1 October 2013 – There was a change as we drove further south, the landscape and roads were not as manicured and the women started to appear wearing headscarfs. Thailand north of the deep south is very non-muslim, since west Turkey every country we have visited has been fairly conservative which makes Thailand feel free and easy, not having to worry about bare arms and legs at all, a philosophy some take too far. Despite what we were expecting, we never had a sense of unease or tension in the deep south after all. Granted we didn’t stop anywhere, and we didn’t flash any flesh but in general we have usually felt immediately uncomfortable if there is tension in the area [like Kashmir].
On route to the Thai-Malaysia border we bypassed a few accidents on the way down including two jack-knifed lorries and a motorcycle accident that had happened only moments before we got there and the ambulance whizzed past us. In general the riding was easy as it had been all over Thailand, but it was a lot hotter now and Paul is constantly thinking about how to shed his protective clothing with chafing becoming a problem.
The last town of Sadao on the Thai border was a little grim, as we’ve come to find the same syndrome happens in most border towns. A slight case of unknown identity occurs trying to cram both bordering countries into itself often resulting in an ugly version of both.
This border crossing was very unusual. We drove up on the Thai side and followed the ‘motorbike lane’ which is pretty narrow and marked out like a go-kart track. It was a fairly big border post but even so no one seemed to care who was coming or going. No-one asked us to stop to check our passports or paperwork and we could have drove straight through without being stamped out of Thailand. We parked and Paul went on a mission to find someone to stamp us out plus we knew we’d have a fine to pay for the overstay of the customs agreement on the bike.
Passports were stamped with a quick glance and the ‘hefty’ fine we’d been worried about should not have worried us at all. The lady didn’t even pick up on it, Paul had to point it out. The conversation went: “I think we have a fine to pay” “Oh, erm, one minute Sir” Policeman strolls up “haha. You have fine, 1000 baht to pay Sir” All the worry for nothing. The border crossing was so lax it was weird, they didn’t even come and have a look at the bike to check we had it with us and were actually taking it out of the country.
We drove down the lane through the usual no-mans land into Malaysia, again motorbikes have their own narrow lane. First kiosk was for passport checking but no papers for the motorbike were checked and the motorbike was not stamped into the passport. Just past the passport stamping kiosk we were greeted by a smiling security guard who was actually beckoning us to keep driving like all the other mopeds but we stopped on the assumption this was the last post, which it was, so we needed some paperwork stamping.
It was slightly our fault, as we hadn’t done any research on this occasion and therefore didn’t even know if we needed the Carnet for Malaysia. We showed the same security man the Carnet but he didn’t have a clue what it was so showed us to an office with a little lady who was also a little puzzled and sent Paul off to another office.
In the final office there were a few people knocking about, Paul asked around and then an old chap, who just looked like the cleaner perked up and said “argh ATA Carnet” but with a fast and thick accent. So Paul replied “Sorry I don’t speak Malaysian” The man repeated “ATA Carnet” ATA is the equivalent of the RAC. He was our man. He walked Paul back to original office and had a young lad do the stamping.
With no-one asking for paperwork or indicating where we should go next we could have easily drove off, which is odd, because at most other border crossings you’re not allowed to pass without all the correct stack of papers in tow. We were thinking it was too easy and quick to be true, and it was. However it was only incidental that we stopped when we spotted the insurance offices just past the border post. Only when we tried to purchase insurance did we find out we needed to register the bike with the Malaysian Road Transport Department office next door and pay for a permit. In order for them to do this, we needed a front number plate which is actually just a sticker on the front of the bike.
The whole experience on both sides was a bit surreal. The passport control exuded the typical laid-back Thai friendliness, they even found a joke in the fact we’d over stayed and had a fine to pay. Land borders can usually be quite intimidating though the grinning border guards were not at all confrontational; it seems south-east Asians maybe very similar in mannerisms.
By the time we’d finished it was nearing 17.30 [Thai time] and as we’d crossed the border it was actually now 18.30 so we stopped in the first town we came to on the straight road out of the border post – Changlun. Not a lot going on here but we found a box to stay in for the night, it was quite literally the smallest room ever, the door barely opened enough to actually let you in. The most immediate difference I have noticed between here and Thailand is the extra weight the Malaysians carry. I have seen 3 obese kids in just this little town, like not just puppy fat kids, full on obese kids.
We went out in search of something to eat but not yet familiar with the culinary offerings we were unsure what to eat from the street cafes so opted for things we knew – Paul a burger and me a “no chicken please”, “ok no chicken” Tom Yam Soup which came with chicken. I may struggle in Malaysia.
Whilst we had no wi-fi Paul has been pondering the use of Y fronts to help the chafing situation and is wondering if this is the reason old men, when they are wiser, decide to wear apple catchers.
2nd October 2013 – Having had to rush through Thailand on our return, we were keen to regain some of the beach lifestyle we had left behind so we decided to head to the nearest island Langkawi for a few days. Having had no wi-fi the previous evening however we hadn’t been able to do any research on the ferry to Langkawi the island just of the north west coast of Malaysia but it was only a 30km drive away so we set out anyway. We pulled up to a small port-a-kabin in Kuala Perlis at around 11.30 and went in to enquire. “Today not possible sir, must come three hours before sailing, today 12.00 sail” Damn it we’d missed it by not getting up early enough. They have to submit the vehicle registration to someone for something, not really entirely sure why as Langkawi is in Malaysia, but anyway they were the rules. We went off to make a decision as it meant we’d be wasting a day and have to stay in this little town with not a lot going on as it’s just a fishing harbour and a ferry port.
Decision over a donut was that we would stay and go over to Langkawi. We found an alright place to stay just round the corner and went to pay for our tickets at the RORO ferry office which were about £35 return including bike. By 14.00 we had booked our tickets, been to the Seven Eleven, checked in, unloaded, washed our clothes and had not much to do in a small town. So we went for a walk and scoped out somehere to eat.
The next place we tried had a surprise in store for us, in the form of what we know as a Ladyboy. Whilst Malaysia is neighbour to Thailand which is a little infamous for ladyboys, we didn’t really expect to see any in a predominantly Islamic country. The Thai ladyboys make more convincing females thanks to their petite frames, the Malays are a little more rotund all round.
The lady/boy helped us enjoy pick to Malaysian dishes – I had ‘Mee Goreng’ fried noodles in a thick slightly spiced tomato sauce and Paul has ‘Nasi Ayam’ fried rice with chicken. Tasty enough dishes but not the healthiest, it was a cheap eat at £1.60 for both.
The next morning we sat around in the little town as the ferry company insisted on having the bike 2 hours before departure for a customs check even though we weren’t actually leaving Malaysia. Anyway, we sat in the passenger terminal for the alternative fast passenger ferry and just watched people for 2 hours. We provided some entertainment for the groups of school kids passing through as they were trying to sneakily take pictures of us. One pretending to take a picture of his friend but really zooming right in on us, and another slyly walking past with his camera phone pointing in our direction then bursting into a fit of giggles as soon as he passed. It’s quite funny to have your picture taken like that, making us feel like celebrities.
We left the murky shores of Kuala Perlis behind and after two hours the sky cleared, the sea turned turquoise and the shores of Langkawi were in the distance. Apparently the RORO ferry is new, and perhaps that’s why we were one of only a few other vehicles crossing or maybe it’s because its rainy season. The ferry weaved through some tiny little uninhabited islands filled densely with foliage and trees and eventually reached the ferry port after a 3 hour journey.
We headed to Pentai Cenang as it’s listed as the main beach area with lots of accommodation. It’s definitely not a ‘tropical paradise’ we found it too much on the developed side with large buildings flogging ‘duty free’ goods. There’s a little muddy track which leads to all the cheap accommodation off the main boulevard. The first two places we tried were full which was a bit surprising, then the third one, Rainbow Lodge, was our adopted home for four nights.
The guy on reception there was called Dave, an ex-pat cockney of around 60+ who just mills between South East Asia and Sri Lanka. This place was just his current stopping point, mainly because of the duty free alcohol from what I can gather. He basically told me his whole life story so check-in took me an hour. I know where all 3 of his kids are in the world, what they do for jobs, his marital situation and his love of Thailand. Nice guy and nice very chilled out place to be. We took a walk down the beach later in the evening to discover there’s not much going on. A girl who had seemingly found herself, or the sun, provided some entertainment for us as she seemed to be soaking up the suns energy before it set for the evening. We struggled to find somewhere in our budget range to eat, especially when coming from Thailand and you can eat well cheaply.
Our second day was spent roaming around the island with a key priority being to walk the sky bridge. To get to the bridge you can either walk or take the cable car. I think you’d have to be a bit crazy to walk it, as it’s hot and humid without a trek involved. When we got to the cable car ticket desk though we discovered the sky bridge was closed for maintenance. “When will it be open” we asked thinking we could come back on one of our other days, and the lady replied “next year” no hope in walking it on this trip then. We went up on the cable car anyway and it was worth it for the views, from the cable car we could see the 7 pools waterfall [Tujuh Waterfall] which we headed to next.
It was a bit of hike up to the top and at first we had it completely to ourselves, so we went for a dip to cool down. It wasn’t amazing, and it had been wrecked by rubbish strewn around, some unfortunate looking shelters and barbed wire over the edge of the falls, deemed as a good way to stop tourists falling over the edge.
There was bigger waterfall half way down which was more impressive but the tourist masses were there so we took a photo and left. On the way down, the road had been partially cordoned off for some mountain bike championships which looked like something I would never wish to ever to attempt in my life ever. Those taking part are seriously fit, their calves are huge.
After the waterfall we made our way back as some dark cloud was moving in ready for the inevitable downpour. It was the same story for eating again, finding somewhere that wasn’t a rip off was hard. The Indian was good food but a bit more than we were expecting to pay.
That evening it rained constantly and we woke in the morning we found the bike on its side. The gravel we’d parked on was ontop of a bed of sand and as it rained the side stand had sunk in. No major damage luckily but it completely broke the wind shield and smashed the indicator. Paul had wanted to get rid of the wind shield for a while anyway as it was a bit too big but was reluctant to remove it as it was £60 and we had nowhere to put it if he did take it off, so a little bit of a blessing in disguise. The indicator isn’t fixed but is temporarily taped up with some gaffa for now.
It rained on and off for the whole day, but mainly on so we were a little confined to the room. Paul did some maintenance on the bike as the chain had become a bit loose and the subject of not having a centre stand came up again when the temporary stand we use to raise the bike wheel kept slipping and dropping the wheel. When we attempted to leave the room, the rain came down again. The wind really picks up just before it hammers it down giving you a few seconds warning to run for cover. The place we took shelter was being built and started to leak after a few minutes as the rain was that heavy. Heading down the main street after the downpour eventually gave way made the place look like it had been hit by a mini hurricane. Debris from tress and fallen signs were lying all over the place. The story was pretty much for the rest of the day, it rained. We only ventured out to eat and play pool in the communal area in Rainbow lodge, which I’ve only mentioned because whilst we were playing a guy pulled up on a scooter with a little boy, no older than 3 years old, sat infront of him. He left the engine running whilst he popped inside and the little boy began revving the engine, we turned to look at him and he gave us a little thumbs up and then the peace sign and revved again. Pretty amusing seeing a little toddler revving a scooter.
Luckily, despite the weather report predicting a day of rain again the weather was good the next morning so we went out to find some more waterfalls. Both were better than the ones we saw the previous day. Temurun was a huge waterfall with a pool at the bottom to swim in. There were lots of monkeys lingering around this one. They were on the hunt for food and kept attempting to pinch things out of bags. When we left they began to follow us on the prowl, the last thing we wanted was a monkey bite.
We then headed over the north east of the island to visit the Durian Perangin waterfall. I slipped and bashed my tow, arse and cut my elbow open at this one, but was worth the visit. The black clouds were back and hovering over so we tried to make an escape butt we were too late and the rain started before we managed to leave. As we were out without our luggage we didn’t have any waterproofs with us so brought the plastic bag rain coats instead to make do to get home, Paul’s ripped in half before we even made it back.
During dinner that evening, a guitarist appeared and started to play. When he finished he went round asking for a donation, Paul obliged and put in 1 ringgit though a 1 ringgit note looks very similar to a 50 and when he went to look in his wallet to pay for the dinner the 50 ringgit note he had brought out was not there. Ashamedly he had to go and ask the guitarist if he could see what he put in as we wouldn’t have had enough money to pay for our dinner, turns out he’d put the 50 in his back pocket and he’d actually put a one ringit in – equivalent of 20p. The single most embarrassing moment of the trip, closely followed by pushing the Royal Enfield back to the repair garage only to discover it wasn’t working as we hadn’t turned the fuel back on.
We left early the next day to catch the ferry back. Apparently we were suppose to go the previous day to sort the paperwork as it takes them 3 hours but they let us off. We were there 2 hours before though. We met an Australian guy riding his bike with his Malay wife as a pillion. They tour 9 months of the year around south-east Asia, pretty good life.
We were going to attempt to make it to the Cameron Highlands but failed as the rains were once again pretty persistent. Malaysia is pretty motorbike friendly in that the roads are in perfect condition, they provide little shelters under bridges and there are separate little lanes for motorbikes at all the toll plazas – which are free for us. We travelled as far as we could until we were fed up with being soaked and called it a day. We made it to a town called Butterworth which actually really close to the bridge over to Penang which we’ll visit a little later on. Butterworth sounds a lot nice than it is. It turned out to be a pleasant stay though as we acquire all the things we had needed such as coolant and when Paul found a decent pair of Dainese gloves to replace the ones I had lost the shop assistant gave them him for free. Later on we had a really good meal at the Indian adjacent to the hotel for less than £4, and the place had buzzers for alerting the attention of the staff, so far we have eaten more Indian food in Malaysia than we did in India.