December 16, 2010 GMT
Malaysia 19 August to 7 October 2010 (part 1)

This blog was started by Pat in honour of the fact that her mum was born in Malaysia and her granddad spent several years out here building railways and bridges in the early part of the 20th century. It has since been extensively modified by Sho (says Pat…)

We really don't know how we came to spend three whole months in Malaysia. We only intended to spend about a month here but we got sort of kidnapped on arrival at the airport.

All we'd done was send an email asking about shipping to our friend Peter - beddhist to HUBB readers. He emailed his mate Acid (we were dead worried about what somebody called Acid Mustapha might be like...) and Shuib. Shuib emailed his friend Noor.... The net result was we were met at Kuala Lumpur (KL) airport by a welcome committee of seven riders from Ladies Bike Malaysia, including Noor who had borrowed her cousin's Merc to ferry us around.


These ladies ride all sorts of big bikes, Ducatis , BMWs , MV Augustas, – you name it.


Mira on her MV Augusta.


Bikes are standard transport in Malaysia. Three riders are common. When a toddler can stand in the shopping basket and hang onto the mirrors or the bars, he's big enough to ride.

That's where it all started. Despite arriving about lunchtime we didn't get to our hostel until midnight on the first day. On the second day we didn't get back there at all! It was Ramadan, which means people pray a lot, fast from dawn till dusk, then demolish masses of food the minute sunset is officially proclaimed. This meal is called Break-fast, a term which had us confused at first. Then carry on partying with coffees and snacks until the wee small hours, get up at 5am when the mosques start calling for prayers... and repeat for 30 days. Then comes Hariraya, otherwise known as Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan. This is another excuse for more socialising, vast quantities of food and special cookies! Malaysian food is delicious and had a very bad effect on Sho's waistline...


Our great hostel Anjung KL in the city centre with exotic parking at its boutique hotel across the road, and a fantastic Indian restaurant opposite.

The group in KL were brilliant, driving us hither and thither to get our compulsory insurance from the AA in Klang City, (west of KL) and to the port to extract the bikes. Then escorting us to Putrajaya City (so new it did not appear on our latest edition map) to get our compulsory ICP (international circulation permit). The distances and time involved were considerable. We should mention at this point that Noor had already persuaded the chief customs guy to stamp our carnets despite our not having the ICP or insurance. This at 4.15pm on a Friday in Ramadan when the office closes at 4.30pm. Top marks Noor! No money changed hands.


Noor, aka Mrs Stirfry, on her Kawasaki KLE 500. She opened doors for us all over Malaysia and has become a friend for life.

The group also helped us to get the bikes out from the port on the Saturday morning (port closes at midday), including getting the container unloaded and our crate sorted((how?), while we were still on our way there with the customs papers and then guiding us back into KL city centre. That was an interesting experience.

The expressways often have separate motorcycle roads with dedicated bike-sized flyovers and underpasses, all populated by swarms of small step-throughs travelling at 100kph. Unnerving when they over or undertake you. Memo: keep looking in both your mirrors.


We’ve never been treated to our own motorcycle roads before!


Motorways are free for bikes and you get your own special bypass round the toll booths


They even have motorcycle shelters for when it rains. Wimps we thought … until it started chucking it down.

We had a full week of different parties: before "break-fast", break-fast and after break-fast. Many of the parties entail riding there in convoy (we are by far the smallest bikes) along with marshalls usually on Goldwings (huge and shiny with lots of lights and armchair seating and loud music,) kitted out with blue flashing lights and sirens. They are not police but are apparently trained by them to organise the traffic. We have been swept along in the midst of a batch of these, through red traffic lights over double white lines etc, all at speed in busy traffic.... you need a strong nerve and you must concentrate!


One of our Goldwing escorts. His dad bought him this bike when he turned 16 and he has never ridden anything else! He is now 20 and throws the bike round like a toy.


The baby Honda protection squad dwarfs our bikes.

One day we went for a ride with Maznah Zolkifli and some of her mates.


Maz (centre stage) took us up to her pad in the Genting Highlands. She’s a tv celeb in Malaysia and also a keen biker – currently on an MV Augusta.

We also managed to do a bit of sightseeing. KL has some fabulous architecture.


From left: the ultra-modern KL Tower, the KL Twin Towers and the historic railway station.

Noor introduced us to a lot of new food – Durians were in season so she stuffed one in her top box and we could smell it as we rode behind her on the motorway. Notices everywhere forbid you to take durians into buildings.


Noor’s top box stank for days.


This is a roti tissue. Sweet crispy pancake drizzled with condensed milk and sprinkled with sugar. So slimming.

We finally escaped the group’s kindly clutches and rode out on our own to the Cameron Highlands. Visited the fascinating Boh Tea Plantation, started in the 1920’s by a British guy who noticed that tea prices didn’t crash like rubber prices in the Depression. We ate Chinese food and I got my hair cut by a Chinese hairdresser.


Thousands of acres of rolling hills full of tea plantations. Some are so steep, harvesting is a real challenge, requiring special hand tools.

From there we headed across towards the east coast railway, aka the jungle railway. Here we paid homage to my Grandpa's engineering works in the 1920's and rode across some of the bridges he built.


My grandpa would certainly have known Kuala Lipis station.


Grandpa was the engineer in charge of building the Bertam bridge. Note the motorcycle-sized clip-on to the right.


Sometimes it is a bit of a squeeze. Anything larger would have a lengthy diversion to get across the river.


The Guillimard Bridge was ironically partially destroyed by the British in the Second World War to try and stem the Japanese advance. It was rebuilt after the war.

Then we headed for the top right hand corner of Malaysia to Kota Bharu where thanks to Noor and Chegu Mi, we were captured again by the biker network and sat at the VIP table at a break-fast dinner for 140 bikers.


Chegu Mi took us to visit a traditional kite maker – very famous in this area.

Then we went by boat to the Perhentian Islands for some great snorkelling and some very hot hiking. We stayed on the smaller island at D’Lagoon in a lovely little sandy cove.


Supplies have to come in by small boat to the resort.


D’Lagoon has a couple of resident giant monitor lizards which gave us a shock when we first discovered them in the undergrowth behind the huts. This one has come for his chicken snacks. You can’t tell from this, but it is a good 2 metres long.


We much preferred the baby owls one of the staff was training.

Shahrul and Sedan from Kuala Terengganu bike club tracked us down as soon as we hit the mainland to make sure we didn't miss out on the festivities of Hari raya at the end of Ramadan. They escorted us about 80km to our home for the next few days.


Sharul and family. They took us to dinner in the poshest hotel in town. He can’t wait for his kids to get a bit older so the whole family can go biking together. His wife is equally keen.


Our first introduction to Hari raya, courtesy of Sedan and Ida. We counted 23 jars of tiny homemade and handmade hari raya cookies made by Ida. So delicious!

We stayed in Kuala Terengganu in an eccentric spot called Awi's Yellow House.


Awi’s is a collection of straw and bamboo huts on the river. The en-suite facilities consisted of a hole in the floor of the roofless enclosure next to our hut. We shared them with the hut next door which was fortunately empty.


The view from our balcony however was stunning. We could see monitor lizards swimming up and down, mudskippers lurching about and Pat found some otters.

Awi himself is the local traditional boat builder who turns out to have a French wife who's a boat designer. (Sho: she and Pat spent a happy couple of hours chatting about sails, struts and hulls...)


This is the boat that Awi is currently building. He only builds to order for people he likes from chenal, a certified tropical hardwood. On the blackmarket it is half price, but he is honest and buys it from the correct sources.


The “floating” mosque in Kuala Terengganu. There is also a very interesting museum where we inadvertently gate-crashed a wedding and got invited in…..

We stopped briefly at beautiful Cherating beach and the royal town of Pekan where we couldn't find anywhere to stay. The head chef of a hotel took pity on us and took us home with him to the surprise of his eight-months pregnant wife.


Our kindly hosts Matt and Ina. We took them out to dinner to say thank-you.

Our next stop was inland at Tasik Chini. This is an Orang Asli village: the original inhabitants of Malaysia whose plight is similar to the Australian aboriginals. Here we stayed at another very eccentric guesthouse, run by an Indian whose father had been brought from Tamil Nadu to work in the rubber plantations. We went for a boat trip through lakes and rivers and ate the fruit of the lotus which was delicious. Perhaps this is why we stayed so long in Malaysia…


There are many things you can do with the lotus – looking very silly is one of them. These were crafted by our river pilot.

We then headed cross-country to the south west coast and Muar to catch up with more bikers: the afore-mentioned Acid and his wife Dr TT (he's a radiographer and she's a pathologist). We had a lovely weekend with them, washed our bikes and watched them dole out Hari raya goodies (a few ringgit in special envelopes) to the hordes of small boys who came round for their presents. This is open house season in Malaysia – you can drop in on anybody you like. If you’re an adult they feed you and if you’re a kid they give you money! What it meant was that every time we started to leave the house, more people dropped by for chats and cookies!


We went for a great early morning cycle ride with Acid, Dr TT and a friend. It felt a bit funny without an engine though.

Then on north to Malacca which was a supremely important port from the 15th century as it controlled the Malacca Straits between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra (now Indonesia). Trade links with China resulted in a thriving Chinese population that remains today. The spread of Islam started here in the thirteenth century from Arab and Indian traders. It’s now a World Heritage City. We should have met up with more bikers here but it was chucking it down and they didn’t want to play in the rain and neither did we.

Malacca is beautiful by night and we did an evening cruise down the river. The buildings on either side were lit up and the rickshaws were also in bling bling mode, complete with loud music.


Melacca is one of the few places left in Malaysia where you can take a traditional trishaw.


The modern versions wait for custom in the floodlit historic centre.

We headed back to KL to organise getting ourselves and possibly our bikes to Borneo and Indonesia when our plans went to pot.... we got invited to join a WTR (World Tour Rider Magazine) trip sponsored by the Malaysian Tourist board for foreign journalists and bloggers, including a visit to the MotoGP. We just had time to squeeze in a short trip to Borneo, third largest island in the world.

Probably just as well we ended up canning Indonesia as we would have been there in the midst of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Many thanks to SBM Superbikes who housed our bikes, while we flew off to Kota Kinabalu (aka KK) in Sabah. Sabah is the northern Malaysian state in Borneo. The southern Malaysian state is Sarawak and there is a huge chunk of Indonesia called Kalimantan, off to the east. We hired a couple of KLX 150 cc bikes in KK and rattled around Sabah for a week. We admired Mount Kinabalu from afar but did not climb it, visited the orang-utan centre in Sepilok, made famous by David Attenborough, and were woken up by a flock of hornbills outside our B&B. Unfortunately we arrived just too late or too early to see any Raffelesia (biggest and probably smelliest flowers in the world).


Mt Kinabalu is just over 4000 metres high and a World Heritage Site because of its biological diversity.


Grumpy teenage orang-utan at Sepilok.


We got very close to the macaques who also inhabit Sepilok and are much less shy than the orang-utans.

Then down to Sukau on the Kinabatangan River, where we did a couple of boat trips and got peed on by macaque monkeys. We also saw troops of the endangered proboscis monkeys (the ones with the big noses and bellies), kingfishers, hornbills, snakes and even a tiny croc.


Proboscis monkey seen from the river.


We enjoyed the afternoon boat ride so much, we did it again when it got dark.


Sleeping birds on their branches at the river’s edge. We felt a bit mean shining the torchlight on them.

Then up cross country to the northernmost tip of Borneo, before flying back to KL.


Tip of Borneo with Kylie and Kevin (the two Kawasakis)


Boys and their bikes in the river

Posted by Pat Thomson at December 16, 2010 05:32 AM GMT

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