We crept out of Singapore in the dark.
Because it was a weekday, the toll gantries would turn on at 7:30AM and we would need to leave the country before then, otherwise we'd face a stiff fine for riding without a transponder. We had also heard that motorists crossing the border would have their gas tanks checked. If you left Singapore with less than 3/4s of a tank, they would fine you for trying to get cheap gas across the border. We heard it only applied to Singaporean vehicles, but we filled up their expensive gas the night before just in case.
The country is muy loco with all their rules. My cousin told me that when people ask him to describe Singapore, he replies, "It's a Fine country. They'll Fine you for this, and they'll Fine you for that..."
Traffic was light on the way out. We passed under the last gantry around 7AM, lots of time to spare. By contrast, on the other side of the highway there was a thick stream of Malaysian vehicles inching their way into Singapore. These were the frontier workers, who took advantage of high-paying Singaporean jobs while living in lower-cost Malaysia. It was a familiar sight. We've seen it in the towns between Italy and Switzerland, Croatia and Italy, etc.
No drama at the border. Our paperwork was entirely in order and I made sure not to take any pictures this time. And no gas tank check either. Damn it.
An hour outside of Johor Bahru and the city dissolves into a thick forest of palm trees
Because we left so early, the temperature is still fairly cool and the mists hung in the air between the trees, the morning sun peeking through the leaves in soft shafts of light. A very pleasant ride.
Neda is happy to trade in the urban jungle for a real one
The plan is to ride up the east coast of Malaysia to see a different side of the country. There are a lot of beaches and resorts on this side. We want to see how they compare to Thailand's beaches.
We reach Mersing shortly before noon. And it's unbearably hot once again
At a gas stop, I spy the familiar markings of the swastika in front of a Hindu temple
It's a bit unusual, because most of the 10% Indian population in Malaysia live on the west coast, just like the Chinese. The east coast is predominantly Malay. I talk to a local who's interested in our bikes at the gas station while Neda ducks into the air-conditioned 7-11 to escape the heat.
Crossing the bridge at Endau
A constant reminder that more Muslims live on this side of Malaysia are the proliferation of mosques on the side of the road
There are so many mosques, and we stop at the ones that are the most eye-catching to take a picture. Some of them are beautiful!
By mid-day, we've made it as far as Pahang, about 350kms from Singapore. It's a respectable distance given the butt-destroying seats on our CRFs and the soaring temperatures of the early afternoon. We check into a hotel and crank the air-conditioning.
We're not sure where we're going the next day, so we do a bit of Internet research to try to find a nice resort to lay low for a few days.
What we find is disheartening. Everything is so bloody expensive. Nearly twice the price of Thai resorts. That's crazy. We're not paying that much for a Malaysian beach. It's probably not even as nice as Thailand...
So there's a change in our plans. The ride up the coast has been sooo straight and boring so far. If we're not heading to a beach-side resort, let's head inland to where the mountains will provide some twisty roads for us to play on!
However, the morning had different plans for us:
While packing to head out, I notice the support bracket for my rack has cracked. Exactly like Neda's did in Thailand.
Definitely a design failure. I hope our Hondas are better made than these racks.
Because this has happened to us before, we know exactly what to do. We are going to bypass all the Honda dealerships and the motorcycle stores. They were going to be of no help.
We rode down the street and looked for some kind of shop. No luck, but a garage pointed us to a mechanic next door. I walked past a rusty car in a state of repair and called out to the back. This guy came out to take a look at my broken rack. He had a cigarette stuck to the bottom of his lip which moved up and down when he spoke Malay to me. I don't speak Malay so I was hypnotized by the motion of his cigarette. I broke off my stare long enough to point out the broken bracket. With a nod he disappears into the shop and brings out:
Ummmm... I don't think...
He turns off the blowtorch immediately. The cigarette muttered something in Malay and then proclaimed, "Aluminum".
So back to the drawing board.
Literally. He traced out the bracket with paper and pencil and drew a new bracket
The ash grew longer on his cigarette but never left his mouth as he twisted and formed the metal. Cool! He was going to build me a new bracket just like the Thai metal shop had done for Neda.
Nope. He just built a brace... :(
Because the crack hadn't bent the two halves of the broken bracket, they still contacted each other and provided support. As long as the two halves didn't slip, the rack was still stable. So the mechanic built an aluminum brace and screwed it to the two halves like a cast.
Not as elegant as Neda's fabricated iron bracket, but it did the job. I asked him how much. He pulled a price out of the air: 20 Ringgit, which is $8 CAD. That was pretty expensive compared to the $5 CAD for Neda's custom bracket! I don't think I paid more than $25 CAD for the whole rack itself! But it really highlighted how cheap Thailand is compared to every other SE Asian country.
Well, we got our minor problem solved, and didn't have to spend a lot of time on it. I thanked the long burnt end of cigarette ash at the end of his face: "Terima Kasih!" And we're back on the road!
Just outside of Pahang, we rode by this very interesting Hindu temple
Neda has had enough of the heat. "You go and take pictures. I'm going to stay right here in the shade..."
Inside the temple, everyone had the same idea. Afternoon siesta.
This is the Sri Marathandavar Bala Dhandayuthapani Alayam temple. This is one of the holiest temples in Malaysia and we just stumbled onto it by accident. Marathandavar means "deity of the tree".
Sure enough, in the centre of the temple is a thick tree adorned with yellow pieces of cloth
Legend has it that in the late 1800s, a road was being built from Kuala Lumpur to Pahang. Many trees were felled to make way for this road, but one tree in particular, a Radruksha tree, started to bleed when it was cut. Workers saw it as a holy sign and preserved the tree for worship. Today, that tree is gone, but a replica was erected in the temple and devotees write down their prayers on yellow strips of cloth and pin them to the tree, like prayer flags.
We didn't make it that far today. Jerantut is only 180 kms away from Pahang
The motorcycle repairs and the sight-seeing delayed our headway into the mountains and we stopped for the night in Jerantut. A non-descript town except for a line of colourful shops and stalls in the tourist centre. It attracted our eye and we looked for a place to eat.
Roti for dinner. I *LOVE* Malaysian food! And Teh Tarik, of course...
After dinner, we go for a walk around town. More mosques.
The next day, there are no motorcycle repairs to undertake. No border officials to ply. No beach-side resorts to rip us off. Only mountain roads.
Twist (the throttle) and Shout!
Really, this is the essence of our trip. Sure, we stop a lot to sample the local culture, but at the end of the day it's always about the riding. We've done too many straight roads and too many highways and city streets lately. It feels good to get back to curvy roads again.
As we head north, the landscape changes and tall limestone formations once again rise up around us
Lunchtime at some random town along the way
And they had the best BBQ chicken for a random food stop! I don't think I've had a bad meal in Malaysia yet.
We're entering a part of Malaysia that I've heard a lot of warnings about. But we're going to explore anyway...