YOUR GATEWAY TO ADVENTURES IN MALAYSIA
By Tamsin Barnes
The ride from Singapore to KL is an interesting one, as the challenge is to find a route to KL that has the least amount of traffic. This attempt by three tri-athletes was made using the western coastal road, then eastwards towards Kuala Pilah and finally north, through the southern hills of the mainrange and finally descending into Ulu Langat and Kuala Lumpur. What was also interesting about this ride is that it was for charity, to raise money to allow Tamsin to assist a Belize'ian NGO LiFeline which works with wild cats.
I have been ready for a big change for a while and decided that I would like to spend some time as a volunteer vet at a wildlife hospital in Belize looking after big wild cats. Some fundraising was required and Heather suggested a sponsored bike ride. The decision to ride from Singapore to KL was made. Without too much persuasion I had three crazy triathlete friends - David, Debbie and Peter - who were keen to accompany me - pure masochism! We talked about the ride periodically but actual planning was thin on the ground. Road maps of Malaysia are notorious for missing out roads or mis-routing them. Here we were rescued by the internet. Reza (WILDBORNEO.net) provided me with some hints on the last leg though his website on scenic rides around KL. Debbie procured some detailed maps of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan from PCC allowing us to explore many more back roads on the second and third days.
By the morning of 9th January we had a reasonable route planned and a light rucksack each packed with the bare essentials and bike spares. David, Debbie and I met at Woodlands checkpoint, arriving by taxi - the only bit of cheating on the whole trip - not that such ideas didn't enter our heads on many more occasions. Agnes and Mika joined us for a day ride - out and back. For some reason Mika's taxi driver deposited her somewhere else in Woodlands - it was several handphone calls before she found us!
From a previous experience of being thrown out of the pedestrian queue and escorted down in the lift we knew we had to join the throng of motorbikes spewing out their exhaust fumes. Fortunately it was only a short queue and the road across the causeway was quiet. My first concern was that we would waste half the morning getting out of JB but we followed the coast round and soon found ourselves on the old North-South road which was not the solid traffic jam I had feared. Soon after that we were on route 5 heading for Pontian Kecil. For a while the road was gently undulating. I was surprised as I had thought the terrain was all flat but for almost all the remainder of the day it was. The road passed through a few villages - near to Kampong Ulu Choh where I did one of my few mountain bike hashes and Pekan Nanas with its pineapple museum - or so I interpreted the sign.
With about 60km under our belts we hit the coast at Pontian Kecil and stopped for a well deserved coffee and roti prata or canai as I think they are called across the border. David was already bemoaning the lack of Starbucks - caffeine level low after arriving late the previous night from Brisbane and heading straight out to the pub! Sweet Malay coffee was all that would be on offer for the next 3 days - enough calories in the condensed milk alone to fuel us well on our way.
Heading Up the Western Coastal Road (Route 5)
The rest of the day would be spent heading north on route 5 up the coast. On the whole it was not too busy and VERY flat. Heading out of Pontian we saw locals making the big all purpose - durian, fish, whatever else goes - baskets out of bamboo. POOFF! Agnes had the only flat of our trip which she changed in a record 8.5 minutes - years of practice. The rest of us were delighted not to have the opportunity to be shown up by her. Agnes and I planned a bike ride across Africa for 4 years hence until it was time for her and Mika to turn and return to JB. Would I still fancy a cycling holiday after 3 days in the saddle?
On to Batu Pahat. Lunch was beckoning. The last 10km were ugly - a busier road with lots of trucks and gravel on the roadside. About 125km down - two thirds of the way to Muar. We treated ourselves to a coffee shop lunch of rice, chicken and veggies which went down very well despite David's threats of certain dysentery! The locals were friendly and already amazed at the distance we had covered. The day was hot - a good excuse to extend the lunch break.
Finally we set out again to Muar. Our rucksacks were getting heavier by the kilometer. The route was still very flat. Some hills might have allowed for a bit more change of posture and consequently a bit less backache but it was not to be. We had several enforced stretching stops - initially on the pretext of photos taking but for the last couple there were no excuses - just a group of three contorted beings beside their bicycles.
Overnight at Muar
As the rucksacks reached their maximum weight we arrived in Muar and navigated our way with little trouble to the rest-house - reasonably priced accommodation booked in advance by Peter who would be joining us later. A surprisingly attractive town with colonial buildings spread out along the river and estuary. We checked in and were given rooms on the ground floor so that we could take our bikes in. David had the pick of the rooms and in his wish for a 4 star hotel managed to pick the room with no electric light in the bathroom and very low water pressure. Better luck next time!
Peter timed his arrival perfectly to coincide with us finishing de-griming and stretching. Bliss; we had a car which would transport us back into town with no effort in search of food�.and beer! Soon three weary faces and one more alert one surrounded a few bottles of beer and plates of Chinese food. When all were empty everyone was happy but more than ready for bed. Forget the girlie gossip in our room. No comment on the amount of boys talk?
Comatose till 6.15. Suitably refreshed in body and mind getting on the bike for the first time was not the horrendously painful experience I had feared. But we didn't go far. Just back into town for roti and roti telur. Mega fat calorie load to set us up for the day. Yummy!! The northern route out of Muar was less attractive and busy but it was not long before we turned off onto a quieter road heading inland to Tangkak. Just because the town is signposted in capitals off the North-South highway doesn't mean it is anything more than on one street town. Fortunately it had all we needed - a coffee shop for more condensed milk and caffeine loading, and a signpost to the next village on our route; Nylas. Here we left all "principal highways" and "highways" and descended to what Nelles Map labeled "provincial roads" or "secondary roads, cart tracks" and even some roads which didn't make the map. Fortunately all were clearly marked on the state maps from PCC and paved to a high standard - no regrets about leaving the mountain bikes behind!
Now we were truly in rural Malaysia; rubber, oil palm, papaya plantations, kampongs with gardens full of fruit trees, coco trees and chickens and blissfully few vehicles on the roads. Nylas supplied us with milo and the first of many bicycle shops where threatened to start selling back our spares! Here we followed the signs to Batang Melaka which sent us on the slightly longer SW - NE rather than N - SW route via the much joked about "yellow water" Ayer Kuning. The second part of this road was unpleasant - a lot of construction - a new highway going through - from where to where? There was nowhere on the map! - and much of the surrounding countryside laid to waste for no apparent reason. A good fast straight road reminiscent of a Roman highway lead us to our lunch stop whilst Peter and I were dreaming of Southern France and olives, cheese and crusty bread to say nothing of a nice glass of red.
At Gemencheh we were the talk of the town or at least the restaurant on account of our crazy exploits. As we were subjected to Chinese dancers and singers welcoming the year of the Goat on TV we were treated to "dessert" on the house. A lovely thought but unfortunately chickens feet soup was not quite what we expected. With my best manners I finished the soup but couldn't bring myself to chew on the swollen foot!
The straight road continued. En route we stopped to check directions and allow me to pose - only pose - as a chocaholic eating coco pods off the tree. The choclatizing process is very important - the raw ingredients don't hit the spot! Rush hour out of the mosque on a Friday afternoon saw 30 plus scooters pass us in not many more seconds. Then all was peaceful again till we reached a more major road which took us into Dangi. This time we were more careful not to take the long route round and double checked on the next series of turns which took us to Senaling up our one big hill of the day. At the top we were rewarded by a fruit and stags horn fern stall by the roadside. We enjoyed the rambutans and the stall-owners son tried to sit on David's bike - cries of "Tinggi" as the saddle was way too high for him to reach the pedals.
Royal Town of Sri Menanti
In Senaling we finally saw the signs for the royal town of Sri Menanti - the place in the middle of nowhere that I had insisted we all rode to. I was branded crazy all trip till we took a delightful little back-road littered with rambutan trees, cows, goats, wooly goats - so the Chinese call the sheep Peter informed us - and beautifully kept Minangkabau houses. At some time in the dim and distant past this matriarchal society invaded this area from Sumatra. We dodged cow pats in lieu of traffic worries and arrived at the rest house adjacent to the beautiful old palace or Istana Lama of Sultan Tunku Abdul Rahman. Worth the trip we all agreed.
The rest house went by the name of Sri Menanti Resort. The new owners were proud to announce that they did have one other group staying; Koreans playing golf! They were not to be seen and we had the place to ourselves. The Lonely Planet promised a swimming pool and a swimming pool there was but�.it was being cleaned and after presumably months of disuse this was not completed before we left - shame. With no swim to soothe our tired muscles another half hour stretching session was the order of the day. By the time we were ready to explore the museum in the palace it was pouring with rain and our only cleanish clothes were soaked despite the loan of the SM Resort's umbrella!
The palace was worth it though. A beautiful old building filled with portraits and photos of dour looking sultans, lots beds covered with bright ornate bedspreads and a huge long dining table. From the top of the tower, the old treasury, we had a great view of the new palace and surrounding countryside - hills in all directions - no prizes for guessing what we would be doing tomorrow. A group of young locals were practicing on the gamelans and drums. They stopped as soon as we appeared but finally we persuaded them to do a few tuneful renditions for us.
Time for dinner. No choices here - one very basic Malay restaurant offering either nasi or mie goreng. We raided one of the nearby kedai runcit for chocolate sweets and went off to explore the other road out of town - a few more houses, a mosque then�nothing. It seems we had "done" Sri Menanti by dusk. On our way back a Swiss lady cycled up to us on a real old banger of a bike - and invited us for dinner the following night - had we been staying. She'd lived in Sri Menanti for some time bringing up her children - but what on earth brought her there in the first place - she probably thought the same of 4 mad cyclists! And so to bed - at 7.30!
Going north, and heading for the Selangor border
Nothing like a day on the bike for getting a good nights sleep - who needs a 4 star hotel? No chance of breakfast in SM so it was a quick muesli bar and back on the road and up the first hill. We hit the Seremban Kuala Pilah road which was a bit busy but at least flat. The brakes went on as we caught sight of a coffee shop - nasi lemak for breakfast. We turned off the main road at Paroi and by passed Seremban up a moderate climb and into the rain heading on to Pantai. Soon after we saw a sign - 20km to Kuala Klawang - our next planned stop - we began to climb, and climb and climb. Photo opportunities abounded - any excuse for a break and a chance to regroup - David had been motoring up the hills. Up for 5km then a lovely descent despite the drizzle and at times heavier rain. We stopped to admire some goats waiting for the next bus and Peter engaged in conversation with a gobsmacked local.
KK was unremarkable but provided us with 100 plus and cake and another bike shop were yet again we refrained from selling back our spares. We figured it would be about 2 hours till we got to the next village for lunch. How wrong could we be? We expected up and were delighted that the first 20km were flat - but the rest more than made up for it. The roads were quiet and pretty but there is a limit to how much you can enjoy the scenery with 8km non-stop climbing....good training was the most positive way to think about it. Well there was the occasional break and slight descent but then it was onwards and upward�.. How slow would we go without keeling over? My speedo dropped down to 8.0 and I was still upright. Debbie however got hers down to 0.2 as she missed a gear and keeled over�minor scrape only! We jumped for joy when we reached the Selangor border. It came earlier than expected and rewarded us with a lovely downhill past a huge reservoir to where we thought the lunch village would be. It didn't exist. I had survived thus far on an emergency Power Bar but as the road began to climb again Peter had an attack of hypoglycaemia - the shakes and a cry of - this is ****ridiculous we are going to stop NOW. No thought as to how we were going to start again up the hill. Suitably refueled on muesli bars David executed a nice little down, U turn, up maneuver, I just crunched up hill, but Peter had 3 false starts. Oh well - blame the fictitious village!
[Reza's Notes: Now, after the main descent from the Selangor border, there is small junction that would take you to Sg Lui/Dusun Tua - both of which are at the upper end of the Ulu Langat road. This way would have at least given some opportunities for refueling as you pass through a number of villages]
Eventually we were rewarded with a nice descent but still no restaurant - a couple of roadside signs but everything closed till we reached Hulu Langkat. Kway Teow and upside down Guinness - yes more local coffee - saved the day. The sun came out and we knew there was only one more climb - a busier one - easier for knowing it was the last - and harder because of the heat. Round the last bend and there they were - the Twin Tower and the rest of the KL city skyline clearly visible. Compulsory photo stop. A very fast descent - I hit my max of the trip - 61 - shortly before a red light - timing could have been better!!
Reaching (kind-of) the final destination, KL
We were in Ampang and central KL was in sight but of course no-one could give us directions - the only time we were lost all trip! A few turns and we ended up on an expressway like ring road - the scariest moments of the trip. Fortunately that lead us to Jalan Ampang and the Twin Towers. The ride officially ended, we headed through the traffic for the hotel - Swiss Garden. 4 star hotels don't let you take your bike to your room - I don't like them. No I will not leave my bike in a parking lot and wasn't too happy with the left luggage locker either but no choice.
A long hot shower was required to get off the worst of the grime from the rainy road. Poor bicycle had to wait till I got home for cleaning. Then it was off out on the town - well it was only 5.30 - we knew we wouldn't manage a late night. First stop Starbucks - brought a smile to David's face. Second stop - pub. Third stop - Hard Rock Caf� - nachos, burgers and chocolate fudge cake. Fourth stop - Bed with a full belly!
A great trip - I am ready for a cycling holiday - with panniers.
To all my sponsors:
A huge thank you for your generous contributions. I am looking forward to the next big adventure with the wild cats in Belize. Thank you for making it possible.
Some tips for cyclists
Trip stats: Day 1: 189km ave speed 25.6; Day 2: 136km ave speed 24.9; Day 3: 143km ave speed 22.5
For a bunch of crazy triathletes this sort of daily mileage was fine. However for most sane individuals considering this trip it might be better to make it into 5 days. We did find the first day a bit much and though I would not normally complain about the absence of hills it was a little flat and dull and didn't encourage much changing of position in the saddle which added to the discomfort from the rucksacks.
Traffic on the route was never an issue - except KL itself. This surprised me - I had expected more hassle leaving JB and on the first day heading up the east coast. Most roads were not heavily used and drivers mostly of the sane variety: a pleasant change to a day out cycling in Singapore. Road surfaces were excellent throughout except for some areas of major road works on the road descending from the Selangor border to Hulu Langkat.
I commented earlier on the hills on the last day - quite a challenge. My lowest gear was 39x25. I found that about right - any higher and I would have spent more time climbing out of the saddle and my legs would have burnt out earlier. The route was easy to follow from the maps except towards the end - having descended after the Selangor border we missed a right turn which would have taken us to villages and lunch. This was signed Batu something Hulu Langkat. Instead we went straight - signed Ampang and missed our food! We also had a lot of difficulty getting into central KL after the descent into Ampang - easy enough for those of you who are local. But for us foreigners the total lack of signposts and clueless passers-by didn't help us in our final 8km. Disappointing as the back roads though little villages had been well signed and local knowledge was good. Typical of any city I know.
About Tamsin Barnes
Tamsin writes: "As for me - I am British, 33, female, avid triathlete and veterinary surgeon. I have worked in Singapore for the last 4 years in a small animal practice. Now decided that it is time for a change. I have got a scholarship to study for a PhD at university of Queensland - health and body condition indices in free ranging dugongs!"
Why she did it
To work for two months with a NGO devoted to saving wild cats in Belize (LiFeline Wild Cat Research and Rehabilitation Centre). The sponsored ride was to help raise funds to pay for the flight there and living expenses.
LiFeline - is a NGO which has just set up a wildlife hospital for the rescue and rehabilitation of wild cats - jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jagarundi. The hospital aims to treat injured wild cats, care for confiscated illegal pets and screen the local wild cat population for parasites and life-threatening viral diseases such as Feline Leukaemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
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