We left our luxurious ryokan straight after breakfast by 8am, quite late but the weather was still crisp and frosty. We could see our breath every time we exhaled and no wonder, we passed a sign that recorded the temperature as -3°C! All those hills we had cycled up the day before paid off. For the next 40km it was pretty much straight downhill, following Highway #187. One of the easiest and most beautiful mornings we had ever had, with spectacular riding following the rivers and smaller towns.
“Do you think we’ll see snow?” I said as we rode side by side. We had seen tiny flakes lightly falling in the evenings, but it would melt as soon as they hit the pavement, and the skies would be clear by morning. Our friends had been up in Hakuba, one of Japan’s popular ski areas, excitedly sending through pictures of skiing and snowboarding in white fluffy landscapes. I was hoping we would see at least some ground coverage.
We sat drowsy and disoriented from our night in the clouds, with a commotion unfolding a few seats down. An elderly Japanese man intent on getting his luggage first was trying to barge past a couple, repeatedly hitting the wife with his briefcase. The yelling had escalated but the old guy was refusing to register any delay to his plan.
Two of the easiest countries for cycle touring would have to be Malaysia and Thailand. The people are incredibly friendly, the terrain along the coastlines is mostly flat with excellent roads, and the variety food options make it easy to take a break from cycling – especially when meals occupy a large portion of your thoughts. Accommodation is very affordable, making these two countries some of the cheapest to cycle through.
After riding over 1,200km from the bottom of Thailand, Bangkok was only 60kms away. But with all the overladen speeding tucks flying past our elbow the distance became irrelevant. We had cycled as far as we could but the roads, (expressways) were just becoming too dangerous to ride. Our chosen road, Number 35, had been a two-lane road, but then kept widening, adding more and more extra lanes as we inched closer to the city. A friendly traffic policeman stopped us at one intersection and kindly reached into the open signal box next to him, pausing all the lights so we could cross before the traffic.
We spent a little under two months in Thailand, riding over 1,200km, which was stretched over 20 riding days, and quite a lot of downtime. Our daily distances ranged from 122km at our highest, down to a mere 7km on our lowest (us skirting into Bangkok). We travelled north from the border of Malaysia to the capital of Bangkok, hitting the following towns:
So our ultimate beach town deserves an entire post all to itself, and it’s going to be a big one. So settle in, get comfy, and let us show you around!
Crystal blue water. Squeaky soft sand. Tropical islands covered in jungle. This is the picture of Thailand that is commonly lusted after by holiday makers and planners. However with over 29 million visitors a year, is it difficult to find a patch of paradise that’s not covered in crowds all vying for the same bit of sand. Finding a beach outside of the tourist areas is off-putting if you don’t know where to go. Also the garbage situation is horrendous; much of the coastline is incredibly dirty, full of trash spat out from the rivers from villages, or washed up by the tide, derelict buildings and shrimp farming operations running drains to and from the water.
Our plan was to ride up the east coast of Thailand, starting from Padang Besar on the border, and finishing in hustle of Bangkok. Crossing the border from Malaysia to Thailand was nothing but us following the motorcycle lane again, right up to the check points. It was surprisingly easy, with guards barely blinking at us.
We were on our last section of Malaysia, incorporating two of Malaysia’s most well-known islands: Penang and LangKawi, as well as looking forward to a week-long Christmas break.
Malaysia has seen a boom in street art in the last ten years, with both commissioned and non-commissioned works showing up in many of the major cities. Our first glimpse of these murals was in Sasaran, a tiny traditional fishing village of only 4,000 people, yet holds an impressive international art festival, now in it’s third edition. Our favorite was ‘Catch and Release’ – a little boy’s ‘big catch’ proving a little too big for him.
Usually thought of as a quick stop between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Ipoh is quietly coming up the ranks as a tourist destination in its own right. Little laneways with historic shophouses, classic Malay dishes with serious reputations to uphold and tiny vintage cafes popping up, Ipoh is steadily establishing a firm foothold in charisma and confidence. Of course Malaysians and Chinese tourists have long known about the regional specialities of Malaysia’s 19th century tin mining town, but it will be hard to keep this a local secret for long.
One of the things we wanted to see were monkeys up close and personal. We had actually seen the most common type, the macaques, quite a few times as we had been riding along, but they would disappear as soon as we stopped. We wanted to see them closer to their jungle environment, not the crazy hostile ones chasing screaming Chinese tourists on the steps of the Batu Caves.
Marking roughly the halfway point of our Malaysia ride we veered inland towards the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Most major cities are a pain to navigate into; traffic jams, highways and a billion pedestrians but this was one of the easiest rides we had.
We spent a few nights in Melaka (or Melacca). Melaka has a fascinating centuries-old history that swamps its actual dimensions. A tiny port city; its position was central to bustling trade with Indonesia, India, and the Middle East in the 14th century.