Our stop arrives at 8:30 a.m. after a fitful night’s sleep on the loud train, and we make our way by bike from Khuan Don to the Thai border. Our last breakfast in the country is roti canai a roadside stand. It’s delicious and comes with a friendly conversation with the owner of the stand, who lives in Australia and is visiting for the month. ("I teach..." he hesitates, "Islam. Usually people are scared when I say that.")We hit a steep climb just before the Thai border. The sun burns our skin. The air is thick with humidity. But at least it’s not raining.
Mudslides & Monkeys in Malaysia5 Posted by b_puliti - March 21, 2015 - Bike Tour, Malaysia, Pedal, Travel
(This welcome sign is actually on our way out of Malaysia.) We stare out of the hotel window watching beads of water run down the glass. It’s our fourth day in Singapore and our first day of pedaling. “It’s warm outside. It won’t be so bad,” I attempt to convince myself as much as Justin and Brendan. I’m excited to cross the border. We all are. But it’s tough to motivate when it’s raining. Heavily. On the other side of the window, we are instantly drenched. We ride on short walking paths that lead us to nowhere and cause us to dismount our bikes far too frequently. As we approach the Woodlands border crossing, the road splits and cars and trucks continue to the right. We veer left alongside what must be hundreds of motorbikes. At some point, the road narrows into a single lane. Not a single line, mind you. We stop and go with the traffic inhaling pure exhaust, while motorbikes squeeze through every available space. A scooter buzzes by spraying me with water and I watch it narrowly miss Brendan’s tilted bike as he puts his foot down to reach into his pannier. When we eventually make our way underneath a roof and in front of a border official, the roar of motors is deafening, the fumes nauseating and I forget to appreciate the brief respite from the rain. My first pedal strokes in Malaysia are spent gulping down fresh air, oblivious to the traffic and rainfall. (One of the safest sections of highway riding just across the border.) We pedal for hours on the highway in the rain until we spot a hotel. It comes with hot water, air conditioning and a few resident stray cats. The three of us pile into one room and peel off clothing that’s covered in filthy road spray. We remove our water-logged shoes and socks, and our feet are raisins as white as the tile floor underneath. After six hours in a downpour, a shower is absurd, yet necessary. It's not a great first impression of bike touring. Over a $6 dinner at the open-air restaurant next door, I promise Brendan that it can only get better. And it does. The following two days, we explore smaller roads and towns as we make our way towards Kluang. It’s oppressively humid and despite our frequent breaks it’s hard to regulate our body temperature because it’s even hotter when we stop pedaling. Still, we make a point to stop frequently in shady roadside fruit stands and markets to rest, eat and drink. We sit next to locals who are also escaping the sun, and accept their offers of ice cubes even though we know we aren’t supposed to drink the water here. When we reach Kluang, Brendan suffers from a debilitating headache from sun/dehydration. He explores the town with us anyway that night, and we join a cheering crowd sitting on plastic patio furniture outside of a restaurant watching the Malay-Thai soccer match on a projector. The owner pulls a chair up to our table any time he’s not working to chat about his navy days and throughout the night, people come to our table and kiss his hand. The next day, we hop a train for the first time on our bike tour. An unexpected trip home over the holidays and a business obligation back in the states leaves us with just over a month to get from Singapore to Bangkok. On the train platform, we’re approached by friendly locals who take an interest in us. We take the train to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where Justin has work meetings. When we mount our bikes to ride from the train station into the city, we pass the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004, and watch a man bathe in the river that cuts through the city of 1.6 million. One day, we take the subway to the nearby Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India and a pilgrimage site for Hindus worldwide. When we get there, a family of monkeys swings in a nearby tree. Females carry tiny babies around their stomach while large males scour a nearby garbage can for food. It’s our first close encounter with the animal. “I can’t tell if they’re adorable or terrifying,” Brendan admits. He reaches into his pocket for a recently-purchased disposable camera that’s still in the wrapper. It’s not food, but it doesn’t matter. The crinkling sound triggers the animals to come closer. “Terrifying. Definitely, terrifying,” he concludes, putting the camera in his pocket and backing away. More monkeys are to be found on our way into the caves, and I watch a young girl chase pigeons underneath the world's tallest statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity. We enter the caves during a religious ceremony. Horns and drums echo throughout the space and leave a beautifully haunting impression. We are rained on every day as we make our way toward Thailand via scenic back roads. When Christmas arrives, we spend it in Cameron Highlands visiting the largest tea plantation in Southeast Asia (BOH), one of the most uniquely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. On Christmas night, we stand outside an unmanned, semi-abandoned-looking hotel/apartment complex. There’s a number to call, but our phone won’t connect. As a last attempt, we use the cell phone of the market owner next door. Success! A young woman shows up to let us in and collect our money. As luck would have it, the only other guest is a fellow bike tourer from Malaysia. The four of us eat dinner together at a Chinese restaurant that’s walking distance from our rented room. Barking stray dogs fill the night air, and we pass a pile of puppies on our way to the restaurant. Later that night, a low-flying helicopter hovers above and we join the whole town outside to watch it land in a small patch of grass next to the restaurant that served us Christmas dinner. The pilots say the weather was too difficult to continue flying in, and they end up spending the night in our “hotel.” The following night, we catch the midnight train in Ipoh, and expect to sleep a bit at the station before we board, but arrive to a far livelier scene than we expected. Hip hop blares and we join a circle surrounding some serious break dancing. When the clock strikes midnight, our train arrives, we load the bikes and our panniers inside and retire to our bunks. It feels like I’m a passenger on the Hogwarts Express.