Week 1: Leaving Singapore and first week through Malaysia

A post by Lucia

Day 1: Setting off from Singapore and arriving in Malaysia

I am writing this at the end of our very first day cycling: pretty pooped!! We have cycled 46km – which is not bad for an amateur cyclist as I am! I’ll start at the very beginning… 

Leaving Singapore on 9 September 2018

Full of high spirits, panniers loaded and ready to go, we were just about to cycle out of the door of Tree In Lodge Hostel when the heavens opened. Brilliant! We waited it out for an hour or so which was a great call. The hostel owner, SK, very kindly handed us a beer each to celebrate Adam’s 30th birthday. What a great start to the day.

The ride through Singapore wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. Some of the roads were quite busy but the cars gave us plenty of space so we felt safe. The humidity here is a killer. It was at 100% today. Just being outside means sweating so cycling is a very sweaty activity indeed!

Crossing the Singapore/ Malaysian border went fairly smoothly too. SK gave us great advice on the route to take which put us in great stead. When we arrived in Malaysia we played wacky races with motorbikes and cars to get away from the border. The traffic in Johor near the border is much busier than in Singapore. By this point, we had cycled for two hours and felt pretty hungry. Only there was one problem. We hadn’t brought any food and had no Malaysian currency.

Lesson number one: always carry snacks!!

We had heard of the website called Warmshowers. It is basically a website like couch surfing but specifically for cycle tourists. Usually, the people hosting are cycle tourists themselves and use the warm showers experience to connect with like-minded travellers. Adam had arranged for us to stay with a guy called Adib in Johor. We arrived at his cafe at the correct time, only to find it closed down. We had no internet as we only had our UK sim cards, no food and no Malaysian currency. What a pickle! I waited at the shop in case Adib turned up whilst cycled off in search of Malaysian ringgit and some much-needed food for us.

After queuing for an age to use the ATM, Adam got some Malaysian Ringgit and bought some curious looking deep-fried pastry balls that were about the size of a squash ball. They turned out to be strange tasting banana fritters. A questionable start to our experience of Malaysian cuisine! 

Next, we made our way to a huge shopping mall in search of sim cards. It only took Adam a minute to find a phone stall that sold them and £7 later we had internet. I waited outside with the bikes, which caused a few stares. Smiling at each eye contact I made, I received big smiles back.

Adam could now ring our warm showers host and ask him where he was. After a few conversations and WhatsApp messages, he got Adib’s location and we cycled a few more km to meet him at his new cafe. It turned out that the location he had on his profile was his old cafe and he didn’t realise that he hadn’t changed it.

Adib’s cafe was set in a very trendy, factory type setting. We ordered some food and I went from grumpy, tired cycle tourist (some may have called me ‘hangry!’) to happy and full cycle tourist. In all seriousness though, it really made me realise the importance of keeping fueled when cycling, especially in such humidity. I felt like I was going to faint as we waited for our chicken satay; not a nice place to be!

Chicken satay in Malaysia is AMAZING!

Adib put our bikes in the back of his very nice car (some sort of Ford pickup truck) and drove us 35 minutes to his house. (This means a 35 minute nap for me!) It turns out that Adib is a well-travelled cycle tourist, completing a cycle journey similar to our planned one, only in reverse 2 years ago as he cycled from Yorkshire (he started in Sheffield) to the bottom of Malaysia. We talked about his journey, its effect on him and his life and his experiences on the road.

When we arrived at Adib’s house, we couldn’t quite believe how lucky we were. His house was huge! He showed us to our room, which had a double bed, before leaving us to go back to work. 

We are now sat in his amazing place, clean after a shower and very happy after our first day on the road. Tomorrow he said he will give us a lift to where we met him to continue our journey up Malaysia.

Day 2: Johor to Pontian

Our second day on the road started with us being 20km away from where we actually finished cycling yesterday. Adib, our warmshowers host, had driven us to his home to host us for the night. His hospitality was amazing! We realised in the morning that he had given us his bed to sleep on as we found him sleeping in the living room. He had gone back to work after dropping us at his house and didn’t finish until 4am.

In the morning, he drove us back to the point where we had finished yesterday’s cycling, not before insisting on buying us breakfast at McDonald’s. So far the people of Malaysia have been nothing but the most welcoming and hospitable people we’ve ever met.

Our morning on the bikes started with a leg on a busy equivalent of a British motorway. It was three lanes wide with a large hard shoulder specifically for motorbikes and scooters. This small strip of paint separated us from the never-ending flow of metal and smog and gave us the feeling of safety. 

We stopped for lunch at a Chinese cafe and had the most amazing food. For 4 cans of isotonic drink and two plates of noodles, prawns and egg it cost a total of £2.97. Wowza!

In the afternoon, we found refuge from the crazy busy roads and sought the more minor roads. I found a great route for us to follow to get to the coast. Along this route, we were able to practise our Malay by saying “Selamat Petang” which means good afternoon to the friendly locals who waved at us as we cycled past. Using the local language brings huge smiles from them; it breaks down the barrier between us and them.

An example of the nice, large hard shoulder you can often find on the roads in Malaysia.

There was plenty of wildlife rummaging in the forests next to us. We saw about 4-5 dead snakes and we saw 3 monitor lizards scurrying off from the side of the road into the bush! They were huge!

Just before we arrived at our hotel, we met another couple of cycle tourists. They were from Malaysia and were riding through their country on a tandem together. The man, Othman, offered us some melon that he had just bought from a stall. Adam offered to pay for it and he refused to take any money. It was just the energy boost we needed. Connecting with other cycle tourists and especially locals was the highlight of the day.

We finished the day at a hotel called Sam Huat Hotel. It is run by a friendly Chinese lady who let us store our bikes in a storage room and lock them up. Our room has aircon, a comfy double bed and even toilet roll (something which is rarely found in Malaysian toilets). The room cost us RM 70 which is about £13.05 in GBP.

Tomorrow the plan is to get on the road earlier so we can cover more distance. We will be hugging the west coast up to Malaka for the rest of this week.

Day 3: Pontian to Batu Pahat

0540am: “Lucia,”

I sleepily reply, “yes….?”

“Shall we get up earlier and set off to see the sun rise?”

“Ok, go on then,” I mumble, still wearing my eye mask in the pitch black room.

100 minutes later it’s 0720 and we’re cycling off into the rising sun. It’s cool, (well cooler), and we’re in high spirits after a good nights sleep.

Day 3 has been a good day. I’ve really enjoyed it. Many, more advanced and experienced cycle tourists, might have thought it a boring day. We cycled 77km along one, straight, flat road (route 5 which follows the coast – although you can’t actually see the sea for most of the journey). But for me, I just enjoyed soaking in the Malaysian environment. High reaching palm trees; local people on scooters (the highest amount of people we’ve counted on one scooter so far is 4!); small, modest, wooden houses contrasted with lavish and colourful monasteries and schools. Closer to Batu Pahat the buildings gave way to luscious, green forests.

A local man harvesting coconuts – in true Malaysian style, he gave us a big smile and wave.

Delightfully, I caught my first glimpse of a monkey scampering off into the undergrowth. On the topic of animals, we also saw two huge monitor lizards chilling near a water flow whilst we were waiting at a set of traffic lights at a busy cross roads. We carefully abandoned the bikes and had a good look. I think a Malaysian couple on their scooter at the cross roads thought we were a bit strange!

At first, we mistook these creatures for Komodo Dragons! This is actually a monitor lizard (although Komodo Dragons are part of the monitor lizard family).

It’s been an easy day but it feels great to have done almost double the kms we did yesterday and not be exhausted. It’s not a race, but I feel proud of myself for getting to our target for the day and thinking, ‘I could carry on!’ Especially when we get to our destination by 3pm! We are now enjoying a lovely relaxing afternoon, writing this blog post (Lucia), snoozing (Adam), video editing (Adam – later!), reading, watching Netflix etc. There were many hotels to choose from in Batu Pahat. We went for a lower priced one (but not the lowest priced). We reckon every few pounds we save adds up to a lot over the course of the tour! (True Yorkshire folk!) We were confused with a ‘tourist charge’ they added after Adam had already booked and paid for our room online (on his phone in the hotel foyer – it was cheaper to book online than at the hotel reception desk!) Apparently this is common in Malaysia, but last nights hotel didn’t mention it… maybe it was already included in the price… who knows… we paid the extra 10 Rinnget, stored our bikes in a spare room downstairs and headed up to our room, where I currently write this!

Our comfortable accommodation in Batu Pahat.

Tomorrow we are cycling to Muar, only 56km further up the coast along the same road we were on today. We have already booked with a Warmshowers host for tomorrow night so we are happy to do a slightly shorter day. Then on Thursday, it’s Muar to Malacca where we have booked three nights in a hostel before we head inland to the heart of Malaysia. This is where the cycling will get tougher, especially up to the Cameron Highlands. But we are both really looking forward to seeing more of Malaysia off the beaten track and, although I am a little scared, pushing ourselves physically by doing some gruelling hills, rather than sticking to the flat coast.

Day 4: Batu Pahat to Muar

As previously mentioned, our route today was 57km, along the straight road on the west coast of Malaysia. It was incredibly flat, which meant we only cycled for just under 3 hours. We checked out of the hotel and set off, after a quick stop for some delicious fresh fruit for breakfast, at about 0930am. Setting out for the day two hours later than yesterday, we felt the heat and humidity hit us straight away. It was a glorious, sunny day with a clear blue sky and a relentless, hot sun. 

After hangry Lucia came out at the end of Day 1, we have a rough rule that we’ll cycle for about an hour then stop for a quick rest and if needed, some delicious Malaysian food. I also carry some snacks in my front handlebar bag – currently a banana and some raisins. Our first stop of the day was a great little cafe where we were greeted with big smiles. We ordered chicken and rice – which was so yummy – and a mango shake. Just the energy boost we needed in the morning. The owner asked us where we were from, saying she has had a few bicycle tourist come by for food from her cafe. She took her photo with us; her friendliness and enthusiasm kept a big smile on our faces for many miles. We love interacting with the locals – we think it says a lot about a country. 

The people of Malaysia are super friendly.

 

Malaysian chicken and rice is quickly becoming one of our favourite meals.

We set off again and the road was easy to cycle along. Sometimes we had a cycle lane to keep us apart from the traffic – which wasn’t too bad in our opinion – sometimes we didn’t. After a few more little stops for our favourite 100 Plus isotonic drink or a little snack, we made it to Muar for about 3pm. Our hostel is on the outskirts of the town which we cycled through. It looks really lovely. Colourful buildings in a vibrant town. 

Tonight we are staying in WakaLily Hostel: a comfortable, trendy and calming environment. We opted for two beds in a dorm room (to save a few pennies) which came to 28 Ringget. Lily is wonderfully friendly and chatted with us about travelling and helped me with my bags up the stairs to the hostel. 

After a few hours rest, we went in search of some dinner. As the hostel is on the outskirts of Muar, we set out on foot and found a traditional street food stall with tables outside only a few minutes walk from the hostel – perfect. We ordered some more traditional Malaysian food which was yummy. I love people watching and enjoyed a local man strumming on his guitar at the table next to us. He came over to ask where we are from and after a few minutes, Adam was strumming away on his guitar. (No one paid any notice though!)

After our feed, we went for a walk along the river back towards the hostel. It was a lovely evening and along the way we laughed with a group of teenage boys who were fishing and chatted with some other local fishermen too. Again, people in Malaysia are just SO friendly! It’s heartwarming. Then the best thing happened. As we were walking along, I spotted some leaf monkeys swinging in the trees. A whole family of them were there and, despite being bitten by mosquitos where we stood, we sincerely enjoyed watching them. A great way to end another great day in Malaysia. 

I think this guy was posing for his photograph!

Day 5: Muar to Malacca

Today has been an enjoyable, easy day. We awoke after a great night’s sleep at WakaLily hostel and got on the road. It was quite overcast and even on the cooler side; as we got going we had our first rain shower whilst cycling. But it was very light and was a refreshing start to the day! Oftentimes in Malaysia, the weather can change dramatically and quickly. Before we knew it after the short shower, it was like someone has just pressed the ‘on switch’ and we had blazing, hot sun beating down on us, drying the rain from us almost instantaneously.

Again, we had an effortless and straightforward day; we took a slightly quieter road to Malacca than the busy route 5. The roads M111 and M108 were a pleasure (the longer the road number, the quieter the road). We got a real insight into normal life in Malaysia. Passing through small Muslim villages with their brightly coloured buildings and the Call to Prayer playing, we saw children finishing school for the day, jumping onto their parent’s scooters which then passed by us as we cycled by small stalls selling Durian (a local Malaysian fruit we have yet to try). As it was a coastal road, we passed over many small bridges; the rivers winding their selves to the sea. 

Lots of small fishermen’s boats.

With each day we cycle through Malaysia, I am falling more in love with this country! Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that aren’t amazing. For example, alongside most roads, there is an open sewer which the pipes from houses and restaurants flow to. This is, quite often, full of rubbish which isn’t too pleasant, however, we have glimpsed our favourite monitor lizards that swim through the water so that’s always a bonus! What has had the biggest impact on us so far in Malaysia is the people. I cannot tell you just how friendly they are. We are always treated to huge smiles from the locals as we cycle passed. Especially if we wave and say, ‘Selamat Pagi!’ (good morning) or ‘Selamat Petang!’ (good afternoon) their smiles get even bigger. We even had one man almost aggressively scream a welcome to us and he beckoned us to have a drink in his cafe if we put trousers on (we were in a majority Muslim village). As we had just stopped, we politely declined but he generously shook our hands and blessed us.

Cycling into the city of Malacca wasn’t too bad (nowhere near as busy as Johor!) We have now checked into our hostel in Malacca, Ringo’s Foyer. It is another great hostel recommended to us with friendly, helpful staff and a very cool rooftop terrace where I’m looking forward to having breakfast tomorrow. We went out for food earlier and got our first impressions of the city. We are conscious not to go over our budget when staying in more touristy cities, so Adam found a ‘Hawker Centre’ which is an open-air complex with different food stalls, all really reasonably priced. These are always full of locals and it was especially busy tonight. We ordered delicious chicken satay which we shared and two ‘Mee Goreng’ which is chicken and noodles. It was, as is most often the case in Malaysia, delicious. Lucikly the spicy sauce was served on the side! Adam almost ordered a second dish as together the two meals and chicken satay came to less than £3! This is much cheaper than the touristy restaurants and cafes by the river.

We have two days off the bike ahead of us and we are looking forward to exploring the city of Malacca. Although it does seem quite touristy, it looks so far to be a beautiful and culturally interesting city. It is known as ‘The Historic State’ as it has a rich heritage with British, Dutch and Portuguese imprints left behind from the colonial eras. We are planning to be up early to do a walking tour to see more of the city and learn more about its history.

Days 6 and 7: Two days off the bikes in Malacca

It’s been nice to rest our legs and have a chilled two days off the bikes in Malacca. It’s an interesting city, the centre of which is small enough to explore in one day. We spent yesterday (Friday) walking through the hustle and bustle of the streets and we enjoyed learning a little more about the history of this place.

Church of St. Francis Xavier, Malacca. It’s really interesting to see the Western influences in this Asian city.

Just a few km back to the UK then…!

Behind the tourist taxi-bikes and stalls is Christ Church Malacca, the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.

Yesterday evening, we joined some other people from our hostel and walked through the night market in Jonker Street, which is the centre of Chinatown’s main thoroughfare. Food stall after food stall welcomed us with open arms: oysters, satay, deep fried squid, chicken, dumplings the list goes on and on. We left feeling thoroughly full and had a few beers by the river in a Reggae cafe. One tiger beer set us back 10 Ringgit, which is about £1.85. 

This turned out to be an amazing tofu, egg and noodles dish… we don’t always know what we order but it’s always delicious!

Today (Saturday) has been a complete chill day. We are looking forward to getting back on the bikes tomorrow and we have pencilled in our rough route for the next week. We have decided to stick to the west coast, rather than go inland to the Cameron Highlands. Going inland would be some tough cycling, and we have plenty of that to come on our planned route back to the UK, when we go through Nepal and the Karakorum Highway. So we’ve decided to stick to the easier route for now as I’m still getting used to cycle touring. We always said that Malaysia and Thailand were my ‘warm-up’ countries so it sort of defeats the object by going up to the Cameron Highlands which would be really quite tough. As we head North we have decided to avoid the busy roads into Kuala Lumpa, keeping west of the capital city to avoid the crazy traffic. Instead, our first stop is Port Dickson and we will continue up, hugging the west coast, finishing in Penang in about a weeks time, where we will have our next few days off. 

If you have read to this far – thank you! I hope it’s not too rambling…! I’ll post my next update in Penang. 

Two happy bicycle tourists – on foot for the day!

Lucia xx

 

Here are the routes we took and a link to Adam’s Strava if you’re interested in following there.

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