Malaysia

Malaysia
January 31, 2018 Tom Jarman

It took 3 hours to reach Malacca from Dumai on the Indomal Express and I spent much of the journey reflecting on my wonderful Indonesian adventure in which I had been handed a thorough lesson in incredible hospitality by the locals that I will endeavour to put into practice as I continue my journey on a bicycle and beyond. I had feared rough seas due to the incredible storms that had thrashed Dumai the previous day however a morning of clear skies and light winds left me feeling optimistic that it would be a nausea free crossing. Departing Indonesia, the water was incredibly calm and we only encountered slight bumps when crossing the wakes of the large cargo ships that were sailing through the waters of the Malacca straight and before I knew it, the West Coast of Malaysia was coming into view.

“Welcome to Malaysia”

We pulled up in the port and were herded off into the immigration hall where I collected my bike that had been transported on the roof of the ferry. I passed through and legally into Malaysia without trouble, receiving a 90 day Visa on arrival and progressed through security checks before being free to go. I went outside the air-conditioned arrivals hall and into the oven that was Malacca at 1 pm. The sun thrashed down upon my back and within minutes, my skin had developed a shimmer from the sweat seeping out of my body and I was eager to get pedalling and get a breeze blowing through my clothes.

My first impressions of Malaysia were that it was visibly much cleaner than Sumatra and also the buildings looked a lot more modern than those I had left behind, utilising modern construction materials such as high amounts of glass instead of concrete walls. As I pedalled towards the city, I noticed how the traffic was heavy and made up of a much higher percentage of cars than scooters which was in direct contrast to Indonesia where motorcycles ruled the roads for the most part. As I weaved in and out of the traffic jams and through several sets of traffic lights, I had picked up on how the traffic was being very courteous towards me on the bike and that people were following the rules of the road such as stopping at red lights and not driving on the wrong side of the road. This in any normal situation would be great but I had gotten so used to doing whatever I wanted on the roads of Indonesia that I found myself having to rethink lessons I had been taught whilst undertaking my driving lessons in the UK and committing quite a few traffic offences which brought about a few honks of the horn from drivers who were unimpressed by my nonchalant riding style. What I noticed most, though was how quiet the roads seemed. People didn’t shout at me as I rode past, the majority of cars didn’t honk and the cars were modern and in good running order so made little noise as they ran and it seemed like I was going to be shaping up for a steady month.

Malacca

I rode into the city, hoping to find some mudguards for my bike as I had finally begun to get a little tired of the water from my front wheel spraying up into my face on the rainy days and thought that here would be a good place. I visited 5 cycle shops in the city on a journey that proved to be as unfruitful as it was sweaty so gave up and went to get some food instead.

I had long been excited about the Indian-Malaysian food that awaited me after my good friend Ed and I had travelled through here by backpack 2 and a half years ago and eaten so many great curries. I dived into the first Indian restaurant that I saw before striking gold with a non-veg Thali served on a banana leaf and thoroughly enjoyed my meal before checking the map to see which way I needed to go to get to my Warmshowers hosts house.

Yum!

On my way out of the city, I chose to cycle down the Jonker walk and through the old town of Malacca and was at first really surprised to see so many tourists. White faces had become such a rare sight in Java and Sumatra that when they were appearing in high numbers around the central square, it all felt rather strange. The old city of Malacca is a very interesting place to ride through as it has a very diverse history set by different countries colonising the area so there are architectural influences from the Portuguese, Dutch and British which leaves a certain European feel to the streets. There is also, of course, a strong Malaysian culture in the city which in itself is very unique, being made up of Indian-Malaysian, Chinese – Malaysian and Malays so it is a city that feels different on almost every turn. The result is lots of interesting and different looking food all over the place which excited me about my stay in Malacca over the next few days.

As I cycled away from the city and to Tan’s (my warmshowers host) house, I passed by many large civil construction projects which were widening and increasing the capacity of the roads that lead into the city as they tried to keep up with the rapid development. It was around a 15km ride to a fancy looking estate opposite a golf club and I was unsure if I had actually got the right place as I pulled up to a security gate to be asked a few questions. As I was chatting with the security guards, Tan turned up behind me on his way home from work and we greeted each other before I followed him up to his house.

As we got deeper into the estate, the modern houses seemed to grow in size and I was astonished to see the one that we actually ended up pulling up at. Tan opened the gate of what to me looked like a mansion and showed me into the house where we sat in a huge open plan entrance/living area and ate banana loaf and drank tea together. Tan said that I could pick any of the free rooms that I fancied, of which there were 7 and then I went to freshen up before we went for dinner.

Tan and I

Tan is a Chinese-Malaysian man and took me for Chinese food at one of his favourite local eateries where we ordered a lot of food for the table. I thought that he must be a big eater but instead, he said that there was so much because a “young man needs a lot of food, especially after cycling” and I knew that we were on the same wavelength! We had fried rice, sweet and sour pork, chicken noodles, vegetables and soup and I mentioned how nice it was to eat pork after 2 months in Indonesia where it is generally not available.

We sat chatting about cycling mostly and Tan was very interested in my trip and where I had been. He too was about to go on tour around Taiwan and I admired his determination to keep touring for long distances and camping along the way as he is now in his late 50’s but seems as eager as he has ever been to keep on riding and one day after retirement hopes to cycle the world. He gave me a couple of tips for the road in Malaysia and taught me about little water vending machines around Malaysia and also Thailand where I could fill bottles for very cheap. When we returned home, he showed me a huge noticeboard screwed to the wall in his house where he had photos of all of the guests that had stayed in his house and could tell me the names and where they were from which I was very impressed by. He said that he loves to host cyclists as they keep him hungry to keep on touring and I thought that was really great.

Water at 0.1 MYR / litre

I said I would have another cup of tea before going to bed and with me saying that, Tan said he would now go home. Home? I said. Until now, I was unaware that this gigantic house was only a house that Tan used to provide a roof for cycle tourists and his actual home was elsewhere in the city! He told me that later, two more cyclists would be arriving and that I would need to let them in so it would be better if I stayed up. I was in total shock that I had this huge home to myself for now and after he had left, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the other 2 cyclists whilst contemplating what a difference a day can make and feeling like I had actually stepped into a time machine whilst boarding the ferry in Dumai only a few hours earlier.

A terrific storm rumbled outside and at around 9 pm, there was a knock at the door from 2 very wet cyclists from the South of England who had completed the last of their ride in the pitch dark and driving monsoon rain. Yim and Deborah were on their first cycle tour and had started in Singapore before riding up to Malacca. I did my best to show them around the house before they freshened up and we ended up chatting until the early hours of the morning.

I instantly loved the company of Yim and Deborah who were two very gentle middle-aged people who worked as campsite wardens in Devon and lived out of a Ford Transit campervan. They had such a positive outlook on life and laughed about absolutely everything which meant we had a really good first night together and I was looking forward to having a couple of days in Malacca with them.

For the next 2 days, we spent our time exploring Malacca city and surrounding areas as well as just generally chit chatting about life. We rode each day either into the city and also took some off-road trails through some of the more suburban and hilly areas that backed onto Malacca. On the last evening, we joined Tan for dinner at a popular restaurant in town where we once again ate Chinese food and drank special Chinese tea that is supposed to help with circulation. I really enjoyed hearing from Tan as he ordered the food and told us what the Chinese believed were the benefits of each thing we consumed and I found it interesting that we were eating things not only because they tasted great but that they had health benefits too.

Yim, Deborah and I outside Tan’s house

After a really pleasant couple of days with Yim and Deborah, they headed off in the direction of Port Dickson and we said our goodbyes early in the morning. I chose to stay on for one more day as there was a Norwegian cyclist arriving from Singapore who was interested in hearing my experiences from Indonesia as that’s where he would be heading next. Tan had semi-arranged for us to have lunch together on my confirmation that I would stay and it seemed like a good idea – so that’s what I did!

We all met up at an Indian restaurant after Tan had been on a prep ride for his upcoming tour and Ove, the Norwegian cyclist had just rolled into town. We ate Biryani and exchanged tips and tricks from the road and I was very interested to hear Ove’s experiences of cycle touring as he was riding on a Brompton which is the folding bicycle with the really small wheels. It turned out that he had actually had a lot of trouble on his bike due to rupturing tyre side walls under the heavy weight of his luggage and then having great difficulty finding spare parts. It made me feel very grateful to be touring around on my relatively trouble-free Surly that has spare parts available on just about every corner!

Tan, Ove and I

Ove and his Brompton

After lunch, I headed back to Tan’s house and gave my bike a thorough clean after a dirty ride through Indonesia before preparing for the journey the next day. My original plan was to head East from Malacca towards Kuantan to sample the East Coast of Malaysia but I was also trying to locate some mudguards. After messaging many cycling shops, I eventually found a shop in Kuala Lumpur that had some mud guards in stock and completely changed my plan and had to ride North the next day, prioritising getting the mudguards and hopefully helping to keep my bike in it’s now squeaky clean state. In the evening Tan stopped by to say goodbye and we wished each other well for our upcoming riding. It had been really nice to be welcomed into Malaysia and I was now interested to see what life would be like on the road here.

I knew that a long ride lay ahead of me to reach Kuala Lumpur from Malacca in one day so got up early. I had had the ambition of cracking a 100 (160km) mile day for a while now and seeing a lot of flat terrain between the two cities encouraged me that I would be able to ride the distance. I set off just before sunrise and rode through heavy traffic leaving Malacca behind and heading North. By the time the sun came out, it was very hot and by 8am I was finding the going to be quite hard as I would climb long gentle hills and work up a sweat before descending the same on the other side and cooling back down. I actually found on one particularly industrial section of the highway, there were a lot of lorries shooting by me and the turbulent air that followed them actually pulled me along the road, reducing the workload that had been placed upon my legs to maintain me at 23kph.

White mosque leaving Malacca

Going was good along the highway after a few days off of the bike and the fairly uninteresting scenery spurred me on to churn out the kilometres. I eventually turned off onto a small road and passed 3 small villages which were much more pleasant. I climbed one relatively steep hill and reached the top where I had a good view that overlooked mountains in the far distance. Unfortunately, in between me and the mountains lay kilometre after kilometre of palm trees and I was disappointed to find out that the palm plantations I thought I had left behind in Indonesia were to continue through Malaysia.

Back into the palm

I descended the hill to the base and into my first palm plantation. I had now covered 35km since Malacca and the 3 lane highway had been reduced to one lane either side that ran through the plantations with minimal traffic as I began a series of rolling hills that would dominate the next 100km of riding.

Malaysia had been a quiet ride so far with people giving me my space and not really taking notice of me riding past on my bike but as I dropped further into rural Malaysia, beeps from the cars returned and I found myself doing a lot of waving at people as I pedalled through small villages which was great. I thought about how I felt much safer in the palm plantations of Malaysia compared with how I felt at times in Sumatra and the road surface was far superior with smooth rolling roads that were well marked and well signed.

I stopped in for breakfast at a small restaurant and just ate rice with 4 eggs and iced coffee which was a combination that was met with a little confusion by the lady who took my order. It was nice to still be able to practice the language I had learnt in Indonesia as Malaysian language is more or less the same, with only a few subtle differences that I was able to quickly learn. There were 3 other men in the restaurant and they all took an interest in where I was going before giving me a chorus of “selamat Jalan” (Have a good journey) as I departed.

Motorbike lane on the left

By mid day it was incredibly hot but I had managed to rack up 90km for the day. I stopped in for lunch and caught a little break from the heat and palm tree views before continuing on my way. I found as I progressed that shade was hard to come by unless I was pedalling in a palm plantations and grew to appreciate the cool that came as a result of sacrificing nice scenery. Eventually I reached the end of the smaller roads and joined onto a large highway that circled Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I was pleased to see that there was a large motorcycle/bicycle lane that ran separately to the main highway as the traffic flow was heavy and fast moving. Clouds that had been threatening for a few hours began sprinkling a cooling mist that I was very grateful for as I turned off the big highway and into another palm plantation.

More palm

By now I was tired and would have quite happily called it a day after 140km but with light still left in the day, I decided I would slog on until Kuala Lumpur and hopefully have a day off the following day. The palm plantation was under development and the small concrete road soon turned to dirt and construction workers gave me big waves as I pedalled through the plantation and bumped over the rough surface. After another 5km I was out of the plantation and back onto the main roads that ran into the city of Kuala Lumpur. I followed a motorcycle lane to Shah Alam where I eventually found the bike shop, concluding a marathon day of 176km. Phew!

I walked into the shop to meet Che Wan who I instantly hit it off with. I had considered how throughout the day I had felt like Malaysia is a little less sociable in comparison with Indonesia although I was appreciating the space I was given to just get on with my day on my own. However, Che Wan was a chatterbox and was really interested to hear about my trip and also tell me about his journey in which he spent 6 years travelling around the world by bicycle visiting 54 countries. Whilst chatting he said that I would be able to sleep in the cycle shop which I was really happy with and he showed me a room with a camp style bed and 5 energetic cats to keep me entertained. At 9pm, Che Wan went home and we agreed to meet up early in the morning so that I could install the mudguards on my bike and then consider what I want to do going forward. I got some dinner in one of the local restaurants before getting an early night after the longest day of my trip so far and felt accomplished to have cracked the 100 mile day.

To my surprise and as a result of getting on so well with Che, I ended up staying for 5 nights in Shah Alam. Che seemed really happy to have me around and taught me a lot about bike maintenance as we went about building bikes together in his great little bike shop. Che fabricates a lot of parts himself such as luggage racks, custom handle bars and even bike frames and I was really impressed by his DIY approach to cycling and running a cycle shop. He had recently gotten married so was now explaining to me that his Visa options are very short and gave me the advice that in the future, if I want to go for a short holiday then I should go alone and if I want to go for a long holiday then I should take my wife! Any time that we went out for food, Che Wan would insist on picking up the bill and told me that my money was not valid in his company before laughing along. We spent evenings relaxing with his friends in the bike shops as they exchanged cycle components and stories of recent ongoings and taught me local slang that I would never pick up by using translation apps.

The great guy that is Che Wan

It had been a really pleasant few days and I had importantly got some mudguards on my bike but I was now looking forward to getting going. I had also been alarmed with the rains that had come down extremely heavily every night and had concerns that I would have a few wet days going forwards as I headed towards the wetter parts of Malaysia. I had left a lasting piece in the workshop with a bench that I had built for the shops coffee area that Che was planning on having for the customers and after getting up early on my 5th morning in Shah Alam, we ate breakfast together before I set off on my way.

I headed into Kuala Lumpur along a motorcycle lane and the traffic got progressively heavier as I neared the city. I remember when backpacking that I found Kuala Lumpur to be a relaxing “big city” however my experience on a bicycle was the complete opposite! I weaved in and out of hectic traffic and found the route to the Petronas towers to be stressful and quite dangerous as local buses muscled me off the road on multiple occasions as they jostled for the best position in the queue. I eventually made it unscathed to the giant structures in the centre of Kuala Lumpur and looked for a nice place to take a photo. I saw many security guards around the area but got smiles as I neared the park area at the back of the towers so went through the entrance. Almost immediately, whistles and shouts were being directed at me but I played the “dumb tourist” card and pedalled along as if I had no idea until one man came sprinting in front of me. He told me that I was not allowed to bring a bike into the park and that I couldn’t even walk my bike into the area and had to leave it out of the grounds of the park.

Petronas park

Disappointed by the news, I exited the park and checked my maps for more secluded entrances. I saw one at the opposite side and made my way around. I slowly rode my way past hordes of Chinese tourists waving selfie sticks outside of their giant tour bus and to a hotel car park where there was a sneaky entrance to the grounds of the park. I walked my bike in and parked up with a wonderful view of the towers in the background. I began taking photos before the whistles once again started ringing through the air and I knew that I was an unwanted guest. I looked up to see security guards in high visibility vests waving at me and frantically using their walkie talkies. Panning round, I saw 4 guards quickly closing in and 2 police officers. Not wanting to get into any more trouble, I packed up my gear and promptly made my way out of the park and back on to the busy highway with a feeling of discontent for the lack of acceptance of bicycles in a quiet park.

Leaving KL

I pedalled in hot sunshine in the direction of the Genting highlands along a busy highway where cars raced by at the maximum speed permitted. Reaching the Batu Caves, I checked my map and saw an opportunity to take a much smaller road (the 68) that lead to the same place as the busy highway but would hopefully prove to be much quieter. Joining the small road, the traffic instantly died down and there was only me and the odd car on the road. I passed by small villages and at one point a group of kids also on bicycles where a race ensued up a steep hill. One by one the kids dropped off and only the strongest remained, whilst getting cheered on by his friends. We were wheel to wheel for around 500 metres before he anchored on the brakes. I stopped for 5 minutes to chat with the kids who were laughing about the race we had just had before I continued along the road and it had been nice to have a bit of fun with the kids.

Soon, I began climbing up on a twisty section of road that quickly gained altitude. I rode around 5km of steep road before seeing a sign saying 20km to Bentong where I hoped to sleep and thought about how it had been an easy ish day. To my despair, another kilometre down the road I reached a road block being guarded by the Army. I stopped to chat with them and they said that there had been a landslide further up the road and there was no way I could get past. I pleaded with them to let me try but they stood firm by their orders not to let anyone through and I asked them about my options. Frustratingly, the only option I had was to ride back down to the Batu Caves turn off that I took and then climb up the highway instead! 20 fast kilometres later down the road that I had spent a couple of hours climbing and I was back to where I had begun and joined the highway. It was still as busy as earlier and I found that the steep climb I had faced on the twisty road had been replaced by a long steep hill on the highway. I slogged along in heavy traffic flow as a storm rumbled behind me. When I looked back I could see a huge black cloud lashing down rain and the city of Kuala Lumpur had gone out of view.

No way through

As I progressed forwards, the rain relented above me and I began a steep 5km climb which took me to an elevation of around 800m and the highest point of the route I would cycle today. On the other side I descended at high speed to the city of Bentong where I stopped for food, getting a delicious Mutton curry and then set about looking for somewhere to sleep.

It was school holidays so I first optimistically asked in a school to which they said no. Opposite the school was a police station and I had confidence that they would help me out after my good experiences in Indonesia however upon asking, I was laughed at and told to go and check into a hotel in the city or sleep in the bus station. Uninspired by any of these options, I unsuccessfully tried another school and then a few peoples houses, just requesting somewhere to put my tent in the garden. The last house that I tried, a lady opened the door before looking at me and closing it straight in my face without saying a word. I left in shock of the lack of help after becoming so accustomed to being welcomed in in Indonesia and thought about my options.

Descending to Bentong

A little bit miffed, I began to pedal out of the city and came across one more school and went up to the security booth. To my surprise, out came a security guard obviously expecting a quiet night at the office because he was totally blathered. He stood in front of me, swaying around and closed one eye whilst trying to focus on his phone screen as he made multiple phone calls. In his defence, he had been the first person of the day that was actually trying to help me out and made several calls to his seniors to see if they would let me pitch my tent on the school field before telling me it was not possible for me to sleep and apologising whole heartedly. I said of course that it was not his fault and thanked him for his efforts before once again considering my options.

The trouble was that by now, I had lost all confidence in finding somewhere to sleep in Bentong and decided that with the amount of energy left in my legs, I could continue cycling which at the very least would get me away from this town. I put on my headtorch and began riding into the night, scanning the area around the road for places to put my tent. I stopped in several open spots but was very uninterested in putting my tent next to the rubbish piles that I found and next to filthy looking mosquito ridden rivers so once again kept slogging on.

It was now around 10.30pm and I had been passing roadside cafes every 5km or so as I now travelled on a road away from the city. My speedo had just ticked over 160km for the second consecutive riding day and I decided that the next cafe I saw I would sleep at. One soon showed up and I ordered a cup of tea. Whilst half way through my tea, I asked if I could sleep on the floor and the man said that would be no problem. I finished my cup of tea, laid out my sleeping mat and got in my sleeping bag liner before falling straight to sleep after an eventful day.

Morning views – nice to be on quieter roads

I slept well until 7.30am and got up to take a shower before getting on the road around 8am. I pedalled towards some nice looking mountains but the palm plantations at the base of them persisted and spoiled the nice looking scenery. I pedalled to Raub where I stopped in for breakfast and got a brilliant beef curry with rice, egg and coffee. I sat for over an hour on fairly tired legs and even booked myself a hostel for when I would reach the Cameron Highlands in 2 days time to give me something to look forward to. I got up to go and pay for my food and the restaurant lady asked me where I was riding to. I said “keliling Dunia” (around the world) before she began quizzing me with more and more questions. After a really nice 5 minute chat of being introduced to her daughters and mother, she said that the food was on her and wished me all the best for my journey which made me feel great after a rocky start with local people in Malaysia and not feeling 100% welcome all the time. Of course, receiving free food and drinks isn’t what I need to make me feel welcome but it’s the interaction that I got from this little family and an opportunity to show an interest in each others life that I was really grateful for and it is that that I seek in my journey.

Rough weather

As I pedalled away from the breakfast spot, a light rain began to fall that got increasingly heavier with time until I decided it was too much to continue riding. I took shelter in a bus stop at the side of the road for around half an hour until it had returned to a light shower. I rode until Sungai Koyan where I ate lunch and then planned to carry on as far as I could towards Cameron Highlands before stopping somewhere suitable and carried on in the light rain that had dominated the day. My legs felt sluggish following yesterdays long ride and after 70km, I began labouring my way up into the mountains. As I did so, the rain began to fall much heavier than before until the point where it was like cycling in a cold shower. The rain bounced off me and I was saturated in seconds but I was blown away by the effectiveness of the mud guards from preventing water splashing up from the ground and into my eyes. I felt cold as I descended away from the highest point of the mountain and saw a small snack stall next to a musholla (small mosque) which I dived into. I spoke with the men there who said if I wanted I could stay in the Musholla for the night and that was an opportunity that seemed too good to pass up. For dinner, I was limited to what was available in the snack store and ate 12 pieces of sugar filled bread and drank it with coffee. Ahhh the cycle tourists diet.

A tad wet

I slept really well in the Musholla, away from any traffic noise and left alone to get a good nights sleep. In the morning I was joined by the many cats who occupied the area and then by the man who had said I could sleep in the Musholla. He had only stopped by to open up the toilets and told me how he was very drunk before saying bye and weaving his way down the road on his scooter.

Luckily the heavy rain of yesterday was long gone and I set off up steep hills going towards the highlands. I had hoped to find food along the way but to my surprise, I passed no small villages and was left with no option but to proceed on an empty stomach. I reached a big sign indicating the start of the Cameron Highlands and then began an ascent over the next 50km which would take me to Ringlet. The nice scenery was a welcome distraction from the hunger in my belly and as I gained altitude, the climate cooled and the palm plantations were replaced with wildlife filled forest. It took me 4 hours to ride the 65km to Ringlet and by now I was very hungry and feeling very tired. I went to the first Indian restaurant that I saw and ate a lot of food before beginning the climb to the Cameron Highlands main town of Tanah Rata. Rain began to fall as I began the last steep switch back 10km climb and I pedalled past vast farm lands in tunnels and stopped to take photos of the famous Cameron Highlands tea plantations which provided wonderful views on my ascent to Tanah Rata. By the time I reached the town I was soaked and chilly but hungry again so stopped in the local market for lunch before riding up to De’Native guesthouse where I would be staying and took a well earned hot shower.

Entering the Cameron Highlands

Riding up to the Cameron Highlands

It was nice to tap back into the backpacker scene again and I met a Dutch girl called Iris who I got on well with. She was meeting up with 2 German friends for dinner so we all went together and had an Indian in the town centre before grabbing a couple of pints of Guinness in the Irish pub with the football on in the background which was superb. I was really happy to be facing the prospect of a couple of days off of the bike and my legs felt very tired after running without fuel for much of the days riding. I decided that for the rest of Malaysia, I would always carry a little bit of food with me, just in case.

I enjoyed my 2 rest days in the Cameron Highlands, visiting the Boh tea plantation and factory, Bharat tea plantation, jungle hikes, eating a lot of food and chatting with backpackers from all over the world around a campfire that we lit each night at the hostel to fight the cold. The weather had been hit and miss throughout my stay and I resigned to the fact that the month of November just isn’t an ideal time to visit Malaysia but I still wanted to see as much of the country as possible.

Jungle hiking in Cameron Highlands

Views from Boh tea plantation

Inside the tea factory

Departing Tanah Rata, I decided that I would have a go at reaching the East Coast. I had read that it is coming into the monsoon season but after the rains in Indonesia just lasted for a couple of hours each day, I was confident that my progress would not be halted too much and I was intrigued to see the culture and try the different food that would be available there. I packed up early in the morning and got on my way, climbing a long hill in rain that got progressively heavier. I bumped in to two French cyclists who had cycled from Turkey on a very similar route to me and we stood in the pouring rain exchanging tips about the upcoming ride for each of us. As I began descending away from the hill, I passed more tea plantations and farm land before reaching a T junction. Left would take me to the West Coast and right would take me to the East. The rain pounded down on my head which made me have a couple of second thoughts but I stuck to my guns and chose to ride towards the East Coast.

Riding away from Tanah Rata

I began a steep downhill in heavy rain and had to apply heavy pressure on the brakes to prevent the water droplets causing pain as they crashed against my face. The temperature got gradually warmer as I reduced in altitude and by the time I reached the low part of the hill, I felt like I was riding along with a shower placed right above my head – I had never experienced rain like it! At one stage, the rain came down so hard that I couldn’t even see the road surface that I pedalled on as it was masked by the splashes of the water and I chose to stop and see if it would pass. Whilst sitting, I contemplated going back up the hill and going West instead but opted to plod on knowing that an adventure lay ahead of me. After 30 minutes the rain showed no sign of relenting and I set off again in the downpour. I pedalled for the rest of the day to a cafe, 15km away from Gua Musang where I stopped in to have some hot soup and take off my saturated clothes. The rain battered down on the corrugated steel roof and now that I was in a shelter, I was actually very impressed by the sheer force of the rain.

The rain coming my way

By the time it began to slow a little, it was already totally dark outside and the thought of cycling more was not a good one. I asked the restaurant owner if I could sleep on the floor and thankfully she said yes and to my surprise even provided me with a tiny room at the back of the restaurant with a bed where I could sleep which was a good end to a tough day. I sat thinking about how now that I was in a much less populated area, the people seemed more friendly and I was happy to be on the East side if a little disappointed with the heavy rain. I got into bed just before 8pm and was soon fast asleep.

I slept until 7am and woke feeling fresh but disappointed by the sound of rain still pitter pattering on the roof. The cafe was completely deserted so I took a shower and lubricated my chain after yesterdays rain had stripped it of all oil and then got on my way in the light rain. Soon, the rain stopped and cycling along the quiet country roads with low lying cloud had an eerie feeling to it. I pedalled the 15km to Gua Musang where I stopped in for breakfast and the rain began to fall. I had been expecting just a couple hours of rain per day but it was turning out that I was only going to get a couple hours of dry each day!

Leaving Gua Musang

After breakfast I began heading along a small road towards Jeli. As I did so, two fire engines raced past me towing dingy boats and the alarm bells began to ring in my head. Another 5km down the road and with me now already totally wet, a lady overtook me and then pulled up ahead. She wound down her window to ask where I was going. When I said Jeli, she told me that I could not cross this way as the road was totally flooded ahead and the fire service were evacuating people away on boats. She told me of devastating floods 2 years earlier that had broken the legs of the bridge and it now sat much lower than before that meant in monsoon season, the road was completely submerged.

I trusted what she said was true and checked my map to see that I would be able to take another road on a detour that would cost me around 40km. I set off and pedalled out of Gua Musang, crossing a quagmire of a dirt road where I had to push my heavy bike through the sloppy mud for around 300 metres as cars drove past and sprayed dirt at me as their wheels spun in the slippery mud. Leaving Gua Musang, the scenery was very beautiful. The roads quickly became very quiet and huge limestone karst mountains rose from the ground which reminded me of the Phong Nha national park in Vietnam and I couldn’t help but think how beautiful it must be in dry season!

I turned off towards Jelawang and the rain came down even harder than before. I found myself laughing as I pedalled along at the situation but my jovial mood was soon troubled by a new problem and a first of my trip. My soaked shorts had begun to chafe the inside of my thighs as they pressed against my saddle and after 40km, I felt like I was pedalling with a cheesegrater between my legs. I persisted through the pain, promising myself a few days rest in Langkawi when I arrive there and soon approached small villages. To my surprise, there was no traffic around but it came clear as I got closer to the centre of the village to see that it was all under a metre of water. Cars were filled up with brown water and the lower floors of the houses and restaurants were completely underwater. The people had seemingly left all of their belongings behind, to return at a later and dryer date.

Severe flooding. Can you spot the car?

I crossed two huge landslide areas where my bike barely fitted on the road surface and JCB’s were busy removing the earth from the road surface to try and make the road passable again. I reached the town of Bertam Baru where I crossed a footbridge over the river backed with beautiful mountains and then continued on the other side through wonderful although wet scenery. I pedalled 25km to Jelawang on an increasingly narrow road and stopped in at a cafe for lunch where my legs were raging. I went to the toilet to find my inner thighs bright red, swollen and unbearable to touch. I had a look in my little toiletries bag and found some white tiger balm which said on the jar that it was good for swelling. I slapped on a healthy amount on each thigh before returning to the restaurant to chill out for a little bit. Within a couple of minutes though, I developed this horrific burning sensation from the tiger balm on my raw skin and unfortunately found out that it wasn’t just my thighs that had suffered. I raced back to the toilet with my crotch on fire and began frantically removing the tiger balm to relieve my sensitive bits and then gingerly made my way back to the seating area feeling less than satisfied with my medical abilities.

Cleaning up after a landslide

Whilst sat, the rain eventually relented and I chose to make a few more kilometres for the day and find somewhere suitable to sleep. I set off pedalling and made my way down switching between standing up, and pedalling in a style that I imagine John Wayne would have adopted if he rode a bike. Basically, anything to try and keep the pressure off of my thighs and other bits. I passed two schools and 1 police station, asking if I could rest there to which they said no and I at least appreciated their consistency. I continued down the road before rain started falling again. Fearing more wet shorts and chafing, I stopped at the first cafe I saw and ordered a cup of coffee.

The rain got heavier and before I knew it, the sun was down and it had become dark. I chatted with people who came and went from the cafe and also the cafe owner. Eventually, I asked the cafe owner if I could sleep in an abandoned garage they had and she said that I could. I now realised that the rain in some way had become my trump card in finding a place to stay. Because it came down without fail at 5pm, I could simply dive into a cafe until it was dark and then hope that the cafe owner would show enough compassion for me to at least just sleep on the floor and so far it was working well.

More heavy flowing rivers

At 7pm, I got out my sleeping mat and laid it down on the floor. I inspected my legs and was actually grossed out at how raw they were looking. I dug out some magic bee oil that I had been given in Indonesia to help heal sores on my feet and put that on my legs before calling it a day at 7.30pm, sleeping in my birthday suit and praying for reduced leg pain the following day.

Over night, it seemed that the magic bee oil had done its trick and my legs felt much better when I was woken by a group of men loading chickens into a van at 6am. I got up and took a cold shower which shocked me into life and then packed up my things, putting on my running tights to hopefully act as a second skin and ease the chafing on my legs.

I pedalled in dry conditions to Jeli market where I stopped for breakfast and right on cue, the 9am rain began to fall. It was very heavy for around 45 minutes so I hung about in the restaurant and picked up supplies for a night of camping at an elephant lookout I had heard about.

Crossing the bridge to get to Jeli. “cross at your own risk”

The rain eventually slowed and I began cycling towards Jeli town centre where I then turned West onto the East-West highway. I felt optimistic to be finally heading West again after some really challenging conditions on the East side of Malaysia and pedalled strongly and most importantly without pain in my stretchy bottoms.

After 20km, the long climb to the summit of the hill began on a ride that would climb 1200 metres in altitude. As I was pedalling, I passed an area where monkeys lined the roads and jumped from tree to tree. At one stage, one began chasing me, making an awful noise and I began pedalling like a mad man. When I finally escaped the monkey, I noticed my error had been strapping a loaf of bread I had picked up earlier to the back of my bike which was on show and the monkey had obviously been wanting to steal my bread! I stopped and tucked it away in a pannier before carrying on up the road.

I eventually reached the summit of the climb and stopped at the cafe at the top where sadly, the highly rated view was non existent as a result of heavy clouds. I ate a chicken burger and a nice man came to sit and chat with me, asking all about my trip. He was very inspired by the fact I had just climbed a hill that he said he would only ever think of driving up and brought his whole family over for a group selfie and even offered me a place to stay if I was to make it to the city of Penang. When he said he was leaving, I decided that would also be a good time for me to leave too and began descending the other side.

Within 2km of leaving the summit, the clouds cleared and blue skies appeared. I couldn’t believe the sunshine was out and the difference in weather between the two sides of the summit. I freewheeled my way for 9km to the elephant lookout tower where I set up my camping spot for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any elephants even though I woke up hourly through the night to have a look but I did manage to get a wonderful nights sleep, tucked up in my sleeping bag on level 1 of the tower.

Home sweet home

I left after a slow start but managed to make up time and quickly cycled the 60km of mostly downhill road to Gerik where it was stiflingly hot. The traffic was also much heavier than I had gotten used to on my few days in the East of Malaysia but I was happy to be in the sunshine. I took a long break over lunch before heading back into the hills on the Thai border and I pedalled uphill along a road that was shining with a light covering of water as a result of a rain storm that I had miraculously avoided. I was slogging my way up a steep part and not really concentrating when I was shocked into the moment by the view and sound of a car losing control and skidding off the road and into one of the 2 metre deep v-shaped storm drains that line the sides of the roads in the area. The car grinded down the drain before coming to a halt around 50 metres infront of me. I promtly laid down my bike on the floor and then with the assistance of a man on a scooter, helped to remove the people from the car who were all very shaken up except for an old man who was laughing and seemingly asking the woman who was driving “what the bloody hell happened?!”.

Within minutes, passers by were stopping and a circle of people stood there recording the events on their phones which was my cue to leave. I continued up the hill which got gradually steeper and in the hot dry weather, I began to sweat a lot. One thing I had become to appreciate on the frightfully wet East side was that I never needed to shower because I was constantly showering. Now slogging up a sweaty hill, I knew that finding a good place to sleep tonight was very important.

Near the top of the hill, the road became twisty and I turned one corner to see another car stuck in the gutter, this time square on. It made me think that this road may not be the safest if cars keep losing control and I made an effort to get to the top as quickly as possible so that I had less chance of being skittled off the road.

I reached Pengkalan Hulu and stopped in at a roadside rest area with a restaurant where the owners were very friendly. There was a public toilet and I managed to take a shower inside so I was feeling fresh as I sat down to dinner. We all got chatting over dinner and the family asked me where I would sleep to which I said that I would probably sleep in the rest area. With this news, they went off and deliberated and the young girl came back to shyly offer me a place to sleep in their house but told me that we couldn’t go until they finished work at 11pm. I decided that it would be nice to go and stay with them and even if I got really tired before hand, I could just stay in the rest area. This news brought about a huge smile from the girl and I settled in for a night with my new friends.

Fortunately, the man doing the cooking made the best chicken fried noodles ive ever had so I grazed all night whilst watching TV with the family in the restaurant. They were really friendly and 11pm flew round and it was time to get going. I followed them at a frantic pace in their car for 8km to their house where I took another shower and then we all sat watching Pirates of the Caribbean on TV. At around 2am and after a long long day, it was time for bed and I slept like a log.

Completing the East – West highway

In the morning we all sat and had breakfast together before I got ready to leave at 8.30am. I was so grateful to the family for giving me somewhere to stay and it had genuinely been a nice evening and morning with a beautiful group of people. I left to huge waves from the family and pedalled in high spirits. I rode very close to the Thai border and dropped down a long steep hill at high speed where I joined a beautiful road to Baling that was backed by mountains. With the reduction in altitude, the climate became very hot and I found stopping to be a pain because the breeze when cycling was the only thing keeping me cool. I pedalled 80km without a break until heavy rain began to fall and I stopped in for an iced coffee and some food. Fortunately, it was a passing shower and I was able to use the time to finalise plans to meet up with my warmshowers host, Firdaus who I would stay with that night.

Good views along the Malaysia-Thailand border

On tired legs, I completed the rest of the ride to Alor Setar in heavy traffic where I was welcomed in with wide open arms to Firdaus’ family home. We had dinner together and chatted about our journeys around the world over a really nice evening where the family really took a shine to me to the point where they invited me to their family wedding on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (it was currently Monday). With time on my hands and seemingly in a house with a great group of people, I said that I would be honoured to attend the wedding and with that, a week off the bike was locked in.

Fresh delivery at the fish market

Game faces on in the Pondok

In total, I spent 8 days with Firdaus and his family in what was one of the highlights of my whole journey. By day, we would go to the local markets and pick up freshly caught fish and fresh vegetables for the whole family and by night we would socialise in a small community that was present in the neighbourhood. The community was made up of both working and retired men and we would get together and drink coffee, eat snacks and play Carrum which is a traditional Indian board game with similarities to snooker except you use your finger instead of a cue and flick the small discs. As well as this, the community organised city cycle tours and they were really proud to have me along in the group and really made me feel welcome. I particularly liked the oldest member of the group who had hardly any teeth but kept telling me how he was 74 but still young before pulling his cheeks. As he did so, it would stretch open his mouth and reveal a bright red colour that was a result of him chewing betel nut which is a traditional stimulant. He would either be seen making lots of noise or sleeping in the corner!

Awards night in the Pondok

In the 8 days we were also joined by another cyclist called Risto from Estonia who had started his trip with a backpack and ended up buying a bicycle in Cambodia and had cycled from there. He was in his mid 30’s and had a really chilled and jokey outlook on life which was a pleasure to be around.

Firdaus, Risto and I

On the Friday was the first day of the marriage in which only close family members attended and I felt completely honoured to be a part of the occasion. I had to dress in Muslim attire as it was a traditional Islamic wedding and I was really proud to be given the job of carrying the cake! It all seemed like a little bit of fun for the family members and there were smiles all around on wedding day.

Family photo

Looking fresh for the wedding!

After the wedding ceremony, we had food before returning home to a night with the community in Alor Setar. The Saturday celebration was an opportunity for the brides family members to show the married couple to their local village. People came and went over the course of the day, much like had been the situation in Indonesia when I attended the wedding. Typically people would stop by and congratulate the two on their marriage, eat food and then get on their way. Once again I attracted a lot of attention from the people in attendance and many photos were taken with me in my traditional clothing and smiles were seen all around which was really beautiful. This situation would be repeated on the Sunday but this time at Firdaus’ house. We had all been busy making party bags and also building the marquees, sticking up signs and helping the catering company organise tables and chairs. In the morning, all the men gathered in the front room of Firdaus’ house and began chanting words of God, following the lead of the 74 year old from the Pondok. A deep bellow came from his voice that was repeated by all the men in the room and it is one of the most moving 5 minutes of my life – just magnificent to be a part of. I had really enjoyed being a part of that special family occasion and felt so lucky to have this opportunity and I had really enjoyed the Sunday celebration because by now I knew almost all of the community so chatted all day long with everybody. I even managed to get curry splattered all down my whites whilst eating with my hand which came as a great joy to the locals! Whoops!

Morning prayers before the wedding

Dinner time

Favourite family

With the Sunday celebration over, it was time for me to get moving again on the Monday. I said my goodbyes to the community in Alor Setar and thanked them all for how they had treated me. I also had huge thanks to give to Firdaus and his family who had looked after me so well in my time with them. These experiences really inspire me to be as good to others as I possibly can be going forwards and make me really appreciate the opportunities that come as a result of cycle touring and using Warmshowers.

On the Monday morning I left Alor Setar with a smile on my face and boarded the ferry to Langkawi so that I could get some beach time before heading into Thailand. I had arranged to meet up with Anna who is an Austrian girl that I met in the hostel in Cameron Highlands. The ferry was 23MYR for me and 18MYR for the bike on a journey on smooth waters that got more and more beautiful as I approached the main island and we sailed in between smaller islands that surround Langkawi. The turquoise waters looked stunning against the white sand beaches and hilly island and I was really eager to get off the boat and start exploring Langkawi.

Sunset at Tanjung Rhu

I pedalled from Kuah to the main tourist hub of Pantai Cenang and met up with Anna in Backpacker monkey Street hostel. We caught up on recent adventures and then hired a scooter to go and watch the sunset at Tanjung Rhu. In the evening we got some food in the main touristy hub before watching a fireshow on the beach and grabbing an early night.

Over the next 3 days in Langkawi, we explored the whole island by scooter racking up hundreds of wonderful kilometres. The main touristy area of Pantai Cenang is a little too much for me with really inflated prices but it was easy to escape on the scooter and find the quiet roads that lead through rice fields and had mountain views. We visited waterfalls and temples across the island as well as climbing to the islands highest point at Gunung Raya. On our last night in Langkawi, Anna and I slept on the beach at Tanjung Rhu where we had watched the magnificent sunset on the first night. I pitched my tent and Anna hung her hammock from a tree on the beach as we were swept off to sleep to the sounds of the ocean lapping the sand. Very nice!

Adventures with Anna

Temerun falls

More nice sunsets

Good morning from the beach

It had been really nice to catch back up with Anna after meeting in Tanah Rata and we had also taken the opportunity to decorate my bike in preparation for the run up to Christmas. We said our goodbyes after a nice day relaxing in the park in Kuah and I then caught the ferry back to the mainland, this time heading to Kuala Perlis.

It’s beginning to look a lot like christmas

The ferry journey was again trouble free and I arrived in Perlis around 6pm. Light was already fading and I knew I was in for a night of riding after a slow day but there were beautiful mountain views as the sun was setting that energised me for the journey. It became dark at around 7pm and I just continued slogging up the road into the night. Towns became smaller and further apart and I was beginning to get a little tired when I saw a restaurant with a giant TV and some premier league football on. I’ve been really missing sitting in front of the TV and watching football so I took the opportunity to watch the match with a few in the restaurant.

Back to the mainland with my bike on the front

Many people came and went and as soon as the final whistle went, I decided I too should be on my way. I went to go and pay for my food for the restaurant owner to tell me that somebody had already picked up the bill for my food and that I only had an iced tea to pay for. Who was this mystery person? I really wanted to say thankyou to them but the restaurant owner said they had already left. I made him promise me that he would extend my heart felt thanks for their generosity the next time they came in and with that I was on my way.

Last morning in Malaysia

Freshening up

I pedalled another 15km to a reservoir where I managed to find somewhere to put my tent and spent my final night in Malaysia sleeping with croaking frogs. I woke early and took a wash in the reservoir before heading for the border at Padang Besar. The roads were quiet and ran through wonderful mountain scenery and it seemed that Malaysia was saving some of it’s best for last. Upon reaching Padang Besar I was overtaken by multiple road bike riders and then the last one rode alongside me and asked me where I was going. When I told him I would cycle to England, he insisted that I joined them for breakfast so I followed them to a cafe.

Me and the boys

A group of 6 cyclists welcomed me to their table and we had a really nice breakfast together of Roti Canai and they showed great interest and support for my trip. It was all over and done with very quickly as they were hoping to ride 250km that day in training for an iron man event but I had received such a great feeling from our short meeting. They all wished me well for my journey, as did I for their upcoming event and they began heading back South, whilst I pedalled to the border with Thailand to conclude my journey through Malaysia.

Last views of Malaysia

Bye bye Malaysia

It had been a rollercoaster of a month with me juggling a mix of feelings, weather and riding conditions. Malaysia had been more challenging than Indonesia due to the fact that finding a place to sleep was difficult and the mental strain of knowing you don’t have somewhere to rest your head at night wore me down at times. Fortunately, I didn’t have too much distance to cover in Malaysia so was able to break the riding up with long breaks off of the bike and found myself riding very long days to reduce the number of days I would need to ride through the country.

I found the people to receive me better in the North than the South and also got very good receptions when riding in the rain on the East side of the country. It’s funny that whenever I would be feeling a little downbeat about riding alone and feeling alone, there would be somebody around the corner just waiting to pick me back up and that seems to be reflective of the whole cycling trip so far. And of course I was lucky enough to attend the wedding in Alor Setar and hold that as one of my favourite weeks of the trip so far.

So yes, all in all Malaysia had it’s ups and downs and I am equally grateful for both. I am sure that the experiences that I had here and the lessons I have been taught will come in handy as I continue my journey around the world and I go into Thailand feeling excited about some new horizons.

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