It took seven and a half days to cycle from Singapore, across Malaysia to Thailand. An unfamiliar language, tropical landscapes, ocean views, interesting wildlife, and a mix of strange and wonderful flavours. The greatest thing about cycling Malaysia is that the roads are lined with food and drink stalls, with prices that are so low, you don’t have to think about what you ask for, or how many times you ask for more. And the people are very friendly despite the obvious language barrier. It’s odd but being in a country where I didn’t understand the language, I was actually enjoying cycling again. It felt like an adventure again. It makes sense at least to me. USA, Australia, and New Zealand weren’t completely known to me but it all felt quite familiar. A great journey into the unknown seems much better than a journey into the quite familiar.
26 Jan 114km Singapore to a homestay near Mersing
Getting from Singapore to the coast of Malaysia was perilous. My friend Winni guided me to the border, a crossing designed only for cars and motorbikes, but he couldn’t go further because he had forgotten his residents card and the officials said that the Malaysians may hold him at the border if he tried to return. We said our goodbyes and after crossing the bridge I took the wrong turn onto a motorway. Fortunately, there was a good sized shoulder and I was not in the way of the cars screaming past. When I got off the motorway, I searched for an ATM to get myself some Malay currency. The Islamic bank wouldn’t give me any money (I’m not sure if this was on religious grounds), but I found a bank where I could withdraw money, which was a great relief. I was on some pretty awful roads, with little space, and bumps and cracks. Then I noticed my shoes were falling apart. Panic? No, not really. I found a store, and bought some superglue and just glued them back together.
A wet but hot afternoon left me drained. I sat for hours unable to move just drinking and drinking my new favourite sports drink, 100plus. I found the landscape was mostly jungle, but also huge areas for logging, and banana farming. I saw monkeys by the side of the road. In Africa, they always ran before you could get close enough to take a decent photo. These didn’t run, until I passed them. A little baby leapt away but it’s mother turned towards me bearing it’s teeth and lashed out at me. Well, I accelerated faster than Chris Hoy. Never come between a female and its child. I learnt that about the elephants in Africa, but I hadn’t expected it from the monkeys. I decided to give them a wide berth from then on. A larger pack also chased me that afternoon, but I passed them with much more space. Maybe they wanted the bunch of bananas hanging on the back of my bike!
That night, I didn’t reach Mersing and found myself tired at a junction. Without a word of Malaysian in my vocabulary, I had to use sign language to get food and drink. I recognised Nasi Goreng when he said it, and Té. So I had fried rice and Tea (with ice).
I asked about sleeping (by miming sleeping and pointing and looking puzzled), and they said hotel, 25km from here. I pointed at the bike, and used a sad face. Then a guy said homestay? Yes, I said, homestay please, and he asked me to follow his motorbike.
I stayed in a Muslim home, with an elderly couple. I paid them some Malaysian money, and was also given a very typical dinner and breakfast.
Plus, I was given a sarong to wear. And very comfortable it was too
27 Jan 110km Kuala Rompin
This was my first day on the Malaysian coast. It was incredibly hot, but I survived on the coconut water sold by the road. I also enjoyed sugarcane juice and tiny pancakes stuffed with sweet coconut.
Malaysia is Muslim country, but that night I found a Chinese restaurant and the holy grail, beer. a guy called Chang could speak a little English and smiled when I ordered more beer. I explained that I was English, and very thirsty. An hour later Chang told me they had wifi. Jackpot. And that his father, also named Chang, had a homestay. In fact, I had an apartment all to myself, where I watched once upon a time in China.
28 jan 90km Pekan
I was struggling. Somehow, I felt drained, even after several days resting in Cairns, and Singapore. My body just didn’t want to move. I decided not to fight it and stopped at the town of Pekan, a historic town, with a museum. But it was closed. So I headed to another Chinese restaurant, and had a relaxing evening.
29 Jan Cherating 83km
I had some fun getting through Kuantan. I went through the port area by mistake, a dusty, muddy area, and confusing roads to navigate but I eventually found my way out. In the evening I found a resort with karaoke and a Chinese restaurant, where I met an English couple named Lorna and Kelvin. It was great to be able to talk to somebody, especially such a nice couple from Essex, of all places. Despite the pleasant conversation and stories, I found myself falling asleep, so I headed to my room and skipped the karaoke.
30 Jan Just north of Dungun 125km
The day was another hot one, with a pause at a beach with some interesting rocks, and in the evening I found a terrible restaurant, where asking for the simplest thing, Te o ais (tea with ice) turned into a farce as they giggled and looked confused every time I opened my mouth. The room was basic with a few cockroaches which I whacked ferociously. My love of animals certainly doesn’t extend to cockroaches.
31 Jan 81km to somewhere on the coast parallel with setiu near sutra beach resort
I was tired and feeling low. I felt that the freedom of cycling had become a ball and chain and the commitment to cycling the world was keeping me tied to the road, but preventing me from enjoying the journey. Alone in hotel rooms, and mentally drained. I knew I was so close to the end so I had no choice but to keep going. Perhaps knowing that I was close to the end was what also made it so difficult to get going each day. My motivation to cycle had never been lower. Or maybe I just needed to rest and enjoy myself for one day. I thought about it and decided I would rest when I found a nice place to take a day off, but not yet.
1 Feb. Bachok. Just south of Khota Bahru. 100km
The men all stare at me. Some say hello and ask where I am from. The women, normally do not say much to me, and some do not even look at me. Tonight, as usual, the staff did not understand me even when I used simple words, Makan (to eat)’ roti (roti) and Kopi o Ais (coffee with ice). They called for somebody else to come to take my order. A man named Anuar, no beard, and wearing normal trousers and a long white shirt, came from the back of the restaurant, and spoke in English to me. I asked for Roti and beef, and a coffee. His daughter (I assume it was his daughter, western in that she was wearing jeans but also eastern, with a turquoise hijab) was strikingly pretty, with a broad smile of shiny white teeth. She said nothing to me, but smiled and gestured for me to sit. Anuar asked me about my journey, and followed my journey as I took him around the map of the world, with just a little disbelief. Each time he leant back and called over in Malay to his staff, and the girl, who it turned out, had nothing else to do but stare at me while I ate. Each time I looked up in her direction, she gave me a big smile. I wondered how jealous my wife would be of this, but it was all perfectly innocent, and it was nice that I at least was made to feel I was a welcomed guest. Anuar gave me the coffee for free and the meal cost me 6 RM (£1). He found me a guest house but we had to wait while the evening prayers finish. The whole thing was broadcast on speakers and although I don’t understand a word, it sounded like some sort of sermon, as if the Iman was telling a story and occasionally laughing at his own jokes. Then Alla al ackbar, and other chants are repeated over and over before Anuar said ok, let’s go. He drove me to the guesthouse, even though it was just 2 streets away. The guesthouse was above a stationary store, where the owners son, Fadhlan greeted me, and asked me questions in English. He was surprised by the cost of my bike. The guesthouse was clean, with television, aircon, wifi. And a comfortable bed. Pink and maroon sheets. No toilet paper which is always a challenge. I Skyped my wife (who I miss terribly) and fall asleep.
2 Feb – Narathiwat Thailand. 88km
I left my guesthouse, (I strongly recommend Iqra guesthouse in Bachok), where Fadhlan asked for his photo with me. Another lovely big plate of food for breakfast. Rice. Noodles. Chicken, potatoes. Something that seems to be coconut. It was all a bit spicy as usual. The potatoes turn out to actually be eggs, disguised in a coating of something orange-brown. Delicious. I pick out the chillies from the noodles, as this was definitely spicy enough already. A coffee with ice, and I was back on the road.
I filled my bottle and bag with water at a machine for 0.20RM. That’s 3 litres for 3p. Hard to argue with that.
I cycled 52km from Bachok to the border crossing at Kubor, Kelantan, which was simple to get across. It’s a small border control and there were no queues. A stamp in my passport, from the Malaysian kiosk, a ticket for the ferry – “one person, no vehicle” (they don’t even count the bicycle) “0.60 Ringits”, the man said and laughed. That’s just 10p in English money. Even he knew it was a laughably small amount. On the other side, a less friendly Thai official would only give me thirty days to stay in Thailand. I’m hoping that will be enough.
But let’s take a moment here to celebrate…I’m in Thailand !! It is country 41, and it’s very exciting to be here. My next goal is the 1,187km to Bangkok. And after that, depending on visas, I will head north, to the border of Burma at Tachileik, very close to Laos, and then head west across Burma to India, which will be my final journey into the unknown, and the final part of this amazing, stupendous, marvellous experience.
Singapore and Malaysia 755km
48,773km so far