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.
From November through February the Malaysian monsoon season is full swing. With roughs seas and endless rain the east coast and its nearby islands are virtually shut down. The west coast also gets it’s fair share of rain but it is said to be a little less hostile, so we decided to take the west coast roads to end at the very top of Malaysia.
Twenty kilometres were all it took to cycle from one side of Singapore to the other. The roads were busy but there were plenty of shared paths for us to jump on. It was hard to pull away from the amazing hospitality from Suyin’s family and the daily food comas but we had a flight booked in Bangkok and needed to ride up the coasts of both Malaysia and Thailand to get there.
We’re spending the next three months traveling from Singapore to Bangkok, riding up the west coast of Malaysia and then cutting across to ride up the east coast of Thailand.
Bicycle touring has not only been a great way to see a country, but also a really convenient way to see some of the most unusual and beautiful vehicles on the road. Many classic cars are seldom seen on the motorways and are usually kept safely in the garage only to be driven on quiet scenic back roads on a summer’s day. When taking the path less travelled on a bicycle through the countryside you can frequently find hidden gems, like this tiny 3-wheel Reliant Robin,
Everything you need to know about Singapore’s relationship with food is explained when I tell you the above photo was our breakfast.
Sleek, futuristic, food-obsessed Singapore. A city of billion dollar skyscrapers, luxury shopping malls and rush hour expressways, built on the foundations of hundreds of buffets, hawker centers and restaurants. A leader in the world economy of banking, shipping and cutting edge technology, all of which are powered along by huge helpings of hainan chicken rice, nasi lemak and wonton mee. We spent most of our time in Singapore in a self-induced food coma but every now and then we did engage in a few things not found on the usual list (menu).
Our time in Europe had ended and we flew from Madrid to Singapore to begin FOUR birthday celebrations. My mum, dad and brother had already arrived and were well into the shopping, eating and catching up with family. Thank goodness we had bought some new clothes, jeans for Cleave, dress for me in Madrid, because in less than 24 hours of arriving we were scrubbed up and presentable*, ready for the first one off the rank. And this one was pretty special. It was my Mum’s 60th birthday. Happy Birthday Mum!