Singapore- Gettin In and Bikin’ Around

124.2 kilometers in 3 days

(1 day of futzing around buses and trucks, 1 day of futzing around Singapore)

2,552 kilometers SO FAR

This was what we were working towards- a park full of metaltrees!
This was what we were working towards- a park full of metaltrees!

Getting In:

Day 42- July 16,2015- Gelang Patah to Johor Bahru

85 kilometers (some by bus, some by durian delivery truck…)

Because we were coming from the west (Melakka) we figured it would be easiest to cross into Malaysia via their western border crossing at Tuas. The following is why that was a bad idea, but why we couldn’t have known until we tried.

The meal we thought would be our last in Malaysia. Roti Canai with eggs and iced coffees.
The meal we thought would be our last in Malaysia. Roti Canai with eggs and iced coffees.

We based ourselves outside of Gelang Patah which is collection of empty but hopeful suburbs and strip malls 15 kilometers from the Tuas border into Singapore. Since we were so close we took our time leaving in the morning, spent the last of our Malaysian ringgits on a really good breakfast, and started cycling. Gelang Patah is connected to the rest of Malaysia and Singapore by a massively confusing network of highways which is lined with even emptier, quiet suburbs and strip malls.

The highway that was marked "no bicycles". Surely they couldn't have meant us...
The highway that was marked “no bicycles”. Surely they couldn’t have meant us…

After winding around those highways we finally turned onto an on-ramp that had a pretty clear “no bicycles” sigh, but it was the only highway to the border. There was a good shoulder for us to ride on, and we were only 10 kilometers from the border, we had to push on.

We had read on multiple blogs that it was easy to take bicycles across the border- just follow the motorbikes. So we pulled up to the Malaysia exit window meant for motorbikes and were turned around.

“Bicycles aren’t allowed to cross this border. It’s not safe.”

This seemed ridiculous, we’d already biked 10 kilometers down a really stupid highway to get here, we weren’t about to get turned around. So he suggested we try to go with a bus. Fine. We biked down to the bus section. The bus crossing at that moment wouldn’t take us- this seemed like it was up to the driver’s discretion as the border officials fully approved this idea. At this point the immigration officers said we had two options. Either turn around and bike back into Malaysia or try to fit our bicycles into the back of a lorry. They had no problem letting us bike through, but the Singapore side is supposedly really strict and you can’t cross this border unless you’re in a vehicle.

Just our bikes waiting for  a truck to take us over to Singapore.
Just our bikes waiting for a truck to take us over to Singapore.

So we tried, as a last resort, the lorries. We met an immigration officer named Poo who helped us find a rickety truck full of durians that has agreed to take us and our bicycles in the back of his truck. Poo made it pretty clear that once we were in Singapore we were on our own. But his biggest concern was whether the strong stench of the durian would bother us.

Loading our bikes into the back of that kind durian truck that offered to take us.
Loading our bikes into the back of that kind durian truck that offered to take us.

We loaded everything into the truck and set off across the causeway to Singapore! This actually felt like it was working. And how perfect would it have been to arrive in Singapore in a truck full of its national fruit? Too perfect apparently…

Our bikes inside the durian truck.
Our bikes inside the durian truck.

Just before we finished crossing the bridge into Singapore the truck driver pulled over to the side of the road and opened the back. Apparently this is where we were supposed to get off. And while we appreciated his efforts we couldn’t help but think they’re a little half-assed. Still, at this point there was no way Singapore immigration would turn us around. It’d be less safe for us to cycle back into Malaysia than to just continue on into Singapore. Right?

Maybe not quite as welcoming as it looked...this was taken about 1 minute before we were turned back.
Maybe not quite as welcoming as it looked…this was taken about 1 minute before we were turned back.

Wrong.  A cross looking immigration officer has positioned himself to great us at the bottom of this bridge. And by great I mean promptly turn us away because there was no way they could accept bicycles through this border. He offered to “escort” us to the other side of the highway where he watched us bike back over that bridge to get an entrance stamp to Malaysia only twenty minutes after we got the departure stamp.

We had no more Malaysian money, two new Malaysia stamps in our passport, and no idea how to get into this tiny island of a country. We found a bus that was willing to take us back to Johor Bahru- where the other entrance to Singapore is located. From there we figured we could find a bus that would take us and our bikes into Singapore since apparently we’re not cycling across. Johor Bahru is just as confusing as the town we started in. We cycle to the border crossing from Johor Bahru which seems identical to the other one we already failed at that day. It’s 5pm, there’s a ton of traffic, it was very hilly, and we don’t know if the border is even still open and have no reason to believe this is going to go any better than our last attempt to get into Singapore.

So instead of trying to cross that night and having to arrive in Singapore after dark we find a cheap dirty hotel, which was made even more miserable by the fact that we weren’t supposed to be sleeping in Malaysia that night. We were only 30 kilometers away from where we had started that day.

We fell asleep to the sounds of fireworks going off all over the city to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Day 43- July 17, 2015- Johor Bahru to Singapore (finally)

39.2 kilometers

We spent our night doing research on how to cycle into Singapore. We had obviously done this research before but clearly we had missed something. There were blogs of cyclists who had done it, even a video of what the crossing on a bicycle. All of this was from Johor Bahru. But the official Singapore immigration site made no distinction between the Tuas and Johor Bahru border. The point is- yesterday was not entirely our fault and we will continue to blame Singapore just a little bit.

Kiri sitting on a bus on the way to another Singapore border.
Kiri sitting on a bus on the way to another Singapore border.

We found a bus that would take us to the border. And it dropped us off almost exactly where we had turned around the day before. Only this time an immigration officer met us, and pointed us towards the motorbike section, assuring us that we could cycle into Singapore. Just to make sure we asked him a couple of times.

The lovely causeway connecting Malaysia to Singapore that we were allowed to use!
The lovely causeway connecting Malaysia to Singapore that we were allowed to use!

And sure enough after getting a stamp, and cycling across a bridge in a lane that had welcoming signs for motorbikes and bicycles, we were getting our passports stamped into Singapore. So it really was just that easy. But again, how were we supposed to know?

There are a few ironic things about this map:

  1. The route we originally attempted, you know, the one where we were turned back at the border, is actually longer than the alternative route that would have put us at the border we needed to be at to cross via bicycle.
  2. Just to recap- it should have taken no more than 48 kilometers to get into Singapore from Gelang Patah- it took us 124…..

DO NOT TRY TO BIKE THROUGH THE TUAS BORDER TO SINGAPORE!!!

 

DSC06144Cycling into Singapore is easy as long as you stay off the freeway and you really don’t want to be on the freeway. It is actually illegal to cycle on the freeway in Singapore, we found out later.  There are parkways and sidewalks and paths and the traffic is really respectful of cyclists. This is probably because for the first time in over a month we weren’t the only cyclists on the road.

Singapore skyline at dusk.
Singapore skyline at dusk.

We got to our hostel, got moved into our “pods” (read: cozy individual caves with reading lamps), and set out to explore Singapore.

The Merlion spitting into the bay!
The Merlion spitting into the bay!

That night we wandered through a garden full of real beautiful plants and artificial towering metal trees. We visited the Merlion- the symbol of Singapore that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish rendering it the most useless mystical creature I’ve ever heard of.

A free (and romantic) evening of jazz.
A free (and romantic) evening of jazz.

We stumbled upon a free jazz concert over the harbor as the sun was setting, and then ended up finding a good and cheap meal in Chinatown.

The Singapore skyline at night!
The Singapore skyline at night!

Day 43 and 44- July 18 and 19, 2015

Good incentive not to ride where they tell you not to.
Good incentive not to ride where they tell you not to.

Singapore is known for having a great network of cycling and running trails across the country/city. Since we had come here on bicycles we figured it would be a waste to not use them in this city.

Biking around a park on a Saturday- more like amateur hour with everyone out on the paths.
Biking around a park on a Saturday- more like amateur hour with everyone out on the paths.

So we spent an afternoon figuring out some of these trails and park connectors until we found ourselves at the south eastern shore sharing the really well-made trail with roller-bladers, other more serious cyclists, 4-person cycle-buggys, and kids on tricycles. It felt like we were just out for a ride in the park back in the States.

Finishing our day of cycling around Singapore in front of the prettier parts of the skyline.
Finishing our day of cycling around Singapore in front of the prettier parts of the skyline.
Singapore was getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The day we were there  they were putting on a  military show.
Singapore was getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The day we were there they were putting on a military show.

Another thing Singapore is known for is their Zoo. So the next day we had to get out there before we packed up to fly to Cambodia. And it lived up to it’s hype. Probably the highlight was the elephant show where the elephants shot water at the crowd through their trunks, stole their keepers hats, all lay down for a nap together, and then got up and bowed at the end. But all of it was pretty cool.

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Just an orangutan lazin' away the day at the zoo.
Just an orangutan lazin’ away the day at the zoo.
The happiest elephant I've ever seen- just look at that smile!
The happiest elephant I’ve ever seen- just look at that smile!

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And then it was time to leave. Singapore is more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and we didn’t have the money to spend more than two full days there. We had eaten as cheaply as possible in Chinese food courts and had found the cheapest hostel we could. We spent a day riding our bikes around which is free. So we spent as little as we could. Still it was time to go.

Getting out:

Singapore was something of the end of the line for us. We had made it all the way down the peninsula and we still had two weeks of our trip left. Indonesia wasn’t a possibility since Bali’s airport was shut down because a volcano wouldn’t stop spewing ash that was interfering with the airplanes. So we bought plane tickets to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, figuring we could throw together a good 2-week cycling route there before heading back to Bangkok.

Carrying the bike boxes we got back to our hostel.
Carrying the bike boxes we got back to our hostel.

Flying with bicycles was a new thing to both of us. We hadn’t found a bike store in Singapore that could box our bikes in less than a week, and had only found one store that would give us bike boxes to do it ourselves. So for our last night we took over our hostels ground floor to almost entirely take apart our bikes so they could fit into the small bike boxes we had gotten from this store.

Kiri's bike- almost totally disassembled.
Kiri’s bike- almost totally disassembled.

We took handlebars off, kickstand off, rear rack and seat off. We removed the front stem, wheels, tires, and tubes from Kiri’s bike to force it into the smaller of the bike boxes, and even then it was a tight squeeze.

After three hours, covered in grease and sweat, the bikes were boxed, our bags were packed, and we were ready to fly!

Finishing boxing the bikes at 9pm- yes the headlamp was necessary.
Finishing boxing the bikes at 9pm- yes the headlamp was necessary.

Next stop: Cambodia!

Waiting at the Singapore airport with all our boxes!
Waiting at the Singapore airport with all our boxes!

Last Week in Malaysia- Jerantut to Gelang Patah

486.5 kilometers in 5 days of cycling

2,427.8 kilometers so far!!!

Day 35- July 9, 2015- Jerantut to Temerloh

73 km

Just some more truck rolling through the countryside.
Just some more truck rolling through the countryside.

Cycling through the middle of Malaysia was definitely a different experience from cycling along the coast. We were glad we had chosen to leave the coast for our last week in Malaysia. The terrain was a little more varied with some rolling hills and the occasional jungle thrown in there, all surrounded by palm oil forests of course.

The chinese restaurants were also our only chance of finding beer in this country.
The Chinese restaurants were also our only chance of finding beer in this country.

Also now that we were further from the North we were noticing more diversity i.e. Chinese people who would keep their restaurants open all day. All of a sudden we didn’t have to rely on our hotel to give us breakfast and peanut butter and jelly by the side of the road for lunch. These previous staples were replaced by Chinese noodle soups and overly-sweetened tea.

Mike got his fourth flat tire on the same tire in about as many days today. We either weren’t changing them properly or he was getting really unlucky, but something wasn’t right. After some closer inspection we found that his rear tires treads were almost completely worn down. Any debris on the side of the highway could pierce through that, and they were. So we rolled into Temerloh looking for a bicycle shop. So far it had been easy to find bicycle shops in even the smallest towns in Malaysia and Temerloh was no exception. He got a new tire, a new tube, and we found a place to sleep. That tire got no more punctures for the rest of the trip.

 

The "Happy Homestay" we stayed at. And their probably "hopefully" inadvertent shout out to "The Shining"
The “Happy Homestay” we stayed at. And their probably “hopefully” inadvertent shout out to “The Shining”

That night we were taken out to dinner by a Malaysian guy who was studying at a university in London and was just home for the summer break to make some money. He took us to an apparently famous fish restaurant to break our fast, answered a couple of the questions about Malaysian and Muslim culture that we had after cycling here for two weeks. These are the kinds of interactions you get to have when the language barrier isn’t as much of an issue, which it isn’t in Malaysia.

Day 36- July 10, 2015- Temerloh to Bahau

95.5 km

Trucks carrying entire trees past us!
Trucks carrying entire trees past us!

This was one of those days where we had one road we could take, there were no other options that would have helped us avoid this pretty miserable stretch.

Palm oil being carried out of the forests.
Palm oil being carried out of the forests.

We spent the day cycling up and down seemingly endless rolling hills along a road that was made for one purpose – to connect palm oil plantations to the rest of Malaysia. We shared the road with trucks and lorys carrying huge logs and palm oil berries all day. It felt like with every new hill we climbed they just creeped closer and closer to us. It was a long, hot, exhausting day.

Cheesin' with the Malaysian cop who pulled us over for the photo op!
Cheesin’ with the Malaysian cop who pulled us over for the photo op!

The highlight of the day, and probably one of our top 5 highlights of Malaysia, happened around the middle of the day when a police car pulled Mike over, only because they wanted to take a picture with us! We doubt that they see many cyclists come through these parts.

Day 37- July 11, 2015- Bahau to Melakka

100 km

Kiri cycling past a herd of buffalo.
Kiri cycling past a herd of buffalo.

Today was more hills also, but this time they were going in our direction. 100 kilometer days go by much faster when you’re easily cruising downhill into your destination which also happens to be one of the coolest places you have stopped at in Malaysia.

Our last truck picture I promise!
Our last truck picture I promise!

The last 20 km before getting into Melaka were back to large 4 lane highway with lots of traffic. We found that if you just stick with the motorcyclists (are there are lots of them) the cars will respect your space. We rolled in, found a great guest house: Tony’s. It was right in the thick of the historical district and a perfect place to start our weekend off in Melaka!

Day 39 and 39- see SIDE TRIP TO MELAKKA

 

Day 40- July 14, 2015- Melaka to Batu Pahat

110 kilometers

A beautiful backroad that actually looked like it could take us somewhere...it didn't, we had to backtrack for 5k, but still worth it.
A beautiful backroad that actually looked like it could take us somewhere…it didn’t, we had to backtrack for 5k, but still worth it.

Our guest house in Melaka was known for its breakfasts cooked by the owner himself so we weren’t about to skip one of those, which gave us a later start time than we wanted. This day was another flat relatively uneventful day of cycling.

Rambutan trees that were lining road.
Rambutan trees that were lining road.

We cycled past tons of marshes and farmlands that had small paved footpaths winding through them. In the morning we took a couple of these that looked like they were going in direction we wanted them to go in, and so ended up doing an extra 10 kilometers of backtracking when they dropped us off in the middle of nowhere – typical Malaysia. Still today for the first time in Malaysia there were a couple of side roads that kept us off the highway, it was probably because of a higher density of people living along this part of the coast.

Kiri with our free rambutans that we had been gifted from a Malaysian guy on a motorbike.
Kiri with our free rambutans that we had been gifted from a Malaysian guy on a motorbike.

When we were on one of the country highways we got two free bushels of rambutans from a generous stranger on a motorbike. All in all, a really nice day.

Day 41- July 15, 2015- Batu Pahat to Gelang Patah

108 kilometers

A close up of what palm oil looks like straight off the tree.
A close up of what palm oil looks like straight off the tree.

Unlike yesterday this day kept us on the highway the entire trip. It was a long day, we started later than we wanted to, and couldn’t really afford to waste time back tracking on backroads. This last stretch of Malaysia was different than the other parts we had cycled in. We were going through large beautiful suburbs filled with massive houses that connected larger port towns. There was clearly some money down here. After all, we were getting closer and closer to Singapore, and we figured since Singapore is such a small and expensive country it would only make sense for people to live in and commute from cheaper Malaysia.

Another shot of an early-evening market we rolled by and got our first dinner at.
Another shot of an early-evening market we rolled by and got our first dinner at.

We arrived in Gelang Patah around dusk hoping to find some hodgepodge of a city with a few cheap guesthouses. Instead we found a series of new developments that were probably going to be the sprawl of Singapore in the next few years. We almost didn’t have enough money for one of the few hotels in the area and had to bargain to get them to let us share a single room for a slightly reduced price. This cheap bargaining mindset might not have been the one we wanted to enter Singapore with, but hey, what are you gonna do?

Side Trip- Taman Negara

July 6, 7, 8, 2015

DSC05819We left our bicycles at the NKS travel agency in Jerantut and took their one hour shuttle to Kuala Tehan. We had briefly considered cycling the 50 kilometers to the park entrance, but after seeing the steep hills, sharp turns, and massive trucks, we were pretty thankful we had paid the 15 RMs to take a bus.

The road on the way from Jerantut to Teman Negara- even though you're biking to the most amazing jungle you have to go through a scene from the Lorax to get there.
The road on the way from Jerantut to Taman Negara- even though you’re biking to the most amazing jungle you have to go through a scene from the Lorax to get there.

We showed up without any hotel reservation and found the Teresek View Hotel that had air conditioned rooms for 75 RM per night. And after showing up in the late afternoon and carrying our bags up and down the hills in Kuala Tehan we were pretty positive we needed air conditioning. However, the nighttime air in the forest does cool down quite a bit and a room with a good fan probably would have been sufficient too.

Kuala Tehan- after a large storm and flooding in December 2013 a lot of the town ended up getting wiped out and was still being rebuilt when we got there.
Kuala Tehan- after a large storm and flooding in December 2013 a lot of the town ended up getting wiped out and was still being rebuilt when we got there.
The boats that take you across the river for 1 Malaysian Ringgit ($0.3)
The boats that take you across the river for 1 Malaysian Ringgit ($0.3)

The next day we took the 1RM transfer boat from Kuala Tehan across the river to the park headquarters. We bought our park pass which was apparently good for entry to the park any time in the next month. We then hiked in along the manicured boardwalk until we got to the canopy walkway, which was truly amazing (worth the extra 5RM per person). You walk between a series of approximately ten trees in the elevated jungle canopy, it’s really an incredible experience. A few hundred meters of the old canopy walk had been closed because of massive flooding that had come through the park in December 2014, but the section that is still open is wonderful.

A piece of the jungle canopy walk.
A piece of the jungle canopy walk.
Jungle Canopy Walkway
Jungle Canopy Walkway
More of the jungle canopy walkway- easily the coolest part of the trip!!
More of the jungle canopy walkway- easily the coolest part of the trip!!

We then hiked up Bukit Teresek which rewarded us with a great and slightly hazy view of the park from the top. There are two trails that can get you up the hill. One trail- if you are coming from the canopy walk, has boardwalk steps that lead you most of the way up the hill. The other trail which we took down is much more rustic with nothing more than roots and trees and a rope lining the path to get you up and down the mountain.

The somewhat hazy view from the top of Bukit Teresek.
The somewhat hazy view from the top of Bukit Teresek.

That night we did a night jungle trek, which you do have to do with a guide. Our guide made it very clear that we probably wouldn’t be seeing any large wildlife but if we paid attention we would see some very cool insects. There were a lot of other groups doing their night hikes at the same time so the goal of being “silent” to be immersed in the sounds of the jungle was never really achieved. Still it was a pretty cool experience being in that jungle at night.

A walking stick we found on our night trek.
A walking stick we found on our night trek.
The parks resident tapir who comes over to reception every night for fruit.
The parks resident tapir who comes over to reception every night for fruit.

The next day we hiked around in the park in the morning. We mostly retraced our steps from the previous day since there aren’t that many trails you can take with only a couple of hours. I mentioned the flooding from December 2014 that hurt the canopy walk, it also wiped out a couple of the trails that are closer to the park entrance. These still haven’t been restored yet.

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In the afternoon we caught the public bus back to Jerantut. It was only 7RM per person and got us there in an hour. This has to be the cheapest way to get into and out of the park.
After spending a week cycling through industry and palm forest hell it was really refreshing to get a glimpse of what the old Malaysia used to look like- the dense rainforest filled with the lively sounds of the wildlife it’s protecting. I would recommend any traveler in Malaysia take the time to go and I would recommend doing it on your own since it’s an easy place to visit without a tour company.

The "largest grassland in Teman Negara". A little different from the grasslands in Tanzania.
The “largest grassland in Taman Negara”. A little different from the grasslands in Tanzania.

Logistics-
There are tons of places that offer to organize tours and treks through Taman Negara. While these seemed reasonably priced we also knew that we could visit this national park on our own, save some money, and have a totally free itinerary once we got into the park. The only downside to organizing your trip on your own is that you can only go so far into the park without a guide and you really won’t be able to do any multi-day trekking.

You can enter the park via bus (public or private) or you can arrange with a company to take a boat which is more expensive but is supposed to be beautiful.

Accommodation- Kuala Tehan is filled with a range of accommodation from cheap hostels to larger hotels. We didn’t need to make a reservation and there were plenty of rooms available.

Food- along the river there are at least 7 floating restaurants that all serve similar food- rice, noodles, meat, burgers, smoothies. The prices are reasonable and the food is tasty.

Other things to consider- the jungle is full of leeches! We didn’t see any on our first day but after it rained that evening the leeches came out the next day. They don’t hurt they just suck, literally! Other than that the major paths closer to the park entrance are marked with elevated walkways and are easy to navigate.

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Into Central Malaysia: Kuantan to Jerantut

169.1 total kilometers in 2 days of cycling

1,951.3 kilometers so far

Day 29- July 3, 2015- rest day in Kuantan

 

The map of the Kuantan mini zoo.
The map of the Kuantan mini zoo.

Still not convinced we wanted to continue cycling in Malaysia we decided to take a day in Kuantan to figure out what our next move would be. And to visit the mini-zoo and beach.

 

Gibbon island- where the happy gibbons swing in circles at the mini zoo.
Gibbon island- where the happy gibbons swing in circles at the mini zoo.

The Kuantan mini-zoo is an awesome place! They’ve got a couple of great exhibits featuring porcupines and geese and ostriches and an island for gibbons. It’s cute, quiet, and free! Right next to the zoo is some sort of bicycle playground. ‘ series of tiny roads with tiny fake traffic lights and traffic circles that you can zoom around in on your bike. Then we made it over to the beach where they’ve got a couple of restaurants set up and a walkway that takes you around some cliffs over to another beach. It was beautiful and the perfect rest day.

The beach outside of Kuantan.
The beach outside of Kuantan.

To our surprise there were a couple of restaurants that were open in Kuantan. We were able to get breakfast and pick up some sandwiches to take with us to the beach. This was also where we started seeing more Chinese people who seem to be responsible for keeping the non-Muslim population fed during Ramadan.

The bicycle playground next to the mini zoo where you can bike around tiny roads and tiny traffic circles made just for you- NO TRUCKS!
The bicycle playground next to the mini zoo where you can bike around tiny roads and tiny traffic circles made just for you- NO TRUCKS!

We decided that we didn’t want to give up on Malaysia yet, especially after this unexpected gem of a day. We figured that we had hit a bad patch of days through industry and destruction, so Instead of sticking to the east coast all the way through Malaysia we would turn inland in hopes of better fortune. We had been wanting to see the famous rainforest national park Teman Negara, so we decided to cycle there and then head south to the south-western coast of Malaysia. It sounded more promising than the potential the find more of the same painful industry and trucks along the coast.

Day 30- July 4, 2015- Kuantan to Maran

88.5 kilometers

The road cycling out of Kuantan. No shoulder but not a bad place to cycle.
The road cycling out of Kuantan. No shoulder but not a bad place to cycle.

This was our first day cycling inland, which was a much-needed break from the same coastline. Today was back to highway cycling, but the scenery was a bit different – mostly rolling hills either covered with lovely forests or endless miles of palm oil plantations. At first glance these plantations are beautiful they’re this luscious shade of green that carpets the hills. But once you spend days cycling past them and realize its just monoculture that is taking over the landscape it loses all of that appeal.

Mike changing one of his MANY flat tires.
Mike changing one of his MANY flat tires.

Mike got two flat tires today – both on the rear wheel. Combined with a stomach ache, this didn’t seem like the most promising of days. We still didn’t have any good tire patches, just weak useless ones that leaked. Plus we were heading towards a town that we had heard had NO hotels. So it should have made sense for us to stop when we passed a town that had a hotel right next to a tire shop that was 15 kilometers away from our destination, but we pushed on to Maran.

The welcome sign into Maran- welcome signs across Malaysia seemed to include over-sized fruit bowls.
The welcome sign into Maran- welcome signs across Malaysia seemed to include over-sized fruit bowls.

After biking in circles around the town that is actually pretty big, we had confirmed that there was no hotel. As the day turned into evening and the Ramadan bazaars began to bustle, we were not only homeless, but also concerned that anyone running a hotel would soon be joining the crowds to find food. Some shopkeepers had told us that there were chalets to rent, but we just couldn’t seem to figure out where they were talking about. We eventually found a string of chalets next to the Maran Hill Golf Resort, but there was no one around to help us- not too surprising.

The Maran Hill Golf Resort conveniently located at the TOP of the tallest hill in Maran.
The Maran Hill Golf Resort conveniently located at the TOP of the tallest hill in Maran.

Our last hope was to hike up a pretty steep hill towards the unkept and deserted golf course to try to see if anyone was in the one building at the top – obviously not our first choice at the end of the day. But it was our only choice, and although inconveniently located we had to check since this was our last resort before we hung up Mike’s hammock and squeezed into it for the night.

 

The chalet we were so lucky to get in Maran.
The chalet we were so lucky to get in Maran.

Turns out the reception for those chalets everyone was talking about was conveniently located at the top of that hill, and we found ourselves sleeping in the only accommodation available in Maran.

Day 31- July 5, 2015- Maran to Jerantut

80.6 kilometers

Really beautiful downhill cycling through the jungles of central Malaysia.
Really beautiful downhill cycling through the jungles of central Malaysia.

The day started out beautifully. After climbing through some rolling hills the previous day, we got rewarded with a morning of coasting downhill through luscious shady jungle forests and ended up at a beautiful Hindu temple we got off at to explore.

The hindu temple hidden just outside of Maran.
The hindu temple hidden just outside of Maran.

The afternoon wasn’t quite as pleasant as the highway continues through, you guessed it, more palm plantations. It was an uncovered hot afternoon of highway cycling, but we ended up yet again in a beautiful town.

The park where we enjoyed our fast breaking meal in Jerantut.
The park where we enjoyed our fast breaking meal in Jerantut.

 

After collecting some food from the evening bazaar, we found a great park where we enjoyed our Ramadan fast-breaking dinner with the rest of the town. It seemed like we were finally doing something right and figured out how to cycle during Ramadan without being miserable. However, Jerantut was our jumping off point to a big tourist draw in Malaysia, Teman Negara, where Ramadan would no longer be an issue.

The sign posted in our hotel showing the conservative Muslim-appropriate dress code- nothing too "seksi".
The sign posted in our hotel showing the conservative Muslim-appropriate dress code- nothing too “seksi”.

Cycling the North East Malaysian Coast via Route 3- the Highway from Hell

338.2 kilometers in 5 days

1,782.2 kilometers total this trip

Day 24- June 28, 2015- Kuala Besut to Sutra Resort

61.3 kilometers

Resting at a closed restaurant that was nice enough to leave it's hammocks out.
Resting at a closed restaurant that was nice enough to leave it’s hammocks out.

We took the early boat back from the Perhentians and within an hour we were on our bikes riding south. For the first two hours the road was bordered by palm plantations spaced between dead looking, baran land. There was no breeze and it was silent, ugly, and HOT, so we took a much needed rest at a gas station to take advantage of their air conditioning and pick up some snacks. Since it was still Ramadan, and would be for the rest of the time we were cycling in Malaysia, we weren’t going to be able to find lunch at any of the yummy looking but closed cafes on the side of the road.

That restaurant that claimed to be "open". That sign soon got what was coming to it.
That restaurant that claimed to be “open”. That sign soon got what was coming to it.

After another couple hours of cycling, we did find one restaurant right on the beach that had an “open” sign hanging in front of it. False advertising. We were planning on only staying for half an hour to eat our snacks and rest, but a quick moving monsoon ended up trapping us there for three hours as it blew through, changed directions and blew back for a second go-around, then finally stopped. The storm was so strong that it not only effectively ended our chances of going another 40 kilometers in the remaining two hours of sunlight but also broke the false “open sign”.

The pool at the Sutra resort. Because the thing you need when staying on the beach is a pool....
The pool at the Sutra resort. Because the thing you need when staying on the beach is a pool….

We started to realize another difficult thing about Ramadan was going to be finding accommodation. Many towns we rolled through appeared completely closed, maybe for the entire month, which limited our hotel selection. As the sun was setting, we were becoming more desperate to find a place to sleep and ended up seeing signs for some beach side resorts. The first one was stuffy, damp, and infested with mosquitoes and equipped with no mosquito nets. The second one seemed a bit fancier, but it appeared closed since the receptionist had probably gone out to break his fast. After briefly considering squatting in the room he had carelessly left unlocked we moved on to find a legitimate room at a neighboring fancy resort. It was so far outside our price range I don’t even want to go into it. So we chose to focus on the beach side pool and the bottomless buffet. This was truly our last option, and our last resort.

Day 25- July 28, 2015- Sutra Resort to Dungun

129 kilometers

One of the many yummy looking CLOSED markets that welcomed us to Terengganu.
One of the many yummy looking CLOSED markets that welcomed us to Terengganu.

We started our day by stuffing our pockets and bike shorts with leftover bacon and jelly and butter packets from the breakfast buffet where we ate alone. All the Muslim guests had gotten up at 4:15am to eat their fill before the sun rose, so we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves.

Entering the deserted Muslim "edutainment" park in Terengganu.
Entering the deserted Muslim “edutainment” park in Terengganu.

We spent our morning riding around town looking for a place that could help us patch our tires that had punctures. Up to this point we had only had two flats which were easy to fix in Thailand. Any guy who has a tire shop was willing to fix it. But in this town, and seemingly the rest of Malaysia, the mechanics complained they didn’t have the correct patch for a bicycle tire. After a couple hours we had found a bike store and bought a really cheap (and ineffective) patch kit.

The Crystal Mosque in the "edutainment park". Also closed but still very cool from the outside.
The Crystal Mosque in the “edutainment park”. Also closed but still very cool from the outside.

By midday we had made it to Kuala Terranganu- a large town that is probably happening when it’s not Ramadan. There is a large Muslim “edutainment” park there we had read about and seen as we crossed the long bridge into the town. It features a giant crystal mosque and a park with miniature models of famous mosques from around the world. We figured that if anything were going to be open during Ramadan, this was surly it. Wrong. We got climpse of the model mosques through a locked gate and wandered around outside the crystal mosque before giving up and heading back to town which also seemed abandoned.

The story of our day getting through a Ramadan-closed Terengganu.
The story of our day getting through a Ramadan-closed Terengganu.

We were still 80 kilometers away from our destination, it was already 2:00pm, and the sun was starting to come out. But after spending a morning getting disappointed by closed mosques and restaurants we had no desire to stay in this town that Ramadan had also closed, so we put on some more sunscreen and set off down the road. Even though we made great time down the highway for the rest of the day, the lack of food, slight dehydration, and the fact that Kiri was coming down with a cold, made these 80 kilometers completely exhausting.

This bright sign welcoming us to Dungun was about the most exciting thing we saw in that town the whole night.
This bright sign welcoming us to Dungun was about the most exciting thing we saw in that town the whole night.

As the sun was setting, the roads completely emptied out as everyone in the town was probably getting ready to eat. We were hungry and tired too and the thought of missing any food that night was a daunting one, so we picked up whatever was available as we rolled into the quiet, empty town of Dungun. By the time that we arrived at the hotel we had booked the night before, we found that it was temporarily closed because people were out eating – which is what we should have been doing too. For the second night in a row we were forced to stay at a hotel that was overpriced but was the only one open. We ate the cold rice and chicken we had picked up on the side of the road and collapsed on the bed. Ramadan had won that day.

Day 26- June 30, 2015- Dungun to Kerteh

43.3 kilometers

Mike eating our "Ramadan breakfast"- yogurt and cup of noodles from 7/11.
Mike eating our “Ramadan breakfast”- yogurt and cup of noodles from 7/11.

At this point we had learned a couple of lessons from Ramadan. First you need to have substantial snacks on you at all times because you should not expect breakfast or lunch anywhere. Cup of noodles and yogurt cups from 7/11 worked also. Second- you have to show up at your hotel by 6:00pm otherwise everyone working there will have left to start gathering their fast-breaking meal.
We were still exhausted this morning and Kiri’s cold had kicked into full gear with the stuffed up head ache sore throat symptoms. Still we wanted to go somewhere else that day.

A truck graveyard, where all the trucks in Malaysia  should be, in our humble opinion.
A truck graveyard, where all the trucks in Malaysia should be, in our humble opinion.

This is the point where we stopped struggling because of Ramadan and started struggling because our route was bringing us down the most miserable stretch of road that exists in north-eastern Malaysia:
We spent thirty minutes cycling past a massive power plant right next to the ocean- one of the biggest power plants in Malaysia. Before and after this power plant we were also surrounded by other industry- factories, large lorries rumbling past, etc. It was ugly, destructive, and potentially unsafe.

Getting big macs and mcflurries and proud of it!
Getting big macs and mcflurries and proud of it!

Hungry and tired we rolled up to a McDonalds around 3:30pm- way earlier than any other restauraunt would be open- and to our delighted surprise it was open! There we feasted on the best big macs and french fries we’ve ever had. They tasted exactly like they do in the U.S….suspicious…? However small, this felt like a much needed victory over Ramadan.

Day 27- July 1, 2015- Kerteh to Chukai

36 kilometers

One of the many trucks that got WAY too close during this stretch!
One of the many trucks that got WAY too close during this stretch!

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain pattering down on our patio. It rained all morning, so we decided to scrap our plan of a 100+ km ride to Kuantan and instead stayed holed up in our hotel room/apartment unit. Kiri still wasn’t feeling great, even after Mike made us some home-made noodle and egg soup in the electric kettle in our room.

The empty streets of Chukai at dusk. Everyone has abandoned their posts to find food!
The empty streets of Chukai at dusk. Everyone has abandoned their posts to find food!

The ride today was just more of the same. Same highway. Same ugly industry. We started to see a ton of mining here as well- mountaintops that had been stripped and trucks rumbling back and forth to carry those goods to port.

So you can blame the sickness for our slow moving efforts, or the lack of food, or the ugly, uninspiring scenery. Either way we were definitely taking our time through the ugliest stretch we had biked so far.

Day 28- July 2,2015- Chukai to Kuantan

68.6 kilometers

Another massive tanker whizzing past Mike.
Another massive tanker whizzing past Mike.

From the start of today we had trucks and lorrys rumbling past us as we hugged the narrow shoulder on this road. As the day went on these just got worse, we couldn’t even find a decent place to pull over to make a peanut butter and jelly.

That large ugly dusty junction.
That large ugly dusty junction.

Eventually we hit a large dusty junction where there were just trucks as far as the eye could see. This was the end of the line, we had arrived at some hellish nightmare of a junction where trucks and lorries will spend the rest of their days trucking large mounds of dirt and minerals – and we had to bike through it all. We went the direction that looked less miserable which still took us riding along a million trucks up a hill that was getting mined away.

Just another truck this time rolling past Kiri.
Just another truck this time rolling past Kiri.

The thing about the trucks is they’re huge, especially next to our bicycles. When they fly by us the after-breeze shakes the bikes and they dump a mound of dust all over you. They’re loud- you can hear them coming from a mile away but they still feel the need to honk really loud as they can as they blow past you. They’re ugly- they carry rocks or trees or minerals and are a hideous reminder of the man-made destruction that comes along with industry and development.

Just trucks as far as the eye can see!
Just trucks as far as the eye can see!

The one part about cycling this stretch that made us feel better was pretty simple. Just before we hit the highway from hell truck junction we saw a family of four biking the opposite direction. Although they gave us no warning signs or indication of what we were heading towards, their stern faces and dusty bikes should have given it away – we just thought that Ramadan had gotten the best of them. To us, this is all that it took. It was enough to let us know that we wern’t the only ones who thought that cycling this stretch of Malaysia would be a good idea.

The stripped mountain tops right outside of that junction.
The stripped mountain tops right outside of that junction.

This day was the climax of all the pretty miserable days of cycling down this highway, it was literally the highway from hell. We had spent three days biking through a countryside that had been manipulated, overused, abused, and destroyed. We were cycling through an area that used to be lush jungles and gorgeous coastline but the massive industry that had found it’s way into Malaysia in the last ten to twenty years had destroyed it. While this industry has certainly been a contributing factor to the rapidly growing economy in Malaysia, we did not expect that we would be biking right through it all. None of the blogs or stories that we read before this stretch made it sound as miserable as it truly was, so the unexpectedness of what we were to bike though made it even more unpleasant. Still, as we rolled into Kuantan we were genuinely questioning if we wanted to continue cycling through this devastating landscape in Malaysia or if we wanted to throw our bikes on a bus and get to Singapore as quickly as possible.

Sorry just one more truck picture!
Sorry just one more truck picture!
The massive nightly Ramadan bazaar right below this majestic mosque in Kuantan.
The massive nightly Ramadan bazaar right below this majestic mosque in Kuantan.

Still even up to this point we had not had a single day where there wasn’t at least on redeeming or enjoyable event from that day. Whether that was getting to nap at an abandoned seaside restaurant or eating a real meal at McDonalds or a great view from a national park we had stupidly walked into, there hadn’t been one day that was irredeemable. And today was no exception. Kuantan has a massive night bazaar at the base of a beautiful mosque that comes to life in the evening during Ramadan. Inside are people selling wonderful homemade Malaysian delicacies like grilled lamb and chicken and rice and thin pancakes stuffed with chicken and vegetables. All of this comes with some of the most amazing sauces you’ve ever had – curry, peanut, spicy, you name it. As we were very hungry from the long day of cycling, we bought enough food to feed a family and found a spot on the adjoining lawn next to the lit-up mosque where we sat with the rest of the families at this massive fast-breaking picnic and watched our food until the clock struck 7:30pm.

The fast-breaking picnic in Kuantan. This was easily the highlight of the day!
The fast-breaking picnic in Kuantan. This was easily the highlight of the day!

Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands

62 kilometers cycled

(7 kilometers paddled)

Total Kilometers so far: 1,444

Day 20- June 24, 2015- Day off in Kota Bharu

The oldest mosque in Kota Bharu
The oldest mosque in Kota Bharu

Walking around the streets of Kota Bharu the next morning confirmed our presumption that Ramadan was a bigger deal than either of us had expected. We thought that finding a coffee shop and some breakfast in the provincial capital would be a simple task, but to our dismay we found all of the streets empty and the shops closed. We were lucky to find a Chinese man who made us some soup, but it just somehow wasn’t satisfying.

The Central Bazaar in Kota Bahru- note the many closed shops in the upstairs region
The Central Bazaar in Kota Bahru- note the many closed shops in the upstairs region

In the town center we found the semi-lively (half the stalls were closed) central bazaar that was a joyride for all of the senses – with the exception of taste. The aroma of sweet spices and seafood filled the market air as the women shuffled though the fruits and vegetables and the men chopped raw meat. Although we didn’t find any roasted goat or flattened bread as we had hoped, it was still a fun experience to see how the locals prepared for their evening feasts.

Looking down the wrong way of a one way street in Kota Bharu.
Looking down the wrong way of a one way street in Kota Bharu.

Later in the day we found a restaurant owned and run by a Syrian man who had moved to Malaysia to make pita sandwiches for hungry tourists like ourselves. He probably had a few other reasons for moving here.

Day 21- June 25, 2015- Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut to Perhentian Islands

62 kilometers

An incredibly confusing sign we saw daily in Malaysia. Still not totally sure what it's warning us about..
An incredibly confusing sign we saw daily in Malaysia. Still not totally sure what it’s warning us about..

Today was our day to test out the limits of the Malaysian back road network. We had read that this network was pretty limited and that we should be prepared to spend most of our time here on the highways. But we had a short day of cycling so we allowed ourselves to try smaller side roads and paths that looked promising that we had seen the night before on Google Maps. Many of them didn’t work out and we found ourselves always back tracking to the highway. One gave us a nice private bike path that took us through a thick forest for a few kilometers, another led us to a deserted white sandy beach where we took an hour snack break/swim, and the last attempt was a dead-end forcing us to walk our bikes across a weedy field to get to the road we wanted to be on.

We arrived in Kuala Besut around 4:00pm. We were planning on going to the Perhentian islands for a few days and figured that we would have to spend the night in town before we could find a boat to take us there. Instead we found a travel agency (Seven Seas) that had a boat leaving in 30 minutes so we found ourselves unpacking and repacking our bags on their floor and hastily jumping onto their boat still in our sweaty salty bike clothes. They were also accommodating with the bicycles and allowed us to store them in their shop until we came back from the islands.

July 26 and 27- Perhentian Island Side Trip:

Arriving at Coral Bay in the late afternoon
Arriving at Coral Bay in the late afternoon

We jumped on a boat from Kuala Besut only 30 minutes after arriving in the small town that is the launching point for all trips to the two small yet beautiful Perhentian Islands. We hadn’t made reservations at any hotel or guesthouse so when the boats driver asked us where we were going we kind of stared blankly at him. He probably understood that look and gave us a choice “big island or small island”. Small. And then we named one of the many beaches at random- Coral Bay- where Kiri had read there were many budget options.

We arrived in the early evening, took of our shoes, shouldered our panniers, and set off across the beach to find a place to sleep. We ended up finding Mayas where we got a good priced “chalet” (bare bones wood cabin) with a fan and a mosquito net so we were thrilled.

Sunset on the island!
Sunset on the island!

Now that we were settled in at a beautiful tropical beach, we tried to go swimming only to find that the sea floor around this beach was carpeted with dead coral and squishy sea cucumbers – hence it’s name “Coral Bay”. We walked lightly trying not to stub our toes or squish a cucumber, Mike got bit by a fish, and after walking away from the shore for a few minutes the water was still only up to our knees. We may not have picked the most swimmable beach of them all, but the sunset was still beautiful.

The mosquitoes here all seem to be dosed up on some special mosquito steroid because they were massive and everywhere. When you sleep you can either marinate in your sweaty closed room and mosquito net and only get bit a little bit or you can try to sleep in a hammock outside and get eaten alive. We chose the mosquito net.

Kiri loving getting paddled around!
Kiri loving getting paddled around!

The next day we woke up and ate breakfast- something we didn’t think we’d be enjoying during Ramadan. Turns out you can avoid Ramadan by going to any of the big tourist spots! We rented a kayak from our guesthouse and paddled to the northern tip of the island, stopping off at small relatively abandoned beaches along the way to swim or nap or just sit in the water and cool off.

The day after we did the classic Perhentian full day 6-stop snorkeling trip for only $10 each! We saw reef sharks and a single sea turtle and schools of fish and even real clown fish living in real anemones just like Nemo!

When we arrived we heard about a woman who had shown up at the guest house and had stayed for three months. A woman we met there had been there for two weeks already and had no intention of leaving. So this place obviously has the power to suck you into the crystal clear water with the rest of the scuba divers and snorklers. But we resisted, as we had two bikes waiting for us on the mainland!

Costs

  • DCIM100GOPRO
    DCIM100GOPRO

    Boat ride from Kuala Besut- 70rm each (round trip ticket)

  • Room- 55rm per night at Maya’s Guest House
  • Meals- ranged from 40rm-60rm for two people
  • Kayaking- 20rm for a full day rental from Mayas
  • Snorkling- 30rm each for a full day 6-stop trip

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO
Fishy feeding frenzy

DCIM100GOPRO

Deep Southern Thailand- Songkhla to the Tak Bai border (Thailand) into Kota Baru, Malaysia

(once again this map doesn’t show our exact route since google maps can’t be that precise. There were tons of unmarked back roads through this section and they were incredibly enjoyable!)

Distance– 287 kilometers

TOTAL distance of the trip 1,372 kilometers

# of flat tires still only 1 this entire trip (….annnnnd we just jinxed it)

The “deep south” of Thailand is quite a bit different from the areas that we have traveled thus far. For starters it is a more politically charged region. There are a couple of separatist groups that want various degrees of autonomy from the Thai government and law. Over the years this region has seen its share of conflict amongst the Thai authorities and the mostly Muslim population. There have been attacks across the region to create chaos and make it difficult for the Thai authorities to control the region, but these attacks haven’t been targeted at tourists. Still the presence of military tanks and regular police checkpoints gave this area a different vibe than anywhere else we had traveled through in Thailand. In fairness many of these checkpoints were unmanned painted blockades made of old logs.
All of the people that we met along the way were very friendly and very curious about our journey. They were excited to see foreigners traveling to this part of Thailand. Even those who spoke no English were able to express their amusement with our trip. We even got to take part in a couple of photo shoots with women working at our hotels who all  on us wearing our helmets and standing with our bikes  for the full effect.

They're all matching! Mikes photo shoot with the women working at our hotel in Yala.
They’re all matching! Mikes photo shoot with the women working at our hotel in Yala.

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Day 16- June 20, 2015- Songkhla to Sakom

Distance: 49.3 km

Since the real bridge was out we got to use this alternative route instead.
Since the real bridge was out we got to use this alternative route instead.

We woke up this morning to heavy rain storms, which was a great reason to extend our rest day for a few more hours. By the time the storms cleared up it was nearly noon, so we got some delicious sandwiches from a shop as we headed out of town. The ride was unremarkable and uneventful – flat and hot. The sandwiches were the most remarkable thing about this day actually! We knew that we were not going to be able to make it to our intended destination because of the late start, so we started to look for hotels on the side of the highway.
During this ride we started to notice that many of the road signs were now marked with another language in addition to Thai characters and the rough English translation we were now seeing Arabic on many signs.

The welcome sign at Leela Resort- seemed pretty self explanatory
The welcome sign at Leela Resort- seemed pretty self explanatory

We ended up staying at a Muslim resort that was not only welcoming and comfortable but also quite conservative, another reminder that we had entered a new region of Thailand. Our room was discounted because of the Ramadan holiday, which coincidentally started on the day that we started cycling in a Muslim region (more to come on this in Malaysia but suffice it to say that we will be spending ALL of Ramadan cycling in Muslim areas). We shared the empty beach with a lost herd of cows that afternoon as we enjoyed one of our first days on the beach.

Day 17- June 21, 2015- Sakom to Yala

Distance: 83.7 km

One of the first roadside tanks we saw outside of Yala
One of the first roadside tanks we saw outside of Yala

Today we made a game-time decision to change our route and head inland for a bit towards the land-locked province of Yala. Coming off of the large highways we were able to stay on back roads almost the entire day. These roads wound over and around farmlands and past the bases of some beautiful hills. The best part was we didn’t have to share them with any other vehicles for most of the day.
We chose one of the first decent looking hotels when we reachedYala. As we began to do some long-overdue maintenance on the bikes, we came across our first big technical challenge of the trip – one of the spokes on Mike’s rear tires had broken!

Finding the broken spoke in Yala
Finding the broken spoke in Yala

We knew that this was an issue that had to be fixed before going on any further. However that evening as we read the recent news in Yala and learned of explosions that had been going off last month in the town we were a little wary of venturing around the town to fix it.

But as we had said before, these smaller attacks weren’t new to the region, we knew what we were getting into, and across the board our experience in the region had been positive. In general world news tends to focus on the negative and scarier aspects of a region, and those stories end up overshadowing the many bright points of a place and the people who live there. That’s not to say one shouldn’t be wary of these reports, as we obviously were. It is to make a point that if you go into a place with a sound knowledge of the recent events, and the underlying tensions with the understanding that events like these are out of your control and shouldn’t control your actions (and don’t stay in the sketchy areas of the city) you could end up coming out with some really wonderful experiences.

Day 18- June 22, 2015- Yala to Narathiwat

Distance: 79.8

A view of downtown Yala from the hotel room
A view of downtown Yala from the hotel room

We identified some good cycle stores in Yala that would hopefully be able to fix Mike’s broken spoke so that we could get back on the road today. Mike rode Kiri’s bike around town with his wheel looking for cycle shops. He passed by people casually opening up their shops as pickup trucks carrying armed policemen whizzed by. Although most of the cycle shops weren’t open at 9 am, he was able to find one later in the morning – and the mechanic did a great job fixing the spoke! Turns out that absolutely no English is needed to get such a job done, cyclists all over the world are always willing to help out.

Our hotel for the night. When we checked in we were asked how many hours we wanted the room for.
Our hotel for the night. When we checked in we were asked how many hours we wanted the room for.

Once this was fixed we were eager and ready to get on the road so even though it was noon we loaded up the bikes, took some pictures with the excited hotel staff, and cranked out 80 km in the afternoon! The ride was scattered with some gentle hills but was absolutely beautiful, minus the military compound that was directly outside of Narathiwat. For our last night in Thailand we stayed in one of the Thai “24 hour” hotels that was on the outskirts of town – clean and cheap!

Day 19- June 23, 2015- Narathiwat to Kota Bharu

Distance 74.4

Our last breakfast in Thailand was yogurt, peanuts, and a pastry on the side of the road- in honor of Ramadan.
Our last breakfast in Thailand was yogurt, peanuts, and a pastry on the side of the road- in honor of Ramadan.

Our last day in Thailand was filled with mixed emotions. We were sad to leave a place that had been so hospitable, friendly, and even forgiving in the most difficult of situations (rainstorms, broken spokes, etc). Regardless, we were excited to experience a new country. The ride to the border brought us through a series of police checkpoints along a highway and was pretty unremarkable, as we were pretty used to seeing these by now. The border town of Tak Bai seemed pretty interesting and we stopped for our last Thai iced coffee😦

The border at Tak Bai was not only extremely easy and straightforward, but was also lots of fun! But when you get to take a ferry to cross a border and don’t have to pay anything to enter a country, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a great experience.

Exiting Thailand for the first part of what we agreed was the easiest border crossing we've done.
Exiting Thailand for the first part of what we agreed was the easiest border crossing we’ve done.
The ferry border crossing that connects Thailand and Malaysia
The ferry border crossing that connects Thailand and Malaysia
Enjoying the ferry ride
Enjoying the ferry ride
The big buddha statue about 10k in from the Thai-Malaysia border
The big buddha statue about 10k in from the Thai-Malaysia border

During our ride to Kota Baru we found ourselves passing more buddhist temples than we had seen in our last three days in Thailand, which we hadn’t really expected since, you know, Malaysia is known for being a pretty highly Muslim country.

Later that evening once we had arrived in the conservative Muslim city of Kota Baru we found ourselves at a night bazaar that, despite the different food, looked suspiciously like the night markets in Thailand. Starving from a long day of cycling where we hadn’t been able to find too much food we bought all the new treats we could find-  murtabak (a malaysian stuffed pancake), fried noodles, blended drinks, grilled fish, stuffed squid- all ours for the buying! But unlike in Thailand, people just seemed to be sitting down and staring at their food. So we settled in and joined them in the countdown to sundown when this Ramadan fast-breaking session could finally begin. No we certainly weren’t in Thailand anymore.

Some Malaysian treats at the Bazaar
Some Malaysian treats at the Bazaar
Counting down the minutes until we can break the fast
Counting down the minutes until we can break the fast

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By bikes, boots, or buses- how did we get here?