As we headed closer to the Malaysian border, Mosques had largely replaced temples and the jungle had begun to close in on us. The sounds of monkeys, exotic birds and insects filled the hot and sticky air as we threaded our way through the karst-dominated landscape, water-monitors and the odd snake would regularly scurry (can a snake scurry?!) across the road as we approached. It took just a few minutes to leave Thailand, have our passports stamped, and find ourselves in Malaysia. Our road continued to wind through the jungle and before long, monkeys were leaping from nearby trees and eyeing us suspiciously from the safety of telephone wires. An initial climb of 200m tested us more than it should have, but the subsequent downhill helped to dry out our sweat-drenched clothes.
Our first stop was Kuala Perlis, a small coastal town that serves as a ferry port for trips to the popular island of Langkawi. We struggled to find cheap accommodation, and ended up paying close to £20 (99RM) for a room in the T hotel (similar to a Travelodge in UK). The price did include breakfast, which was a very filling and delicious buffet of fried rice, noddles, toast with butter and jam, cakes, juice and tea/coffee.
I seem to always talk about food, but I can't emphasise enough how much of an obsession it has become to Ash and I! It is the fuel that keeps up cycling and if it tastes good, then that's even better! The night market in Kuala Perlis was simply a delight. Endless stalls offering many of the foods that we'd become accustomed to in Thailand but with many intriguing additions too: Chicken satay, rice dishes, Malay-style burgers, curries, fruit and the most calorific milkshakes ever...it would have been rude not to try one! Lunch stops have been a revelation too: self-service, buffet style feasts, where you receive a plate of rice and add to it a few helpings from the variety of fish, meat and veg dishes on display. We have usually spent in the region of 5-6RM (£1-1.20). A refreshing cup of ice tea (milky and very sweet!) is the accompanying drink of choice
Our third day took us to Georgetown, on Penang Island, via the ferry from Butterworth. We checked into our hostel and readied ourselves for a two night stop in what promised to be an interesting city. The fabulous street art, colonial architecture and vibrant ethnicity of Little India and Chinatown made it one of our most enjoyable urban experiences for many months.
Despite the pleasant time we'd enjoyed in Georgetown, I was ready to leave and expend some pent up energy. We joined the early morning swarm of motorcycles, buzzing like angry bees as they boarded the ferry to Butterworth. We were heading to the city of Taiping. A route which took us through miles of palm oil plantations, interspersed with stretches of monkey-infested jungle. The roads in Malaysia have been generally good. However, we have often found it difficult to avoid the busy state roads and, whilst we are often afforded our own lane or hard shoulder, the density of traffic forces us to concentrate that bit extra...a task which, over long periods, is quite draining.
The weather has been varied to say the least! One day we will be dodging heavy showers and the next we will be struggling in the heat and humidity. Temperatures in the sun are well into the mid 40°C and our bodies are taking a battering! By the end of the day, our ruddy faces are covered in salt crystals and general grime! Despite using plenty of SPF factor 30 and 50 sunblock, I often end the day with burnt bits on my fingers, knees and ears. The anti-malarial drugs that we are taking (doxycycline) cause increased photo sensitivity and it will be a massive relief when we can stop taking them once we reach Singapore!
Taiping was simply a place to sleep. There is a lovely lake-park which we circumnavigated on our departure. It was wonderful to see so many people enjoying the open space: walking, running, cycling, playing badminton and tennis, or participating in yoga and aerobics classes. Towns of Sitiawen and Teluk Intan came and went, without much in the way of excitement, before we arrived in Kuala Selangor. We had read that there is an old fort which is inhabited by monkeys. It sounded like a great place to visit and we weren't disappointed! A small hill was climbed before we came across an imposing lighthouse (a bonus for me, as I've always fancied living in a lighthouse...I'm not sure why, perhaps the association with the coast?) and dozens of very friendly looking primates! We bought some green beans from a stall and found a spot away from the main crowds. It was a wonderful experience, sitting on the grass with little furry monkeys running up to me and waiting to be presented with a bit of food. Eventually one of the braver monkeys decided to set up residence on my knee to ensure that he got the rich pickings. A memorable and positive experience indeed!
One week from now, Ash and I will have reached our original target destination of Singapore. We will have cycled around 19,000km and Dorothy and Clara will be boxed up and on their merry way to New Zealand. We will have almost a month off the bikes in Australia. An opportunity to reflect and recharge before our final two and a half month tour in the Land of the hobbits!
Love and hugs (and an especially big hug to you Mum). X