Apr 14 2012

Cycling from Bangkok to Singapore: Penang to Kuala Lumpur

Published by at 9:53 am under Cycling from Bangkok to Singapore

Read the first parts of Brock Kuhlman and Gaby Doman cycling from Bangkok to Penang over on our Bangkok blog: the first 222 kilometres, packing, cycling through Thailand’s far south, finishing Thailand, and getting to Penang.

Heading south out of Penang, we needed to leave early enough to cross the bridge that links the island with the mainland just as the sun rises from the south. We wheeled our bikes out of the guesthouse in the early morning darkness, and after a breakfast of sweet coffee and curried roti we started south. Colonial Penang quickly gives way to industrial Penang, where Malaysia manufactures reams of computer chips and assembles computers. It sounds grim, but kilometre after kilometre of groomed silicon factories is like riding through a park.

Sunrise over Penang Bridge.

Sunrise over Penang Bridge.

At the actual bridge, we ran into trouble. We were stopped by men in uniforms who claimed that the bridge was closed to bicycles. When pressed for details on the bridge being closed, the guard hesitated and arbitrarily decided that 08:30 was an acceptable time to cycle across a public bridge. Since the rule against bicycling across a public bridge was obviously made up (with no signs indicating otherwise) we just made a run for it (or a cycle for it, actually.) The officer honked his horn a lot, but no one was bothered enough to actually chase us, which says volumes about the Malaysian police force.

After cycling for a few hours, a Malaysian guy on a bike caught up with us. He had also ridden from Penang and we chatted for a minute as we rode along. He had ridden from Penang to Paris the year before (which made our journey seem quite the afternoon outing by comparison). Mr Wong invited us to eat at his friend’s house, and so we detoured to a small town off Highway 1.

Gaby and I were introduced to Mr and Mrs Chadhuri, who stuffed us full of curry and fresh chapatti and explained the Malaysian race riots of the 1960s. Mrs Chadhuri also packed us a bottle of mango pickle which promptly made all of my clothes smell like the Punjab, and explained how to make more when this ran out (a project I fully intend to start on when I get home — it was amazing pickle). There is a real community amongst cyclists and it was such a nice break in a long journey to be welcomed into a home (and fed like a recalcitrant child).

Mr and Mrs Chadhuri.

Mr and Mrs Chadhuri.

Chapatis be damned, we still had more hills to conquer, so we started out again and headed south. We spent the night in Kuala Kangsar, the home of one of the Sultans of Malaysia, and then continued south on back roads through the jungle. There aren’t as many roads in Malaysia as there are in Thailand, so you are often cycling on fairly busy routes; this was a real treat, to be on almost empty roads weaving through mountain jungle and alongside the river — just the hiss of tires against the asphalt and cicadas in the canopy until we made it to Telek Intan. Well, tires and cicadas and rain, which we hadn’t previously encountered, but we would every single day until we got to Singapore.

It only rained for a little over an hour, but we were soaked by the time we found our hotel. Tip for cycling in the rain: just get wet. Ponchos and rain gear were useless. It’s better to just accept the fact you are going to be wet, stop and change into some flip flops, and continue on through the deluge. Just remember to turn on your lights and wear light colours so drivers can see you. From Telek Intan we headed south to Klang, one of the western suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.

Cycling into Kuala Lumpur, in a word, sucks. Most roads turn into expressways and you can easily find yourself crossing five lanes of high-speed traffic to merge onto the road you need to take. We braved the roads however and made it into Klang, where we took a rest day, enjoying walking around stores, eating food and wearing normal clothes — basically not cycling and loving it. We’ve been cycling so long it’s easy to forget that not everyone does this all day, every day.

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