There was very little about our Malaysia tour that we hadn’t enjoyed, but the last few weeks there were extra special (and cheaper!) After we came down from three days in the Cameron Highlands we went from one Methodist minister to another. After staying with the first minister, that minister gave us a letter of introduction and the names of ministers in upcoming towns. At first we were hesitant to announce ourselves, but each time we were warmly received. The minister in Taiping even made arrangements for us to stay in The Nest, a Methodist bungalow in nearby mountains (Maxwell Hill, another change-of-air station.) That was really great. We could step out the door of the Nest into the clouds, and when it was clear we could see the sea. We spent a week in Penang, the second largest Malaysian city. (Actually the city is Georgetown on the island of Penang.) There we stayed in a guestroom at a big Methodist Church. We were in one of the church buildings (instead of a home), so it was sort as if we had an apartment of our own, something that never happened except that once. Our next to last stop in Malaysia was with an Irish minister in Alor Star. Then we went to Langkawi Island, where we spent four or five days swimming, reading, and riding around.
We became a couple of naturalists. As we rode along, we saw lots of birds, the most common being mynas and later kingfishers. (Our mountain trips were especially good for bird watching, only frustrated by the lack of bird glasses.) We also saw lots of flowers and butterflies, lizards and snakes. We were even pleased to see some wild monkeys. (On top of Maxwell Hill we heard our first gibbon. Whooping could be heard for miles.) And we were both healthy … no more accidents.
11. Penang. We stayed longer in Penang than we planned. We spent one whole day riding completely around the island, enjoying the views of the sea and the beaches. There was a fair amount to do (temples, museums, an aquarium, and botanical gardens), and we wanted to do some shopping.
For his birthday we bought Peggy’s youngest brother a small ball made of rattan. It was used in Malaysia to play a game between two teams, the object being for each team to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. The players stand in a circle, with every other player belonging to the same team. The team that has the ball bounces it to each other … but hands are not used (except maybe to start the game). The ball is bounced off the head, kicked with the foot or knee … any part of the body except hands. When the ball hits the ground the opposing team gets it. Being able to use the head takes a lot of practice.
12. Langkawi Island. After Penang we only had a couple more stops in Malaysia, and we were near the Thai border. At that point our plans for Thailand were very indefinite. Until we went to the consulate in Penang we didn’t know how long we’d be allowed to stay in Thailand. From Thailand we thought we’d probably go by ship or train south again to Indonesia, where we knew there was lots and lots to see. We planned to make our way then southeast to Australia and/or New Zealand. By then we knew we’d be out of money, but we thought we’d be in a good place to work. So we thought we would spend a year or two working and saving somewhere down under.
The hardest thing about travelling was being away from our families. We talked about them often … about things they’d written to us about or things we did when we were home. Every now and then we talked about cutting our travels short and returning home, but we always came to the realization that we’d be passing up opportunities we might never get again. We urged my parents to come see us in Asia.
Many people in Malaysia still called Thailand Siam. We weren’t sure how much we would do by bicycle. Thailand is much bigger than Malaysia. It was at least 600 miles from the border to Bangkok. There were no detailed road maps of Thailand in Malaysia, so we weren’t sure how many mountains to expect (the biggest obstacle for the bikes) and the condition of the roads. We heard conflicting reports … about all we could really be sure of then was that it couldn’t be as good as Malaysia, or so we thought.
Psychologically, this was kind of a rough time for us: entering a new country meant a new language, new customs, a new currency and new foods. Our uneasiness wasn’t as great as it was before we left the Philippines because we had a very good experience in Malaysia and Singapore. But we were still somewhat apprehensive. Even the border itself worried us, going through customs, getting a pass (U.S. citizens needed no visa in Thailand then, but we needed a long-tern pass if we were to travel that large a country by bicycle.) We thought the bikes might cause some difficulty as we crossed over. Bikes were supposed to be very expensive in Thailand, meaning that we could make a lot of money if we sold them there. We hoped that since ours were our means of transportation that they wouldn’t require us to put up a deposit. We would soon find out.
Peggy and Randy Ford