Tag Archives: cycling malaysia

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.

DSC06235

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!

DSC06280

 

 

 

 

IMG_0732

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!

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!