From the sea to the tea

The small boat which we took to leave Thailand arrives slowly at the pier in Malaysia. The harbor is full with fishing boats that are unloading their freshly caught fishes.

We carry our bags onto the pier and park the bicycles under the watchful eyes of a customs officer. It’s easy to get our passports stamped and with a 3 moths visa we’re ready to go. Before we start cycling in Malaysia we have a nice chat with one of the officers who gave us the stamps. He tells us that his country is safe and hospitably. “We don’t have terrorists and bombings. There are no shootings; we even don’t shoot the Dutch!”

With this in mind we say goodbye and start cycling with a stop at the bank to collect a new currency: the Ringgit. We eat Nasi Goreng near the sea and overloaded with rice and Malay Pepsi we enjoy our first kilometers. The roads are flat and it feels like cycling in the Netherlands because of all the canals here. Instead of churches we see mosques and instead of windmills there are rows of palm trees. The population is a big mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and a couple more. Everybody is wearing their own traditional clothes which makes it a colorful street scene. Malaysia is an Islamic country so we informed at the border crossing if it is ok for Marlous to wear shorts. Thanks to the mixed society it is not a problem.

In Alor Setar we settle into a nice hostel next to a nightmarket. Here we buy and try some nice and new things for dinner. Here it’s a mixture as well of Malay Sate, Chinese and Indian food. Due to the time difference of an houre between Thailand an Malaysia we can enjoy the daylight a bit longer in the evening. We have to get used to this because we had our dinner while it was dark for so long. The next days we ride only 65 km, so we can explore the cities a bit. In comparison with Thailand we like the people here very much. Everybody is very friendly and we are welcomed with big smiles. English is spoken well which is a nice surprise for us. We notice we can have longer conversations with the people. Instead of being polite to each other we can really communicate here. The questions people ask have content and we receive answers when we ask something.

Georgetown is situated on the island Penang just before the west coast. There is a big bridge which connects the island with the main land. We take one of the many ferries and settle ourselves between all the motor bikes. I am very tired of the last days of cycling and I am looking forward to some relaxed days. And the moment we cycle through the small streets of Georgetown I am sure we can relax here. Marlous finds a nice guesthouse between the colonial buildings of the city and soon we talk with the Dutch Ilse. Together with her husband Maarten she came overland by motorbike. Soon we find out we have had contact before in Kathmandu but we never met, which makes this a special meeting. At the site you can read about this couple. Besides Maarten and Ilse there are two other overland motorbikers. Adam and Danny are making a trip around the world.

The next days we have dinner together and we talk about the nice things we all encountered during our travels. Marlous and I are using these days to make up our mind about how to travel further. Half of July my sister and her boyfriend will arrive in Darwin, Australia to cycle with us for 5 weeks. Our first plan was to cycle through Indonesia and to take a boat to Australia. Unfortunately there are no boats and the only way to get Down Under is to take a plane. We have become very curios to see more of Malaysia and after a few days of doubting we decide to go to Borneo for the next two months. After cycling trough Sabah and Sarawak we will return to the mainland of Malaysia and head for Singapore. From here we will fly to Darwin. Besides changing our plans we spend our days in Georgetown exploring the small streets, reading and relaxing.

A day after all the motor bikers have left town we start cycling again on our way to the coolness of the Cameron Highlands. To reach the highlands we cycle a beautiful way through a green jungle where we expect to see urang utans any minute. It’s one big garden here and we enjoy the nature a lot. After two days of cycling we arrive at Kellie’s Castle. This building is built by a Scottish man in the past. Unfortunately the man passed away before finishing the castle and no one ever finished it. The castle is a tourist place at the moment owned by the goverment. We ask the owner if we can put up our tent for the night. The owner likes the idea and we can use the toilets and we will be guarded during the night. We pitch our tent near the river. Everybody tells us to keep an eye on the water level, because it can rise very quickly. At 23.00 pm we are sleeping in our tent, when I hear someone shout.

The following happens:
Man: “Johny!!!!! Hey Johny!!!!!! What are you doing Johny!?!?!?!?” I look through the musquito net and there is a man standing in front of a car. “I’m sleeping!!” I yell.
Man: “Why? It’s early”
Me: “I’m tired!!!!”
Man: “Oh? Are you fishing Johny?!?”
Me: “Uh…… No sorry!”
Man: “Johny?!? You know who I am?” He shows his face and I recognize the owner of the castle. He came for a nice chat but leaves us soon alone when he notices that we were trying to sleep.

Marlous and I don’t have time to relax after this fantastic conversation because the next car is showing up. This time there is a big light shining on us and a policeman appears “What are you doing John?” What to do now……After a short explanation that we are married and that we travel by bicycle, the policeman is satisfied and wishes us a good night sleep. After all the guest have disappeared we fall asleep under accompany of our singing night guard.

We survive the rest of the night without any further interruptions. We pass a sign for a cave and we decide to give it a try. It’s not far from the main road and the gardener promises us to keep an eye on the bikes, while we go into the caves with a guide. We have never seen a cave as big as this one. Our guide points to all the stalactites and stalagmites which look like all kind of animals and people, with a bit of imagination. After a driving monkey, a pregnant lady and a fat American cowboy we arrive in a wind tunnel, where a breeze cools us down. After the caves we cycle to a village which lies at the foot of the mountains. Here we stay for the night before we will climb up to 1600 meters. The last days the sky was very cloudy and tonight it bursts.

The next day the sky is clear again and we head of to start a long climb. The road goes up hill for 60 kilometers to the Cameron Highlands. The Cameron Highlands are known for the growings of tea and vegetables. It’s also the place where people go for some cool air. From the cities people come to the highlands to enjoy the nature and the fresh air. After 12 km we take a sip of water, when a biker passes us. It’s Adam on his way to Kuala Lumpur. He and his mate are in the mountains for a couple of days trying to fix the bike of Danny. Adam is on his way to the capital to collect some new parts.

The road bends its way up between the green hills. It’s green in hundred different colours and small streams of water drip down from everywhere. When we are half way we find a shelter where we can hide from the rain.
When we pass the 1000 meters we find ourselves between green rows of tea bushes. We see the people picking the leaves in the plantations. We are not far away anymore from the village of Thana Rata. The moment we enter this village big raindrops fall down from the sky again. For a while we hide from the rain but the thoughts of a warm shower make us decide to conquer the rain and to cycle to Daniel’s Lodge. Ilse is cheering to us the moment she sees us and Maarten and Danny make us a warm welcome as well in the Cameron Highlands.

* Kuala Perlis – Alor Setar: 61km
* Alor Setar – Sungai Petani: 65km
* Sungai Petani – Georgetown: 42km
* Georgetown – Taiping: 96km
* Taiping – Kellies Castle: 110km
* Kellies Castle – Tapah: 65km
* Tapah – Cameron Highlands: 61 km



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