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The Current Trip: Malaysia and Thailand The Trip

The Malaysia Meander

Malacca to Kuala Sungai Baru 48 km
Kuala Sungai Baru to Port Dickson 51
Port Dickson cab to Kuala Selangor NO CYCLING 150 km
Kuala Selangor to Sungai Besar 55
Sungai Besar to 10 km past Sabak 58
10 kms past Sabak on highway 5 to Teluk Batik 55

We are making our way slowly north on the bikes. We’re stopping frequently for rest days and site seeing and generally meandering our way towards Thailand.

On our way to Port Dickson, our second day out on the bikes, we met a man who had cycled from London. He was on his way to Hong Kong to celebrate Chinese New Year with his partner who lives there. He’d been on the road for about 8 months having ridden south from London and then overland where he could, including a large chunk of India. He described some tough rides and times and said he told himself if he had five bad days in a row he would stop. But that hadn’t happened yet.

The point is of course that when you are on a long trip there will be good days and bad days just as there are when you are at home. The thing is though, when you are on a bike and it all goes wrong it can be really uncomfortable. We’ve had some of that this trip: a couple of pretty hot days (over 34 and humid); a very rainy day which I think was worse especially along the highway with truck spray and big puddles in the shoulders of the road; I’ve had my ass pinched while I was cycling and this is the first time that has ever happened; I’ve had minor stomach trouble which was a bit of a drag on one of our rides.

But things do have a way of balancing out. The day of the rainstorm and the ass pinch we ended up at the Dorani Bayu Resort which turned out to be a very large room with a balcony sitting on stilts over the ocean. At low tide we were over a tidal mud flat and we watched all kinds of seabirds fishing for dinner – herons, great egrets, sandpipers. There was no restaurant but there was a road nearby with market and hawker stalls and we found some amazing chicken satay and the best peanut sauce I have ever had. The man who sold it to me was happy to see me as a repeat customer the next day (we took a rest day) and so gave me three skewers for free and an extra bag of peanut sauce. My hawker man and the many Malaysians who gave us thumbs up as we rode along did a lot to help me recover from my anger at the ass pincher.

We’ve cycled about 260 kilometres now, and we only have another 150 or so to go before we are finished cycling Malaysia. We’ve enjoyed many parts of it but expect we will prefer Thailand unless things have changed a lot in four years. The Malaysian countryside is not really set up for western tourists. The resorts cater to large groups of Malaysians. We discovered a lot of hotels and resorts that were clearly built to western standards but then allowed to decay because people don’t understand how to maintain them (or the need to perhaps). Restaurants are advertised but not open. Beer is not very available. We don’t mind when the price is right but occasionally, as we found in India, the prices are aimed at westerners but the level of service is just not there.

However, we have enjoyed the jungle…it is everywhere and ready to creep back in and take over all the development going on here. I enjoyed my trip to the nature reserve where we escaped the concrete jungle for a lovely green one where we were followed by monkeys high in the canopy and where we walked a boardwalk through the mangrove.

The development is for the most part ugly unfortunately. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing the jungle take over. Outside of KL where the architects try to outshine each other and have managed some iconic and unique buildings, the rest of the development here is based on the ugly North American strip mall model and big resorts that don’t have staff able to maintain them. Bye bye teak wood houses, hello mouldering in green gunk concrete.

We have not seen any western tourists outside of Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. Although we have seen a few other cyclists, we are still something of a novelty and people have fussed over us at roadside stalls and in the hotels along the way. The attention is nice and the people are friendly but we will be happier when we are not such a minority in a religious place. I swam today in my ‘burkini’ — it is a rule here although the management at this resort is trying so hard to be helpful here I’m sure they’d ignore complaints if I swam in my swimsuit (I would be the only woman not in a burkini though). It isn’t great to swim with clothes on but hey in France we are making women wear bathing suits so I guess I will respect the rules here even if I don’t agree with them. And I don’t agree with the restrictions on the burkini in France either.

All that being said it will be good to be in Thailand where religion isn’t such a dominating force.  As anyone who knows me already knows…I am not a fan of organized religion of any sort  — but I believe passionately that people should have the right to practise whatever religion it is that they believe in as long as church and state are separate.

So all in all, all is well. We are taking it very slowly…the most we’ve ridden on any day is 60 km. We are taking another long break once we get to Panang (probably two or three days to get there by bike) and then we are on the ferry to Langkawi which is our last stop in Malaysia.

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The Current Trip: Malaysia and Thailand The Trip

Don’t Mess with Malacca

The marketing message de jour here seems to be “Don’t Mess with Malacca”. You see it on tourist information boards and t-shirts and bumper stickers. It could be interpreted as vaguely threatening but after a few days in Malaysia you come to realize that it was probably chosen by a marketing guy tuned into western messaging (well sort of) and to his ears it sounds hip.

Being hip and shopping a lot are very important values here.

I’m sure our driver “Dragon” – the one who drove us and our bikes from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca would agree. He’s in his 40s and showed up with a rasta cap on (although black – not the rainbow variety) and a t-shirt emblazoned with Amsterdam in large gold letters and a huge picture of a pot leaf. I spent five minutes with him while Ian was gathering luggage and then very happily volunteered for the back seat for the two-hour drive. Dragon spoke about two decibels above what was required and whenever the silence in the car lasted too long he’d laugh out loud and yell Relaxxxx man. Relaxxxxxx is gooooood. Time to relaxxxxxxxx. He told us Muslims aren’t supposed to drink beer but well….His son is in a rock band and the girls love him….Yes indeedy a very hip and cool (and loud) driver.

When I was here 25 years ago I remember drivers in button up men’s short-sleeved shirts and ironed trousers and lace-up leather shoes. They called you sir and madam…

I have to say I would have sat in the front seat with that driver…And its not that I would want to go back in time to a more conservative time or god forbid a more-buttoned down Muslim Malaysia, but it just demonstrates how an Islamic country that practices sharia law (enforced for Muslims only) ultimately has little control over western cultural influences as long as it remains somewhat of a democracy and wants open trade. It will remain somewhat of a democracy thanks to wealthy Chinese who own a lot of the wealth and are only interested in a government that remains secular, at least for non-Muslims.

Of course there are radical Islamic elements here (as there are anywhere nowadays) and there are soldiers patrolling the streets. Pity I couldn’t paint this contrast of a non-threatening Muslim culture and the terrorists who call themselves Muslim for all those bigots we now know exist in the UK and the US. I was on a right-wing facebook page the other day (trying to understand who voted for Trump) and as I read a war of words over Hollywood’s refusal to celebrate the upcoming inauguration I found some terrible anti-Islam stuff including a charming story that went something like this “there was a woman in full burka who gave me a dirty look at our supermarket (in West Virginia). Her husband asked me if the package of sausage he was holding contained pork. I told him it didn’t even though it did. Does anyone know what happens to Muslims if they eat pork?” Yeah you guessed it – she was a Trump supporter. I thought of her today in the mall and wished I could show her what I was seeing. But that kind of American doesn’t travel and so remains ignorant.

So here we are in Malacca, once part of the sultanate of Malacca and then a one-time Portuguese trading post that was eventually controlled by the Dutch and then the British. There is a bit of the original Portuguese fort left but not much as the British destroyed it in their quest to make Panang the trading capital. However, a lot of heritage buildings have been maintained and despite the rather touristy nature of the stores that they house the overall impression is of colonial Malaysia.

I am enjoying both the laid back architecture of the old city as well as being in a small city.

We are staying at the Jonker’s Boutique Hotel, a heritage building on the edge of Chinatown. It is an upscale three days for us with a king-size bed and a bathtub. I am a happy camper and think I will now be ready to head up the coast day after tomorrow on my bike. I think I may finally be winning the health war – in the end I believe I was suffering from a major allergic reaction (I ended up going to a pharmacy and getting over the counter antihistamines and this has proven to be the answer rather than all the stuff the ear nose and throat guy gave me).

The streets are decked out for Chinese New Year – the year of the Rooster. There are gold roosters and red posters everywhere – the streets are full of lanterns and the shopping malls (yes we hit two again on a quest for detailed maps) are full of gifts wrapped in red paper for the big day.

Speaking of marketing, I guess it is time to hit the tub and contemplate Theresa May’s Don’t Mess with Me speech (I am trying to understand what her threat actually means…feel free to comment retainers and leavers alike…she talks about the UK becoming a tax haven — that’s the threat. Now, wouldn’t this cost the UK in corporate tax revenue? …who will fund the NHS if taxes are lowered to attract corporations who keep doing business with the UK despite trade barriers with the EU only because they don’t have to pay much in tax. I think the answer is the middle class. Tighten your belts Brexiters.)

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The Current Trip: Malaysia and Thailand The Trip

Housekeeping in Kuala Lumpur

Having done a number of long-distance cycling trips in other countries, Ian and I have worked out something of a routine. There is always a bit of housekeeping to do at the beginning of a long trip.

There are a list of chores before we go (and I will include my packing list at the bottom of this post as I have learned that one of our friends is as list obsessed as I am!) and then a list of things to do once we have arrived (usually route plan, buy maps, assemble bikes but it varies a bit).

We always give ourselves at least four days in our port of arrival, which happens to be Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this time. Although we will make a point of seeing a few of the bigger tourist destinations here, most of our time has and will be spent simply experiencing living here while enjoying the exoticness of the destination which makes the chores interesting for us. We also allow ourselves this time to get over jetlag and acclimatize to the warm temperatures (32 degrees today).

We are staying in the Thousand Miles Hotel – a small budget hotel that has a guesthouse feel (29 Euros a night). The map says we’re on the edge of Little India and Chinatown but it feels like we’re in the middle of Little India. Most of the restaurants are Indian and there are lots of gold jewelry stores and tailoring shops. (Malaysia is a multi-cultural society with three main ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian.)Despite the fact that there are quite a few budget hotels the place is not crawling with backpackers. In fact, we have been the only westerners in a local restaurant we have decided is our local – a place that serves Indian and Malay food (tandoori chicken, nasa goreng, roti with three sauces, four watermelon drinks 7 euros). The staff have been very friendly with us as we are something of a novelty. The lack of backpackers does not mean there are no tourists – but a lot of them stay in more upbudget hotels and they give this area a miss except for a few of the main sites in Chinatown. The Malaysian government has chosen to develop tourism so as to attract the middle class rather than backpackers — there is no real backpacker scene like there is in Bangkok.

Yesterday’s chores took us to a place popular with tourists and locals alike, a huge shopping mall, appropriately named the Mid-Valley mega mall. I was feeling breathless and worrying a bit about it (I’ve been plagued with colds these last few months) so I decided to go see a doctor and see if I could get to the bottom of it. I looked online and found a healthcare clinic called iHeal and was able to choose an Ear Nose and Throat specialist. I emailed him and he asked me to make my appointment with WhatsApp. Everyone has a smartphone of some sort here! I had to explain I only have email at the moment (buying a cheap phone and sim card is one of the chores on the list) so we made do with my limited technology and I booked an appointment for a few hours later on a skype call with Dr. Tan.

With some effort we hailed a cab and made our way out to the mall. It took a half hour to go a few kilometres as KL traffic is a problem. For 15 ringitt (5 euros) we got to see what the suburbs look like: we passed a beautiful mosque, some very green and verdant jungle, and we passed countless modern condo complexes — towers of green glass, just like Vancouver.

The mall was bustling with locals and foreigners and we walked past a lot of kiosks set up for Chinese New Year, selling loads of gifts wrapped in red paper and red and gold decorations.

We took an elevator from the mall, 7 floors up to the The iHeal medical center. This was a snazzy joint that included a surgical ward, consultation rooms, and a waiting area with a bar that sold healthy snacks and juices and lots of beautiful orchids decorating a glossy waiting area.

Malaysia does have universal health care but they also have private clinics. I got the feeling that there was some prestige and status involved in being able to afford a private clinic.

I probably would have had a much less expensive experience if I had simply found a general practioner…however, 135 euros later Ian and I had been treated to a large screen view of the insides of both nostrils, checked out my uvula and watched my esphogagus open and shut. Dr. Tan figured I was still struggling with the last vestiges of the colds I’ve been suffering from so prescribed some antibiotics. He thought perhaps acid reflux might be an issue and prescribed something for that too. He told me to keep snorting the nasal decongestant the French doctor gave me and believes I have allergies. He invited both Ian and I to do an at home sleep test for apnea as he figures that’s an issue for both of us. (We declined as we don’t want to stay in KL for another two weeks). He kindly threw in a prescription for some antibiotics for Ian’s infected tooth (Ian did try to make an appointment with a dentist before we left France but couldn’t get in anywhere because of Christmas holidays.)

Yep, dealing with health issues becomes one of the chores on the list when you get old and insist on bicycle touring in developing countries!

We had noodles with beef and chinese spinach and porkballs for lunch in a Chinese noodle joint in the mall – very suburban with high chairs for babies and a ‘do it yourself’ menu where you pick your own ingredients for your noodle soup.

If it hadn’t been for our chores (we also found a book store with maps and a book on cycling Malaysia we’d read about) we would probably never experience this big part of Malaysian tourism – the middle class tourist zone with its shops and restaurants. For shoppers, KL is a piece of paradise and middle class tourists here can experience exotic KL from high-end highrise hotels that are connected directly to the mall.

Back in backpacker land Ian has now put together one of our bikes and fixed my computer (which I dropped on the floor. Oops). I have taken pictures of all the documentation and filled out the paperwork we need to work on getting some compensation from KLM for the disaster of a trip we had getting over here (two nights in hotels in two different cities we never planned on visiting and a bit of a lost luggage adventure to add insult to injury).

We have done some initial route planning and see that getting a train to Malacca isn’t that easy with the bike, nor is getting the bikes on a bus. I believe because the standard of living is generally high in Malaysia (relative to other Asian countries) there isn’t the same bevy of people around willing to transport bikes. It is also because the country, a little like Singapore, is more highly regulated. However, we believe with some effort we will find someone with a minivan who will drive us and our assembled bikes to Malacca (on the coast and south of here) which will be our starting point for our cycle to Bangkok.

Ok off to see some KL’s iconic architecture by night…the topic for another blog.

 PS..For list lovers… see below to see what will sustain me for three months on my bike here (we are cycling Malacca to Bangkok). All of the items below fit into two panniers, a handlebar bag and a knapsack. The contents of the panniers fit into a dufflebag for flying. (On the plane, the empty panniers fit in my bike box as well as my helmet and handle bar bag and spare tire). The shoulder bag I carry when we aren’t cycling contains my wallet, passport, glasses, camera, handkerchief and this all gets transferred to my handlebar bag. The duffle bag with the pannier contents weighs approx 10 kilos. I will probably be carrying about 15 to 20 kilos on the bike altogether.

3 pairs of bike shorts

2 pairs of biking capris (can also be used as pants on non-biking days)

5 non-biking tops

3 bike tops

2 pairs of sandals (both I can walk a lot in and also ride in)

1 pair of trainers (for long walks)

2 pairs of bike socks (I normally ride in sandals)

1 pair of long socks (for the plane)

1 pair of capris pants (non cycling)

1 pair of very light trousers (non cycling)

3 bras

7 pairs of underwear

compression straps (for strapping knapsack to back rack) and also for attaching bike to railcars, ferries, tops of busses and cars.

Computer (mac air book)

Ipad

Camera

Smart phone (without data roaming or a local sim card)

Sketch pencils

Trip journal

Tiny tiny bottle of perfume

Face soap

Body soap

Shampoo

Conditioner

Hair dye touch up kit (thanks to Paula)

One pair of earrings

Eyeliner

Mascara

Sunscreen

Bike computer

Bag of adapters, cord to charge and connect devices

Nailpolish

Hair elastics

Baby wipes (good for washing face and other delicate bits)

Travel towel

Wash cloth

Large cotton scarf

Small cotton hankerchief

Extra tire

Extra tubes (2)

Extra cables

Bathing suit

Nightgown

Skirt and

Matching headscarf

Matching tunic style top

Ibuprofen

Antibiotics

Band aids and gauze

Small sewing kit

Two pairs of reading glasses

Immodium

Rehydration powder

And this trip extra cold remedies: prednezone, throat lozenges, dollypran, nose spray, fevrex (light powdered cold remedy night time drink)

Nail clippers

Tweezers

Tigerbalm

Sunscreen

Body lotion

razors