Day 121 – Kuala Kedah to Tanah Rata (344 km)
With Shan’s repaired tyre deflating in the night, and our supply of repair patches exhausted, we could but wait until the first bike shop decided to open its doors before even thinking of hitting the road. Unfortunately, it was the weekend, and combined with our inability to meaningfully communicate with the neighbouring shop owners, it was difficult to ascertain when and in fact if these workshops would be open today at all. The best option seemed for Shan and John to simply station themselves outside the closed doors of two such shops and wait to see who struck lucky. John returned from his mission the proud new owner of about fifty spare patches. However Shan’s cunning plan of actually removing the wheel from the bike and presenting it to the workman meant that ultimately all the spare patches in the world counted for squat when presented with a freshly repaired and refitted tyre. While Shan had been sitting on the curb, wheel in hand, Kath had whizzed past her, side-straddled on the back of the hotel manager’s scooter. Apparently he was “so proud to be showing a white woman around his town” as this was his first time. Bless his heart, he took her to the ferry dock, and a few other roads before sitting her down with a map and explaining the richness and beauty of his country.
We are now less than 1000 km from our final destination, and with a few days in hand, we decided to head slightly off the main highway south towards the Cameron Highlands, a particularly beautiful part of the country. The morning’s drive was very uneventful (except for a small scare when we noticed John’s tyre was completely flat. Upon inspection it seemed that the valve has simply come loose and so a quick inflation on the side of the road sorted it out no problem), and we made excellent time along the highways. Since Nepal, we had been hearing about the Malaysian highways, and how fantastic they were. And the reports were completely true: three lanes in each direction, completely free of potholes, and the toll gates themselves even had a separate free lane reserved solely for motorbikes. After about 150 km, we turned off the highway and started East towards the mountains. Straight away, the road began to rise, gently at first, and then increasingly steeply. The roads were for the most part fairly quiet, making it the perfect motorbiking terrain, with sharp bends, and stunning views, and as we rose in altitude, we could feel the temperature dropping.
Around one corner, we saw a huge chocolate shop in front of us, attached to a tea garden, and with my Dad possessing a gloriously serious sweet tooth, we happily pulled over. It was such a strange place for the shop, as it seemed incredibly classy, with a huge variety of chocolate, and the best part? FREE SAMPLES!
After relaxing by the hydroponic strawberry farm with assorted strawberry themed desserts, we reluctantly climbed back on the bikes and started towards Tanah Rata, our destination for the day. It seemed that we were now in farming country, as from this point onwards, we saw covered plastic greenhouses on every available mountain slope, and large banners advertising strawberry farms on all sides, as well as other fruit, vegetables, and even fresh honey. The temperature was now a perfect 25 degrees, and we soon saw that this was the place to be in Malaysia. With Tuesday being a public holiday, it appeared that families were flocking to the area, and we turned a corner to find a solid line of cars, completely stationary. Fortunately, being on bikes, we were able to just ride along next to the cars, but this line continued through several towns, and must have stretched for over 15 km, with no-one moving. In one of the larger towns we passed, people were thronging the streets, and even with some large hotels on either side of the road, our guess was that many people would be sleeping in their cars tonight. And still the queue of vehicles continued, right up until we arrived in our town.
The first couple of hotels we tried were completely full, but after investigating several options, including one that was simply a mattress put down on the floor, we found a decent guest house on the edge of town. Once we had offloaded our bags and settled into the rooms, we emerged to have a look around. Waiting outside at one of the tables was a French guy, who introduced himself as Mat. It turned out that he was also a biker, and had been informed by his hotel manager that some bikers were in town and so had come to find us. He had also been all over Asia, and had actually followed a fairly similar route to us, starting from Turkey. It seemed that he was also potentially interested in shipping his bike to Cape Town, and riding up Africa from there. It was great to be able to swap stories, and get some advice from a fellow biker, and we ended up wandering around town together for a while.
We met up again that evening to get some supper and talk a little more about the possibilities of putting the bikes in the same container, which may end up a cheaper option for everyone involved. Over a steamboat, which is a kind of soup fondue, with mushrooms, chicken, fish, prawns, lettuce, noodles, eggs, and the like, we decided that he would look for shipping options from Malaysia, and we would investigate Singapore, and then make a final call about shipping them, once we had a few quotes, etc. We had been a bit concerned to discover that one of our original quotes that we had been given just before we left had gone up in the last four months, and was now almost triple what we had been expecting, never a fun surprise.
Kath and Shan had spotted a Karaoke bar in town while they had been exploring earlier, and we decided to finish off the evening there. We were given a private booth, where our caterwauling would not disturb the other guests. They ended up having a pretty decent selection, and even John got into the groove with some seventies classics, while the girls performed a spirited rendition of the Spice Girls’ “If you wanna be my lover”. Finally, long after midnight, we walked back to our hotel to collapse into our beds.