all my stuff situated in the room and then I crashed. From 6 pm until 4 am. Kathryn was awake too and we headed out walking all around the area eventually finding something to eat. Even at this hour it was very warm.
The next few days were spent exploring. We mostly walked but did take the MRT train out to Sentosa Island. Kathryn did the iFly attraction that simulates flying/skydiving in a wind tunnel. I took video as an instructor guided her in the air. It was cool to watch. Later that evening we went to the historic Raffles Hotel for their very famous Singapore Sling cocktails. At $30 a piece we indulged in only one drink feeling like it was just something that had to be done in Singapore. The hotel is in a lovely setting with beautiful courtyards but I couldn't recommend the drink.
Yesterday we took care of the trikes. Blaze, Kathryn's trike, was ready to go but Myrtle needed the bubble wrap removed. We took to the streets for a short test ride and it felt good to be riding. Another recommended not-to-be-missed attraction was the Marina Bay Sands hotel and Casino. It is actually 3 buildings with a gigantic boat on top. The hotel is very impressive architecturally with lots of ultra-exclusive shopping. This is how the .1% lives. We went to the top floor Sky Bar and took in the impressive views. It was a very hot day and we were dripping with sweat constantly looking for shade. Next to the hotel is the Gardens By the Bay and this is truly spectacular. We bought tickets for the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. These are huge greenhouse conservatories. The Flower Dome is cool and dry while the Cloud Forest is a giant rain forest that includes the worlds largest indoor waterfall. Kathryn, unexpectedly, ran into a family she met on her flight over which was terrific fun. After, we rode through the super tree grove with the enormous tree sculptures. So much about this city is unexpected. Even though Singapore is cutting edge modern and super clean and also very quiet. There are lots of rules and it is probably against the law to honk a car horn. The sun had set and it was starting to get dark as we rode back to the hotel. This was a very exciting ride where we, somehow, managed to get on an expressway for a very short distance. I don't recommend riding a trike on an expressway in the dark.
I have been both excited and nervous about this trip. This is my first tour traveling with someone. I'm not used to spending so much time with anyone but, so far, we seem to be a really good team. This feels amazing since we only met once, over a year ago, for a couple of hours in Portland. It seems like having a travel companion will make the trip easier and lighter emotionally.
Sunday, we are going to start our tour crossing into Malaysia. Now we just need to decide on a route.
November 6, 2012
It was really nice having another elevator to get our stuff down to the lobby. I slept well and felt much better after a good nights' rest, What a difference a day makes. We took off and headed back out to the highway. The weather was steamy hot but not as steamy hot as yesterday. Somehow, this was a relief.
Today we took a different highway that was newer with a good sized shoulder and not nearly as much traffic. We were loving it. Motorcycle riders and people in cars constantly honked and gave us the thumbs up. In our true turtle fashion we found reasons to stop about every 3-5 miles for something. First, Kathryn had a cleat screw fall out. I rummaged through my bike repair stuff and found a spare. Then we pulled over for a delightful visit with a fruit vendor. He gave us some pulusan and offered samples of durian and jack fruit. Kathryn and I had tried just a sip of durian juice while in Singapore and that was enough to turn us away from the fruit forever. He laughed at our disgusted faces and then offered us some jack fruit which was quite nice. A couple of other people showed up and he offered them samples as well. We really had fun with everyone there. Next we stopped in Pekan Nanes for a terrific veggie lunch. They had wifi and I think we hung out for a good 1 1/2 hours. As we continued there were lots of oddities that required our attention. including a vendor selling live fish in baggies hanging from all over a tent canopy.
As we approached Pontian the honks and thumbs up became more frequent. We were constantly waving back at people. Once in town I by-passed the first hotel thinking we should try another first. We went to many hotels in this beach community that were concentrated within 3 blocks. Most didn't have a room with 2 beds and some were just too skanky. My favorite was a bright pink hotel that had a feather covered chandelier in the lobby. Eventually we made it back to the first hotel we had passed and got checked-in for $46 which included breakfast.
With the US election happening tomorrow we will probably stay another day to watch it unfold. This is a very exciting day and we are hoping to find CNN to follow the coverage.
November 5, 2012
The Aman Sari hotel was a real find. The room was comfortable and we were able to use the elevator to get all our gear to the 4th floor. Interestingly, there is no 4th floor because it is superstitious for the Chinese. We had to hit the 5th floor button to get the 4th floor. The hotel had a nice buffet for breakfast although I wasn't really feeling so well. I had some tea the night before that had milk in it and then took some magnesium to relieve my tired muscles. Kathryn had also found some maca at the organic store yesterday and I think the combination left me with a serious case of the runs. Even though I wasn't feeling the best, I decided to brave it hoping that riding would make me feel better.
After looking at today's route on the map, we had an inkling that the ride was going to be rough. There didn't seem to be an easy way out of Johor Bahru without getting on an expressway. And we weren't sure bikes are allowed on the expressway.
We loaded up the trikes to find that the hotel staff had covered our trike seats with big plastic bags to keep them dry. They had been out in the driveway all night under the watchful eyes of a 24 hour security guard. The morning was cloudy and the roads were still wet from the nights' rain but the skies looked to be clearing as we took off.
The riding was alright for the first 5 miles getting out of Johor Bahru but then we had to get on an expressway. Johor Bahru is a big city that is deceptive because everyone talks about it as a suburb of Singapore. It's like Portland's Vancouver but on a huge scale. We tried many times to find another way but we always had to get back on the expressway. This was a long, stinky, smoggy, hot and difficult ride. Especially crossing the on and off ramps. At one point we missed an interchange and then it was miles until we could make a u-turn. Uuuggghh!
I think this was the longest 20 miles I have ever ridden. O my goodness it was hot. We had orginally planned on getting to Pekan Nanes but settled for Taman Nusa Perintis. We were both completely spent and tired of riding in the auto exhaust. This town had a lot of very large factories all around and so we figured there must be a hotel. It was a bit tricky but we eventually found the center of town where there was a decent hotel that let us keep the trikes in the lobby. There was a large area around the corner that had many wonderful food choices which was very welcome. I am truly loving the fresh melon juices.
It sure felt good to somewhere safe for the night. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.
November 8, 2012
We had a very nice stay in Pontian. The hotel staff were terrific letting us keep our trikes in a huge, locked banquet room. We couldn't find any TV in town that had English language stations so we watched the election results on my laptop. Must say that I am very happy with the results. I was particularly pleased with the added Senate seats. I was never worried that Obama would be re-elected mostly because Romney was a really terrible candidate. It's hard to say what the Republicans will do to turn this result around. I'm sure the mid-terms are already in the works. It sure is nice to have this election over.
Feeling well rested, Kathryn and I got an early start the next day. We were packed and on the road by 8:30 which is probably a record. Today would be our longest ride because the first town with a hotel is 46 miles away. As usual, it was already toasty when we started on Highway 5 north through little towns. Everyday is a parade for us because we are constantly waving and saying hello to people in cars, on motorcycles, kids in school and vendors of all kinds. What cracks me up is when people clap as we ride by.
The route went from one small seaside town to the next. The smell of ocean was always in the air. The roadside plantings of boganvilla and azelias were really beautiful. There is a strong mix of Chinese and Malay Muslim in this part of Malaysia. All the signs are in Chinese, Malay and English. I'll have to find out how the Chinese have come to play such a prominent role in this Muslim country.We stopped for lunch at a road side restaurant and got a plate of veggies with rice for $1.15 a piece - with iced tea. Every five miles we stopped for juice looking for shade. As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter. I reapplied sunscreen many times but my legs still felt like they were getting fried. Maybe tomorrow I'll try wearing capris for more protection. Kathryn was really suffering and seemed to be totally overheated. She talked about feeling like she was going to vomit but managed to keep going. I'm worried that the heat of SE Asia may be too much for her.
As we approached our destination we had some hills for the first time. It was a nice change from the very flat roads we have been on for the last few days although it would have been nice to get in doors quicker and out of the sun. Sure enough, almost as soon as we arrived the skies let loose with a big downpour. I wanted to go out and stand in the rain but decided a real shower would be better.
Hopefully, tomorrow we will be heading to Muar which is a shorter distance.
November 9, 2012
Kathryn had really been suffering from the heat when we pulled into town and we checked into the first hotel we could find. They were nice enough to give us a locked room for the trikes. Other than that, the Nova Park was a strange experience. The room had a bathroom that was a shower with a toilet and a sink. Everything got wet when you took a shower. The toilet water had been turned off from the wall and there was a big plastic container full of water under the sink. I didn't know what to do so, first, I tried turning the toilet water on. The water from the wall turned on and we now had a working toilet. The bathroom floor was wet and there wasn't a towel for the floor. The room came with only 2 towels. Kathryn used one of the towels for the floor while I called down to reception to get another. No problem. A few minutes later, the phone rang and reception said they couldn't give me another towel. Really? We talked for a while about the towel and finally she said someone would come up with a towel. 20 minutes later I walked down to reception to get the towel myself. They refused to give me another towel. 2 towels per room is the limit. They offered me a very small light green towel but I explained that I hadn't taken a shower yet and that towel was too small. Reception had to consult with housekeeping and after lots of back and forth conversation I was given a full size bath towel. This felt like a huge accomplishment and I was very happy that I could now take a shower. 10 minutes later there was a knock at the door. 2 front desk people were there saying I couldn't have 3 three towels. What?!? I, very seriously, asked them if they needed a towel back. Yes, they did. I showed them how wet the bathroom floor was and insisted that I needed the extra towel. One front desk person left for a few minutes and returned with the the small light green towel for me to use on the bathroom floor. Okie dokie! I picked up the wet bath towel from the floor and handed it over. Everyone was happy now.
Even though it had a been a very hot day, I felt refreshed after my shower - with my long fought over towel. Kathryn slept for hours. I did yoga, worked on my blog, cleaned all my clothes and caught got up on all the post election news. Eventually, I was getting hungry and decided to go down and see if the hotel offered food. No, they only served breakfast. A huge storm was passing over and it had been pouring with lightning and thunder for hours. I wasn't going out there. Luckily, we had crackers, nutella, dried fruit and nuts. Nothing like eating simply.
The next morning Kathryn seemed to have recovered. I was really worried that she wasn't going to be able to handle the heat but she wanted to cycle. We started out under much cooler conditions on a route that was very flat. It seemed that we stopped about every 5 miles for some delightful food or drink. Sugar cane, guava, lemon water and every time the people were lovely. Our lunch was a plate of delicious veggie stir fry with rice and cost $2.30 for both of us with iced tea. After lunch, we had a local guy ride with us for probably a good 15 miles. Leman was on a beautifully painted fixed gear and seemed very happy following along and making all our stops. He was probably around 30, didn't speak any English and only had a couple of teeth. He shook our hands at a stop when he wanted to turn around. We continued on a very enjoyable ride. As the day went on, the temperature rose and we were ready to stop after 35 miles.
After a hot ride, staying in a decent, comfortable hotel can make a big difference. Boy did we hit the jackpot for finding a wonderful hotel. The Classic hotel was a bit spendier than we had been paying but it was truly upscale. This hotel would be a good $200 a night in the US. We were living the high life for $47.35. The lobby was huge with marble and beautiful woodwork. Reception let us store the trikes inside the lobby as if they were on display. The doorman loaded up the baggage cart and helped us get our gear to the room. This was our most comfortable room yet. We even had a view of the ocean. The Classic Hotel will more than make up for last nights strange experience.
November 10, 2012
The Classic Hotel was fantastic and super comfortable. We had a few things to take care of in town. One was figuring out how to get internet on the road. My Google tablet has GPS but sometimes I can't get the zoom feature to produce a clear image. My Garmin GPS has been useless. For some reason it isn't reading the map chip of SE Asia. Kathryn has an old iphone that could use a local sim card and maybe we could use that for internet. I also wanted to see about getting a hotspot since the Google Nexus doesn't use a sim card. The people at Digi were great. The woman who helped spoke fluent English and really understood what we needed. While we were standing there a huge storm opened up. We were only across the street from the hotel and I volunteered to go back and get our umbrellas leaving Kathryn to sort out the sim card. I was completely soaked to the bone just crossing the street and actually had to change clothes. By the time I returned with the umbrellas the rains weren't nearly as strong and Kathryn had purchased a one month sim card plan. We decided to try this and wait on the hotspot.
In the morning we got going and the temperatures felt more reasonable. We continued up highway 5 passing lots of palm oil and coconut orchards. I love our stops for juice. We are starting to put together a few words in Malay asking for various fruit juices with less sugar and no milk. Everyone seems to get a kick out of our attempts and we always have to repeat ourselves a few times. Sometimes I think they do it just to hear how we say the words. Occassionally they correct us. Somewhere we learned the word for meat was 'makan' which actually means eat. We kept asking for 'tidak makan' thinking we were asking for no meat when we actually asking for no eat. As you can imagine the reaction was a lot of confusion. I was very happy to finally learn the correct way to say 'no meat' which is 'daging tidak' or atleast that is what it sounds like.
Just before getting to the Melaka district there is a huge monument to the tri-shaw on the side of the road. We took lots of pictures of this enormous structure. Then we turned off highway 5 on to a side road into Melaka. This was a lovely ride. Everyone was so happy to see us the whole way. As we got into town we started checking out hotels. Sometimes the rates were too high and sometimes they didn't have a secure place for the trikes. We ended up at the Hotel Time for $39. The reception people were super nice. The Deepavali holiday is in the next few days and Melaka is busy. We actually got the last room with 2 beds and felt very lucky to get it at an affordable rate.
Melaka seems to have a lot to offer. We are going to stay an extra day to check it all out.
November 12, 2012
We knew we had a long ride today. There are few choices for hotels between Melaka and Port Dickson. From reading other journals we knew there is a dive hotel about 8 km on the road but we were hoping to find something further. Getting out of town was easy enough. We wanted to try taking a quieter road than highway 5 and turned off on highway 143. We only got a mile or so and we were stopped by a military road block. This road is closed. So back to highway 5 we went. Later after we stopped for lunch we asked about another road and were told that it is open but we would have to leave our passports. There was a military camp down this road and there are 3 in the area. We decided to stay on highway 5. The terrain became hillier than we have encountered. There were monkeys in the trees and lots of cows grazing on the side of the road. We stopped about every 10 miles for juice. Much of the scenery was gorgeous and lush with coconut and papaya orchards.
Because of the hills we weren't making the time we hoped for and around 4:30 we started asking about accommodation in the small towns. Some ladies selling durian fruit from a stall tried to describe a good place to stay. They kept talking about a sign with an eagle and a cowboy in very broken English. A cowboy? Another women insisted it was only 2 km down the road to the sign. We had no choice and started riding. We rode and rode and didn't see any eagles or cowboys and were pretty sure this was one of those weird biker/non-biker, English/non-English encounters. But then the sign appeared and it was huge. There was a cowboy with an eagle. There was also a large covered wagon on the side of the road. What did we stumble on?!? With great relief we pulled into the Eagle Ranch Resort. This place was unbelievable. Everything was American western. Just passed the entrance was a large circle of teepees. There were enormous covered wagon lodges and horses for rent.
We got checked into a log cabin next to the go-cart track for $80 which is the most we've paid for accommodation since Singapore. Ouch! The shower in the room was amazing. It was partially roofless and there was a waterfall - in the shower! It was already close to 6 pm and we were starving. The restaurant served western meals with a soundtrack of western music. The western meals were very expensive and we ordered local grub. The meal was still pricey especially compared to the street stall food we usually eat. Looking around all I could do is shake my head in disbelief. The decor was done up like a log cabin in dark wood with wooden busts of cowboys, cow horns and guns hanging from the walls. After dinner we walked around the grounds until the rains forced us in.
November 13, 2012
The Eagle Ranch was quite the place to stay. Looking around it was hard to believe this was Malaysia. On the way out we took lots of pictures. There had been a big rain storm over night and the roads were still wet. Today was a holiday. The big Deepavali festival was starting and all along the route people were lighting fireworks. We saw large tents being set up for evening celebrations. We were headed for the coast and, eventually, we came to the ocean. There is something really special about riding along the water. For one thing, the views were terrific.
A young man flagged us down asking us to stop for a photo. Khalib lives in a small village a few hours drive north of Kuala Lumpur. He invited us to stay at his house when we get there. He took lots of pictures and then told us about his trip by bike around the world. He really enjoyed traveling through the US even though everyone thought he was Mexican and regularly spoke Spanish to him. We exchanged information and I hope it will work out to stay with him.
We meandered along the coast and stopped in Port Dickson for lunch trying to decide what to do. We had only gone about 20 miles at this point but there aren't many hotels within another 20 miles. Kathryn was game to keep going. I wasn't so sure. The skies were looking like a storm was brewing and I didn't want to get caught. I expressed concern and Kathryn thought the storm would go elsewhere. Even though I didn't like the idea, we started riding out of town. As we rode the skies got darker and darker and soon we were riding in the rain. At first the rain cooled me off and it felt good. And then the rain turned into a deluge. And then it was a deluge with lightning and thunder. I was beyond socked to the bone. The road was a river of water and it was difficult to see. This didn't seem like a safe place to be at all. The storm lasted about an hour and we were still a good 10 miles from any accommodation.
At the junction for the turn to Kuala Lumpur we asked about a hotel. There were 2 options. Continue into KL for 20 kms or turn toward the coast for 9 km. I was ready to get off the road and chose the beach route. We would stop at fruit stall vendors and ask for directions and they would point us down the road. Eventually we found Bagan Lalong and many resorts. All the resorts are very busy with the Deepavali holidays. This is a Hindu Indian holiday and I was surprised by how many Indians live in Malaysia.We ended up at the Camar Laut resort for $62. Even though this was expensive, boy did it feel good to find a place to land and get out of the wet clothes.
November 14, 2012
We arrived in Baru Bangi in time for the Deepavali celebrations. The fireworks were exploding for hours in and around our hotel. As if that wasn't enough excitement, I had an unfortunate experience in the shower when the showerhead broke off and flew up to the ceiling leaving the water spouting straight up. I got dried off while Kathryn went down to reception to explain what had happened. They gave us a new room. Then we noticed that the beds didn't have a top sheet. There was a bottom sheet and a blanket on top. I've seen this before in SE Asia and I find it to be really gross. Everyone knows that blankets aren't cleaned after every guest. Kathryn went back to reception to explain that we needed top sheets. Apparently, this wasn't so easy but she managed to return with fresh sheets. I was so exhuasted from the days ride that I didn't bother with another shower and went to bed.
In the morning we were thinking about riding all the way into Kuala Lumpur. It is close to 50 miles from here which is more than we have done in a day so far. I figured as we approach Kuala Lumpur there should be plenty of hotel options in case it feels too ambitious. Along the coast we were treated to a small grove of trees that were full of small monkeys. They were so small it was difficult to see them in the thick trees and even more difficult to get pictures of.
We had to back-track 8 miles of yesterday's route and then we felt like we were on our way. Every 8 miles or so we stopped for a break from the heat and had many interesting encounters at the road-side restaurants. At one restaurant, a very old, stooped-over woman walking with a cane came in and shook our hands. We couldn't understand a word she said but she pulled up a chair to have her lunch with us. She ate her meal of fried-rice with her hands giving us a big toothless smile ever so often. At another stop we tried a dessert called ABC that we had heard about. It was a complicated recipe of red sugar flavored crushed ice on top of ice cream with red beans, corn, apple chunks, nuts, gummy bear squares and another dollop of soft ice cream on top. Kathryn and I both found it too sweet and only had a few bites. At least we tried it. (See picture at top.)
Some of the riding today was up some steep, steep hills. We would stop at the top and take a break to towel off the sweat after exerting so much effort. The ride was through many small towns with lots to look at. I felt quite relaxed today. At about 3 we had both had enough and called it a day in Bandar Baru Bangi. We got checked into the Reko Inn Hotel for $34 which was nice after paying so much more the last couple of the nights.
November 29, 2012
In the morning Aswad met us at the hotel to give us a tour around this 'Royal City'. Kuala Kangsar is where royalty have some of their 'other' homes and the town is really beautiful. There is also a famous mosque here that is very important not just to Malaysian muslims but to all of SE Asia. We cycled a loop around a grand palace and the mosque along tree lined ultra clean roads. Aswad escorted us out of town for many miles. I was impressed by his patience. Aswad is a terrific guy and I really enjoyed his company. It's possible we will be meeting his cycling buddy Khalib later and we picked a town for the day that had a hotel close to his home hoping it will work out.
Aswad left us after about 15 miles of very flat riding. We had one really good climb where the grade got up to 10%. The way down was winding and the road was rough. Still I managed to get over 30 mph. Highway 1 runs parallel to the major highway E1. At one point they came so close together I thought the roads would merge. We came across an accident on this stretch not long after it happened. A huge semi truck was lying on its side across the center divider. This was a scary sight.
We continued on into the big city of Taiping. Highway 1 skirts this city and so we didn't really see much of it. From here there were more hot and dusty miles to our destination. There is only one hotel option in the small town of Bagan Serai and we were hoping for the best. The hotel owner is a Chinese guy who spoke English very well. He was super excited that we were staying in his hotel. He told us about a German couple who stayed 2 years ago riding a tandem with an upright and recumbent seat. I think I met this couple when I was touring Cambodia. There was a back room to keep the trikes and he had one room with 2 beds. This room didn't have a window and the ac barely worked. The bathroom was a shower with a toilet - no sink. This 'bathroom' was so small you practically had to sit on the toilet while using the shower. The room also came with an overpowering smell of mothballs that was nauseating. Certainly not our best hotel experience. Since we didn't have a choice we got checked in for $20 which was ridiculously overpriced. Not long after getting our stuff in the room Kathryn realized she had left a pair of shorts in Kuala Kangsar. Since she only has one pair of shorts getting them back was somewhat critical.
The good news was that Khalib got a hold of us and was eager to meet up. He arrived with his family an hour later and took us into Taiping to show us around. We went to a beautiful park and walked around. Then he took us out for yummy Indian food. He had been in touch with Aswad about Kathryn's shorts. If Aswad could verify that the hotel had the shorts Khalib would drive us there. It got to be 8 pm and Aswad hadn't been able to go over so Khalib decided to just drive there and hope for the best. This was an 80 mile round trip for him. Luckily, when we arrived at the hotel the shorts were there and so was Aswad. It was great to see him again even though we saw him just this morning. We all went out for juice and talked touring again. These guys had ridden around the world in 389 days completing the tour only last July. What fun conversation.
Khalib drove us back to our skanky hotel and then offered to meet us on the road in the morning to escort us to his house. We really had quite a day today.
November 15, 2012
Some hotels offer breakfast and some don't. Today we had breakfast. The Reko Inn Hotel, redundant I know, served breakfast outside under an overhang. The kitchen was a makeshift affair with a gas canister and heating element with a peice of sheet metal for cooking. We had our choice of white break toast, fried rice or noodles with tea and coffee. We chose the white bread toast with tea sitting at tables using the weak wifi. As we ate the skies began clouding up. As soon as we got our trikes loaded and started out the parking lot the rains began. We didn't even make out onto the street before turning around heading back to the overhang for shelter. The rains lasted about an hour and we were on our way again. The GPS routed us on a highway that we weren't sure bikes were allowed on. Not that that has stopped us in the past. The signs allowed trishaws, oxen drawn carts and motorcycles so we decided bikes were allowed. At first the left lanes would take every off and on ramp to avoid crossing lanes. Then they didn't. This meant we had to stop and wait everytime we came to an off or on ramp. Boy there was a lot of traffic. Everyone was exceptionally polite. No one seemed to be bothered by 2 old ladies riding trikes on an expressway. As we approached KL we were directed to some cool motorcycle paths that were off the highway. It felt good to take a quieter way. A few times we asked the motorcyclists to stop and assist us. Eventually, we made it to downtown KL. The street riding wasn't much easier than the highway. There were cement barriers dividing traffic which made it impossible to cross the road. Somehow every road we took brought us to the area we wanted to be in and we started looking at hotels. This is a busy time in KL. There is the Deepavali and Islamic New Year holidays and the kids are off school this week. Many hotels weren't able to accommodate us for 2 nights. We ended up at the Nova Hotel on Jalan Alor getting the last room with 2 twin beds.
The area is very lively and the street is lined with food stalls. The aromas were intoxicating. We found a stall with fresh veggies skewers and quickly devoured 12 sticks. Some of the veggies were grilled and some we used a hot pot built into the table to cook. Everything was delicious. After dinner we started walking around to explore. Ever so often we could see the elegant Petronis Towers peeking through some of the tall buildings. We decided to try and find them. They were much closer than I expected and truly an amazing sight. The building are like crystal cathedrals all lit up at night. There were lots of people taking pictures outside at some beautiful fountains. As we walked around we discovered a tour to the skybridge and the top of the towers. We will return in the morning to take the tour.
November 17, 2012
We only had 14 miles to get to Mama Ching's house in Petaling Jaya. This is the mother of the young woman we met in Singapore who was introduced to us by a mutual friend on the Oregon Coast. These introductions are some of the best encounters for me while traveling.
Getting out of KL isn't easy. Malaysia loves expressways and we always seemed to find ourselves on a very busy 10 lane highway. It's difficult to see on the map where the entrance to the expressways are. And then sometimes we were on an overpass looking down at the road we wanted but couldn't see how to get to it. Once, we were on an expressway seeing that the highway split and we had to ride over 3 lanes to make the turn. The craziest thing is that, at that moment, there wasn't any traffic - none. We should have had cars and trucks whizzing passed at 60+ mph - but we didn't. Amazing. Kathryn has a data plan on her 'jailbroken' iphone and we were using that to find our way. Occasionally, I would pull out the Google Nexus tablet so we could have a bigger picture to look at. The Google has GPS so we can always see where we are but I don't have a data plan so there is no way to plot a course. At one point we took shelter at a restaurant when it started raining. The Unique Seafood restaurant had hundreds of tanks of live fish where customers pick out their meal. It turns out, Unique Seafood is also one of the most expensive restaurants in KL. We went to a restaurant next door walking through a wedding party to a back room to wait out the rain. We smiled and waved as everyone stared at us in our biking clothes. Once back on the road, it took hours of wandering to find Mama Ching's in Petaling Jaya. It seemed the whole neighborhood was interested in knowing who we were. We got our bags into the house and neighbors from across the street took the trikes for a ride.
Mama Ching was a most generous hostess. The first thing we did was go to the local Village Park restaurant for lunch. I was introduced to my new favorite drink with lychee, mint and lemongrass. Next door was a famous bike shop and I had a brake cable replaced and my derailleur adjusted. We also met a man, Stanley, who introduced us to the Malaysian Bicycle Touring Network on Facebook where cyclists post routes. He also told us where to find the local Garmin store. At the Garmin store I discovered both my sd card maps of SE Asia and China were bad. No wonder I hadn't been able to get the map to come up. Uuugghh! These maps originally cost me over $200. The store downloaded new maps of SE Asia and China for $50. I was back in business.
Mama Ching took us all around KL. It seemed that every tourist attraction was another reason to eat. We ate fabulous local foods. Most of our stops were to open air markets and food stalls. I don't think we ever ate at a place that had a door. She took us down 'scary alley' for incredible noodles and veggies. I think it was somewhat hard for her because we didn't want to eat meat. It is difficult to find food without any meat in Malaysia. Most of the sauces and broths are made with pork or chicken. We ate it all gratefully and enjoyed every bite.
One of Mama Ching's brothers was moving into a new house and we went with the whole family to 'bless' it. Since the house has been empty for awhile they threw rice, tea and salt all over the floor to chase away any spirits that may have moved in. A big Chinese red banner was hoisted over the front door and, of course, we ate from a buffet of foods that the family brought over. And then, we went out for lunch. Kathryn and I couldn't believe we were eating again. We were exploding with fullness but the food was so good we ate anyway.
Mama Ching took us to Batu Cave in the hills above KL. This is an important Hindu pilgramage site. There is a huge golden statue of Lord Murugan at the bottom of the 272 steps to the caves. Inside the cave is a temple and we watched a religious ceremony with lots of bell ringing and intoxicating chanting.
We also went out to Kuala Selangor on the coast to see some special fireflies. We took a boat out on a river where hundreds of thousands of fireflies live in the berembang tree. There were only 5 of us in a boat. We were asked to be silent and not take any pictures. There were so many fireflies the trees looked like crazy Christmas decorations. The boat went so close to the trees we could actually see the flies flying with lights trailing. I know it was a long drive for Mama Ching and we really enjoyed the whole experience.
This visit with Mama Ching was very special. She was amazingly generous and her home was very comfortable. We did more in 2 days than we would have in 10 days on the trikes. I think we ate as much as well. After 3 nights it was time to roll on down the road.
November 20, 2012
After such a nice visit in Petaling Jaya with Mama Ching, it was hard to say goodbye. She took us, one last time, to the Village Park for more of my favorite drink and nasi lamak. Really good food and Mama Ching helped us with translation for different foods and how to ask for vegetables. Hopefully, we will be able to remember our lessons. After a few pictures we pedaled away from PJ and onto, yet another, expressway. Again, we found ourselves needing to ride over many lanes to get on a different highway. This was super scary but the traffic was very polite and we had no problems. The traffic in Malaysia has been such a welcome surprise. Everyone is always so excited to see us and make sure they see us wave back. What a difference from the US where we would have been honked at, sworn at and had people threaten our safety.
Once we got out of the heaviest traffic around KL the ride became more relaxed. We got a late start and it was very hot. Even though we only managed 18 miles for the day I was ready to stop. We got checked into the New Wave Hotel across from a large shopping mall. The trikes were locked up together outside the reception window where someone would be on duty 24 hours a day. Shortly after arriving, Kathryn realized she had left her sleeping mat at Mama Chings. What to do? We considered having her send the mat further on our route. But then we weren't very far, by car, from Mama Ching's house. Maybe she would be available to drive it to Rawang. We gave her a call on Skype. She found the mat and got in her car driving to the hotel. We got to spend another meal with Mama Ching! Yahh! We took her out for a nice local dinner of ginger garlic talapia. It was terrific to see her again and hope it isn't the last time.
November 21, 2012
We got a late start out of Rawang and the New Wave Hotel. Some days it's just harder to get out of bed. We had originally planned on a short day and that also played into our slow start. Our route today was Route 1 which runs parallel the new E1 expressway. We also started seeing more hills after riding over fairly flat terrain for the past 3 weeks. Just as we were thinking of stopping for lunch a guy on a mountain bike caught up to us. Nadzir was out for a 50 mile loop ride. We invited him to stop with us for lunch. His English was limited but we still had a very nice visit. He took lots of pictures and posted them on Facebook. Nadzir had many miles to go and pushed on.
After checking the map, we noticed another town beyond Kuala Kubu Bharu and made that our destination. The temperature and humidity were quickly rising in the afternoon. It was very hot and I was suffering.With every climb came the pollution from truck and car exhaust. By the time we made it to Kuala Kubu Bharu I was completely overcome by the fumes and couldn't go farther. It was as if I was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. I was disappointed to stop after only 20 miles but there wasn't anything else to do.
This town is the gateway into the Cameron Highlands and the Frasier Hill area. I expected to find tourist hotels but we only found one and it was very rundown. The hotel lobby and rooms were on the second floor. There wasn't a convenient place to put the trikes except up the stairs. The hotel owner offered to help bring the trikes up the stairs but I wanted to try and find something easier. Next door was an immigration office and the officers came out to look at the trikes. I asked if we could keep the trikes in their office over night. 'No can not.' Bummer. One officer suggested the police station. The police station was on the other side of town and I didn't like the idea of having the trikes so far away. We ended up having the hotel owner help us carry the trikes upstairs. It was actually easier than I imagined. I'm always worried about my back whenever I have to lift the trikes but I took the back rack and the hotel owner carried the front wheels. The trikes certainly were going to be safe up here.
This hotel would be our first 'authentic' experience but it looked worse than it was. The floor was cement, the towels were thread bare and all the switches for the lights were in the hallway. We could have stayed in a fan room for $11.70 but chose an air-con room for $18.30. The room included a bathroom with a cold water shower and a working toilet. It certainly could have been worse.
I felt so much better after a shower and we walked around the small quaint town. I found a medical clinic and stopped in to ask if I could get on a scale. No problem. The receptionist escorted us into an exam room. She seemed puzzled by the request but went along with it. I explained that I have been dieting and wanted to see how my weight was doing now I am traveling. What a shock to see I was only 1 pound above my lowest weight and well below my Weight Watchers goal weight. Apparently I had lost quite a bit before we met Mama Ching. This was fantastic news. Next, we stopped in a yogurt shop for a fabulous mango ice dish. Our real mission was wifi and we had dinner at an indian place getting caught up online.
November 24, 2012
We couldn't have picked a better day to hole up in a hotel. It rained and rained all day. The hotel was comfortable and I had a lot of blogging to do. I really enjoy updating my journal but when it is 4 days behind this becomes a huge job. It took hours but I got it all done. The wifi connection was slowish and uploading photos took a very long time. Since it was Thanksgiving I also wanted to make some Skype calls to family and friends. Skype can be challenging when the wifi is slow. None of the calls worked very well which was frustrating but everyone was excited to hear from me. The time difference has also made calling difficult. I am 16 hours ahead of the pacific coast and the best time to call is around noon when we are usually cycling.
With all the rain yesterday I wasn't surprised to see it was still raining in the morning. It was a light rain that reminded me of Portland except that it is a good 40 degrees warmer. Since it wasn't storming we decided to head out. Today's route was very scenic with lush green mountains and a few karsts jutting out. We had a young man on a broken down bike join us for many miles. His chain would fall off and then he would catch up. We pulled into a food stall for tea and he sat with us trying to speak English. A couple eating at another table picked up the tab. We continued riding and when the young man had to turn off he stopped us to shake our hand. So cute!
We had a number of people pull over in cars to talk and take pictures. These are always interesting encounters. A man pulled over with his sons leaping out of the car to give us fruit. He wanted to give us Durian but we refused knowing how overpoweringly stinky it is. But he also gave us a new fruit - mangosteen and it was sweet, juicy and delicious. I'll be looking out for more of those. We also have a lot of converations when we are sitting next to cars waiting for stop lights to turn green.
It continued to rain all morning but in the afternoon the skies cleared. It didn't take long to dry out and then I was sweating. Rain or shine I'm always wet in Malaysia. There were gentle hills the whole way into Ipoh. We stopped in every town. It's amazing how all the towns continue to have such a strong Chinese influence. There is lots of Chinese writing on the buildings. We seem to alternate our stops between Chinese and Malay food stalls. The Malay restaurants are easier to order in. The Chinese places don't usually have a menu and if they do we can't read it. Often we point at the vegetables on other tables. The Malay stalls have menus and we have been practiced the language enough to know how to order our favorites. Kathryn is really good about writing down words we don't know to look up later.
After 41 miles on up Route 1 we arrived in Ipoh. This is a good sized town with lots of hotel choices. We, once again, got the last room with 2 twin beds at a hotel. The Ipoh Boutique Hotel is really nice and had a promotional rate of $32. The staff worked very hard to find a secure place for the trikes. It wasn't easy but they managed to get them both into a storage room. We booked in for 2 nights.
Ipoh is the gateway to the Cameron Highlands. With all the rain we are thinking of taking a bus up into the mountains to check out the area. We'll talk to the hotel staff about leaving our trikes and gear we wouldn't need to take.
November 22, 2012
The room at the Wah Win Hotel in Kuala Kubu Bharu was rustic enough that I worried my imagination might take over and keep me up. I took an Ambien to make sure I could get a good night's sleep. Even though we had planned for a shorter day there wasn't any reason to stay in this hotel and we got an early start. Our plan was to get to Sungkai and, hopefully, get there early enough to beat the heat. We had some leftovers from last nights dinner and a bag of wonderful cookies we found at the market. This would hold us until lunch. We passed the town Tajong Malim and were surprised by the number of hotels. It was a good size town with a university. Everyday we plot our route using Googlemaps for information about hotels. We didn't see any hotels in this town when we looked it up. I sure hope this trend doesn't continue.
In the morning we rode with some cloud cover which kept the temperatures more manageable. Around noon the humidity rose and I was soaked with sweat. We crossed the Slim River into the town of the same name stopping at a large marketplace for lunch. We had quite a crowd as we were leaving. Everyone always wants to know 'Where you from?' and 'Where you go?'. After a few pictures we headed back out to route 1. Even though it was hillier today the hills were very gently graded. Eventually we found our way into Sungkai which Googlemaps showed as a bigger town. It was a dirty, very poor town and didn't have a hotel. I was suffering in the heat and had a mini melt down. The next town was only 7.5 miles but it might as well have been 50. I was having an issue with chafing on my leg and the skin was being rubbed raw. This has never happened before but I'm not sure I've ever sweated so much either. There was some serious weather in the distance and we put our heads down and focused on the miles to Bidor and a hotel. It was dark enough when we arrived that I had to put away my sunglasses. We had our choice of three hotels listed on Googlemaps. The first hotel didn't have a place for the trikes and we didn't even look in. The second hotel had a secure place under the stairs for the trikes but was filthy and the room only had a 2 foot square window. As we pedalled on we were worried about what the third option had in store for us. A man on a motorcycle guessed we were looking for a hotel and escorted us through the back alleys. What a welcome sight the Loong Fatt hotel was. It was big and clean and there was a back room for the trikes. We got checked in for $32. This hotel was such a nice place we decided to spend an extra day.
After our very busy time in KL and at Mama Ching's we have fallen farther and farther behind on our blogs, picture uploading and daily chores. An extra day in Bidor is exactly what we needed.
November 28, 2012
After a nice stay in Ipoh and visit to the Cameron Highlands it felt good to get back on the bikes. The hotel staff helped us get the trikes out of the room where they had been secured for the last few days. Ipoh was easy to get out of and we rode through many small towns. Soon after our first juice stop we stopped again to check out the Perak cave temple. As the name suggests this is a Buddhist temple built inside a large cave similar to the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur. This cave didn't have as many steps into it but had lots of stairs going up into the mountain. It got too steep for me to go all the way up but Kathryn took lots of pictures of monkeys that lived up there. Very nice cave.
The road went around a mountain and the big town of the day was Sungai Siput. We always have reasons to stop and here we stopped for lunch. In these small towns it's like a parade we get so many honks and thumbs up and yells out of 'hello' and 'welcome to Malaysia'. When we stop and park the trikes outside a food stall lots of people ask where we are from. We say AmeriKA and the people yell out Obama's name. Then they turn to people sitting eating and yell out 'Obama, Obama' and then the people in the restaurant yell out 'Obama, Obama'. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. Where ever we go Obama gets lots of love and it makes me proud to be American.
Through out the last few days we have been in contact with a local cyclist we first met outside Port Dickson a couple of weeks ago. He and a friend cycled around the world. Khalib really wanted us to stay with him and we are getting close to his house. His cycling friend who also made it around the world lives in Kuala Kangsar and we were hoping to meet up with Aswad.
Kuala Kangsar is known as a 'Royal Town'. There are 6 or 7 royal towns in Malaysia where the royal family has residences. Kuala Kangsar is very pretty with tree lined streets and majestic buildings. We had many options for hotels and we chose the Kangsar hotel checking in for $29. After getting settled we went to get dinner and got caught in a torrential downpour. We waited it out at an Indian restaurant where we had the guys laughing hysterically with our pronunciation of Malay dishes. At least we were trying. Eventually the rains stopped and we headed back to the hotel and found Aswad waiting for us. What a cutie! I think he waited close to an hour for us to return. His English was very good and we went out for some juice drinks and talked touring for a couple of hours.
In the morning Aswad will return to the hotel and give us a personal bike tour of Kuala Kangsar and then escort us out of town.