It was still dark when the alarm pulled us from sleep. Departure day. The excitement that crept though me was only slightly marred by concerns about my knee. After a month of rest and short rides, would it survive the cycle to Pontian Kecil, one border crossing and 100-plus kilometres away? I would soon see. We shared a pot of tea waiting for dawn to arrive and with it came a morning of endless rain. Cars and buses packed the wet streets of Singapore and we weaved our way through the traffic and suburbs. Endless rain fell on endless high-rises.
After two hours we reached the northern bridge that joins Singapore to Malaysia. Looking like drowned cats and wet through to our underwear, we pulled up to the Woodlands checkpoint. With a smile and a stamp we were out of Singapore. Pedalling over the bridge we passed hundreds of cars, sitting bumper to bumper not moving, and I again smiled at the ease and freedom of cycling. I was a little worried that on the Malaysian side they would take one look at us and send us back. But with a smile, a joke about rain in Singapore and a stamp, we were granted a 3-month Malaysian visa and were on our way. Why can’t all border crossings be this easy (and cheap)?
The previous evening I had written down instructions from Google Maps on how to get from Singapore to Pontian Kecil. Only highways led out of Johor Bahru, so we joined the speeding traffic and followed the flow. We stopped for a quick bite along the waterfront and discovered that Johor Bahru should be the sister city of Kingston S.E. in South Australia, as both have big lobster statues. Everything was going smoothly until we hit an E road. For those planning on cycling in Malaysia, there is no cycling on E roads. Luckily our Singapore internet access was active in Malaysia and using our smart phone we were able to navigate the suburban streets until we hit Highway 5.
The highway provided an initiation to scenery that would become our backdrop for the next month. Cars and trucks zooming passed on roads surrounded by palm plantations, double-story shop fronts and suburban looking towns. The contrast with where we had been in Indonesia was stark. The lack of rice paddies, the abundance of space, more cars/less scooters, less make shift businesses and way fewer people. That section of Highway 5 was also home to a Pineapple Museum. How could we say no? I think the guy who sold the tickets thought I was joking when I asked if we could enter. We spent the next hour meandering through 5 rooms of all the information you could ever want about pineapple farming and canning. It was so 80’s and awesome. If only they sold pineapples to eat after the tour…
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Pontian Kecil. We sat on the breakwater and looked out to sea trying to determine where the horizon was. Haze from palm plantation burning in Sumatra causes the air to be as greyish as the sea. After a celebratory ice-cream we looked around for a place to stay, but the prices were well above our budget. We decided to camp and rode along the coast until we found a place to pitch our home. The Malaysians are very relaxed about foreigners and it was great not to have the ‘watchers’ here. That night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping water and a guy singing karaoke in his living room.
That first morning in Malaysia, I woke early and watched the rising sun colour the clouds overhead. We had decided that Malacca was to be our first major destination in Malaysia, therefore we cycled northwards on Highway 5 with the Straits of Malacca to our left. It was great to be on the bikes again. As the kilometres passed, we fell into the old rhythm. Legs pumping, big smiles, sweat pouring due to the crazy hot weather, scenery flying by and loving every minute. That day we were to experience our first taste of Malaysian hospitality and kindness. As we were cresting a rise, a guy riding a scooter pulled up to gift us two large bottles of cold water as he had seen us riding by and thought we would need some. So lovely! That evening we turned down a side road and found a palm plantation to set up home in. After a stove and fire fail, we ate lukewarm 2-minute noodles for dinner and settled into an evening of watching Spooks. We are so suburban.
Malaysian kindness continued the next morning, when our breakfast was paid for by another diner. He welcomed us to his village and wished us a safe and happy journey. Glowing with gratitude, we covered the remaining 70kms to Malacca before lunch. At a tree sheltered food stall we feasted on local delicacies and I knew that we were now in foodie heaven. We navigated our way through the myriad of one-way streets to meet Howard our Warm Showers host. Howard is a vivacious and friendly guy who owns a backpackers in town, and his place became our home away from home. That evening we shared in a communal barbeque where we exchanged travel stories over glasses of local vodka until the early hours of the morning.
Malacca is a vibrant city and we lost ourselves for many days in the fusion of food, architecture, history and culture that surrounded us. The locals are very proud of the broad diversity of influences on their city: Malay, Chinese, Dutch and Tamil. Everyday was a new culinary experience. We filled ourselves with a variety of laksas, dim sum, curries and tandoori, pineapple tarts, kuay teow and the famous cendol dessert. We roamed the city exploring the brightly coloured chinese temples, the mosques, the colonial architecture, the Pernakian houses filled with Baba and Nonya cultural artefacts, and the art galleries and antique shops. We strolled along the Malacca River admiring the architecture and street art that lined the banks. We sought refuge from the heat and the monsoonal rain in funky little cafés where we drank coffee and read books. Life was simple and relaxing, and we loved every moment.
Despite Howard’s wonderful hospitality and insistence that we should stay for even longer, we finally had to hit the road as I wished to spend my birthday in the Cameron Highlands. So with the taste of great food on my lips, I wish you all a wonderful day and all my love as always.