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?


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.


Playing Catchup

The last time I saw Jan was way back in June, in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. We took different paths then, and when we later got back on the same road, Jan was a month ahead of me. As he nears the end of his mission, he’s been slowing down, while I’ve been speeding up, thanks to judicious use of ferries. As a result, I’ve finally caught up, and we’ve spent the last couple of days riding together. Just like old times. Except it’s not snowing now. But we are in a Muslim country again.

After Satun, in southern Thailand, Nicola, Dave (her husband) and I got a ferry to Langkawi, Malaysia, where we saw some of the Langkawi Ironman. Dave was riding around on a classic local commuter, which looked rather amusing amongst the titanium-frame, carbon fibre forks, ultra lightweight racing machines the competitors were using. Langkawi didn’t do much for me, and the duty-free prices were a ripoff. Most prices were more expensive than elsewhere in the region. The only cheap thing was beer – 1.50RM for a can, compared to 6RM elsewhere in Malaysia.

From Langkawi we went to Penang for a dose of Somerset Maugham/colonialism/Lord Jim/whatever, along with fantastic food, and some rather annoying ladyboys. Dave had to fly out of there, but we picked up Jan, so it’s almost a fair swap. Well for me anyway, Nicola might have other opinions. Leaving Penang on the ferry was easy – and free, since they only charge people going in the other direction. Score.

We’ve then been riding towards Kuala Lumpur, and I have to say I’m not hugely impressed with cycling in Malaysia, compared to Thailand. The road is too busy, too many trucks. Most shocking of all, the service stations don’t have shaded tables and chairs to sit at. Outrageous that, since all Thai service stations have somewhere to sit down out of the sun. But there’s still some interesting things to see and do, like Kellie’s Castle and getting our photo taken with the first rubber tree in Malaysia. Well I thought it was interesting.

From here I’ll head to Kuala Lumpur, and then it will be a bit of mucking around in Malaysia, possibly a bit of diving, before marking off Asia, and heading to Darwin. Probably 3-4 weeks before I get there. No hurry, eh?