I am cycling all this way, covering roughly 3500 miles to try and raise money for my two chosen charities:

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team and WaterAid.

Please help me to support those in need by clicking on my charity page link below and donating:

Thank you and big cuddles to those who donate!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Final words.....

We returned to the UK in February 2011 and I realise that I am posting this in August 2012 - nearly a year and a half later. I think this is a good enough example to show just how crazy my life or rather our life has been since returning from our trip. 
I want to say thank you to Kris for letting me join him on his amazing journey around half the world on his bike. It is unfortunate that it didn't work out while we were traveling together, however I hope he is happy and enjoying life.

I mostly want to thank James for dropping everything to come and join me, and continue our trip together. He resigned from two consulting jobs that he was successful at, turned down a further job offer, left his children for 3 months, and left his house, and didn't celebrate Christmas, New Year and his 40th birthday with any of his family. I don't think he will ever know how much that meant to me. 

What I didn't mention in my blog was on Tioman Island in Malaysia, James asked me to marry him. I didn't put it in my blog because I didn't give him an answer at the time! As cruel as that may have been, I am a sensible girl and I wanted it to be completely right. Since returning, I have said yes and we are due to marry in December 2012. I am very happy. 

We also now have a house in Somerset where we spend most of our free time and so James can spend the weekends with his children. I am going to be a Step-Mum!

I have since had a huge career change. In Feb 2012, I started as a Police Officer. I am still going through basic training. It was the biggest decision of my life and one that was not made lightly. This was mainly because I applied three years ago and as you can probably guess; my life has changed just a little bit since then. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it anymore. The Police is not just a job, it is a lifestyle. After two stressful and emotional months, I finally decided I needed to give it a go and even turned down the offer of a Masters in my current role. Again thank you Christina for being so supportive and understanding!

James too has had big career changes. After 10 years of running his successful business, he is now a permanent employee of a large international company. I am proud of him taking the lunge when things were already a little unsettled with my big changes and I want to thank him for listening to me try and rationalise things!

Life is all go-go-go. 2012 has seen us move into a new house and re-decorate it, new jobs for both of us, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, exams, the Olympics, wedding planning and more exams! We are maxed out, but we ground each other by remembering how amazing our cycle trip by reminiscing as much as we can, all 3442 miles of it. 

I would also like to say a final MASSIVE thank you to everyone who donated to my two charities before, during and after my trip. Your support has been truly amazing. Having a grand total figure of just over a pound a mile really kept me going through the heat, sweat and tears of it all. At the time of writing, the figure is £3,527.00

To anyone reading this and feels inspired, my charity page is still open:

If anything I hope it encourages you to get on your bike more!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Crazy planning in Singapore; the final few days...

When I rocked up at Heathrow airport 5 months ago with my bike all packed up nicely in a bike box with my separate luggage to check in, I thought them charging me £160 for excess baggage was a lot. Little did I know I clearly got a bargain here and must have caught Singapore airlines on a good day because it was a completely different story for poor James. Thai airlines stung him so badly that he paid 1 and a half times the fee of his airfare just on excess. It really does depend on the person on the desk and their mood. Needless to say, I was horrified when James eventually told me how much he paid. So, naturally we didn’t want the same to happen on our return journey.  

We needed to do lots of research. We worked it out that we had roughly 90 kilos between the two of us, which included all our kit and bikes. The tough bit was just finding the cheapest and most reliable way of getting it home. So, off I set through Singapore to FedEx’s offices. After lengthy discussion with the nice lady on the desk, I came away with two 25kg FedEx boxes (just in case), lots of bits of paper and forms to fill in and a sigh of relief. We had already researched our flights and booked these while we were in Melakka. We booked with Emirates specifically because they are the only airline that allows you to have a 30kg allowance on economy class, so we knew we had 60kg safe. We spent a day (yes a whole day) in our room carefully packing the FedEx box, making a note of everything in it, and weighing it every now and then with the Hello Kitty scales we borrowed from the lady on reception. We managed to cram 24.5 kilos worth of our kit in the box, which we estimated all together valued at £1000. Eeek. The rest we worked out we could take as hand luggage and in our bike boxes; another thing off our minds! Next was trying to get the bikes packed up. 
We were a little stressed as it was Chinese New Year while we were in Singapore, and don’t get me wrong, this was a great experience but it meant a lot of the shops were shut. We had emailed over 10 bike shops before we came into Singapore to see if they were open and would be able to help pack our bikes and three came back to us. We traipsed over to one shop the other side of the city to suss them out and find out costs etc. It was a very professional shop and we trusted them with our babies. They were able to clean our bikes (yay - a big job in itself), pack them up in boxes and have them ready for us to pick up before going to the airport. They were pretty good and very interested in what we had done. Phew on a massive scale. The next thing was to look at the map and work out how to cycle across Singapore to get the bikes to the shop! Although it was hot and a bit stressful, we somehow managed to muddle through and we got there in the end. 
We felt a little lost without our bikes for a bit and suddenly a huge weight lifted off our shoulders when we realised how things were all coming together. The bikes were with the bike shop and we wouldn’t see them again until we opened the boxes in England. The FedEx box was packed and would be picked up from our hostel reception (thank goodness – it was heavy!). The next thing was to find some relatively warm clothes. After our cold experience in the Cameron Highlands, where I was wearing every single item of clothing, I certainly am pretty rubbish when it comes to coping with the cold. Going back to England in early February with summer clothes, in my mind was not an option. So off we went to the shops (the ones which we open anyway). Slight issue however; why would shops in a country where it’s roughly 38 degrees sell jumpers and trousers? Hmmm… We persevered and much to our surprise I managed to find a long sleeve top, a hoodie, a pair of jeans, socks and hightop trainers, while James managed to find similar – excellent!
Now, it was time to relax and actually see some of Singapore. Our hostel was in the Arab quarters of Singapore; a great part we discovered. Loads of great restaurants and little shops to look in, we spent a day here in itself. We massively enjoyed Singapore Night Safari Zoo. It was such a fantastic experience. The aim is to arrive at the zoo for 5pm just as its getting dark. We had some dinner there and off we went on our little train tour and then enjoyed the rest of the night exploring on foot. The highlight of the evening was when we were watching the flying squirrels in their huge contained area. We were watching them for ages running along the tops of the trees and playing ‘catch’ with each other. We had been there quite a long time as we wanted to see them ‘fly’. We were just about to go when suddenly one of them launched himself off the top of a tree and came swooping down to where we were standing and flew right above our heads and nearly into another patiently waiting chap, who had to duck at the last minute or the red furry little dude would have landed right on his shoulders. It was amazing and they are probably three times to size of what we would know as a squirrel in the UK. Marvellous! Nature at its best : )

Lantern mad in Chinatown
We also headed over to Sentosa Island; an island south of Singapore than looks out to the ocean. We went over by cable car. It was very Disneyland-esque. It is the year of the rabbit and so all things rabbit was just everywhere! Lots of colour too!

We enjoyed a bit of beach action, even if it is fake! It was nice to have a bit of a swim, until the most bizarre thing happened. It started raining, but naturally no one really does anything because it's warm rain and we all know it will stop shortly. Everyone on the beach continued to swim or sunbathe. Yet all the lifeguards suddenly went crazy! They started charging up and down the beach, blowing their whistles and telling everyone to get out the water. Then a lifeguard on a Segway was driving up and down shouting down a megaphone telling everyone to get out as there was a chance of a category 4 lightening storm coming!! It was hilarious. We couldn't belive it, and by the sounds of the locals around us, neither could they. It's funny how things like this stick more in your mind that sights. What was even funnier was watching people try and sneak back into the sea, and the reaction of the lifeguards who would chase them down blowing whistles at them. 

Then our time came for us to pick up our bikes from the shop. Do one final pack/sort and tape the boxes up and off we went to the airport. Everything from checking in to stopping over in Columbia, a break in Dubai and back on a flight to London was smooth and before we knew it, we were back in the grey skies of Heathrow looking a pale miserable faces.   : (

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Final leg to Singapore

Oh my goodness, I can't believe that after all this time, this post is only just being published! I referred to my blog the other day for something and thought it didn't look right. Turns out I had written the below blog and others after this but had never posted them. So although the post date is 3 May 2012, it should actually read March 2011 - oops, sorry anyone who has been waiting for the final posts!

We were sad and we felt disappointment that we knew our journey was very very soon about to come to an end. Our last two days of cycling from Mersing to Singapore were strange; sullen almost. Torrential rain tore at the coast line and big plops of rain fell on us hard, and it stung. It rained nonstop. At one point it rained so hard that we couldn’t see further than 4 metres in front of us. Visibility was so bad, we had to stop because the power of it and the wind was exhausting; we were concerned that vehicles on the road would not see us far enough ahead. Even with fluorescent jackets and lights on, I could barely see James cycling in front of me. 

It was a sad atmosphere and not at all enjoyable, purely because we knew that our cycling time was ending, but also our time in SE Asia and our time together was ending. I think it would be fair to say that neither of us particularly wanted to go back to the UK. We could carry on, down to Indonesia, or perhaps straight to Australia. I played with the idea in my head, logistically, financially, emotionally. I had an urge to rip up the plane tickets, but I couldn’t. It was time to return to reality. Time to face the sullen, miserable pale faces of England. Time to face the cold weather and time to sort out finding somewhere new to live. Gah! No wonder I didn’t want to go home! 

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for us coming back to England. I was looking forward to seeing my awesome Granpa. He had deteriorated while I was away and it was great to see him once I got back. I was so nervous that he would go while I was on the cycle trip. It was as though he kept on going for me and waited for me to get back to say a final goodbye. James also missed his children dearly and was very excited to see them again. I too was looking forward to meeting them and the rest of his family. Thanks to my fantastic old boss, Christina, I also had my old job to go back to. A huge relief on a massive scale. This made the return feel all the more bearable. Thanks Christina!

Stopping for shelter to let the worst pass. Looking a little drowned!
One of many water sources that had burst into the road. We had to wait a while for the road to clear of traffic before I made James test how deep it was!
My turn!
Road was like this the whole way from Mersing to Singapore.
Working hard!
Going into Singapore was as predicted; terrifying. Busy suburban dual and tri lane traffic squeezed past us. It was so tight, that we were just as stop-start as much as the traffic was, because we just couldn’t get past the cars; especially me being a little wider due to the trailer (not my bum thank you!). Getting nearer, we spotted a lane specially built for motorcycles and we took it, which was possibly the best decision ever! No cars, road width and instantly we felt safer. They even had immigration booths built the motorcyclists, which was great for us as it was quiet and there was no pressure to get out of the way of the cars. 

Sadly our lane stopped here due to road works, but you just about see the bridge over the water and Singapore in the distance.
Getting right into the centre of Singapore was interesting; something had changed. It was no longer torrential rain and the air seemed different. I suddenly felt very inferior. Perhaps it was cycling past the sky scrapers, or the beautiful, shiny and glossy shops such as Gucci, Prada and Jimmy Choo. I saw beautiful girls in heels, dressed up head to toe is designer gear, big face-hiding-sunglasses and silky hair, swishing handbags and expensive mobiles. I saw gorgeous men in pointed shoes, suits, leather briefcases and perfectly styled hair. It was all so.... Western. And for the first time throughout SE Asia, we did not fit in. There was not a cyclist in sight. Bicycles do not exist in this city.

We found our hostel we booked weeks ago to ensure we had somewhere to stay. Suddenly we were back in Western prices and it was a shock to pay £24 each compared to the previous night in Malaysia at £3 each! Still we were grateful to have our own room in the bunkbed central hostel, with a window! And they were happy to keep our bikes in their back yard too, thanks Sleepy Sam’s.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Getting stuck on Tioman Island...

So the next day we leisurely cycled down to the ferry port to join the mad rush to get on the boat, even though it was one of the very few allocated seats and ticketed boats throughout SE Asia! Pretty painless and we enjoyed the AC inside the boat. It seems that the only way to get around Tioman island is by boat, because there is no joining road between each of the villages, so this means that you need to choose carefully where you get off initially or you’ll need to get another boat to the next village around the corner if you change your mind once on the island – something we really didn’t want to do! We had read so many things about what village to stay in and we just decided to go to a village in the middle of the 5 along the coast called Tekek. We turned right out of the port and cycled for about 5 minutes until we found Swiss Cottages and checked in – no need to book as it was low season and there is space pretty much everywhere. We stayed in a detached bungalow on the beach, with the sea literally steps away from our porch. It was fab! We had three days on the island before the craziness of Singapore and getting the bikes packed up, so we were determined to enjoy our time here.

Not ones to totally relax until we've earned it, we were up early the next day – before the sun had risen to hike over the mountainous island to the other coast to the only village that side; Juara. Very rarely do boats go round there, and the main way that tourists go is to get in a jeep – the only road on the island. During our research, we also found that you can walk it as there is a designated path that the Japanese cut out through the thick jungle during WWII when they invaded Malaysia. Being the adventurous ones that we are, we decided to hike! It looked like the Japanese did the islanders a favour by cutting the path out because it is now used to feed electricity the Juara and water into Tekek from the huge waterfall that feeds the pipes.

The trek was pretty hardcore; sometimes there were concrete steps, but it was mostly a rough trodden forest path. It was incredibly steep at times and our packs were quite heavy because of the amount of water we had to carry! I struggled with the steepness coming down the mountain and into Juara – James practically being the Duke of Edinburgh himself; a pro at all types of hiking was trying to teach me, but I was pretty knackered to start learning! We hiked for 3 hours and it was amazing – I enjoyed it so much. Along the way we saw some interesting wildlife; a giant black squirrel and a long tailed macque – a first! Juara had two beautiful beaches split by rocks jutting out. We found a restaurant that was actually open and order plenty of food – some of which they had and others they didn’t so it was a bit hit and miss. After restoring our energy we managed to walk about 100 metres down the beach in the blistering hot sun before feeling the need to sit under a palm tree and listen to the sea calling us! Soon we were sun-screening up and running into the sea to play in the waves. We were thinking about hiking back over but thought better of it as we didn’t want to get caught in the forest when darkness falls, and over here, darkness falls very fast. So, we negotiated a price with a couple of bored looking drivers – the only cars to be seen to take us back up and over, down into Tekek. We relaxed on our chalet balcony watching the local guys surf, a little tired to join in.

Not a lot happened the next day other than sleep, swim, read and eat! That night there was a pretty bad storm and we were woken up a few times in the night, wondering whether the roof of our little chalet was going to blow off. The next morning we woke up to devastation on the beaches and the island. There was rubbish, trees and general debris everywhere. A bungalow that some of the family and staff live in as part of our hotel had a tree that had fallen and smashed through the roof in the night while they were sleeping. Luckily it is the only bungalow that has a solid brick wall, which stopped the tree falling right through the whole thing – had it fallen on any other chalet, all made of wood, they would probably be dead. We took a bin liner and wondered up the beach, tidying up all the rubbish that had been washed up, but there was just so much of it, we needed a team, it was such a shame! As we got talking to the locals, they were saying it was the worst storm they have had in three years. This was when we discovered the awesomely chilled café along the beach, run by a load of seasonal workers than bum around during the low season, but happy to have us none the less. This was where we spent most of the day. We were due to return back to the main island the next day to make the final leg down and into Singapore to have plenty of time to sort everything out before flying back. However, due to the bad weather, they apparently cancelled the boat the next day. We asked lots of locals, but they all said different things and the ferry station was just utterly deserted when no boat was there. We didn’t want to miss it if it was there, so we decided to pack up everything and go down there in the morning anyway just in case. So up we got at 5.30 to go down there and were told no boat. So back off to the chalet we had just left, (no one even knew we had gone and come back) and rethought what to do. OK, one day should be alright, so we chilled out again and went back to our funky soul/rock/funk/blues playing café, where I made a friend; a kitten adopted me and happily sat on my lap purring while I read.

The next day we didn’t even bother getting up again to see if the boat was going, and it wasn’t. We bought a body board and had endless hours of fun in the sea and the waves. We chilled out in the beach café over dinner and listened to the pack of guys that run it play in their pretty awesome band and then got talking to them about their life here. It is so chilled and the community of people all work together, and help each other. They are all educated and do such wicked things; the guy we were talking to surfs, juggles fire professionally, is a dive instructor, and plays in his band. He was very proud of his island and his family was one of the first to settle here. He wants to protect the island and preserve what they have, and all the islanders fight hard to warn off developers.

Everyone seemed to be saying the boat was leaving at 12.30 the next morning, and we were actually a little sad to go. The two extra days we got stuck of Tioman was so wonderful, even if I was panicking slightly about whether we could actually get off, and get down to Singapore on time! But we did and we got safely back onto mainland Malaysia.

Crossing Malaysia - West to East coast....

After spending some time in Melakka thinking about the final few weeks of our trip, we had booked our air tickets home and worked backwards to where to were now. We wanted to spend as long as possible traveling and seeing as much as possible before returning to the UK. We explored a few options and decided on crossing the width of Malaysia to the East coast – we had heard from books and people that it was so different to the West coast, so we wanted to see for ourselves.

On cycling out from Melakka prepping ourselves for a long day of riding ahead, after 20 miles the day changed dramatically; in a good way. We stopped at the traffic lights of a cross junction and saw 4 cyclists pull out and down the road we were going. They caught sight of us and were clearly just as much intrigued by us as we were them! We managed to catch them up and we cycled along for the best part of 10 miles in a peloton, chatting side by side. They were 4 Malays, who spoke perfect English out for their morning 70 mile ride to Melakka and back. They totally understood what we were doing and they cycle toured themselves. They offered to buy us drinks, so we stopped with them and enjoyed an ice cold lychee juice, ordered in Malay by our new friends. They then learnt that James needed new inner tubes and so insisted on coming to their local cycle shop that will help us out, so we agreed and they excitedly showed us the way. Unbelievably, as we approached the shop James’s tyre was flat – how about that for fate? The cycle shop could not have been more excited to see us and we were literally ordered to tell them where we have cycled while they changed James’s tube over and gave him spares in a flash. We had our pictures taken countless times! When our new friend Rashid asked us where we were going next, he advised us on which towns had hotels, and it turned out that the towns we had planned to get to each night were not good options. He advised that we rested for the night in a seaside village not far from where we were and then make it across the country in two longer days, and be guaranteed to find a place to stay for the one night. There’s no better advice than from a local so we agreed with him. He wanted to come and see us for dinner, so we swapped numbers and we went for lunch next door. We couldn’t believe that when we came to pay, we found that the cycle shop owner had already covered the bill for us – unbelievable hospitality. So on we cycled to Parit Jawa and found the guesthouse he recommended and when dinnertime came round, three of the four cyclists we met earlier zipped down on their motorbikes to meet us, also insisting on paying for us. This was when we learnt that Rashid is the founder of the largest motorcycle and bicycle touring website in Malaysia! They have 40,000 members apparently! Thanks for your help Rashid!

Rashid on my right
The next day we were out early as we thought we had a long day ahead of us. The mileage markers on the road and on our maps differed greatly though and it turned out to be less than we anticipated. This was a relief as it was a really hard day of riding, with long rolling hills and constant palm tree plantations, which made it pretty boring. When we reached Kluang, and were searching for a hotel, we met Jenny who ‘Coo-eed’ us from the side of the road. In perfect English, she asked if she could help and took great delight in assisting us in find a hotel. In her elegant yet forceful manner, she stopped the busy town traffic, waved to countless numbers of people and marched us over to the ‘best’ hotel in the town. She ordered us to come down in 15 minutes for coffee because she had to “dash off” – hilarious and love to you Jenny if you’re reading this!

The next morning we cycled the final leg to reach the coastal town of Mersing. This time not only did we have discrepancies in the mileage but whole roads either didn’t exist on the maps or they did on the maps and not on the land so we were a bit confused and ended up following road signs instead of the map, which got us there! We stopped in the middle of absolutely nowhere in this tiny café to have lunch of the few things they served up and it was the best meal I have had in a very long time; pineapple in tomato sauce with chicken and rice, and we got there just in time before a group of hungry farmers demolished the lot! Upon reaching Mersing we investigated how to get across to Tioman island. Interestingly, Malaysia has different monsoon seasons on the west and east coast and at present, it is the monsoon on the east coast, making the town much quieter than normal. Boat services normally run 5 times a day, but only once during the low season so we booked our tickets that night and negotiated the bikes. We then relaxed and had a little look at what there is to do on the island of Tioman.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Melakka and KL

Port Dickson to Melakka was one day's riding apart making it nice and easy. We cycled through heavily present military areas; past lots of camps, and green Land Rovers overtook us, all friendly and inquisitive. Into Melakka was pretty easy and we eventually found a suitable place to stay with the bikes and we were central as well which was handy. 

Melakka is another UNESCO Heritage site and rather stunning in itself. There is a lot of history here that dates back to 1400. On the south west coast of Malaysia with the river running inland, Melakka was once a major international trading port for SE Asia, with millions of boats and ships docking here, trading everything you could think of from all around the world. The city was overtaken by the Portugese in 1460 and 130 years later, the Dutch captured Melakka from them and their influence is ever present all over the city. 

We learnt about the maritime trade when Melakka was at it's height in a museum on-board a true sized replica of an old Portugese ship that would have been shut down by Health and Safety immediately, but it's all part of the fun. 

We enjoyed wandering around the city, especially down the famous Jongkor Walk, which is full of boutiques and street stalls which all felt very European. Much to our delight, the street was closed off to traffic at night when the markets come alive with hustle, bustle and really bad Chinese karaoke.    

Captain James on the museum ship
Melakka also saw us strolling around the Dutch Square, St Paul's Church and A'Famosa; all very Western! We also stumbled across a Dutch run cafe where we spent a couple of afternoons planning for our next few weeks left in SE Asia. It was sad to be thinking about going home already but a little planning was needed at this stage to get the most out of our time left and also research the cheapest way of getting our stuff home.  

Melakka offers a rather unusual and entertaining way to get around the city. The cycle rickshaw is all over the world and offers great ways to see places environment friendly and I am totally all for them - I was delighted when they started in London. However Melakka offers the humble cycle rickshaw with a difference! The bigger, the more colourful, the more decorated, the better. Fairy lights are lit up all over them when night falls and the best ones have a car radio rigged up to the motion of the pedals and massive speakers with the latest chart R&B hits blaring out seriously loud, you can hear them miles away!!

Bling with the flowers during the day
Fairy lights at night
We had some good food in Melakka, which in many city centres can be hard to find when massive chains take over any street corner they can. We had a true Indian experience in a canteen style stainless steel table affair, where we were the only white people there... now we're talking. James pointed as various dishes at the front that looked good and over our banana leaf plate came, with four different types of sauce plopped onto it. I got right in there with my hand, which got an approving nod from probably half the restaurant, but James chickened out and used a fork. 

We took advantage of the handy tourist-y-ness of Melakka and left our babies (the bikes) in our hotel and took a coach into the capital Kuala Lumpur. It seemed strange not having the bikes, but the ease of which we found a hotel room made me realise how at times, they can be a pain when it comes to finding accommodation. We spent two nights in KL taking in the sights, which was more than enough time, especially as I didn't really warm to KL. 

We went up the Menara tower, by lift of course, travelling 250 metres in 58 seconds. We also went to KL's Bird Park, which was just so utterly impressive, we ended up spending four hours there. The following day we queued like suckers for the Petronas towers to walk across the sky bridge between the two towers, which turned out to be reasonably enjoyable bearing in mind the time we queued for it! We saw different views to the Menaras and being a little further to the ground allows you to see a different side to the crazy city and I enjoyed watching people down on the street scurrying around like ants. Soon after this, we negotiated a coach back into Melakka which felt like negotiating stocks and shares, the amount of people shouting across the room, people trying to get your attention, people on the phone etc.

The Petronas Towers from the Menara tower.
Petronas Towers

This was a very special moment! I think Mr Hornbill was lonely as he hopped over and passed his papaya to me through the gap in the fence and then took it back off me when I offered it.

We arrived back in Melakka 3 hours later and enjoyed one the best meals of the trip. Satay Celup is famous in Melakka so of course, we had to give it a go and it was so fun and something that could definitely catch on over here. The restaurants are simple with big tables with a hole in the middle. When you sit down, a bucket of satay sauce is bought over and a gas cannister is rigged up and a flame is left opened to heat the sauce, You then take a tray and go to the huge frigdes and pick various skewers that have food items of them and the idea is that you dunk them in the bubbling satay sauces and cook it yourself. The food includes raw pork, raw prawns, vegetables, tofu and various shapes of weird looking stuff that I would expect more in Cambodia. Leave it cook and it comes out tasting delicious and satay infused. At the end, your empty skewers are counted and you are charged at how many you eat; between us James and I had 60 skewers! It was so good!!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Port Dickson - James's Birthday!

We checked in to Avillion; I will say no more. We had a water chalet that was built out into the sea with a balcony and a bathroom that was actually on the outside, allowing us to look straight down into the sea. We stayed there because it was a special day for James; his big 40th birthday!! We didn’t do much, I will admit other than eat breakfast, sit by the pool, read, swim, then order lunch by the pool, swim some more, then have dinner and sleep. 

I bought balloons and wrote 40 all over them and made James carry them EVERYWHERE he went that day. He hates me for it! Hahahahahahaha! 

I won't write much on this as it wasn't really part of our trip, but on we cycle!

Penang Island to Port Dickson

We cycled for 6 days straight from Georgetown (Penang) to Port Dickson, on the west coast of peninsula Malaysia, just south of Kuala Lumpur, with a few adventures and stories to tell along the way. 

For the first time on this whole trip, we found that hotels would not accommodate our bikes. So far, no one has had a problem with letting us bring the bikes inside, whether that be in the lobby, a back room or in our room, but in one particular town we had to try four hotels before we were allowed to leave our bikes inside. However, this may have been to our advantage because the hotel we stayed in had a swimming pool (with water, and yes it was clean – thanks for the tips on asking this first Alan!). 

We stayed in one town called Kuala Selangor, famous for one thing; fireflies. We waited until it was dark and took a taxi out into the middle of nowhere. We arrived at a place along the river, with cheesy flashing lights and tacky firefly merchandise for sale. We weren’t really sure what to expect but we put on a buoyancy aid (the first safety exercise I have ever seen in the whole of SE Asia) and we boarded a little boat with a very quiet electric engine and set out in the pitch black river. All of a sudden we could see it in the distance; the bushes on the banks of the river were covered in what looked like Christmas tree lights. Thousands, if not millions of tiny flies, bums flashing yellow were busying themselves doing whatever it is fireflies do. It was magical and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. 

The next day was one of the hardest days riding for both of us. We decided not to cycle into Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur as looking at the map, it seemed the only way to get in was via an expressway – the motorway that bicycles are not allowed to ride on. However, even to cycle past it, along the coast (perhaps the equivalent of London’s M25) was horrific. It was a dual carridgeway with no hard shoulder, so cars, vans, lorries and trucks were screaming past us at at least 80mph. It was the only road and I have to say, I feared for our lives that day. I wanted to be seen as much as possible so I wore my fluorescent yellow jacket, albeit sweating underneath, but it was better than being clipped, or worse, hit. 

Perhaps this is the time to go in to a little detail on Malay driving. In a word, it is crap. It two words, it is appalling and erratic. In a sentence, I have never seen such bad driving on such a high scale, from so many drivers. Naturally every nation has its terrible drivers, but I never fail to be shocked at how Malaysia’s driving scares me. They have no spatial concept, so a wide, heavily loaded lorry will squeeze through a gap, missing us by inches. Yet drivers in the puny and pathetic little Perodas (it’s Rover Metro size) can’t park, reverse around corners or pull out at a safe distance. It is no wonder that we are exhausted after each day, because not only do we have to have eyes like a hawk, but we also need to listen to vehicles coming behind us and judge those too. Thank goodness we both bought mini handlebar side mirrors because we are both continuously looking into them to see what is behind. 

We eventually left the horrible main roads outside of KL and turned off on to a quiet little coastal road, which would take us all the way to Port Dickson. We checked in to a cute little house and went out to get supplies when we met Jacqui and Aaron on their touring bikes coming along the road on the opposite side. Of course, we stopped and ended up chatting to them for 45 minutes on the side of the road and much to our delight they stayed in the same house that night. Jacqui and Aaron are Australian, and newly married, and have been planning their trip for 4 years. They cycled from Sydney through the middle of Australia (!) through desert for 3 months, then through Indonesia and they will continue up through SE Asia, China, Mongolia, through the ‘Stans’ and into Europe, finishing in Ireland. We had a fantastic evening with them, swapping bike and journey advice, eating and talking til a little later then perhaps we should have done – thanks guys and all the best for your onwards journey. 

Jacqui and I have the same frame!
James then had a bit of a tube crisis. For some very strange reason, his tubes keep bursting at the valve, making them unfixable. We were going along at a good pace, when we literally heard a ‘pop’ and something had pierced James’s back tyre in two places, a centimetre apart, leaving us at the side of the road for an hour! He has an odd shaped wheel; 28 inch is rare here. We have been in many bike shops along the way trying to find spare tubes with no joy, as the ones he bought from home have all since been ditched. We were stuck, but luckily I managed to glue the valve back together which held for another 2 days, exactly when we were able to get the right tubes – very lucky!

We arrived in Port Dickson where we stayed in the usual budget fare and booked into a slightly more upmarket place for the next few days, as it was a special day that we wanted to celebrate in style. PD itself is a bit of a hole, but it is more famous for its beaches which run 16km outside of the town. It’s quite close to KL so it’s quite a trendy weekend getaway spot. We were there during the week however, so prices dropped and we got a bit of a bargain…

Friday, 11 February 2011

Cameron Highlands - New Year's Eve

In Thailand we met three Dutch cycle tourers who we cycling the opposite way to us. We stopped by the side of the road and had a good chat and swapped stories. They told us that they had cycled up through the middle of Malaysia through the Cameron Highlands. They told us had they known what it was going to be like, they would not have done it as the two guys were hospitalised due to exhaustion, and knee and neck injuries. We had considered cycling it, but I think this made up our minds for us. Isn’t what we are doing already a challenge enough? With this in mind and also the fact that our end date for this trip was coming up soon and we wanted to see and experience as much as we could, we decided to hire a car and drive up into the Cameron Highlands, with the bikes and all our gear chucked in the back. We had also read that the attractions worth doing were quite spread out, so having our own transport was a bonus because it meant we weren’t tied to the random bus service we had heard about too. The drive up there took 4 hours, 2 of which were ascending up the mountains. Our ears were popping as we went – up, up, up for 60km and down, down, down went the temperature. By the time we got to our hotel, we were both exhausted from concentrating on the hairpin bends and the ever mental driving and over taking from the Malays. 

I knew it would be cooler up there, but I certainly was not prepared for it being this cold! I was frozen! Yes, it may have been 18-20 degrees, but coming from 40 degrees plus, it was such a huge drop in temperature. The first thing on my to-do list was buy some socks and a shawl. I was a little shocked at the lack of clothing sold up there; there was a real niche for a decent clothing company to get their latest winter range in stores, I would have paid anything to get a half decent jumper! I layered up with nearly all my clothes and just about survived the 3 days we had there.

The Highland activities we did included the Butterfly centre – how twee! But actually they had some pretty good bugs there too. It was the first time we have seen a green leaf insect and a dead leaf insect – pretty amazing!

The main attraction in the Highlands is the tea plantations. ‘Boh’ is the primary tea company in Malaysia, sold everywhere and this is where their plantations are, so we paid quite a few visits to their cafes, shop and factory. We learnt how tea is made, had a tour of the factory (which smelt amazing), sampled many of their tastes, and enjoyed various cakes and scones, although sadly no clotted cream. 

Tea bushes in the background
Inside the tea factory, this is the first stage where the leaves are left to ferment and dry and then grinded.
Another big attraction up here is the strawberry. The temperature there is perfect for growing them and Malay people are fascinated by them because you can’t really get them anywhere else due to the heat. This was the first time (and probably the last) that I had pure strawberry juice – that was just awesome. 

After visiting tea plantations and strawberry farms, high up on the rolling hills, we decided to see if our bad boy Toyota Avanza could make it up the highest road in Malaysia. Thanks to James’s driving, we did and although it was too cloudy to see out, we felt pleased (and cold) that we were at 2045 metres. We tried to walk the path that leads to 2090m – the highest point in all of Malaysia, but the rains had visited significantly recently and it was so boggy, that I ended up ankle deep in cold wet mud and nearly fell straight onto my hands – much to James’s amusement. Our little trek sandals couldn’t cope so we turned back. 

We spent New Year’s Eve at a posh hotel resort having a five course delicious and very creative meal. ‘Dancing’ prawns and salmon to start, followed by lobster bisque, cleansed by a black cherry sorbet, followed by roast beef, potatoes and veg, and finished off with chocolate lava cake and ice-cream, and coffee in the lounge listening to the piano playing. We didn’t stay to count the New Year in at the hotel, but went back to our little apartment to drink our pink champagne we bought in Tesco (yes they have Tesco here) before we came up here and celebrated just the two of us. : )

We then drove back down the mountain to Georgetown, over the huge 13km long Penang Bridge, dropped the car off after unloading and spent the afternoon researching our cycling route down through peninsula Malaysia. The next day, we cycled to the ferry port and caught the free drive on, drive off boat from Georgetown to Butterworth and headed south down the west coast. 

Driving over Penang bridge

Friday, 28 January 2011

Penang Island - Christmas Day

The boat from Langkawi island to Penang island could not have been any easier. For a change, we didn’t have to pay extra to get the bikes on board and we had comfortable air-conditioned seats. When we arrived in Georgetown, Penang, we found our hotel within 5 minutes! It was nice to know exactly where we were going and not have to cycle around trying to find somewhere suitable. As our time on Penang was over Christmas, we wanted to treat ourselves to somewhere nice and a bit more upmarket than a backpacker-type guesthouse, and wow did we!? We spent four nights in one of the most amazing hotels I have ever stayed in; the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, or the blue mansion as some call it. This mansion was built in the 1880s and was owned by a great Chinese entrepreneur and businessman who had a worldwide status; Cheong Fatt Tze himself. Left to his sons and daughter-in-law who neglected it for years, when conservationists, historians and architects eventually got their hands on it, it was in a bit of a state. It was soon renovated to its nearest original state and opened to the public and is today one of Penang’s major tourist attractions. 16 of the twenty-something rooms are now open for guests to stay, every room being different and featuring all sorts of art and sculptures. Naturally we attended one of the tours and learnt that the house was so deeply thought out architecturally that everything in its build had a reason. It is feng-shui perfect according to experts and passes many of the Chinese traditions and embraces luck, happiness, success, wealth and other common Chinese symbols in every corner. I will let my photos show you…

Front of the house

Old Chinese rickshaws

The courtyard

Close up of the roof murals

Original tiles preserved for years underneath inches of dirt and dust, imported from Stoke-on-Trent would you believe!
Many thanks to Poh and his team for the laughs and good, chilled service they provided, and thank you to Eric for entertaining us with your lordiness!

Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the same as Hoi An in Vietnam and I can see the similarities. The streets are full of narrow two storey houses, row after row, but beautifully built with petite front doors and windows with shutters. We spent most of our time here wondering the streets and taking it all in.

Famous Campbell Street
Christmas day was far away from the Christmas most Westerners know. There was no snow (or most likely rain), coldness, Christmas trees or decorations, or presents to open, certainly no roast turkey or potatoes! Instead we woke up to bright blue skies, burning hot sun and a yummy breakfast that the hotel provided; that was the morning taken up. In the afternoon we hired a scooter, something James was a little terrified about after a bad motorbike experience he had in the past. Nonetheless, we wanted to be on a beach and that is how we were going to get there. The man hiring out the bike to us got a shock when he went to explain the workings of the beasty 125cc to James who then told him I was driving! On, off, go, brake, sorted! Off we drove the 16km to the very north of Penang island to Batu Ferrenggi beach. We parked up right at the end away from all the hustle, dumped our stuff and went for a Christmas Day swim in the sea! Admittedly it was not as nice as Langkawi at all, but we didn’t care! We sat in a beach café and ordered our late lunch of chicken satay, chips and spring rolls, followed by ice-cream, of course. Back into Georgetown before the sun set to spruce up a bit and go out for our proper Christmas dinner; Indian! And wow what a meal it was. I had three humungous prawns, bigger than my hand in a delicious sauce with rice, naan, Chenna masala, tandoori chicken and vegetables. The most stunning Indian food we have ever had. We then spent the rest of the evening Skyping and calling various family back in England.

Boxing Day saw us both having our hair chopped, which amusingly took exactly the same amount of time and money… mmm. We wondered around the markets and bazaars that sell traditional Malay dress such as the Islamic skull caps for men and all sorts of head scarfs for women. Every single pattern and colour you could imagine with also lots of different styles, which I never realised, existed!

We wanted to explore a little more of Penang island so we left Georgetown and retraced the road to the beach and carried on going until we reached the furthest north west tip of the island where the world’s smallest National Park lies. We camped for two nights, this time for free! The camp site was popular with tourists and visitors due to the man-made swimming pools they have carved out in the waterfall, with pretty trees surrounding it and the village just down the road. We sampled the pools whilst there of course only to come out again five minutes later because the water was so cold!

The village down the road had many seafood restaurants, and we cycled around to get a feel for what was available. We came across one restaurant that was the only one with people in it, so decided to go there as all the others were empty and we have learnt by now to go where the locals go as this usually means it’s good. This restaurant was pretty shabby, with the usual plastic chair affair, with paint chipped off the walls, broken tiles and generally in need of a refurb. We sat down quite early but in the time we were there, it filled up very quickly and by the time we left, people were waiting for tables, and we could see why. We had the best calamari and sweet and sour chicken we have both ever had. It was so good that we went there the next night as well!

The camp site ablutions were an experience; a good one though! Squat toilets we were used to by now, but SE Asia style showers we weren’t. A tiled bath like area would be filled with clean water, and then you were provided with a plastic saucepan to pour the water over you to wash with. I have never had a full shower like this but it was actually very enjoyable and must save a lot of water.

We wanted to explore the National Park so we were up early to cycle down to the main entrance, lock up our bikes and off we went for the day with backpacks full of water and food, Craghoppers and trek sandals donned. And wow did we need them, the path we followed through part forest, part jungle was steep, uneven, craggy and root filled, but it was fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed our day long trek, especially with no leeches!

After our fabulous trek, we cycled back along the hilly coast line to Georgetown to then start our New Year’s Eve adventure – with a difference! Stay tuned to find out what we did next! :)