Bye Bye Asia

The time has come. After almost one year on the Asian continent, I am about to leave. Tomorrow night, I have booked a flight with Tiger Airways. The flight only cost $70SGD…plus a whole bunch of taxes and other charges. $160SGD miscellaneous taxes and fees, another $30SGD for the bike, and then $5SGD because I’m paying by credit card. And then I still don’t get food or a movie. But no matter. Everyone else seemed to cost more. Looking at was suggesting daft things like flying Singapore -> Brisbane -> Cairns -> Darwin, taking 22 hours. Um no I don’t think so.

So the bike was getting a clean earlier this morning, in preparation for boxing up. First decent clean in a while – hopefully there won’t be any problems entering Australia with it. Just about finished, about to do the last task of dropping the seat down…and it’s frozen in place. Not moving. Try dribbling lube down in it, nothing happen. After applying a lot of rotational force to the saddle, the tube doesn’t move…but the clamp at the top of the tube starts to move. Not good. Not good at all. So I’m just going to have to leave the post sticking out, and hope that it doesn’t make the package too big. I’m getting the cargo guys down the road to box it up for me, will be interesting to see what they do with it, and if I can get it in a taxi tomorrow afternoon…

I’ve been mucking around in Singapore for too long now, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the road. Jan has referred to the process of moving, and I’ve been stuck for a while. It will mean a change of company though – Sally is heading back up through Malaysia to Thailand, while I’m going to be joined by my father in Darwin. He’s going to be my support crew from Darwin to Alice Springs. It’s going to be an interesting way of travelling, with a supporting vehicle – it means I’ll have someone to carry cold drinks for me along those long hot dull stretches I’ll be facing.

Since I haven’t done much riding recently, Sally and I set out for a ride around Singapore yesterday, heading down to East Coast Park, then riding around past Changi – with an A380 coming in directly overhead – up to Changi Beach Park, and back around into town. It was quite a surprise to see just how many people were out enjoying the parks, and how well maintained all the facilities were. Many family groups were out having a picnic, with tents set up, and balls being thrown around. It was a bit strange seeing all the cargo ships just offshore, but it didn’t seem to stop people going in the water. Guess it was cleaner than it looked. Something I thought was really well done was having clearly marked bike paths between the different parks – so you could put together a loop, going around the different parks. Good to see a different side of the city.

Another side of the city was the Night Safari. Now all zoos are animal prisons, and I’m not usually that keen on them, but this is really good. I’d heard good things about it before, and had been meaning to go, but never got around to it. It was very well put together, with nice enclosures allowing you to get pretty close to the animals. Perhaps too close in the case of the bats flying around my head. Watching/hearing a lion roar, reasonably close by, was pretty cool. I’d recommend it to anyone else passing through Singapore.

I’d heard that Little India gets busy on a Sunday, but I didn’t realise just how busy – it seemed that every Indian adult male in Singapore had been bussed in to Little India, mainly just to hang around. Very strange to see almost no women or children. Wonder where they all were?

Of course, some shopping had to be done too – so I bought a new Garmin Vista HCx GPS, to replace the one that was stolen back in July. I’ve just transferred some free GPS maps of Australia to it – yes there’s only one road to follow, but it will still be interesting to see just how far to the next town.

Right, time to go and see what the Indian crew have done to my bike, and then maybe a celebratory drink down at the flashy Quays area.

Still looking for that Penang Curry

After completing the dive course, and having a few more days lazing about on Ko Tao, we finally got moving again, getting a boat to Chumphon, and an overnight train through to Butterworth, Malaysia, where we could get a ferry to Penang Island. I’m back here to search for the Penang Curry that eluded me the last time I was here.

It was good to be back on mainland Thailand, in a town that’s not really aimed at tourists. Rather than every restaurant having the same menu of banana pancakes and mango shakes, it was good to be wandering around the night market, eating local foods, aimed squarely at the locals – the odd tourist was just a bit of bonus income.

Upon arrival at the station, an old lady saw Sally’s bicycle, and promptly came over with her bike, presenting the two flat tyres to me. Ah – no problem, I’ll pump them up. And of course the favour was returned – we could then leave the bike and our luggage at her shop at the station for the few hours that we had to kill before our train arrived.

The train was a sleeper, much more comfortable than a bus. Early the next morning we crossed over the border into Malaysia. They had a rather amusing sign there, detailing how to identify someone with hippy characteristics. What made it especially amusing was that right behind us in the line was a hippy couple, who matched pretty much every characteristic. Dreadlocks, waistcoats (with nothing underneath or on top of it), sandals, poor condition silk pants…it was like looking at a hippy stereotype, beamed in from the 60s. Good thing we were leaving Thailand I guess, although they don’t seem to worry too much about that anymore.

So it’s back to Penang for a couple of days, before doing an all day train down to Singapore. I’m going to make a concerted effort tonight to track down a Penang curry – but I’m sure that I’ll be able to get one outside Malaysia, should I desire one.

Prices were looking a bit high for a flight to Darwin…do I have an excuse to stay in Asia a bit longer?

Adventures Off the Bike, and Underwater

Just a quick note – the beach is calling – but have to tell you that I have now completed my PADI Open Water course! I came back up to Koh Tao by plane from Singapore, and signed up for the Open Water course with Easy Divers. My cycling friend Sally also joined me.

A couple of mornings of classroom sessions, two confined water dives, and four open water dives later, and we’re done! Took a while equalising my ears, but once I got that sorted, it was pretty cool looking at the huge amounts of tropical fish in the water here. Rays, Moray Eels, Barracuda, Nemo, etc. Plus every shape of coral you could imagine.

That done, we’ll have a few more days on the beach, and then I’ll think about getting back on the bike again.

In further good news, I passed my CCNP/CCDP recertification exam. Not sure what it says more about – me or the exams – but I managed to get back into the swing of it fairly quickly, after a year of doing this other nonsense instead. Perhaps there is hope yet of me being employable in future.

No Camera Crew, No Ambassador, No Tears

Nothing at all like this. No little stage at Sentosa, with people bearing gifts and cakes. None of that for me. I am definitely sacking my PR outfit, and employing someone new.

Instead all I got was in trouble with the beach patrol at Sentosa, for taking my bike across the rope bridge leading to the southernmost point of the Asian continent. I had ignored the “no bicycles” sign, and the megaphone telling me to leave my bike behind. I got across, got the photo, and then meekly went back across with the lifeguard. He did say he could take me to their office, and give me a cup of tea while he explained all their safety rules to me, but we both agreed that might be a waste of time. So he let me go. Just as well. I could have gotten 10 lashes of the cane, or something like that.

Because I am now in Singapore! After 388 days, and 24988km, I have made it to Singapore. Yes, I know, you’re thinking “why didn’t he go for a victory lap around Singapore, to make it 25,000km?” I thought about it, but decided that the next few km can wait. I’ll do them soon enough – Australia should be at least another 4,000km.

So now I’ve got a little while off the bike. I’m going to head back to Thailand, do a dive course there, and muck about for a few days, before heading across to Darwin, to do the last leg down through Australia.

After KL, I headed down to Melaka with Jan. Melaka was nice, and could be worth staying a few days, but I was keen to get the riding out of the way. Special mention to the Discovery Cafe in Melaka, where we stopped a couple of nights. The Carlsberg reps were on site, and they insisted on giving me and Jan free beer, constantly topping up my glass. Made trying to study a touch difficult.

From there it was a couple of days further down to Johor Bahru, the border town. A bit of a suspect place. Lots of people were drinking at street restaurants, which made me wonder if it was a duty-free town. But not to be…it’s just even more expensive to drink in Singapore. I think I’ll have to boycott alcohol. That’ll teach ’em.

The elections were interesting in Malaysia – flags and bunting everywhere, and I was given “Barisan Nasional” flags to carry on the bike. They didn’t do as well as they would have liked, but luckily the streets were quiet the day after. People were just going about their business, cleaning up the old posters. No trouble. I’m sure the Foreign Office would have had me stay inside that day, barricading my hotel door, but I wasn’t having any of that.

Overall Malaysia wasn’t that great a place to ride in – a few interesting things, but far too much traffic around, and with the level of development, it’s getting a bit anonymous. Not quite the Asian place I expected. Perhaps it all comes down to the high price of beer? Maybe I need to go back to Langkawi where it’s duty-free, do some comparative analysis?

No More Durian Please

Well, it did have to be done. We had to try Durian, so beloved of Malaysians. A large prickly fruit, it emits a rather strong odour, and has flesh of not particularly pleasant consistency. The strong smell puts you off, but we decided to purchase one from a roadside stall, and see if the rumours were true. I was carrying it on my bike, so I got gentle wafts of it for several hours. Luckily our hotel in Bidor didn’t ban durian, as many do, but still we decided to eat it outside.

After Jan worked out how to cut into it, we had a bit each, looked at each other, looked at the size of the fruit left…and agreed we had had enough. It wasn’t that bad – it’s not going to make you throw up – but it just wasn’t that great either. To be polite, I guess you could describe it as an “acquired” taste. Plenty of people enjoy it, if the number of durian stalls is any guide, but I don’t think I’ll invest the time and energy into acquiring the taste.

I’m now in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. It’s not a bad city, but it’s all a bit too developed and Western for me (i.e. too expensive). Or maybe it’s just that I’m just another Westerner here, and I’m not special anymore. Plenty of marble and glass in the shopping malls, and anything you want is for sale. I’m certainly not complaining about the English language bookstores. One of the largest Borders bookstores in the world – and they’re not the only one around, Kinokuniya has a great selection of tech books. I’m trying to decide if I should renew my Cisco CCNP certification. I need to sit an exam for it by March 22nd. Looks like I can get study materials here, and I could sit the exam in Singapore. I will look a bit of a dork sitting on a Thai beach with a Cisco book though. Ah well, no real change there.

There’s not a huge number of tourist places here as such, but there’s still something to do other than shopping. I think. Ah yes you could go and look at these:

Petronas Towers

And I’ve also been out to the Eye on Malaysia, a 60m high ferris wheel. I was going to be able to tick off the “largest portable observation wheel in South-East Asia,” but the Singaporeans has just opened a massive one – the Singapore Flyer. Might have to go on that when I get there. 6 months in London and I never went on the London Eye. Oh well.

I could race down to Singapore now, and be there by the end of the week, but like Jan, as I get closer to the end of Asia, I find myself slowing down, and in no real hurry to finish it. Somewhat the opposite of what you might expect. Will probably be even worse by the time I get to NZ, that last leg from Auckland to Whangarei might take a week.