Saturday, February 04, 2017

I HEART Malaysia

Another year, another enjoyable bike trip to Malaysia, this time to the Peninsula. Click on Read more below for the parade of pictures...

It began at the Kuala Lumpur airport, of course. Arrived on the 4:20 flight and rode out of the airport on a bike. Don't do that! The road system is insane. Had to walk the bike over a couple of median strips to get where I wanted to go, at night, across highways. Just take a taxi out.

That was my introduction to Malaysia's roads, which are poorly marked and easy to get lost on.

The road to Malacca was 120 kms from the airport... but because of getting lost several times, it ended up being a long day, 145 kms with plenty of low hills. The milestones like this one are often hilarious, counting down 63, 62, 61... then the next one says 56, and two stones later, it's back to 70 kms to your destination.

Until Port Dickson on the coast, the road was a palm oil plantation hellscape. Here and there some native trees remained, and they were filled with life, including beautiful hunting birds.

Rain... it rained almost every day, unusual weather for this time of year. It should have been hot and dry, but instead it was cool and wet. In some ways it was good, but every afternoon you arrived at your destination in the rain.

Port Dickson.

I thought about getting a hair tattoo, but I lack hair...

Food in Malaysia is cheap and tasty. Lots of spicy flavors. This was about 5 ringgit. In fact food became the reason for the trip, since I did not find the cycling pleasant at all.

Lots of rivers, all brown with mud.

Stopping at a snack stand. "It's so hot," one of them said to me. "How can you ride a bike?"

Switched to a smaller, more rural road after Port Dickson.

Malacca. Finally. After getting seriously lost twice, and waiting out a cold rain with a strong wind.

The Old Statehouse built by the Dutch at the center of their fort. The walls are gone, but the interior buildings were used by the British when they came in after demolishing the fort.

Tons of Chinese tourists.

Across from the fort area is Chinatown, a minute's walk.

The riverfront was nice, but there is a hideous Hard Rock cafe right there.


Lots of winding alleys, and some interesting graffiti and paintings on the walls...

Chinatown was pretty dull, actually, since I live in one in Taiwan. But the abundance of historical buildings highlighted how Taiwan has failed to preserve and exploit its legacy of historical sites, instead producing hordes of identical kitsch "Old Streets" selling the same foods and souvenirs.

Friendly Malaysians.

Bought some mango ice. Hmmm, I thought. These mangoes taste funny. So I turned to the shop owner and queried her in Chinese: "Did you use canned mangoes for this? Because they are better fresh." She looked down at her feet, and then gave me a sickly smile. "Actually, those are peaches."

Toured the museum. The really interesting thing was its politics: this massive display effusively lauding the initial Malaysia-China meetings over forty years ago, showing China's enormous political influence.

On the other side of the river, the shops rest on the foundation of the old fort wall.

The next day it was off to Tambin to take the train over to Ipoh. Breakfast consisted of delicious snacks. The puffs I ate were filled with curried sweet potato.

The sign clearly indicates that female infants should not be thrown from cars.

Took the train to KL Sentral. Unfortunately Malaysia appears to have several train companies, and the ones running out of KL Sentral wouldn't let me put a bike on the train, even if I offered to buy seats for it. Once again Taiwan's failure to advertise its superior and more flexible bike arrangements (and attitude) is costing it.

The bus station was kilometers away, and it was getting towards evening. Taxied to Ipoh, then the next day rolled out of Ipoh to Taiping. This area of Malaysia is filled with karst topography, producing lovely hills. But as you can see, on all the roads I rode on, the traffic was insane. Although Malaysia is pretty, and the people and food are wonderful, the cycling was unpleasant because of the vehicle density, even though drivers were very courteous.

Many of the hills have temples in/on/under them, like this Hindu temple nestled there.

Got lost often on the confusing and poorly signed road network, so I often stopped at junctions and bridges to see where I was.

Lovely countryside, but as the clouds portend, rain was on the way.

Reached Taiping on this pleasant little road just as the rain was arriving.

Georgetown roads. The next day I headed out of Taiping, arriving in Penang and Georgetown in the evening again, just as the rain was falling.

As I reached Butterworth, where the ferry port is, I turned onto the E36, which is a toll bridge. I poured on the charm, but the police officer sternly refused to let me pass. So I moved to plan B, which was flagging down a truck, but the officer was ahead of me, and had already waved one over. The driver turned out to be of Chinese descent, from Fujian, and spoke Mandarin and Minnan. We had a grand old time chatting away in a mix of languages, and he took me around on some of his deliveries, so I got to see a rare side of Malaysia. Then he put me off on the main road to Georgetown and refused to take any money. Wonderful guy. The reason he wouldn't take me to Georgetown was the awful traffic, which I soon ran into.

I ended up staying in Little India, which was wonderful.

Snacks everywhere.

What could be better than pooris for breakfast? I had them every day, sometimes twice.

Malaysia preserved the British colonial buildings, unlike Taiwan, where the KMT destroyed as much of the Japanese presence as it dared. What it didn't finish, developers did. Georgetown is filled with beautiful colonial structures, which are still used.

I went down to the ferry port to photo the sunrise. At this time of year the sun doesn't come up until after 7.

Then it was landmark photography time, with the clock tower and the low profile of Fort Cornwallis behind it.

Next to Little India is Chinatown. A culinary dream world, Georgetown is...

So I went back and got another breakfast. Walking around is hard work, ya know.

Making dosa.

The next morning it was off on the ferry to Butterworth, where I got the bus to Ipoh. I purchased an extra ticket and put the bike on the seat next to me. Since it was a front seat, it was no problem. The driver was unhappy, but accepted it.

The morning ferry to Penang passes us.

I stayed at the Hotel Bajet One. As you can see, my hotel is on the right, while on the left is a mosque. At 5:45 am each morning the call to prayer blared in my ears.

One of my students is from Ipoh, and she and her family took me out for a feast morning and evening. Here we are at a famous old restaurant. The utensils and cups and bowls are served in a basin of steaming water, so you can sterilize them. My student's mother, shown here, was super cute, full of fun and energy.

Noodles served in a kind of broth, with poached eggs around them.

The wonton soup was amazing.

All sorts of delights.

The next day it was dim sum. That was pretty tough, so I had to retire to a cafe in the afternoon for brownies and ice cream, followed by coffee and beer, to recover.

My wonderful cyclist friend Agnes, who is also from Ipoh, dropped off these delicious animal crackers, which had been given a name upgrade.

I headed out for Kuala Lumpur after three days of feasting in Ipoh, a town I really came to like. It's built to a human scale, and the food is great. Here a Chinese temple nestles under a hill.

I took the 1 all the way to Kuala Lumpur. The section between Ipoh and Tapah is quite pleasant in places, but the traffic was nonstop. I recommend earplugs.

The pleasant section is forested and shady. If you like, you can stay at the D'Hobbit Chalet here.

Finally found a fruit stall outside Bidor.

The road here was crowded but ok.

Stayed in Tanjung Malim, in a Muslim-run hotel. Same day that that the Trump Administration fired the first broadside of the War on Muslims. The woman at the desk gave me a smile and a discount, like all the Muslim Malays I met, she was super nice. After 120 kms, I was ready for a break.

In this hotel you had to put the key into a lock set in the wall to start the electricity. LOL.

Next day I headed out to finish the last 80 kms to Kuala Lumpur. Breakfast = roti.

Heading into Kuala Lumpur.

Another lovely Hindu temple.

Had to stop for second breakfast of rotis and curry.

After Rawang the road turned into an expressway. Kuala Lumpur's road network is a spaghetti of unrelated expressways and roads that curve back on themselves or sprawl into one-way nightmares, and are poorly signed and marked -- clearly designed by the love child of Robert Moses and Salvador Dali.

I had agreed to meet Robert Scott Kelly, the veteran travel writer and longtime Taiwan resident, at Batu Caves. Despite being on the same island for years, we had never actually met, and I was looking forward to staying at his place for a couple of days. The site is a Hindu temple to Lord Murugan. The site itself is interesting, but the crowds are a must-see.

It was packed....

Selling textiles outside the train station.

Robert is awesome company, traveled, wise, experienced, well read. He took me out for mango juice, naan, and satay.

Can't beat satay.

Making the naan.

The next day we headed up to Selambang. The area is littered with standing stones, and the Malays have preserved many of them by turning them into cemetaries.

Ducks roasting.

The houses in the area were built by a group of people who came over from Indonesia long ago, and have a different style.

We stopped by the Sultan's palace, made of wood. It was under renovation so we couldn't go in.

The palace.

The countryside was lovely.

We went off a small road to look at houses. Of course there were bugs about...

Houses in Malaysia are generally better looking and more individual than the concrete boxes Taiwan churns out.

I photographed lots of houses on this trip. Taiwan could have this, if the government wasn't owned by the concrete companies.

Houses of wood, on stilts.

Also stopped by an abandoned mosque.

On the way back to KL, we stopped at another site of standing stones.

Then it was into town with the family for dessert and dinner.

Cendol: coconut milk, ice, sweets.

Some solid Chinese food, including a delicious curried chicken dish.

The cook, hard at work.

My last full day we toured the old area of Kuala Lumpur. Here we inspect a Chinese temple with some amazing figurines.

The highly detailed and unique pottery figures are unglazed.

We went to the Central Market, the tourist market, to ogle and paw the goods. Here a shopkeeper serenades Robert with songs of the 60s.

We headed out to the old colonial area with its classic colonial architecture.

Yep. I love KL.

This grassy plot, once a cricket field in the British colonial era, was where independence was declared.

Yep, I love KL

It was a wonderful trip, with the highlight being meeting Robert's cat, earth's largest.

I'm definitely going back to Peninsular Malaysia, but probably not taking the bike. Too often it was merely bulky and awkward luggage. The roads I chose were largely unpleasant. Sadly, it was too rainy to do the mountains. But the food was amazing, and the Malaysian people are wonderful.
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1 comment:

Matt Stone said...

Some great pics, and I'm getting hungry.
Georgetown / Penang is one of the world's great treasures.
Although I confess to being somewhat of a fan of concrete (when well-applied), and am captivated by some of the modernist architecture in Malaysia, such as certain skyscrapers in KL.
If you get the chance, next time in KL, visit Masjid Negara, the National Mosque. I think it was designed in the early 1960s, and is mostly very non-traditional. A masterpiece of angular modernism.