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)
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)
Smart phone (without data roaming or a local sim card)
Tiny tiny bottle of perfume
Hair dye touch up kit (thanks to Paula)
One pair of earrings
Bag of adapters, cord to charge and connect devices
Baby wipes (good for washing face and other delicate bits)
Large cotton scarf
Small cotton hankerchief
Extra tubes (2)
Matching tunic style top
Band aids and gauze
Small sewing kit
Two pairs of reading glasses
And this trip extra cold remedies: prednezone, throat lozenges, dollypran, nose spray, fevrex (light powdered cold remedy night time drink)