It’s monsoon season on the east coast of Malaysia and with the start of the monsoon comes the end of the diving season. We’ve had a great time, made some good friends, learnt a lot and dived a lot…..but as November rolled in it was time to pack up and hit the road again. However, six months of diving and relaxing was never going to be the best preparation for cycle touring so it was with some trepidation (and after a quick bus ride to Singapore to leave our diving kit with friends) that we saddled up and hit the road. We’d expected it to be hard….but not this hard! 60 kilometres was more than enough for us on day one. Keith’s new saddle also took a bit of breaking in, but his backside soon toughened up again into the leathery splendour that distinguishes the serious cyclist.
From Mersing we set off northwards up the east coast and then headed inland through Muadzam Shah, Bahau and Kuala Klawang. Amazingly we managed to avoid the worst of the monsoon, fortuitously finding ourselves in cafes or hotels when the rain came. In Klawang our accommodation plans were scuppered when we had a choice of the town’s only (overpriced) hotel or a homestay. After a fruitless phone call to the homestay owner (who did all but laughed out loud at the idea that he should bother his ass coming to open up for us) we rolled along the road for a further 20km and got the tent out. We knew it had been a while but were shocked to discover it had been an entire year since we were last under canvas; we’re getting soft. Soft also described our Exped camping mats. The heat of SE Asia has softened the glue holding the compartments together and every time we moved the seams ripped apart, leaving us on an increasingly soft and lopsided bubble. Thankfully they were still under warranty and Exped shipped us some new ones straight away to a Kuala Lumpur address.
From Klawang our route into KL was particularly pleasant. We climbed on quiet roads up through forested hills and then descended into Hulu Langat for lunch, which fortified us for the final climb over to Ampang. Our good luck with the weather ran out at this point and we completed the final hour into KL in pouring rain, arriving at our host’s looking like a pair of drowned rats.
We would be in KL for a fortnight and having found it hard to find economical accommodation there in the past we made alternative arrangements. Our first stop was with a Warmshower host, Jacky Hong. If you’re not familiar with Warmshowers, it’s a bit like Couchsurfing only run by cycle tourists for cycle tourists. In 2012 Jacky decided to ride from KL to London for the Olympics. He completed the journey in less than 6 months…which is pretty impressive. His daughter was just 2 months old when he set off and one of his main motivations for the journey was to leave her a legacy, proving to her that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. He says his own parents had always told him he’d never amount to much and he doesn’t want his daughter to grow up feeling the same way he did. He’s an inspiring guy. We arrived at Jacky and his wife June’s on the weekend of June’s brother’s wedding and they invited us to a family meal the evening before the wedding. It was a real treat to be included and we discovered little wedding idiosyncrasies such as in Malaysia the wedding photos are taken well in advance of the wedding and therefore do not include the wedding guests at all. The bride and groom go away somewhere fancy for the photoshoot which uses half a dozen different outfits. The photos were beautiful but it did seem rather incongruous seeing pictures of the happy couple before they were actually wed.
Our second abode in KL was with Angie and Yuen, who had also looked after us back in May when we first came to KL. Such a kind couple, they fed and watered us and took us with them to the Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism show. Angie & Yuen are into hydroponics and their balcony is miniature ecosystem with fish fertilizing the water that then runs over the plants, which filter the water before its return to the fish tanks. At the show we munched our way through the numerous freebies, including multiple pineapple varieties, some delicious rice and coconut parcels, and honey straight from the hive of stingless bees.
It was a really relaxing week, spent watching movies, doing a bit (ok, a lot) of internet surfing, and having a great base from which to go trawling round KL’s numerous shopping malls. We replaced our ailing tablet, our tatty Ortlieb map cases and Keith’s faded cycling shirt [about the only piece of any of our clothing that has lasted since we set off in 2011 … and which Tamar seemed to find more and more offensive – Keith] and I bought a dress and jacket to wear at my brother’s wedding (which is the reason we’re now heading to China). Keith spent an inordinately long time trying to find out where he could recycle old electronics and lithium batteries – no-one in Low Yat electronics emporium seemed to have a clue. We also replaced my helmet which got nicked on our second day in KL – note to self: lock your helmet, you’re not on Tioman anymore. Most importantly though, we got our Chinese visas – sixty day ones! We’ll post separately on that process in a little while.
Angie and Yuen had also let us use their address to receive some new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. We’d been searching for these for some time, and after Keith phoned the Malaysian Schwalbe distributor to be told they don’t import the Marathon Plus in the size we want we decided to order a couple of pairs from the UK (one pair to go on the bike and one to carry as spares). Annoyingly, since rubber is one of Malaysia’s key exports, there is a hefty duty on rubber imports….which we only discovered once the tyres reached Malaysian customs. So we had to shell out a further 35% on what are already expensive tyres. Ouch!
After eight nights with Angie & Yuen we relocated to our final KL home, arranged for us by a cyclist called Annie and yet another example of the amazing hospitality we’ve experienced in Malaysia. When we stopped for lunch in Hulu Langat on our way into KL we shared a cafe with a peloton of local roadies, including Annie. We got talking and swapped numbers. She went on to find us an apartment in central KL, got us some bike boxes, let us use her address for the delivery of the replacement Exped sleeping mats (which arrived at the eleventh hour!), took us for dinner with her friend Jeff (a graphic designer who has spent the last two years researching and producing a cycle map for KL), and finally drove us to the airport with all our boxes and bags. Annie also introduced us to what is our new favourite phrase, to be used whenever a road user behaves with a complete disregard for other people: “Hey! Is this your grandfather’s road?”
So here we are, at the airport, all packed up and about to fly back to China: land of insane drivers, inveterate horn honkers and a billion sets of unabashedly exploratory fingers. We give it a maximum of two days before someone sneaks under our radar and yanks the bike off its stand.