Tag Archives: Bicycle Touring Malaysia

Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 31st Installment

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

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 30th Installment

9. The next day we rode a bus through the mountains back to Kuala Lumpur. We spent a day and half there … long enough to get our mail, do some wash, repack our things, go to the movies, eat a couple of western meals, and finish seeing the national museum.

Did we ever hit the jackpot in KL. We received five letters from the states, one from our Manila maid’s sister, and one from Mr. Hernandez, Peggy’s former principal. It was good to catch up on all of the news from home. From time to time during our trip we also heard from Mr. Hernandez and other people we knew in the Philippines. In this way we kept up with some of the news there.

The next morning we took off by bicycles again, up the main route north (which is along the western side of the country). We only went 12 or 13 miles, to a small national park (Templer Park.) We spent most of the afternoon walking in the park, enjoying greenery, flowers, butterflies, a waterfall, and birds. We had to stop in shelters a couple of times because of rain. A Chinese family who ran a brand new restaurant near the park offered us a room for the night. (We asked to sleep on the cement floor underneath the restaurant, and they offered us a room.) We didn’t know then how long it would take us to reach Penang (which had the only American Express office between KL and Bangkok

10. Taiping, Perak. The three days we spent in the Cameron Highlands (“a-change-of-air station”) was really like vacation time. We lived a life of luxury. We ate in a restaurant, and Peggy made no pretense of trying to keep up with the laundry. We just hiked, read, slept, and ate. Even bathing was special: we bathed with the first hot water since Singapore. (Bathing all over the country was done in much the same way. Water was run … or collected … in a large container. A smaller container was used to dip the water, which was then poured over the body.) Being able to have hot water in the mountains was especially nice because using cold water when the air was cold would’ve been a shocking experience.

We left the mountains late in the morning. It was our third day there. When we got below we ate a quick lunch, retrieved our bicycles from a police station (where we left them), loaded the bikes, and set out on our way. We only went to the next town, about 12 miles away. We checked into a hotel, and Peggy strung a clothesline around the room and did a big wash. (Because it was the rainy season, getting clothes dry over night could be quite a problem. Fortunately, most of the hotel rooms had big ceiling fans. If the fan were left on all night, the clothes would usually dry.)

We managed to get an early start the next morning. We left the main north-south road and headed for a particular part of the coast, where according to our literature the beaches were especially nice. That was an eventful day. Our route involved making turns every few miles, most of which were not well marked, at least not for the villages we needed. But I kept referring to a road map and asking directions when we weren’t sure, and we never got lost. For one stretch we went several miles by dirt road, in the middle of which was a small river, which we had to cross by ferry.

We knew that the route we were following had a washed out bridge, causing cars to have to cross the river about 10 miles further north. We were told however that a sampon (a particular type of boat) which carried people back and forth could also take our bikes across. When we reached the riverbank, it was shortly after 2:00 p.m., and there were gobs of school children waiting to cross. As soon as the sampon hit the shore, the children began rushing on; but there were too many for one load. We looked at the crowding children and at our heavily loaded bikes and discussed riding up to the other bridge. But the fact that it would take us three hours to ride 10 miles up the river and 10 miles back down again, made us give the sampon a try. We took the heaviest basket off the back of my bicycle. Somehow, with the help of the men who ran the sampon, we managed to get on, not fall off while crossing, and safely unload on the other side. That ride certainly made our afternoon exciting, but Peggy thought that she could do without any more sampon rides balancing a bicycle.

We didn’t know how far we rode that day, but about 15 miles from our destination … a good two hours ride … we decided we couldn’t make it any further. We rode through the town where we were; but there were no hotels, and it looked as if no one was going to invite us to stay with them. So we went to the Methodist Church, told them our problem, and we were warmly welcomed. They (a lady minister and an adopted daughter) gave us a place to stay and fed us dinner and breakfast.

The next day was Sunday. The only service in the church where we were staying was in Chinese, so we headed for the next town, seven miles away. We missed most of the service there because we were told 8:30 instead of 8:00. But the minister and his wife invited us for coffee afterwards. (The parsonage was just behind the church.) There was to be a Malay wedding next door that afternoon, so we were invited to stay and watch. So we unloaded our bikes and made a quick trip to the beach toward which we had been heading, getting back in time to eat some of the Malay food that was being served for the wedding. We missed the actual ceremony that made the couple husband and wife. But Peggy was able to take several pictures of the bride and groom and their relatives.

Monday morning the minister (Rev. Tang), his wife and two children (who called us antie and uncle), Peggy, and I took a boat ride to a nearby island with a really beautiful beach. On Tuesday we planned to move on, but it was our anniversary, and we didn’t feel like tackling the long ride necessary before the next stop. It didn’t take much to persuade us to stay. Mrs. Tang even baked a cake for us, and Peggy got to make spaghetti, which was a big success. The next day was still spent with the Tangs because a friend of theirs whom we met on Monday offered to take us to Ipoh that afternoon. (It was a big city, which we had decided to skip.) Finally Thursday, we left Ipoh, riding more than 60 miles to Taiping, where we stayed again with another Methodist minister and his wife. Rev. Tang arranged everything, something that continued while we were in Malaysia. We never had to ask, and out of fear of insulting someone, we were afraid to say no. We had never seen such hospitality before, but the same kind of hospitality continued as long as we were in South East Asia.
Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 29th Installment

7. Kuala Lipis, Pahang. After spending two weeks in Kota Bharu, we rode our bikes 43 miles south to a small town called Kuala Krai (cutting $8 Malay off our train fare). The evening there was very pleasant because we bumped into a Peace Corps couple. They invited us to eat supper with them. We exchanged news and suggested some places for them to go in the Philippines. (They were the only volunteers we visited in Malaysia, the only volunteers we visited anywhere. There were about 500 Peace Corps volunteers in Malaysia then, but we didn’t see them.)

The next morning we took what turned out of to be a rather lengthy train ride south through the center of the country. It reminded us of transportation in the Philippines: we were told the trip took about five hours, but we left Kuala Krai at 5:30 a.m. and reached our destination (Kuala Lipis) sometime after 6:00 that evening (9 hours). The ride itself was quite beautiful, passing through rubber plantations, across many rivers, and through some rather thick jungle. We thought we’d cross some mountains, but we went through several tunnels instead. To me the most memorable creature we saw was a huge monitor lizard.

Kuala Lipis is the closest town of any size to the national park. There was a government “rest house” (like a hotel) there, where we made inquiries about going into the park. The last leg of the trip was by boat, and we were told that it cost $120 Malay to hire a boat for the trip in. Obviously we didn’t have that kind of money, but we thought that we might be able to squeeze in when someone else had one hired. A boat was making a trip that day, but it was full because of hauling supplies. The next trip wouldn’t be for five days, and a fellow at the rest house thought we could go then. In the meantime, we were sort of camping out in a garage behind the rest house. We were paying $2.00 Malay a night, a dollar less than the cheapest hotel we stayed in. Also, we cooked our own meals, so we were able save a little that way.

We fell into a lazy routine, sleeping until 8:30 or 9:00. We would get up, cook eggs and boil water for tea, a process that took nearly an hour if our little stove wasn’t feeling energetic. After doing the dishes (with no running water) and reading the paper, Peggy would do some wash, and I usually wrote for a while. Then it would be lunchtime … our basic meal being hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, a local fruit called lonsat, and bread and kaya (native jam made from coconut milk and eggs.) The afternoon was reserved for reading, sleeping, writing, working crossword puzzles, and sometimes doing more washing.

Supper was a major operation on our stove, which had to be pumped constantly, but we enjoyed cooking our own food. (We always had rice and hot tea. Our meat varied: fresh fish, dried fish, canned meatballs and gravy (from Australia), stewed pork, or duck (both from China). The Chinese fellow in the rest house taught us a delicious way to cook vegetables. We’d buy 30 cents Malay worth of leafy vegetables (we tried three kinds) and 20 cents Malay worth of fresh shrimp, add some oil, and cook them together in a frying pan. The sweetness of the shrimp would keep the greens from being bitter. While we waited, Peggy was frustrated because there were no English bookstores in Kuala Lipis, so she spent much of her time working crossword puzzles.

8. Our lazy life ended on August 21 (1969). A major in the British Army (stationed in Singapore) had reserved a boat into the park. Since he had only two daughters with him (his wife was expecting in three weeks, and his son was recuperating from being stung by a cone shell), there was plenty room for us. We met Major Smith the night before, and during our conversation Peggy mentioned that the $120 Malay was more than we could afford for a boat. That was the first he had heard of its being so expensive, although he had been corresponding with park officials.

We made arrangements to leave our bicycles and some of our extra stuff in the garage where we had been staying – for a $1.00 Malay a day. At the last moment we found out that we could leave our stuff at an army station around the corner for free. So Peggy went with Major Smith and his daughters to the train station, while I took care of the bikes. I just almost missed the train because it turned out that a general was arriving that day and the army people didn’t want our large messy basket (and bikes) cluttering up their place. So I had to lug everything back to the place where we had been staying. I arrived at the station three or four minutes before the train pulled out.

The train ride took about an hour and took us within two miles of where we were to catch the boat. When we got off the train, Major Smith began inquiring about the price. The fee was $12.50 or $15 (depending on the size of the boat) plus the cost of the gas: 46 gallons at $2.60 per gallon one way! So the major had a conference with his daughters, and they decided they’d rather spend the $200 or so it would have cost them going up the East Coast. So that was the end of our trip to the park. We spent a pleasant afternoon eating a picnic lunch with the Smiths and walking two miles to the river and back, while we waited for the 7:15 train back to Kuala Lipis. At one point we were caught in a downpour. Major Smith’s daughters thought we should get out of it, but we had no where to go. So the major shrugged and threw up his hand, and we all waited the storm out under a tree.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 28th Installment

6. Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Malaysia has three main races of people, which means it has three main religions. Almost all Malays are Muslims, most Chinese are a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist, and most Indians are Hindus. Muslims don’t eat pork (in fact, they consider even touching a pig to be unclean), and Hindus don’t eat beef (they consider cows sacred). In Malacca, KL, and other cities, there were always enough Chinese that we could get pork. And, although Friday is a Muslim holy day, in most places shops only close from noon until 2:00 p.m. (to allow men to attend public prayer), and Sunday is the day off.

But in Kota Bharu it was different because there were very few Chinese. Everything (except restaurants and movie theaters) closed on Friday, and Sunday was just like any other day. (There was a Presbyterian Church in Kota Bharu, but we didn’t know how they had Sunday morning services.) And there was no pork available. The two restaurants there that served western meals had all sorts of sandwiches, except ham. Most Chinese restaurants served pork, but the one we found in Kota Bharu didn’t. While we were there we ate more chicken than ever before.

Before Peggy’s crash (on the East Coast on the way to Kota Bharu), we were a couple miles from a beach where huge turtles came ashore to lay their eggs. For some time we read about huge Leather-back turtles. One source, the GOLDEN GUIDE TO SOUTH AND EAST ASIA, said, “ … during May to September there is the unique sight of the giant leather-back turtles coming ashore to lay and bury their eggs on the beaches. The turtles may be up to eight feet long and half a ton in weight and, it is maintained, may be centuries old.” We decided to spend the night at a nearby kampong (village) so that we could see the turtles (which came ashore on a particular beach usually after midnight.)

Peggy chose the perfect spot to crash. A boy who could speak some English came up and asked if we wanted to see turtles. It turned out that his father went to the beach every night to collect turtle eggs … a delicacy there. So about 4:00 p.m. we rode our bikes to the beach, hiding them in some bushes. Everyone then went to sleep. Later, the boy went to locate turtles … an easy job since the moon was full and the sky was clear … and came back and reported that two had already came ashore. Since the turtles were uneasy on land, we waited a while to give them a chance to get settled.

When we finally saw a turtle, we were amazed. She was about six feet long and five feet across! A second one was about the same size. We watched the latter lay her eggs in a deep hole she dug in the sand. Each egg was almost as big as a tennis ball, and she laid 90 of them! Afterwards she covered the hole up, but she didn’t know that there were no eggs left in the hole. A government man had been collecting them right from under her! (He took the eggs to a hatchery, and young turtles from these eggs were released in the sea. Otherwise, all the eggs would’ve been eaten, and there would eventually be no turtles. The eggs are good … much like a chicken egg except that the yolk, when hard-boiled, is somewhat grainy. The shell is soft.)

We watched the poor turtles trying to go back to the ocean. Since they live only in the water, they don’t have real legs. We didn’t know what to call them except flippers, made for swimming. This combined with great weight made it very difficult for them to move in the sand. Sometimes the ones we watched worked for several minutes and got nowhere. All they were doing was digging holes in the sand. One apparently got confused because she started going away from the sea. We finally left because we thought we might’ve been upsetting her. When we left the beach at 6:00 a.m., she was gone, but we saw another one who was still struggling, many yards from the ocean.

We stayed in Kota Bharu longer than we planned because Peggy picked up some virus infection. That meant another five days. We stayed in Kota Bharu two weeks. All Peggy had was a common bug, the same as a stateside variety.

Kota Bharu was the main place where Malaysian batik was made. Before we left there, we got to see a small batik factory. Batik is not made in a large roll; the work is done on a piece of cotton, which is usually two or two and a half yards long. The basis is just a piece of white cotton, onto which a design is stamped in wax. When the cloth has the desired combination of patterns, it is dyed. Then it is put in boiling water so that the wax is removed. Thus, the places where the wax was is not dyed. This process is repeated three or four times, depending upon the desired number of colors. A somewhat more modern process is sometimes used … called screening … but we didn’t get to see it in operation. Because screening is faster than printing, batik made this newer way is somewhat cheaper.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 25th Installment

Bicycling was the most common means of transportation in Malaysia. Roads were good, but most people couldn’t afford cars then. Gas alone was $2 Malaysian a gallon, which was a lot of money. Filipinos had a well-developed system of jeepneys to go around within towns or to go from town to town, but Malaysians used bicycle. Granted, not many people toured the country by bicycle, but not many people toured the country period.

We spent the whole afternoon in a bicycle shop while accessories were put on, so we didn’t get to ride until after 5:00 p.m.. At first Peggy was a little shaky, but she soon got the hang of it. We rode to a kampong (village) 2 ½ miles out of town and back again, a pretty good starter. The most difficult things were that the British system was followed there, so that we rode on the left and all bikes had hand brakes instead of coaster brakes and no gears. (A British acquaintance called them “sit-up-and-beg bicycles.”). Adapting was easier than Peggy thought it would be, but at first, at least. she kept her hand always touching the brake.

Riding bicycles meant that we’d be going much more slowly than we previously planned. Because we only had permission to stay in the country two weeks, we needed to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL) before then to apply for an extension. Assuming that we were given an extension, we planned then to spend a few days in KL before beginning the longest leg of the Malaysian part of our trip. We thought we’d go up the East Coast and eventually get back to KL, but at that point we had no idea whether it would take a month or six months. We told our families to hold off sending us mail because American Express held mail for only 30 days.

There was still talk of tension and of rumormongers who created tension by spreading rumors of new trouble. A few Chinese were killed, but by the time we were on the road talk seemed to be all there was to it. Still when we got caught out on the road after dark coming back from a kampong we talked to each other (in English) the whole way back to our hotel, so that we wouldn’t be mistaken for either Chinese or Malay. We wouldn’t know until we got to KL that there was a curfew. Maybe it was only enforced in KL.

We really enjoyed Malaysia. The people seemed even friendlier than Filipinos did (if possible), and we thought the countryside was more beautiful (possibly because the Philippines was having a bad dry season, making things not as green as in Malaysia). We enjoyed the swallows, which nested in eaves of porches … right in towns. And sitting on the inside of our hotel room while we were in Malacca was a moth with a 5-inch wing span. It just flew up onto the wall, and a house lizard … called chicha in Malay … was very interested in it. Peggy made the moth move to a safer place. Soon there were four chichas playing on the wall.

And wow! The exercise we were getting. The first day we had our bikes we rode around town and out to a Portuguese settlement, where we met some people and learned about their history. We covered a distance of some 20 miles. We suffered, but not as much as Peggy expected. The next morning we bought a big basket to carry the cooking and camping gear we collected. Then we began packing the bikes. It turned out to be quite a difficult time. We started out with the big basket on the back of Peggy’s bike, but she couldn’t keep her balance. Eventually we shifted around so that Peggy had only one bag and I had everything else. My problem with all the weight was how to keep the bike from tipping over backwards.

3. We left town (Malacca) about 1 p.m. Progress was quite slow because of the weight. We made a picnic-lunch stop and a couple of rest and water stops. We hadn’t realized it, but Malaysia was/is a hilly country. And even a slight incline posed a problem to heavily loaded bicyclists with out-of-shape legs. We walked up several hills. By 5 o’clock we made 18 miles, but we didn’t feel we could go much further. (We rode through groves of rubber trees most of the afternoon, which would’ve been pleasant had we been in shape. We sang a made-up-song: RUBBER NUTS DON’T FALL ON US. ) The small town there had no hotel, and we really began to despair. But we rode out a little ways and met some boys who said we could stay in a meeting hall. Pretty soon about 20 boys gathered around, so we had plenty of help buying some rice and sardines and getting our little stove set up.

While we were eating another boy came along and said that his grandfather’s house was empty and that we could sleep there. So the boys helped us gather up our things and move to the empty house. So, our first night was spent in a Malay house in a very friendly village. Oh, yes! Earlier we bathed at a well beside a Mosque. I learned how to use a sorong so that I could bathe where there was no shelter, but Peggy just washed her face, arms, and legs.

The next morning the boys were back to help us pack and load the bicycles. We shifted some of the weight from the back of my bike to the front so that it wouldn’t keep trying to tip over backwards. We started on our way about 8:00 a.m. And oh the hills! By noon we were quite pooped! But we had a leisurely lunch and rested until the sun was a little lower. The afternoon was much easier, partly because there were fewer hills and because we were learning to pace ourselves. By 4:00 we were almost to Port Dickson … 39 miles from where we spent the night. I went for a swim in the ocean and was amazed at how easily I could float. Afterwards, we spotted a youth hostel where we spent the night before deciding to spend two additional days and nights. I had found a distraction … my writing. I was excited about starting a new play and said to Peggy writing was my profession now. Yes, it was easy to get distracted. I never finished the play.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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