From George Town we headed back to the mainland and continued our way down the west coast towards the capital city. On our way we passed through a series of uninspiring towns connected by horribly busy roads. When we occasionally managed to find a back road we would gratefully escape the madness to find lush rainforest shading the lanes, rickety old bridges over small streams and rambling old houses where old men shouted out greetings from a comfy chair on the veranda. On one such occasion when we were making our escape onto a lovely quiet road a man on a scooter accosted us, “you must go on the main road, this road is no good it is a village road, the other road is much better”. It took all of our persuasive skills to convince him that we would much rather be on the “village” road and that a dual carriageway busy with maniac drivers was not at all where we wanted to be. Once he was satisfied with this, it took us another 5 minutes to assure him that we didn’t need him to provide us with an escort for the next 20km so we didn’t get lost.
Even on the back roads in Malaysia we were able to find little restaurants serving up some local fare. This, for us, was one of the best things about the country. The Indian/Chinese/Malay combination quickly won us over. Our routine became roti canai for breakfast (a kind of flat bread which you dip in curry sauce) washed down with a mug of hot Milo, Chinese steamed pork buns for morning tea, Malay curry with rice for lunch and whatever we could find from hawker stalls for dinner. Although Malaysia is noticeably more expensive for just about everything than neighbouring Thailand, food is one exception and we took full advantage.
From our experience of cycling so far in Malaysia combined with the usual big city chaos, cycling into the centre of Kuala Lumpur was going to be an absolute nightmare. Luckily we had gleaned a bit of very useful intel. from Dino and Suzi which was that there was a dedicated motorcycle lane for 40km from the satellite town of Klang right into downtown KL. We managed to find this path running alongside Highway 2 and duly followed it all the way into Chinatown – a mere few kilometres from our hostel. Although it felt at times like we were taking part in some sort of motorbike grand prix, racing through tunnels and chicanes, pit stop opportunities at petrol stations and KFC, motorbikes zooming past at breakneck speeds, we both felt it was the least stressful ride into a big city we’d had on the whole journey.
In KL it was great to meet up with old friends Ivan, Kylie and Lennox who had flown in from London. Some serious catching up was required which involved a trip to the tropical island paradise of Langkawi, plenty of beer in the form of “Tiger Towers” and some rigorous swimming and walking training for Lennox. We were hard pressed to move much further than from the pool to the bar to the beach but with beautiful sunsets over the sea, dolphins playing in the surf at breakfast and a year’s worth of conversations to catch up on it was perfect for us.
After a week of relaxation and indulgence it was a mental struggle to get back on the bikes and continue on our way to Singapore. Although it was only a short distance in the grand scheme of our journey, a combination of extreme humidity and our minds already looking forward to the new challenges we will face in Australia meant that it felt as hard as anything we had tackled to date.
Luckily we didn’t have far to go on our first day out of KL as we were heading for a school where a friend from London, Ryan, had just started teaching. We enjoyed an evening at a local restaurant with Ryan and a group of teachers from the UK and NZ and had a little taste of what life is like for ex-pat teachers at international schools. The next morning it was off to school for us and our bicycles. After the initial shock of being confronted with a dozen curious six year olds with a million and one questions for us we soon got stuck into playing games, making up stories and drawing pictures of bicycles. The morning passed far too quickly and when it was time for us to leave it wasn’t just the kids who had sad faces.
One highlight of the slog down to Singapore was the town of Malacca where winding narrow lanes lined with old Chinese shop houses and a town square complete with Dutch barns and a windmill reflect the diverse history of this region. It was the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring, more so because of our Warm Showers host Howard who owns a hostel here. Not only did he give us a place to spend the night but he took us for a fantastic Indian breakfast the next morning and guided us out to the main road on his motorbike. We hadn’t used Warm Showers for a long time but it was a welcome reminder that some of our most memorable experiences on this trip have been meeting kind, generous and fascinating people.
Finally arriving at Woodlands Causeway, which straddles the water between Malaysia and Singapore felt very surreal for both of us. We negotiated the dozens of motorbike lanes that weaved their way through the border formalities on both sides before being spat out on a quiet road in Singapore itself. We both kept repeating, “I can’t believe we’re finally here!” It wasn’t long before the elation wore off as we realised that we did actually still have some cycling to do and that contrary to our expectations, Singapore traffic was actually very busy and not particularly bike friendly. We eventually made it to Raffles Hotel for some obligatory photos but decided we were too dishevelled to enter the bar for the much-needed Singapore Slings – that would have to wait until we at least had some clean clothes on.
We were fortunate enough to have more familiar faces to greet us in Singapore. Kate, our old flatmate from Southfields, and her fiancé Christian were kind enough to put us up while we were there and provide us with some much missed South African hospitality in the form of cold beers, braais by the pool and biltong. We were sad to have to leave after only 5 days, most of which were spent cleaning and packing our bikes ready for their first trip with us on a plane.
We had been in Asia for more than 10 months and to reach the very tip of it on our bicycles really felt like a huge achievement for us. We both found ourselves reflecting back on our journey so far and especially some of the toughest times; but also looking forward to the challenges we would face in Australia.