Nightmare Cameron highlands

2 – 9 September, 2013 – We finally left Penang on 2 September and continued cycling on the busy highway for about 40km before we could cycle along the coast on quieter roads. I mentioned it before but cycling in Malaysia isn’t too much fun, there is too much traffic and most roads, even highways, usually don’t have shoulders. As everyone needs to speed all the time and everybody seems to have a car, cycling isn’t relaxed anymore. Our eyes are fixed on the road and the traffic all the time. There is not even time anymore to appreciate the landscape.

Unfortunately also secondary and tertiary roads are very busy and even the roads that are too small to be featured on our map are traffic heavy and we were hoping to get some relief from the traffic once we hit the east coast.

The first day we cycled many more kilometers than expected as for once we were cycling with the wind. That was real fun, a speed of around 27km/h on a flat road for hours! That doesn’t happen often. By now it is also raining every day again, we are getting closer to the monsoon, which starts in November. Usually the rain begins in the afternoon, it pours for about an hour, and then stops again. This is sometimes a welcome break for us, but mostly the rain comes just a few minutes too early and makes us arrive in the evening only. Still before it gets dark, but just an hour or two too late to be able to relax.

Tailwind

Tailwind

We spent one day in Taiping to visit the largest mangrove forest Malaysia’s, which comprises around 60% of Malaysia’s forests. A lot of forest has been cut down to make space for palm-oil plantations and/or shrimp farms. The devastating tsunami in 2004 demonstrated what the mangroves are good for and they now slowly start reforesting the coasts.

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Palm-oil plantations on our way to the mangrove forest

Palm-oil plantations on our way to the mangrove forest

The following day we had to cycle on the highway again as there was no other option. Another stressful day inhaling car and truck exhaust without being able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Halfway to Ipoh we had lunch in the royal city Kuala Kangsar and visited the royal palaces – old and new – and the mosque which is said to be the most beautiful mosque in Malaysia. We actually got invited for lunch by a retired teacher who also showed us around in his home town. Despite their weird driving behaviors people remain to be extraordinary friendly and welcoming. After the usual one-hour-rain break we once more arrived late in Ipoh.

Unfortunately we had to wear mask again, too much car exhaust

Unfortunately we had to wear masks again, too much car exhaust

Arriving at the Royal Town

Arriving at the Royal Town

The beautiful mosque:

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At the old royal palace:

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Our 'tour guide'

Our ‘tour guide’

The following day we spent sightseeing in Ipoh as the city has a few nice colonial buildings including the train station and still a lot of old Chinese shophouses. However, the city didn’t really impress us much and we were looking forward to some fresh air as we were now heading towards the Cameron highlands.

Offloading goods in front of a warehouse

Offloading goods in front of a warehouse

A typical Chinese shop

A typical Chinese shop

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The old colonial train station

The old colonial train station

The day of the climb didn’t start off very well. We were ready to leave shortly after seven when we noticed a flat tire on my bike. With a 30-minute-delay we headed off on the already busy highway in the rain. Once on the junction to the highlands and only 14km into the ride and the only I had another puncture. So we unloaded my bike, Johan fixed the puncture and mounted a brand-new tire as we assumed that my worn tire was the reason for so many punctures recently. Once reloaded we tried to head off, but my gears suddenly wouldn’t work anymore. By now we were getting really annoyed and Johan thought we had lost a screw and we searched everywhere without finding anything. Once more I unloaded my bike and Johan checked everything that possibly could be the reason for the defect only to discover about 30 minutes later that the chain wasn’t properly fixed. We had a good laugh at ourselves and headed off hoping that these would remain the only failures for the rest of the day.

Now the climb begun. Most of the day we cycled in the rain on moderately climbing roads with a few steeper parts in between. We knew we had to climb for about 60km, our longest climb ever. Despite many people telling us that there wouldn’t be any traffic except for a few vegetable trucks it was again extremely busy. It was Friday and many locals spent their weekends in the refreshing highlands. The scenery must have been beautiful as well, we caught a few glimpses into the valley and over the rolling hills during the short periods of clear sky. The longer we cycled the rainier it got and the more cars went up as well. We didn’t really enjoy the ride and at around 4pm – by now it was almost dark as we were cycling in the black rain clouds – and 19km before the next village we decided to ask a truck driver to give us a lift up. By then we had cycled 40km uphill to an altitude of approximately 1,200m. The temperature had also dropped from around 30 to 18 degrees C. It took us about 45 minutes to find someone who was willing to let two stinky and soaking wet cyclists into their pickup car and two dirty bikes on the cargo area in the back.

Leaving Ipoh

Leaving Ipoh

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Roadkill

Roadkill

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And thankfully we met these two guys as they organized a place where we could stay, this first village in the mountains didn’t have any hotels or guesthouses. The following day we cycled another 22km on rolling and very steep hills to get to our final destination in the highlands. Traffic was horrendous on a small winding road. Stinking buses carried hundreds of tourists up to the many attractions in the hills. Tourist stalls greeted us around every corner selling expensive vegetables, fruit and tea. The mountains were spoilt by greenhouses, hotels and construction sites. We were so much looking forward to eating the famous highland strawberries only to learn that the season would only start in a month or so. One more disappointment!

'Quiet and pretty Cameron highlands? Did we miss something?'

‘Quiet and pretty Cameron highlands? Did we miss something?’

This chap is clearly proud of his heritage...

This chap is clearly proud of his heritage…

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By the time we arrived at our guesthouse we were so frustrated by this extremely touristy place that we decided to leave as soon as possible. We needed a rest day to recover from all the climbing which we used to sell our bracelets and left again the following day. We had a long distance to cover but as we were told we would only go downhill we took it quite easy. We bought our food for the day, cycled past beautiful tea plantations and enjoyed our 50km downhill on a brand-new and empty road. Despite everybody continued to assure us that we would only go downhill, we continued on heavily undulating roads. We both became grumpy. Normally we wouldn’t mind cycling on undulating hills, but it is a different story if you expect downhills. We weren’t prepared for tough riding, hence it was mentally as stressful as physically.That day we didn’t reach the town we wanted to get to and only found a horrible place to stay for the night, the filthiest ever but with the daily rain showers we weren’t in a camping mood.

Beautiful tea plantations:

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Going down:

Finally downhill

Finally downhill

Only downhill?!?

Only downhill?!?

Palm-oil plantations at the bottom of the highlands

Palm-oil plantations at the bottom of the highlands

The lesson learned for this part of the trip: never trust non-cyclists on their ability to judge the profile of a road. Never, ever!

Distances cycled:
2 September, Georgetown – Taiping: 115km
3 September, Taiping – K. Sepetang – Taiping: 39km
4 September, Taiping – Kuala Kangsar – Ipoh: 95km
5 September, restday in Ipoh
6 September, Ipoh – Kampung Raja: 54 km
7 September, Kampung Raja – Tanah Rata: 22km
8 September, restday in Tanah Rata
9 September, Tanah Rata – Kuala Medang: 103km

Total distance cycled: 15,937km of which 695km in Malaysia

One thought on “Nightmare Cameron highlands

  1. Das Türkei-Phänomen! Die sagen sogar, es ginge nur bergab, wenn direkt vor dir der Berg liegt. Meinen’s nicht böse und hoffen, dich damit zu motivieren. LLeider ist eher das Gegenteil der Fall, ich kanns perfekt verstehen, dass euch das nervt. Passierte uns in der Türkei und in China auch ständig. Und in Kirgisistan haben sie uns den Anstieg mal eben 10 km kürzer “gemacht”, sodass es schon fast dunkel war, als wir endlich oben ankamen und wir uns (besonders bei der Abfahrt) die Hintern abgefroren haben, statt das Rollen Lassen zu genießen.
    Ich drücke euch die Daumen, dass ihr bald wieder so schöne kleine Wege findet, wie die von den Fotos von Kedah!

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