Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

w with fish, bucket, bucket, candy cane

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

47 km, 3 hours, Max temp 42
¾Ñ§§Ò aka Phang-nga (if you are seeing gibberish, it may be that you don’t have the Thai font installed)
We are having some fun with the Thai script. The characters have great shapes to them, such that you can image different things with the names. Unfortunately, there are so many of them, and they’re so different, that we need to come up with some way to remember them. At some point during our ride today, Phang-nga became w, bucket, bucket, candy cane, although we soon realized we were missing the fish above the w, so it is now w with fish, bucket, bucket, candy cane!

Typical Thai street, with frequent small storefronts

Typical Thai street, with frequent small storefronts

We were slow to get organized in the morning, and did a short ride to Phang-nga. Becky is having some stomach issues – likely related to the change in diet rather than anything specific. It will definitely slow us down a little, so we decided a short day was in order.

A Wat in Phang Nga (and some impressive hills behind)

A Wat in Phang Nga (and some impressive hills behind)

When we set out, we were expecting the ride to only be 39 km, but soon discovered that the town was not exactly where we expected it to be. With a little exploration, we found the town and stumbled upon a temple and a fellow Canadian Tourist. We had a brief conversation with Stephen and he pointed us in the correct direction for the Phang-nga Inn.

We have decided to spend two nights in Phang-nga. The Phang-nga Inn is a nice house-based inn. Our room is clean although a little small, and the bed is comfortable. We will also use the extra day to do some much needed bike maintenance. Our shifters are not working as well as we would like, and Becky’s front brake cable needs replacing. Our chains were last cleaned in Turkey, so perhaps we should do something about that as well!

The maps for Thailand are still posing a challenge for us. We are finding that the towns are not where they say they are, and the roads are often labeled different than our map. Google and Yahoo disagree on where some of the roads are! Scott has found a different GPS map which will hopefully prove to be more accurate than the previous one.

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A haircut, a massage, and not a lot of Internet

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

We have spent the last couple of days relaxing. Scott got a haircut (including thorough head and neck massage), and Becky did some foot reflexology and Thai massage (not to be confused with Thai yoga massage, but still very nice).

It was nice to relax, but we have been frustrated by the lack of Internet here. We have a great signal to our room, but have been unable to get an IP address, and no-one has been able to fix it. Wi-Fi in the lobby and various other places has been spotty and slow. This meant we were unable to finish a bunch of the Internet stuff we had planned for during our time here, but we did manage to finish a couple of books, which will lighten our load a little.

We are off to Thailand tomorrow. We looked into the Tigerline Travel island hopping ferry, but it appears that it no longer runs to Langkawi, and the speedboat connection to Koh Lipe isn’t practical for bikes (and is expensive). So, back to almost plan A – ferry to Satun and bus to Krabi (rather than Phang-nga). Hopefully by leaving tomorrow we’ll miss the busy Songkram traffic, at least for the first few days.

In search of the best value

Monday, April 6th, 2009

42 km, 3h 10 min, max temp 45 (ouch)

We were up early and arrived at the ferry company to buy our tickets to Langkawi more than an hour before departure. The folks at our hotel said they did not take bikes, so we were a little concerned; however, we need not have been. The receptionist at the ferry company told us we would need to pay a 15 MYR per bike handling fee a the dock, but otherwise no problem. We were placed on the second sailing (8:30) because the Captain of the 8:15 did not want the bikes.

Since we were so early, we had plenty of time to head back to Little India and find breakfast. We had a wonderful Roti Canai and a brief discussion with a vacationing long bearded Aussie who lives in rural Indonesia and teaches Islam.

When we arrived at the ferry, we were immediately charged the handling fee for the bikes. Once they were paid, there was a little bit of confusion. The two captains negotiated, and we ended up being moved to the 8:15 sailing – which was better for us, as it was the direct boat and got us into Langkawi sooner.

The bikes were loaded with the rest of the luggage and we were sent downstairs to find a seat. Passengers are not permitted to sit up top with the luggage. The boat is a high speed (about 21 knots) tube. It felt pretty much like being in an airplane, but with a view of water rather than clouds.

Unloading the bikes from our High-speed ferry

Unloading the bikes from our High-speed ferry

By 11 am we were on Langkawi, we grabbed a quick lunch and hopped on our bikes. The majority of beach resorts, and the less expensive accommodation is all on the west coast, with the nice beaches. It’s a pleasant 32 km ride through rolling hills which were a nice change after the long climbs last week.

We were not in a rush to find a place, so we surveyed many different resorts. The prices ranges from 20 MYR a night for a shared room in a hostel to 600 MYR for a villa at a resort. We checked a bunch of places on the Tengah beach and south end of the Cenang beach, but nothing on the north end. After three hours of touring, we still had visited fewer than half of the options – lots of choice!

For cyclists, we have three recommendations based upon your budget and preferences:

  • Cheapest, starting at 20 MYR per person per night, the Zackry Guesthouse. If you want a room with AC, call in advance. When we arrived they were almost fully booked. We were offered a shared room (three twin beds) with shared bath for 20 MYR per person. If you are looking for a hostel experience, this place was booming with activity.
  • Midrange, starting at 80 MYR per night but negotiable with discounts for longer stays, the Kedawang Beach Inn. The receptionist was very friendly and really wanted us to stay, but we really wanted a pool or beachfront and this place did not have either. The rooms were exceptionally clean and you had 24-hour access to a shared kitchen. They are close to the beach and snuggled between the Sunset resort and some stores. No Internet, but an Internet café is at the street out front.
  • Higher mid-range, listing at 150 MYR but we got a discount to 130 MYR, the Langkawi Boutique Resort. We love the natural setting pool. The first room we saw was a little musty – all rooms have carpet. We asked to see a couple more rooms and found one that was perfect. Rooms have AC, minifridge, and TV, and they are huge so no need to trip over our bikes. There is free Internet at the lobby, and Internet by coupon (10 MYR per 24-hours) in the rooms, although for most of our visit the in-room Internet wasn’t working {frown}.

We checked out a few of the higher-end resorts as well, and were surprised to find several were either full or mostly full. It seems the package-tour business is still going strong, at least at the top end. (Lee, we tried to get a tour of the rooms at the Pelangi Resort (1000 MYR – 3000 MYR per night at the desk – much cheaper on the Internet), but they were full. Too bad. We’re betting their spa doesn’t have a snow room or a salt room, like the Cappadocia Cave Resort though!)

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A bicycle pitstop in Penang

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

If you are in Penang with your bike, why not stop by si Tigun bicycle café ? (note: closed Mondays) That’s exactly what we did on Sunday afternoon. They have indoor bicycle parking, free Wi-Fi, and they make real cappuccinos. Upon arriving, we were immediately greeted by Sandra and her 2-month old son.

We had a delightful meal with fresh squeezed Orange juice (they never add sugar), spaghetti, a croissant with rendang (yummy) and homemade Tiramisu and chocolate mousse cake (double yummy).

Sandra, Tigun and Zee

Sandra, Tigun and Zee

After a wonderful meal, we had a brief visit with Tigun (Sandra’s other half) as he was holding his 2-month old son. Tigun is trying to get a cycling movement going in Penang to raise awareness about cycling lifestyles and road safety. The current view in Malaysia is that you only ride a bicycle if you can’t afford a scooter (or motorbike), and only drive a scooter if you can’t afford a car. The concept of choosing to cycle is completely foreign to most people, so cycle-commuting is virtually non-existent.

As white tourists, and especially tourists riding very strange bikes, we have been insulated from all this, but it helps to explain why people are always asking how much our bicycles cost. We have been saying that they start at 3000 MYR (about 800 USD), which, while an accurate starting price for a recumbent, is much less than ours cost. Even at that, people were surprised at the price – it’s about the price of a scooter here. We wonder what they would think if we told them the actual cost?

Tigun also has a complete set of bike tools and he is happy to provide advice and road recommendations. So if you are in town, stop by and say hi to Sandra, Tigun, and little Zee. Tell them, Scott and Becky (the Canucks with the ‘bents) say Hi.

Time for a few lazy days

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

35 km, 2 hr

Our fatigue yesterday clearly showed this morning, when we sauntered down to breakfast at 9 am. We managed to get packed up and on our bikes for 11 am – a really late start to the day. We knew we only had a short ride to the ferry that would bring us to Georgetown on Pulau Penang.

First view of Georgetown from the ferry

First view of Georgetown from the ferry

We followed the signs to the ferry, and were quickly let to a large elevated roadway that had a “no bicycles sign”. Given that we did not see any other clear option, we followed the loop road, and stuck to the scooter and motorcycle lane. This brought us to the ticket booth with no troubles. We stayed with the scooters, and paid the 1.4 RG fee to take the ferry to the island. It was a remarkably painless experience and with 20 minutes we were cycling along the streets of Georgetown.

Our first impressions of the town are that is it pretty neat. There is lots of colonial architecture – not all of it nicely restored. We did not feel the immediate chaos that others reported but that might be because we arrived on a Saturday afternoon just in time for a lot of shops to close for siesta. (Or it might be because we’re used to Malaysian city traffic by now, it’s really not too bad…)

Riding through old Georgetown

Riding through old Georgetown

We are staying at the Cathay Hotel. It is a basic upper level budget hotel with huge rooms (great for cycle tourists). We are on the main floor, so we did not need to bring our bikes up any stairs, which is another nice bonus. For 75 RG a night (about $25 CAD), there are many cheaper budget places in town, but they are generally tiny windowless boxes, and we like having some natural light and plenty of room for the bikes.

We will chill here for a couple of days – do some sight-seeing, get our laundry done, and rest up a bit before heading to Langkawi for a little beach time!

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Beat by the heat

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

79 km, 4h 30 min, max temp 40

By the end of today, we were beat! We did not get as much sleep as we would have liked last night – Scott likely because of the coffee he had when we arrived at 5:30, and both of us because of a loud clock that sang a tune and chimed every hour. Oh well, the rain continued until 2:30 am, so we were glad for the cover, and with the heat, it was nice to not require the fly on our tent.

This morning Mohammad-Shafiq (the café manager) and his mother (the excellent cook) gave us a wonderful breakfast. It was an interesting mix of western and Malay specialties: Rendang (yes Saille, we love it too), fried eggs and toast with kaya (coconut jam). It was absolutely wonderful and exactly what we need fuel us for the climb to come.

The ride today was mostly uneventful, with a brief 3-4 km climb to warm us up. After that it was mostly downhill or undulating hills. Still, it felt like the longest 80 km we have ridden in ages. We pretty much rode straight through, wanting to get to the hotel where we could get ungrimed, dry, and cool.

We’re back in the land of palm plantations and rolling hills, which means shade was a very rare thing. Just as we were ready to sneak under a gate to rest among some of the larger trees, a fruit stand appeared. We picked up some nice cold water, and a huge watermelon. The smallest one we could find which looked good was over 4 kg, but between the two of us, we pretty much finished it off. Yummy!

We used the GPS to find the Seri Malaysia hotel in Kulim. It brought us on a side road off of highway 67, which was a nice diversion. At one point, we saw a whole bunch of white birds standing majestically in a tree and on the ground. Then when we looked closer and noticed it wasn’t the ground they were standing on, it was a herd of water buffalo in a muddy pond! Scott stopped to get out his camera, and Becky slowed down cursing that she had put hers away. As we approached, one of the buffalo got unsettled and then the whole herd climbed out of the water and started moving threateningly toward Scott. He decided his photo wasn’t that important, and started riding again. The herd paced him for a while, like a stampede on the other side of the road. Fortunately, once we got far enough away, they stopped and just glared balefully at us. Once we got further away, we were able to stop take a picture of the herd – neat, but not as impressive as earlier.

Following the GPS directions led us along some other interesting roads, through housing estates and the Kulim High Tech Park. At one point, Becky was wondering where Scott was leading us, especially when the road ended in a ramp down to a pedestrian bridge. Scott confidently led us across (having the map sure helps), and we arrived in the parking lot of the Seri Malaysia Kulim.

The Seri Malaysia in Kulim was once a nice hotel, but is showing its age. Carpeted floors also meant that we noticed a hint of cigarette smoke, despite a thorough cleaning. That being said, we were exhausted when we arrived, and were not about to search any further. Our room is clean and ant free – probably a first for all our time in Malaysia, and with a decent restaurant and wireless Internet we don’t need to venture anywhere tonight.

Road Notes:
The Baling-Gerik highway had no services for the first 14 km today, then occasional food stalls and small stores appeared regularly until we reached Highway 67 (26 km). Highway 67 also has very few services, but towns appear regularly, so services should be available with a few km detour.
Given the lack of services on the Baling-Gerik highway, it may be a better choice to take Highway 76 up to Pengkalan Hulu or Baling, then go straight through to Butterworth or Georgetown. Highway 76 looked much busier though, with traffic heading for Thailand.

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More ups and downs

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

67 km, 5h, max temp 41

After a nice rest day we headed off Pulau Banding; fortified after a big breakfast at the resort. We knew we would have some more climbing today, so were mentally prepared. The first big hill hit right after the bridge and we spent the first 10 km (9.9 km to be exact) climbing. The promised 15 km downhill wasn’t really as downhill as we had hoped – but it did make for a faster 15 km.

We arrived at the Indian restaurant recommended by Kat and Mike (at the intersection of highway 76 and Baling-Gerik Highway) and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. The selection of food was great and everyone was very friendly. We hung around there for a couple of hours waiting for the temperature to cool a little, which turned out to be a good choice. Shortly after Becky got up from a 30 minute nap, the heavens opened up and anything not under cover was soaked.

We were hoping that the rain would cool things off a bit, but in the end all it did was raise the humidity levels. We headed onto the uncharted (by blogging cyclists and Google Maps anyway) Baling-Gerik Highway at 2:30. The sun beat down on us as we climbed the hills, and with no wind and high humidity we began to fry. We were soon too hot and needed to seek shelter under our tarp. We sat there for half an hour until the sun went behind a cloud bank. Much more pleasant!

The road turned into one long 10 km climb that was pretty brutal at times. It was nothing when you compare it to the 38 km climb two days ago, but there were a few pretty steep pitches and we were mentally prepared for rolling hills not long climbs. Fortunately, the long climb changed into a long descent as we began searching for a place to camp for the night.

Shortly after 5 pm, we happened across a logging camp, with what appeared to be a small restaurant. The weather was looking rather threatening and we could hear thunder every few minutes, so we decided to stop and check it out. As we arrived at the stall, Mohamed-Shafiq came talk to us, and offered to check with the camp supervisor if we could camp here. Just after we got approval to set up our tent at the restaurant, the heavens opened. We raced back to the shelter of the restaurant, and Mohamed-Shafiq and his mother prepared a wonderful dinner – meat soup, fried noodles (mee goreng), Milo (hot chocolate) and a coffee for Scott.

The cover of the restaurant roof, a clean toilet and a dry concrete pad made for a much more comfortable night than we had planned. Not quite the muddy jungle floor we had been prepared for. The rain continued until almost 3 am, and Scott unfortunately stayed awake with it. Perhaps it was the traffic on the nearby highway or the rain, but most likely it was the coffee he drank. No more coffee for Scott after noon!

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Resting up

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Our room at the Belum Resort was just too nice to spend only one day, and our tired legs could certainly use the rest before tackling the second half of the hills, so we decided to spend two nights here. It’s a small but beautiful resort, with an expansion in progress. The expansion was further down the hill, so we barely noticed except when we went walking. It was a bit strange to be back where western food is offered – fortunately they also had a good selection of local dishes.

The resort was quite empty, seemingly with more staff than visitors at times. There was a group of six or seven journalists from Northern Europe, and we talked briefly to one of them. Daniel was from Sweden, and in Malaysia to report on the Formula 1 race for a Swedish racing magazine. He asked us whether we were planning to do any trekking while we were here, and was quite disappointed to learn that we were not. The resort specializes in jungle treks into the forest reserves and state parks in the area, which look quite interesting. This area was the centre of a communist insurgency until 1989, so much of the area remains old-growth forest, with very little human impact.

We knew we needed to pick up supplies for our next day, since there’s nothing between the resort and Gerik. We asked about a store, and one of the staff at the resort offered to take us back to the only store in the area. Becky went on a quick trip with one of the guys from the resort. Because Scott wasn’t coming, Eilia, one of the girls from reception, came with us – it would be improper for a female to travel alone in a vehicle with a strange man.

The store turned out to be at the back of a floating restaurant in a small marina, just off the island to the east. We would never have found it on our own. Walking out to the store was challenging, as the docks were narrow and bounced with each footstep – with three people navigating the dock at the same time, the bounces almost caused Becky to get wet! When we arrived, the store was closed. The store owner was in the restaurant and happily opened up so that she could get what I needed, and closed again immediately after we finished. Sadly, she had a pet baby monkey on a leash just outside the store. It was neat the way the leash allowed the monkey to climb, but it was sad seeing the poor thing tied up.

Up, up, and more up … oh ya, and some down too

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

58 km, 4.5 h, Max temp 40

We started the day by continuing the climb. We climbed and climbed and climbed. A few km after we started, there was a resort advertised with restaurant and chalets. We pulled in to discover the place still under construction. It seems that the signs for resorts go up well before the actual resort is open. We did not notice any “coming soon” or “opening date” indication, but that may just be a language barrier issue. Either way we were pretty disappointed.

Just before the Perak border, we stopped at the restaurant where Wayne and Kris stayed back in 2005. When we arrived at 9 am, they had no food, and not much in the way of drinks. We were able to get a coffee with no milk and way too much sugar, which did help fuel us for a while. We filled an empty 1.5L water bottle with some of their “filtered water”, but the filter looked a little dodgy, so we decided to use it only as a last resort.

At least every 2-3 minutes, we are passed by trucks either going up or down the hills. There are logging trucks, fuel trucks, and various other trucks carrying freight. Becky was surprised that they did not have any “run-away” lanes for them – so if their brakes fail on the way down, their only choice is to crash into the jungle. The trucks occasionally stop at roadside streams to get water to pour over the brakes to cool them down. Several times today, you could see Becky by the roadside pouring water over her head to cool her down too!

After 3 hours of climbing and 26 km, we arrived at the summit starving and pretty close to out of water. (Yes Moms, we were carrying emergency food, and did have the dodgy water which we could have filtered – don’t worry) Fortunately, at the summit there is a restaurant and a little convenience store. The restaurant had one of the best varieties of Malaysia steam tray that we have enjoyed – this may be related to us arriving at noon, just in time for the best selection.

Once we refueled ourselves and refilled our water bottles, we hopped back on the bikes. The glorious decent we were hoping for eluded us for a few km. We expected it immediately (or at least Becky did), but found ourselves climbing again; however, the hills did not last long. We say a sign for a 10% grade down and knew we were in for some fun. For almost 20 km and 45 minutes, we screamed down the hill.

Unfortunately, the Resort we were seeking was another 10 km along. After the giant decent we found ourselves climbing again. Fortunately, the climbs were offset by some downs which were usually longer than the ups. So, tired and sweaty we arrived at the Belum Rainforest Resort in Pulau Banding (http://www.belumresort.com/). A bit more upscale than our usual accommodation, but we’ve decided that we deserve it after all the work)

Further research shows that we are in for some more hills before we reach the coast. We have decided to spend a second night here and enjoy the resort whilst allowing our muscles to recover at least a little before we tackle two more days of hills (although none as bad as the 38 km ascent we did over the last two days) to bring us to Penang.

Road notes:

  1. 5 km – R&R Rest stop
  2. 7 km – Restaurant with no food
  3. 26 km – Restaurant at the peak
  4. 55 km – Small floating store and restaurant
  5. 58 km – Belum Rainforest Resort

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More than we planned for

Monday, March 30th, 2009

78 km, 5hr, 40 min, max temp 38

The great thing about taking a route only a week after someone else, is that you can learn about great places to stay along the way. With that in mind, we had planned to stay at the R&R Resthouse just outside of Jeli. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed. A nice girl at one of the restaurants phoned them, only to be told that it is a public holiday so they will not be open.

So much for a short 43 km day prior to the hills. We had to make another plan, so pulled out the computer and looked up what others had done. Based on our research, we found others had found no reasonable hotels in Jeli proper; however, Michelle and Dave had found a spot to camp (with water) at about the 75 km mark from Tanah Merah, and we figured we could make that. It had the added bonus of ensuring we did not have to do the entire climb in one day – we could do part of it today and the remainder tomorrow. And with the money we saved free camping tonight, we could splurge on a room at the resort on Pulau Banding if we felt like it {grin}.

Scott spent a bit of time correlating the reports from Wayne and Kristina , Michelle and Dave , and Kat and Mike, and from that, we thought we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. From the R&R Resthouse:

  1. 7 km to Jeli
  2. 20 km to a town with roadside stalls for food
  3. 33 km to an abandoned rest area with a stream, and Michelle and Dave’s campsite
  4. 39 km to the “Restaurant 70”
  5. 59 km to another restaurant at the top

The reports we had led us to expect all 59 km would be up hill, starting from Jeli (or R&R Resthouse). Unfortunately, the first 20 km lulled us into a sense of complacency. Nice rolling hills, making good time, lots of time until sunset, things were going very well. We stopped at the south turnoff to Batu Melintang, at the 20 km mark, to grab dinner. Prior to the town, there were many roadside stalls selling food and drinks (at least one every 2 km). Fortunately, we stopped where we did, because there was absolutely nothing except steep climbs afterwards.

It was here that the hills began in earnest. We started climb and climb and climb. It was pretty slow going, and we started to worry about losing the daylight. Just at dusk, we pulled into the old rest area. We had climbed almost 400 meters since our dinner stop – our first real climbing in months!

The rest stop had a few roofed tables and platforms, a nice clean stream, and a whole lot of garbage. We setup camp just outside the main building – originally built as a Surau (place for prayers, but smaller than a mosque). At one time it had working toilets and running water, but those days were long gone. Unfortunately, although we searched for Dave and Michelle’s magic camping spot we couldn’t find it before full dark. Never mind – we had a nice cool stream for washing and a spot to set up the tent. What more could we need?

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