Day 120 – Palian to Kuala Kedah (247 km)
Thailand to Malaysia
Today was the day that we were originally due to arrive in Singapore, which is really making it feel like we are right at the end of our trip. But we still have a couple more countries to go. After the previous day’s rest, we were ready to be on our way, and after breakfast, we were on our bikes by about 8:30 and heading off towards the border. The landscape is still lush green jungle and towering hills looming over the road, with very few towns along the way. After driving about 100 km, I noticed that there was some white smoke flowing from Dad’s bike. Thinking that it may be some of his strapping that was resting on the exhaust pipe, I pulled alongside him to have a closer look. But when I saw what it was, I frantically motioned for him to pull over. His whole engine was belching smoke, and when he stopped, we could see that there was oil everywhere. This was serious stuff, as we had never had any engine problems up until this point. We wheeled the bike into the shade and began to strip off the seat and tank to have a better look. Upon inspection of the engine, it seemed that a couple of the bolts had rattled loose, and if that was all it was, we would have just been able to tighten them and be on our way. But the reason for them being loose was that they had stripped their thread in the engine mounting, which meant that we wouldn’t be able to tighten them in to seal the engine.
(For people who are unfamiliar with bikes or engines, that roughly translates as: “Sad face. The bike is broken, but not too badly.”)
After talking through several options, we decided that all we could do is tighten the bolts as best we could, and seal the thread with a special gasket sealer that we were carrying. Hopefully that would last for the next couple of days, and if not, then we would have to look at a more serious repair.
Meanwhile, Shan and Kath, who had been standing near the bikes, had been greeted by a local woman who managed to entice them back to her house on the other side of the road (which took a confusing 15 minutes to cross, since it appeared she was waiting for a gap of no less than 2 km between vehicles before deeming it safe to move over to the other side). After about half an hour of very stilted conversation, they were brought coffee and sandwiches by the son, who kept an unselfconscious grip on parts of his anatomy the entire time they were there. After that, everyone just seemed to sit around watching TV, making for a fairly awkward but very enjoyable morning nonetheless, especially with the father wandering around in just a sarong. Several visitors popped in, some of them just to stare.
Once the sealant had set, we topped up the bike with oil and took it for a test run: good as new. At least for now, anyway. With just 50 km to the border to go, and the rain just starting to set in, we were keen to be on our way into Malaysia.
We arrived in a torrential downpour, but this was quite welcome in the sweltering heat, and to our total amazement, we were whisked through customs and immigration in about ten minutes. We’ve never been through any border post that quickly anywhere on the trip, and very soon drove through to the Malaysian side. There, our luck ran out a bit, as everyone was on lunch break. But after half an hour, once they were back at their desks, it was the same story, just blisteringly fast efficiency. The one noteworthy point was the six fingered customs man (as in six fingers on each hand), and it was quite hard not to gawp at these two tiny extra digits protruding from the side of his little fingers, complete with fingernails.
And after fifteen minutes, we were through and on our way. Almost immediately, the road began to climb and we were presented with a stunning vista of jungles, mountains, farmlands and villages. Our plan was to get as far as we could today, and as it was only 2:30, we were intending to stop a few hundred kilometres down the Western coast.
That is, until Shan noticed she couldn’t really turn her front wheel all that well while passing through one of the small towns. Flat front tyre. We pulled over to investigate, and saw that somehow the lining that sits between the tube and the wheel rim had snapped, and was flapping all over the place. Well, at least this is something we know how to deal with. And so it was the usual toolkits out, wheel off, tyre off, etc. We had no rubber to make a replacement with, and so she ended up using ever faithful duct-tape to cover the rim. Unfortunately, the process of changing the tyre and lining the rim had to be repeated a number of times, since the spokes, which were sharper than we had thought, kept deflating each newly mended and inflated tyre. In addition, the tyre repair kit had run out of patches, so it was with some trepidation that we inflated the tyre for the third time. Happily, we seemed to have got it right, and once more we repacked the bikes, and started off, with the notable exception of Dad’s sunglasses which flew off from his shirt collar where he had placed them, but were only noticed a few kilometres down the road, necessitating a thorough sweep of the road, which lasted another half an hour, until their grisly remains were finally found , by Shan scratched and missing an arm. By this time it was starting to get late, and it was just a question of trying to find the closest hotel. We made for the coast, and found a decent place for a reasonable rate, although it was a bit of a cheek that the manager tried to charge us extra to park the bikes in front of the hotel, claiming that it would cost an extra R25 per bike for “security”. We quickly disabused him of this notion, and went to our rooms to shower, change, and recuperate underneath the air conditioning.
That evening, we made forays out into the street to find SIM cards, ATM’s, and food, which included some fantastic chicken satays, essentially small kebab with peanut sauce, and some fish which turned out to be far too fiery for John’s delicate palate. With nothing much else to do in town, we were back in the hotel relatively early, and soon asleep.