BootsnAll Travel Network

Amazing Malaysia

The original plan was to travel overland through the rarely foreigner visited border of Padang Besar but with the demise of Sasha I thought that it would be the over sea route from Satun. With new transport acquired it was mission complete as I got to see the black market crossing.

I was slightly concerned with the paperwork formalities as Thailand actually has a computerized system for their Customs work. The worry was actually two fold as I was not taking Sasha out of the country (although I had extended it to the 5th of June) and which could lead to a 150,000B fine. The other was taking the unregistered in my name to be named bike across the border. I had heard that Malaysia was pretty lax on their customs so it was more of a matter of getting past the Thai side. What I thought would be a fairly open and rural outpost turned out to be a pretty tight and secure border checkpoint. The whole place was blocked off and traffic was funneled to a single narrow drive thru window on each side of a mutual Thai/Malaysian building. There wasn’t going to be a drive thru so I just got in line and kept my mouth shut. Everything went pretty smoothly with the only out of the ordinary was the ear temperature check for Swine flu. I passed. The Malay was the same and I was on my way.

I can say that the ride on the Malay side was really beautiful. It would have been the end of Sasha had she made it that far as although the roads were nice new tar, they immediately climbed a thousand meters through a series of windy switchbacks. On the top there were some beautiful views over the rocky buttresses and over into the wide open plains. Maybe Malaysia had more to offer that the preconceived notions.

My target destination was the island (yea, another one) of Georgetown. There was a Thai Consulates office there which would hopefully offer the two month free visas like I had gotten in Cambodia. Although after a long ride I could have made it, I chose to stop at a small town which is on the tourist trail as the landing point for the boats from Thailand and the exit point to the high end island of Pulau Langkawi. I wasn’t going to the island, but since this was a new country and a different culture, I wanted to take a small step and get acclimated (money, prices, language, food, rooms, driving, etc.) The town itself was a transit stop with only expensive lodging so it took a while to find a place that was reasonably priced (30R or @ $8.50) which was 10R less that the only hotel listed in the guidebook. For food it was a roadside curry place where you basically were given a plate of rice and you picked whatever you want from the pans set along a table. Malay food and culture is a sort of mix between Indian, Chinese, and Middle East. I have switched my eating style away from the pork/chicken rice plates to more of a sampler series where I just pick new things along the way. It was all pretty good and I was a bit more at ease with the lodging and eating out of the way. Malaysia is one of the more westernized countries so the costs are upped as well. For the rest of the evening it was a visit to the night market and checking out of the Rally Car event that was being held there for the weekend.

With my acclimation day finished, I was off to Georgetown which took me along the major artery of Highway 1. Not good as the roads are not built with motorcycles in mind. Malaysia is a car society and scooters are the lesser used of the transport. The full sized shoulder that runs along the entirety of Thailands roads is nothing more than a curb with a 12” gap which is cordoned off with a stripe of white paint. No more chugging along at your own pace, you are either keeping pace with traffic or are under it.

I did run into a problem with this new transport, flat tires. In the six months that I had driven around with Sasha I had a total of one flat tire. In the first hundred or so kilometers I had two with one requiring a kilometer push to find a moto shop. Since motos are not used as much, the little shops that are every few hundred meters in other countries are pretty much located in towns along the way making for long stretches of breakdown nightmare. Leaving Georgetown I got my third puncture which I think will make the decision to go toolless void. Here, like a true western society, they don’t fix the hole in the tube, rather they toss the whole thing and put on a new one. Now, it costs around $2 per repair, but it just bothers me tossing a perfectly good tube that in other countries would be repaired ten times before the thought of tossing it would come to mind. I remember in Cambodia when the entire valve stem on my tube had come off and the guy was preparing to fix it when I told him to just put on a new tube. I think a set of tire levers, patches and glue, and a pump will be on the short list of things to buy. I am sitting in the Cameron Highlands a 80Km stretch of hills and mountains which I saw no repair facilities the whole time and made me sweat the whole ride.

Georgetown itself is a World Heritage site but to me it was a Visa stop. The memorable things that I found was Orange Slushes (my new favorite), free wireless internet sponsored by the state government, super duper airconditioned room I bargained down to 25R per night since I was staying for four nights. It was also my first Indian food since leaving India which was not so bad as I had truly been through with anything India. Beyond that the Visa thing went smooth (same day pickup, no fee, not sure for how many days but will see when I get stamped in.)

After Georgetown it was another transit point stop at Ipoh. After living a little bit of Malaysia, I had determined that it was okay, but not interesting enough to keep heading south to the capital and possibly Singapore. I figured that I would take a cut through the country spending some time in the air conditioned hills of Cameron Highlands, and then over to the East coast for possibly a little more island time before making the upswing to Northern Thailand. In Ipoh my interesting thing was having McDonalds for the first time since November 1, 2008. I didn’t have the Bic Mac, but was swayed by a Big Breakfast on my way out of town. It was damn good except that I forgot that pancakes had to be ordered separately and that Orange juice costs as much as the meal itself. That and the utensils, straws, napkins and condiments, are located on that counter behind you on top of the garbage stands. I haven’t been to McDonalds for so long I forgot how they worked. I turned into one of those retards that take five minutes to order, for god’s sake it’s the same shit for the last twenty years.

And so I drove up the windy roads through the jungle covered mountains just praying to the gods of travel to not bust my ass because it became pretty apparent that if I got a flat I was screwed as there was nothing between points A and B. I made it with no problems and have happily spent a couple of days in the highly touristic but cool town of Tanah Rata. The main interest here is trekking, but the Malay army is not strong enough to make me do that, and the guest house where I am staying has a bunch of National Geographics so it has been Indian food, and mopeding around for me. It is kind of a crap place as it is kind of like the highlands in India where everybody in the country descends on it as every spare moment so it is crammed full of Malay and Singapore tourists on vacation. It gets to be a zoo on the main roads and restaurants, but the backpackers tend to be too scruffy for the locals so they stay pretty serene. A positive note is that it is home to a lot of strawberry farms so I got to eat a lot of freshly made strawberry ice cream and chocolate dipped strawberries on a stick. The transplanted Indians here are also very nice and friendly which makes things nice as I at least know a bit about their home culture.

Next stop is the east coast and the possibility of visiting some beach locations or heading straight back to Thailand. First I have to make it back about a hundred kilometers without getting a flat otherwise my next post might be a while.

Malaysia welcomed me by putting up these signs warning all vehicles who utilize steering wheels that messing with me and my new bike would lead to instant death. It was either that or something about all vehicles with steering wheels will try and run me over.

Fully loaded. My bag fits perfectly (actually I turned the bag around and it even fits better now with no steering limitations and full gauge viewing. I love my little basket, it is so handy although I need to add a Slurpee cup holder.

Real islands mean it requires a ferry to reach. Georgetown actually did have a nice new bridge but I think it was one of those racist kind though (no bikes allowed).

Georgetown pretty much is like what the picture shows, old Chinese style intermixed with new skyscraping buildings. Most of the tourist stuff is around the old China town. Orange slushes are excellent. I had to stop at six 7-11’s to find the one place where the machine was working. I was rewarded though by that orangey goodness.

Passing through the Cameron Highlands. It was about the tenth time of passing through similar terrain so I didn’t bother taking a photo. This was something different though. Big letters, cool.


3 responses to “Amazing Malaysia”

  1. You’re doing it right, man. Nice work! Drop me a line when you do the South America leg on a bike. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet up.

  2. Tom Allemeier says:

    Hi Steve;
    I got the Minsk back from Tan Hoa and I’m more than happy. You asked me to send a pic of the refurbished bike but I couldn’t find your e-mail address anywhere. So here’s a link to my facebook gallery with pics of the bike.
    Thanks again!
    Tom Allemeier

  3. Daniel says:

    The red cat is very cute 🙂 Cool photos, thanks for sharing. Steve, you’re a good writer – thanks for nice reading.

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