19 – 24 August, 2013 – It took less than ten minutes to get our passports stamped and first thing we did when we crossed the border was to eat cheeseburgers. It was already the end of the afternoon and we decided to find a place to sleep as soon as possible as several people told us it would become very hilly now. Hooray, we had arrived in Malaysia, country #16.
With a satisfied stomach we stepped on our bikes and stopped about 1.5km later at a national park where we would put up our tent. The park was already closed and it was only then when we realized that Malaysia was one hour ahead of Thailand. Good for us as we gained one hour daylight that evening (a woman’s logic, Johan would say). The nice security guard opened one toilet for us so we could take a toilet shower with the hose Asians usually use to clean their bottoms. Not really appealing to stand above the hole of the squat toilet but better than going to bed sweaty and dirty.
We were also very grateful for the cheeseburgers we had eaten earlier as we did not expect to end up in the middle of nowhere without any food stalls or restaurants. Still slightly hungry we went to bed and listened to the animal noises in the jungle. It was wonderful to hilarious as there was one type of bird imitating an accelerating motorbike and ending its song with a whistle as if it had just seen a beautiful girl passing. Its twittering would go on for hours and the next morning we again woke up from it. Sleeping in the jungle is really great, as long as you are protected from mosquitoes and don’t have to leave the tent in the middle of the night. The guard warned us to watch out for snakes and scorpions and in general always watch our steps.
Luckily we had bought a few raisin rolls the day before so we could at least have a small breakfast the next morning with our daily cups of tea and coffee after Johan managed to repair our burner that broke down two days ago. Johan also had to repair another flat tire caused by two punctures on my bike and we left late to face the climb. But before we stopped at a petrol station to get some more fuel for ourselves: chips, nuts and pineapple juice. Not the healthiest choice but without it I don’t think we could have managed.
It was just a 2.5km climb but so tough that we had to stop and sit down several times. Once more we noticed that we were carrying too much luggage and were wondering how we would manage the hills and mountains that were yet to come. We needed to sell our bracelets quickly! During this climb we weren’t really able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape: we were still cycling through thick jungle, insects and birds singing for us (or despite us?), the road steeply snaking up and when we reached the summit we overlooked a huge valley scattered with limestone hills. Very, very scenic!
Cycling down was almost tougher as the road was even steeper and it felt like riding upside down with our bottoms higher than our heads. The rest of the day continued very scenic and we mostly cycled on slightly undulating roads through forests or rice paddies. One more day and we would finally have a rest day in Alor Setar, by now our bottoms were quite sore.
Cycling in Malaysia isn’t as easy as in Thailand as bigger roads often don’t have shoulders and traffic can be tough and fast at times. On our way to Alor Setar we decided to go off the busy highway and cycle as close as possible to the coast and with the help of our compass. A detour for sure, but a very scenic one and worth every kilometer.
We arrived early in Alor Setar, did some sightseeing, completed our usual daily chores and were looking forward to a day off the bikes. And we were lucky once more the following day. As we had seen all major town attractions the day before we decided to stay at the guesthouse to update the blog and work on a few other things. As it was also still the celebrations of the end of Ramadan the nearby mosque served food for free for everyone. A nice offer we kindly accepted and we were not the only ones. It was one big mess with hundreds and hundreds of people queueing for some lunch. We queued the Asian way and managed to get quite a lot of food in no time. When our stomachs decided they didn’t need any more food and we were on our way to leave the crowd we passed the VIP tent and one of the leaders there invited us to eat with them. This time we had even better food with some kind of starters, another main dish and dessert. We were close to bursting and would have left a big mess if….But it was nice chatting with the people there, who all were government officials of the city.
Despite having eaten about three times as much as we usually eat for lunch we didn’t go straight to bed but continued working on all our internet stuff we neglected for the past ten days or so. And we discovered that we had another flat tire to repair.
The following day would become one of the most scenic days in Malaysia for now. Most of the day we cycled along the coast on very small and often unsealed roads and passed old timber farmhouses and fishing villages. At around 11am, actually time for our second breakfast, we were stopped by two guys who wanted to take our picture. We chatted a bit with them and they were so impressed by our journey that they invited us to a farmer’s house for self-made orange juice, cake and cookies. What’s really great about Malaysia is that everyone speaks English quite well and we feel we can get much closer to the locals as we could in other parts of the world. We finally can have real conversations again and ask questions about their culture and customs.
About 30 minutes later we continued our journey for another hour or so and we stopped at a little restaurant for lunch. We were served three different dishes: fish curry, chicken and vegetable curry served with rice and a huge plate with all kinds of different cakes. All washed down with an extremely sweet ice tea. Another feast and if it continues like this we will definitely gain a few kilo! When it was time to pay and leave we were told that it was all for free as they were still celebrating! How lucky we were once more. We thanked, took a few photos and continued with very heavy legs and an ’overloaded’ stomach. It is definitely not a good idea to eat huge amounts of food in the soaring heat and when you have to cycle undulating roads the coming few hours. So we decided to stop earlier and not to continue to Georgetown on Penang island the same day. Instead we cycled the remaining 45km the following morning, took the car ferry to the island, checked into a cheap hostel and were looking forward to a few enjoyable days in Penang.
19 August, Khuan Ru (Thailand) – Taleban (Malaysia): 81km
20 August, Taleban – Kangar: 38km
21 August, Kangar – Alor Setar: 48km
22 August, restday in Alor Setar
23 August, Alor Setar – Shugai Petani: 89km
24 August, Shugai Petani – Georgetown: 45km
Total distance cycled: 15,464 km of which 2,657km in Thailand and 222km in Malaysia