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Asia LP: Track 8 (Malaysia & Singapore)

There’s not much more fun than a Vomit Comet!

The boat from Satun (Thailand) to Langkawi (Malaysia) was short and sweet, as were the steamed buns in the international departure lounge at the ferry terminal. Our threesome were triply glad we hadn’t eaten much before our second boat ride of the day: it’s not nic-named the Vomit Comet without reason! At least a third of the ferry’s passengers were hurling up their previously digested foodstuffs and hoping that the next 100 kilometres of ocean would be more forgiving. They weren’t.

We were allowed two movies while on the boat: The Croods came first, a delightful children’s film with more than enough adult-fodder, and the second was an all-Malaysian, all-guns, all-fight-driven storyline, semi-plotless action flick called Balistik. We thought nothing of this interesting spelling until we reached the shores of Malaysia, where almost everything is written in a kind of pidgeon English: bas for bus, klinik for clinic, balastik for ballistic and so on.

#GeorgetownLyf

We retrieved TanNayNay from the roof of the boat, thoroughly encrusted with salt spray which would come back to haunt us, despite Al giving the dirty girl a thorough rinse the next day (salt is poison for bikes, unfortunately!) We decided on Couzi Couji Hostel because it looked extremely nice: open, communal and friendly, and also was a mere 23 ringet per person per night ($7). We booked for two nights and set about finding our feet in the city that was to be our home for the next five nights. And what a home it was.

We were right around the corner, on the spicy literal of Little India, a truly wonderous place to visit, for the sheer wandering joy and of course, for the food, glorious food!! We dined like vegetarian royalty, eating to our full and beyond on huge meals Thali style (five or more curries, bread and rice on a banana leaf or metal tray symbolising said leaf), slow-cooked dishes, speedily-made breads of all varieties (roti canai, of course, dosai and naan) and strange spicy or fruity sweets. Everything was delectable, we were led by our noses, our eyes and our guts; we were in heaven.

Our two nights at Couzi Couji were fine, we met some interesting people and had some of those conversations that both open one’s eyes and make one see the need for enlightenment of the masses. The first of said conversations, an eye-opener, was with a girl, let’s call her Shae. Shae had recently graduated from Arts/Law (the same course as Maj) and had stumbled on a very important fact in life: blinkered learning gives a horse a limited life. After a year filled with unbridled passion and some ok grades, Shae had learned to study well for tests by regurgitating chaff: exactly what her professors tutored, thus earning top grades and graduating successfully. However, she felt like the corporate law rat race that her degree whipped and saddled her into wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t real life. So Shae decided to unblinker her eyes and gallop for the unknown – nine months later she’s travelled half way around the world and feels as though she’s learned more about life and the reach of the law than she could have with a four year degree to her name. She listened with hungry eyes to Maj’s story about becoming a lawyer and demanding more of the profession than dry, corporate office work. Maj helped Shae (who had expressed her dissolution with the whole profession and doubts about her return to it) to see that being a lawyer can be about people, communication and making real world differences.

Meeting and talking with people like Shae consolidates our own belief that worldly expereince is necessary in life, whatever form it may take, and it was indeed worldly experience led us to another conversation, this time to a fellow, now named Reeno. Reeno’s travels have taken him global too and have changed many of his passions, understandings of life and world views but, unfortunately, have done little to alter others, namely about women and their rights as humans.

We worked out that we three had all spent time in Georgia (if you want to read more about our mixed Georgian experiences, please click HERE). Quickly we gathered that our experiences were almost parallel except for the treatment of women by men, Reeno confirmed our understanding of the male psyche, and indeed, the Georgian one of heavily competitive manliness, godliness and family devotion, but compatrioted himself with the filthy Georgian men we’d encountered (by no means all Georgian men, of course!) who took every advantage of Kat they could – sexual assault and preditory sexual behaviour was rife and for us, cast a dire shadow across the face of the country. But, even when Alee confirmed Kat’s descriptions of the men and their behaviour, it was still met with disbelief, ‘well, what were you wearing?’, demanded Reeno, as if that answer (jeans and a down jacket as it was winter) would have any relevance to the dispicable actions of altogether too many Georgian men. Reeno, we had to invent multiple children and marriages as a disincentive to their interest!

However, as with any conversation, it was all interesting and part of the varied fabric of life – it is not always embroidered with beauteous images in the richest of silks. Our two evenings were exceptionally late: Couzi Couji was a ‘party friendly’ hostel and, as such, parties raged until the wee hours of the morning, and if one were to wander downstairs close enough to dawn, there, woven round and draped atop the furniture and floors would be sleep: snoring bodies only just passed into the state of unconsciousness after the previous evening’s hullabaloo had dampened to a dull roar. Needless to say, being the slightly less well-known all-night-ragers we Malleykats are, we decided to move around the corner to Crystal Guesthouse, a small family-run business who’d let TanNayNay sleep inside after 11pm.

The Romance of Malleykat (Maj + Alee + Kat)

Our days in Georgetown were filled full of friends one, two, three, of food and of both feverish discussion and delightful frivolities. We discovered a few cafes and restaurants that quickly became our local haunts: The Alley, an unfathomably cool coffee shop with friendly attentive staff, excellent barista skills and a range of satisfying cakes and clothing; a whole street’s worth of Indian restaurants and a little shop which sold steamed buns of drool-worthy variety and whose two teenage proprietors (or daughters of) were as enchanted with us as we were with them. Maj and Alee decided to challenge the resident Malaysian riders’ times on the local mountain and came close to many. Most people were shocked to see them riding both down and up – bike-hiking is much more common up this 15% average climb!

We rode TanNayNay as a threesome, alternating Maj and Kat as rack-perchers (it’s an excellent bum workout!), we visited national parks and beaches, Maj and Kat breathed dragon’s breath at a Kundalini yoga session, and we discovered another dragon at a Chinese Night Market which also had a vegetarian-specific food stand and mini crumpcakes made right before our eyes. We three basically couldn’t get enough of each other and so didn’t!

On our last full day together, after getting caffinated at The Alley of course, we visited the beach at Batu Feringghi, just around the coast. Although the beach itself wasn’t spectacular, Maj went for a dip and threesome lounging on the sand in the sun was an agreeable pastime. It seemed Batu Feringghi very much catered for Arabic customers: Middle Eastern food and signs written in Arabic script; this suited us veggie-munching Aussies perfectly! We feasted on a lunch of sumptuous olives, fresh tabbouleh, plump felafel and rich, perfectly seasoned hummus; an unexpected delight for sure in a Malaysian beach resort town.

A gloriously late night: our last evening together, we visited The Alley a final time, making proper use of their 12pm to 12am opening hours. The waiters and waitresses got word of our imminent departure via our intertwined Instagram feeds, or perhaps our carrying Aussie twang, and gifted us a serve of churros (with thier signature salted caramel dipping sauce) and a citrusy Alley-mocktail. Two hours of sleep perhaps wasn’t really enough to propel us through the next day, but goodbye hugs from Maj and the prospect of a second visit from her in Australia certainly was. And then there were two.

A fervent ride down the coast to Malacca.

Palms. PALMS! Sime Derby palms. Palm oil palms as far as the eye could see, row after pineapple-frond-topped row of thick, sweetly syrupy smelling palm trees mar the landscape of much of the west coast of Malaysia. There are around 5 million hectares of palm plantations for palm oil in Malaysia. The agriculture industry consumes 33% of Malaysia’s 32 million hectares total size and palm oil is the fastest growing crop (from less than half a million hectares in 1975). Palm oil accounts for around two thirds of vegetable oils used on the earth and consumption is set to double by 2020, clearly this spells disaster and devastation for Malaysian forests, wildlife and people: the “little guys” who suffer at the hands of big food business.

Within the first few hours, Alee detested the smell of palm oil in production and began to wish we were elsewhere, the industry that surrounded us pumped out smoke, steam, sweat and tears and didn’t make for inspiring riding. That night we were glad to turn off the road in Bagan Serai early enough to have a 5:30pm dinner at a conveniently placed small vegetarian restaurant, serving delectable Indian curries and perfectly paper-thin dosai (a round of bread half way between a pancake and a naan). We pedalled off, full and tired ready to stretch our legs out in comfort another night, but were sorely disappointed.

After half an hour of searching, the cheapest place to stay was 90 ringget ($30) and so we gave up and headed to the outskirts of town to find a camping spot. Along a dirt track we were happened upon by Freddie and his mountain biking mates who above all believe in karma (and kindness and bike riding every day), the result was an invitation to stay with Freddie and his family for the night and a round of thorough Malaysian hospitality.

After showering, we were admittedly zonkered after a mere couple of hours sleep the night previous, but a round of badminton with Umie and Freddie, her coach (and owner of the badminton club!), was perfect. Freddie drove us around the surrounding towns, took us out to coffee (where we didn’t drink coffee but warm cinnamon soy milk instead!) and graciously allowed us to excuse ourselves to bed immediately upon returning home. Thanks Freddie and family!

The next few days took on a familiar routine: up early and ride in the relative cool of the thick morning air, pause to stuff ourselves full of porridge and fresh fruit mid-morning and ride as far as our legs would take us. We camped among the palms one evening, where luckily the palm oil smell didn’t permeate our open-to-the-night-sky tent – it’s not until the palm fruits and kernels are processed that they begin to reek of that sickly sweaty, sucrose smell. We breakfasted one morning at Fireflies Restaurant, where the kind proprietor and his family gifted us Malaysian sweets, masses of roti canai and their outdoor kitchen to make full use of, and then wouldn’t let us pay him a cent. There we waited out a heavy passing storm front, then not one hour later we were riding along, watching the blank green fronds of palm trees dance idly before our eyes at every turn.

Roti Canai: the Greatest Thing About Malaysia?

Roti Canai became our saviour. Each day without fail we’d tenderly, lovingly, slavishly shove handfuls of the flaky, malleable, ghee-rich roasted bread into our mouths and would unfailingly end up happier and more ready for anything.

Roti Canai evolves from a small, unassuming lump of pale dough to a golden round of perfect pastry: its carb-rich life begins as a lump of raw, slightly salty mixture. With its similarly unfettered brothers and sisters it sits, waiting the capable hands of whichever masterful roti-obstetrician we place an order with to tenderly pick it up and fling it roughly to a board, spreading it thinly, rounding out and streching it to the size and shape and perfect hide-thin consistency required. As it is stretched to just-before breaking point, it is moistened, glistening and trampoline-like with melted ghee (clarified butter) or possibly palm oil and just when it looks like it will split, the experienced roti-chef flops in right onto a roasting barbecue surface, the hot plate gently sizzling the skin of the roti-dough pizza as its carer ensures even cooking on the one surface. The four sides are flipped into the centre and further flaps are wrapped in to create a loosely circular shape before the whole thing is transferred to a cooler cooking surface for a final gentle sizzle.

These piping hot rounds of roti are almost ready, but, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the folded bread; the clapping action of the roti-handler is essntial to the succesful lightness that comes with this seemingly dense fried bread product. The quick multiple snap-clap closures of the hands around the blazing hot freshly cooked roti pump tiny air pockets into its mass, and break up the original slighlty crunchy, flaky skin to create the perfect roti texture – a labour of love that we’ll sorely miss.

Malacca, The Historic State

After camping on the beach in Port Dickson, our final day of riding before Malacca took us on similarly pleasing adventures: we were finally cycling smaller, sweeter roads. Right down along a beach boulevard a Dutch expat approached us, inquiring as to why he sees quite so many cycle tourers on his particular stretch of quiet beach-front road? We told him that it is hands down, the nicest stretch of road along all of the western Malaysian coastline, sitting there on a practically untouched beachfront! He seemed satisfied with that answer.

Then, there suddenly was Malacca, a big city with sky scrapers and quaint, centuries old buildings gracing the streets in the heart of the sprawling town. We stayed at Tony’s Guesthouse, Tony was a charming man, easy to chat with and gain a little insight into what his city had to offer. We’d read and heard from Modern Practicality’s Haley and Matt about some famously good places to eat and set upon them: namely Big Bowl Ice and Selvam Indian Restaurant which we frequented on more than one occasion thanks to their unparalleled fare (and prices too!)

We wandered the streets, along the famous Jonker Walk, which winds through a remarkably beautiful section of Chinatown wallpapered with Dutch and European-style house-cum-shopfronts. This section is rumoured to be heavily populated all weekend as it functions as a market at night and is perfect to pose for photographs within during the daylight hours. As we were only here for a few nights beginning on a Monday, we saw a different, less touristic side to it, taking long detours and following the advice of various bloggers who’d wandered through before us.

We read about an appantly infamous and unique sweet in Malacca, kuih keria: sweet potato doughnuts fried in molten sugar instead of oil, and became a little obsessed with finding their location. In truth we hungered so greatly for them that we rode for a good few hours around in circles and oblongs trying to find the famed vendor/s, as stipulated by the very excellent Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia but alas, failed miserably, salivating all the while at the very hint of something so delectable just out of our reach.

As is typical of Alleykat, we managed to befriend some unlikely new comrades while completing various mundane activities. Kat’s sunglasses, which she is notorious for dropping, given they’re the most expensive item of clothing in our possession, desperately needed their lenses repplaced. Upon meeting Mr Ling and Mr Fu at Wang’s Optometry, we quickly forged a lovely new friendship with them, forgetting almost entirely about our goal. Luckily they were simpathetic to our hurried need to move on and get back on the bike, so we saw them a few times in the one day after they generously put our order on the speedy track. We even took some photos for Instagram, which solidified our friendship into the “real world”.

Traditionally in Malacca, one must try the local cuisine, Baba Nyonya food. We’d looked into a few different places and noticed that the fare seemed rather meat-heavy so decided on the least meaty of the lot: Amy’s Heritage. We met the sparkly Amy but unfortunately didn’t eat there as with such little notice due to brazen breezing-in Alleykat style, Amy didn’t have any specifically vegetarian ingredients or dishes to prepare. Instead we ate traditional Chinese vegetarian-specific food at a wonderful little place just around the corner!

The rest of our time was rushed and a little disconnected: Georgetown far outstripped Malacca in our opinion. The vibe and culture of the places on the surface was so similar, but they were so different: Malacca much more touristic and perhaps more difficult to break into, Georgetown the exact opposite, the right amount of niche and open doors for us Alleykats.

After a slow start to the day we rode out of Malacca onto the ‘home straight’. We stopped a few times in small towns and at small restaurants, continuing our infinitely lucky run with the ever-wonderful roti canai as a good part of our daily sustenance.

While riding we met Fadil and his friend who were tracing a similar bike-riding route to ours only in the opposite direction. Fadil gifted us a 100Plus energy drink each and we sat for a while rejoicing in our comradeship out of the boiling hot sunshine. As things are all connected, seven degrees of separation and all that, Fadil and his friend were of course friends of Acid whom we’d met on our first days in Thailand (which you can read about HERE), another Malaysian cycle tourist with equally as generous tendencies and advice for the road ahead. We rode off once more, heading into what would be our last night in Malaysia.

All’s well in love and machete-wielding motorcyclists…

A rough day. After resting with Fadil, our guard was down, although admittedly we don’t have much of a guard at the best of times. A man on a motorbike pulled up next to us and began talking to us, asking after a few minutes to stop so he could buy us a drink. We already felt a little uncomfortable as he was quite insistent and seemed a little out of his brain, but we began to follow him along the road. Suddenly he peeled off to the left down a small street and we supposed, in our typically trusting Alleykat manner, that he must know a local place to take us to. He stopped abruptly and failed to conceal something rather insidious: dropping a truly enormous machete to the ground after fumbling with it clumsily.

Al turned TanNayNay on a dime and we were riding away from this weirdo as fast as we could. He noticed our absence after retrieving the machete from the ground, chasing us down and attempting to explain himself to us. We went with the ‘thanks but no thanks’ approach, the ‘don’t talk to this creep’ approach, the ‘chat amicably with the crazy guy to distract him’ approach and then the ‘whip out the video camera and film him, asking what his name and game was’. His driving was erratic, he clearly wasn’t concentrating or ‘all there’: he almost ran into us fifteen or twenty times (Al counted). We began freaking out a little, thinking he’ll injure us if we’re not super careful!.

Nothing worked effectively, he continued to insist that he wasn’t going to do anything to us with his gigantic razor-sharp sword. Kat attempted to charm him into submission and while his own guard was down, Al asked him firmly, spoken without hesitation, to leave, go away, stop riding with us. He was affronted and exasperated, how dare we refuse his companionship. He followed us at a distance for the next ten kilometres, we really hoped that he didn’t have gang connections, that he didn’t know anyone in the town we were planning to stay in. We even contemplated riding a further twenty-five kilometres out of our way to guarantee our anonymity. Bugger it, we thought, we’ll be fine, he’s just a crazy. Luckily we saw hide nor hair of him after that.

Leaving Malaysia with our baggage firmly behind us

That night, sat upon our slightly grimy separate beds in Pontian, after a good feed once more at our trusted local Indian restaurant which, in Malaysia, could literally be any of the local Indian restaurants! We were full to the brim instead with unrest: after Maj left we’d been all over the shop; a combination of hurried riding through unfriendly countyside and harried, brash conversations throughout the day: Alleykat weren’t in the best shape of our relationship lives. In the worst, in fact.

Things had too long been left unsaid and we admitted that we’d been rather unhappy smashing down the uninspiring Malaysian west coast, it was time for everything to come out in the open: a few emotional hours later and the air was once again breathable, the cloying heat creeping on our bodies literally in a rash had retreated, unbuttoned from its constricting chromatic collar.

Our final day of riding began, we were on a high, a mere 65 kilometres to do to get to the border. Fuelled by porridge, fruit and roti canai we smashed along the freeway spaghetti (illegally) and arrived in less than two and a half hours, making great time to soar smoothly across the bridge between Malaysia and Singapore where we knew new friends were awaiting our arrival.

Salut and Zaìjiàn, Sweet Singapore

Crossing the border was like riding through a funnel, specially designed for two wheeled travellers: many Malaysians live in their home country and work in Singapore to earn the Singaporean wage, a substantial amount more than the average Malaysian one. We crossed the border early enough to witness the tail end of this daily right of passage. We rode quietly among the hard workers, suddenly realising Singapore was our official last stop before Australia! We celebrated by eating a package of eight roti canai casually panniered over the border and looked forward to meeting Xinhan and Emilien.

Lead through the beauteous streets, satisfied by a good feed at the street food, nay ‘hawker food centres’ (as the former is illegal in Singapore) we were led up some manicured hills to a vista for a quick rest and a chat. We learned that Singapore and a life here is richer and less structured than is rumoured, that it is possible to escape the spit-shone rubbish-free carefully-zoned life by simply getting on one’s bike and riding off the carefully-beaten path.

Kat’s knee was hurting her, everything seemed to be playing up and giving a strong ‘time to go home’ signal, so for the last 10 kilometres, she took the spotless, flawless, smooth option of the metro while Al dug in and pedalled around the smooth roads with Xinhan and Emilien.

As soon as we arrived in Xinhan and Emilien’s home, we felt at ease, the comforts of a real home were indeed such a comfort! We cooked dinner for one another, did a small amount of adventuring around the city, fetched an enormous bike box to fit TanNayNay in and made a new friend in the process. SK runs Tree In Lodge, a green, bicycle friendly hostel whose policy favours bicycle tourers as globe-friendly travellers offering them (us!) their stay at half price. SK does more than that though, he made us fresh percolated coffee while caffeinating our minds with his stories and life lessons. He luckily had a massive bike box stored in his perfectly compact hostel walls, and we bundled onto the bus brazenly ignoring the strict ‘no boxes’ rule on Singapore public transport.

Xinhan and Emilien’s own world bike tour has brought them across 33 countries in as many months as we’d been travelling too, all the way to Singapore to forge a new less-bicycle-centred life for a while. It was easy to see why they’d decided on this beautiful country: the combination of beauty, homeliness and intellectual challenge in their professions made a lot of sense. They worked like clockwork around our seemingly routine-free ways; bags of clothes and bicycle parts bursting everywhere. We left their 17th floor apartment noisily one Wednesday evening and rode hastily to the airport, through perfect parks and sneaky freeway shoulders, more than ready for our final flight to The Motherland: Australia!

Don’t forget to catch our film on Malaysia!

[vimeo id=”101152075″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

More of our Asia LP

⇒ Track 1: South Korea

⇒ Track 2: Japan

⇒ Track 3: The Philippines

⇒ Track 4: Cambodia

⇒ Track 5: Vietnam

⇒ Track 6: Laos

⇒ Track 7: Thailand

⇒ Track 8: Malaysia and Singapore

⇒ Check out our Central Asian series HERE

⇒ Try out our European series HERE

 

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