Thursday, April 21, 2005

Up the East coast

On my second day of biking I left Ramunia beach, not quite as early as I had wanted, but I left and headed North. I coasted along a quiet back road beside the coast, with the occasional dead palm frond the only obstruction. I was planning to head to Desaru another twenty km's up the coast. However somewhere along the line I think I must of missed the turn off. I had cycled for about ten kilometres before my first signpost, at least it was the right one though. It said nine kilometres to Desaru. So I cycled on and on the nine kilometres had come and gone but there was a sign up a head. It pointed to Belungkor, this was going to be my original starting point so it completely confused me, I only knew that I definitely didn't want to go there so I continued on my current road. Eventually I came to a roundabout which had a turn off looping back about 4 kilometres to Desaru. Desaru seems to be a string of beach resorts, most of them quite pricey, I had expected a town. Maybe there is a town back there somewhere but I gave up and decided to head onto a fishing village five kilometres further on. I got to Tanjong Balau and asked a local about rooms, but he just shook his head, I was quite sure it he was saying no or just didn't understand my English and one-word Malay!

I soon found a hotel though a bit pricey I checked out the chalets which had also had a dorm but it was full. It seemed they had a group booking. So back to the hotel as least somewhere to stay and get some food. But first I though I would check out the fishing museum here, but Friday in Malaysia is like a Sunday in the U.K so it was closed, oh well back to the food.
The food at the restaurant was excellent and I wolfed it down. I had a salad and then some tasty fish (well I was in a fishing village) in a bright green sauce. Yummy!
Back at the shore there was a long jeti, which I walked down and took a photo of the small boats bobbing around and erm some rocks.

I had done more than double my estimated twenty kilometres that day, but I was settling into the riding with luggage up and down the small hills that seems to the geography of this area at least.

The next day I set off up along the coast and got to my destination as marked on the map, Mahktu Beach, didn't seem to be much there so I continued on upto the next village, but I couldn't find anywhere to stay. It was either head back down or... I spotted a bus driving past with the destination of Kota Tinggi which was going to be my next stop. I did a quick 180degree turn and chased after it, it had stopped at the local jetty but the driver had left. I wondered whether they would take my bike or not, I asked a couple of passer-bys who looked doubtfull. The driver turned up and just waved me and my bike on board. Like India you are subjected to the drivers taste in music, this time some Malaysian Rock! Strange, but better than Hindi Pop.
I got off the bus and spotted a hotel sign and they helped me & my bike up to my room, no problems, and not long before the rain hit Kota Tinggi either! Well except for my next move, the next stop on the map was a long long 90km away. There didn't seem to be anywhere else to stop in between. After a days rest, I decided I would go for it anyway and got underway at 07.30. After a long tiring ride with more and more frequent rest I eventually made it to Mersing, yah! It was good to make it into the town and had a renewed spurt of energy, I found a guesthouse that had been recommended and then went for a nosy around this small town (less than 50,000 people) I would sleep well that night. The next day I jumped on a speedboat to zoom across the water to the island of Tioman. This was the setting of the mystical Bali Hai in South Pacific (that's for my older readers, you know who you are!)
White sands, blue seas and very cheap rooms make for an enjoyable stay! So I'll maybe try and go snorkelling, they have life jackets for hire :) However Internet is expensive so signing off!

Off to Malaysia

Somewhere back in India the idea of cycling had entered my head, I had talked to George in Honey Valley about cycling and he had told me I could do a ten day circle in Thailand, this sounded interesting. Somewhere along the line this idea got stuck in my head and then I stumbled across I immediately had a read about cycling up the east coast of Malaysia, now this sounded more like it! After my final hellish train journey in India the idea was firmly lodged in the brain, so when I reached Singapore and stumbled across a bike-shop, I had a keen look around. I had a chat with the shop owner who had actually done the same trip I was thinking about, so recommended a hybrid (kinda of a cross between a racer and mountain bike, fairly skinny tyres no suspension, but solid enough not to buckle on a few potholes hopefully) I thought about it for a few days and finally caved in. Later that night I went out for a meal and it turned out that one guy owns a custom made Cannondale, another had done all sorts of touring, another couple cycled the length of Britain on a tandem, and here was I with the grand plan of cycling up the coast of Malaysia knowing erm... not much about bikes except the wheels on the bike go round and round.

After nearly two false starts I was finally on my way. The first attempt failed in an unglorious manner. I had footered about too much with strapping the bags on the bikes and adjusting then re-adjusting, also I quickly checked the footy scores that morning and ended up reading about Rangers getting beat at home by Dundee Utd, pffft. I turned up about 15 minutes before the ferry was due to depart, only to be informed I should of turned up 1 hour before departures to clear immigrations. Oh well there is always tomorrow. Tomorrow however ended up a non-starter as my watch alarm failed to go off. It has been a bit flaky since part of the face fell off whilst cycling in Singapore, still I like this watch(when it works properly though) and it glows in the dark!

After a quick perusal of the ferry timetables and my maps I quickly changed plan and saw that I could still catch a 12:00 ferry, although to a different port than I had earlier attended, so flexible in mind if not in body I cycled down to the ferry terminal, which incidentally was 5km closer to the hostel.

After passing through immigrations safely (I had suddenly recalled saying I was staying for 14days in Singapore I had stayed longer). I later looked and saw I had been issued with a 30day visa.

I went onboard the craft that would be taking me to Malaysia, an enclosed ferry. It swayed and bounced in the swell at the jetty. I tried to ignore it and watch the television, even though I had no idea what was being said. I'm not sure if watching TV is recommended for seasickness but it took my mind off the rocking.

After passing through customs at the other side where they gave me a 3 month visa, I was officialy underway! By the time I had got my bike and stuff together the other 3 passengers had already cleared customs, must be one of the quickest immigration departments in the world! As this ferry is primarily used to shuttle customers to the Sebana Cove resort from Singapore, I had to negiotate my way out of the resort. I had my first decision to make, left or right, left or right. Right! Wrong. I asked a security guard where the road went and he said somewhere that was familiar from looking at the maps, I went a few metres and then decided to actually check the map, good job it was familiar but in the wrong direction, after a quick 180 degree turn the watchman waved goodbye and I was off in the right direction. I came to a roundabout, with no signs, but not to worry on road was blocked off, another only went 10meters leaving the path through the golf course. This road seemed to be only used by golf carts and the occasional curious monkey watching me. I was soon to learn that peoples percpetions do not alll match, a popular cycling website had said that there were no hills, however I had stumbled across a few others who had disagreed. They were right, I came to my first hill, a sign said it was 8.2 degrees it felt more like 45 degrees after practising in Singapore were there is approximately one small hill (Canning Hill was the only one I came across).

I puffed my way to the top and got at least to whizz down the other side for a bit, after a few more km's I came to a sign showing I was at least going in the right directions, no more mishaps for the rest of the ride. I found a chalet, got a small discount and relaxed. My first day biking was over. It did seem like I was the only person staying at the resort though, still nice place to sit and watch the world go by! A short walk away I got some Malay food, nearly choking on the peppers and guzzling my orange juice. I went back to the chalet and had a good kip, although I had only gone a touch over twenty km's I was exhausted, too much nervous excitement for one day, but I came through it okay.

Monday, April 11, 2005


I arrived in Singapore and what a change! The bus to the hostel was air-conditioned, a shock after India where there wasn't any glass in the windows. Also they have tv's on the bus, just in case you thought you could escape American Idol.

I spent the first few days just wandering around the city, getting lost in the massive shopping malls and amongst the tall buildings. It's nice to be able to have a drink with ice and not worry about whether you are going to get sick. Also just being able to drink tapwater again is great!

I headed down to a quay, after all Singapore is the second busiest port in the world, although in the centre, it is more tourist boats and colourfuly painted buildings
A large fountain squirts water back into the sea. Looks like some mythical half lion half fish? I walked past a temple which had been recently refurbished so I entered for a quick nosy. Gilded ceilings, lions with red necklaces, and bizarre statues with stange expression. Excellent!

I signed up for a one day course doing rock-climbing, I'd seen it on TV in India and wanted to give it a go, and Singapore has an indoor climbing wall ( I jumped on the MRT (their train system) passing a curiously shaped mall and then the train zoomed off into the distance. The train stations sometime have signs like this, yep the durian fruit is seriously smelly.

After the morning tutorial about ropes & equipment we got let loose on the wall. I managed to clamber to the top of a slightly back-slanted wall on my very first go. Mostly a combination of fear & adrenaline, I think, for the rest of the day I never got to the top again! Once at the top, I realised that I wasn't sure how to come back down, but you just lean back and bounce down like abseiling. Also they showed us some bouldering where you have no ropes, but crash mats, you go sideaways along the wall instead of up. It requires a lot of finger strength and by this time, I was a bit weary so I didn't do very good at all. However it was interesting to watch the experts swing along the wall. Definitely some skill involved with the way they move their centre of gravity and keep their arms straight to minimise strain. It was fun to do!

Another day I popped into the science centre, they had quite a lot of optical illusion which was interesting. Also a van-de-graff generator for zapping people! I picked up a pair of sunglasses around the train station for $4, big spender!

I went to the Singapore Zoo, which was excellent. Most animals are contained in artifical islands rather than cages. I saw loads of animals! Later on I went to the night safari, where a electric bus trundles along through the night with commentary, pointing out all the animals, as you move through simulated geographical regions. Half-way through I jumped off for a small walk through some other sites, including a room with bats, fluttering about. Then back on the bus for the second half of the trip. After that into the auditorium for a animal show. This included an owl silently fly through the air above the crowd, a high-jumping cat, and wee speedy things running about (I don't think I'd make a good zoologist) They had left a toolbox besides one of the seats in the crowd and, of course, there was a giant snake in it, which a guy flung over his shoulders and ran through the crowd causing havoc!

I took lots of photos, here they are:


Night Safari:


Downtown at Raffles Quay an
was being made while I ate a sandwich, feeling dwarfed by the buildings one of which had some strange balls on sticks beside a pool, maybe it's art? I went through the shopping mall, and won a wallet for making a Timberland design from straws Occasionaly you could still see the traditional architecture the most obvious example being the spiral staircases at the back. I soon had to duck into a coffee shop as the rain started really pelting it down.
Once the rain went off I continued down past some colourful shopfronts and odd masks.
Later I popped into a museum which had a model of singapore, hence the ariel photo. Going to Chinatown I strolled past my HQ (McLennan Centre) across a bridge where a chinese pagoda resided. The lights were slowly coming on across the city.

Also I went on a food walk with the hostel owner, Tony, where we sampled various local foods, including pork dumplings, laksa and some other bits and pieces I forget but a tasty evening. More info here. I saw giant bananas as well!

Also we popped into a Hindu temple, apparently when land was cleared a small elephant statue was found and then the temple was built on top of it. A large proportion of the coast around Singapore is from land-reclamation, in fact it is continuing. Also went into one of the local high-rises, this is where the majority of Singaporeans live. At the base there is usually local amenities, such as a food court and shops. Tony showed us the sensors in the lift, where if you pee in the lift the sensors go off, stop the lift and the police are called. Then you have to pick up litter(although generally not much about) for two weeks wearing a bright green costume!

On Saturday night Tony invited me along to a local event which his friend Wee Cheng ( had heard about. Wee Cheng has been almost everywhere, and plans to go where he hasn't been! Anyway this 'event' was actually a spirit possesion.
After a bit of dancing and playing of instruments, four young guys/boys entered the arena riding wooden horses, after inhaling some smoke they all went crazy and got possessed, kinda hard to describe! Things got weirder as they ate bites of glass from a vase and danced over broken glass barefoot. Later the 'ringmaster' hit them with a bullwhip but they seemed impervious to the pain. Eventually they were brought back to reality, but the spirit jumped across to some other people and more chaos ensued. Definitely a strange evening, one part theatre, one part entertainment to two parts weirdness.
Photos here:


The next day I had another stroll through the city, past more tall buildings, some cats, a big spoon and egg race with ankle grabbing?? and finally Fatman and Robin

Saturday, April 02, 2005

All out for 143!

Well my five months in India have come to an end, overall I've really enjoyed it and looking back I've managed quite a lot. I've been to the Himalayas, watched the sun sink into the Arabian sea, bounced along the desert on a camel, hiked in the Coorg forest, cycled through the ruins of Hampi, seen the Golden Temple, Taj Mahal and the Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai, wandered through markets, go-karted in Goa and met some good people besides a lot more.

While the photos give an impression of India, they do so omiting the smells of the spice gardens, the sounds of the minarets, the touch of the white sands underfoot and the tastes of the spicy Indian cuisine.
As Benjamin Disraeli said about travel - "I've seen more than I remember and I'll remember more than I've seen"
However it does feel like time for a change and so I'm moving on to Singapore.

Here's the final list of places I visited:

Delhi, Amritsar, Dalhousie, McLeod Ganj, Chandigarh, Agra, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Panaji, Anjuna, Palolem, Colva, Mangalore, Madikeri, Kakkabe, Mysore, Ooty, Conoor, Kochi, Kollam, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Periyar, Munnar, Madurai, Trichy, Pondicherry, Mamallapuram, Bangalore, Hampi
and Chennai

I guestimate I've travelled around 7000km in my time here.

And just for good measure, here's the books I read while doing it:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Wizard of Oz

Alice in Wonderland

The Man Who Was Thursday by J.K. Chesterton.

White Fang by Jack London.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London.

Widow for One Year by John Irving.

Fury by Salman Rushdie.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie.

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Deception Point by Dan Brown.

Zeke & Ned by Larry McMurty & Diana Ossana.

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Yellow Dog by Martin Amis.

The Rhineman Exchange by Robert Ludlum.

The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum.

Son of the Circus by John Irving.

Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong.

Timbuktu by Paul Auster.

Papillion by Henri Charriere.

The Game by Jack London.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Prisig.

Signs of India

Here is some of the signs I've seen in India:

Beware of unattended luggage, briefcase without owners or even an innocent looking toy or transistor. If you see any of these please contact the police immediately. Your prompt action could help save hundreds of lives.

Rohar Police, a friend in need.

Badly built bridge drive carefully.

Speed thrills, but kills.

Speedest English speaking course!

Dont throw rubbish God will be angry.

From January to December, there is safety to remember.

Left is right.


I seemed stuck on the never ending train journey from hell. I was tired after not much sleep the night before on the train and having to get up at 6am. After an hour my back was sore, the back of the seats seemed too far away, so you had to slump back or sit straight up with nothing to lean against.

It was a busy train, from staff shouting out chai coffee coffee chai, people selling cold drinks dosas and samosas, young boys crawling along dusting the carriageway for money, beggars with withered, twisted, atrophied limbs shoved in your face, young girls with younger babies, hirijas clapping demanding money, a blind man with one hand shuffling along the carriageway selling stuff announcing his life story in Tamil and of course the obligatory screaming kid which appears wherever you want peace & quiet. Constant glancing at the watch and no time has passed...

Eventually however I did arrive in Chennai and proceeded out the station blankly ignoring at least five autorickshaw drivers, sometimes you get fed up just saying NO all the time.

I had a Punjabi Thali consisting of palak paneer (cottage cheese & spinach), chana masala (spiced chickpeas), dal fry, another wet dish with cauliflower, onion, pickle, curd, veg pulao (rice with veg), kulcha (indian flatbread), papad and sweet (sponge in sugar sryup) washed down with fresh grape juice. It cost 60rps (75p).


I got to Hampi and found a cheap room close to the Hampi Bizzare. Later I realised, I was next door to somebody who spent half the day praying/chanting.

I hired a bike to have a look around as Hampi is quite spread out. It is however not short of sights, a quick look at a map shows over 80 places of interest.

I stopped off at an old temple which was underground, but now excavated. Had a quick look around. It's nice and atmospheric when you are the only one there. Then I jumped back on the bike and cycled another five minutes coming to a mosque, I headed up the stairs and had a view where you can see more ruins and walls in the distance. Stone carvings everywhere.

Onto the Royal Centre, where the Lotus Mahal and Elephant stables reside. Next onto the 16th century Vittala temple, a World Heritage listed sight, complete with an impressive carved stone chariot.

Unforutnately on the way to the Vittala temple I got a puncture. So I had to cycle back the 10km on the rim, juddering along the long bumpy streets, being jolted every time the tyre revolved on the air jack. Oh yes, it was also 3 o'clock in the sun, the very hot sun, in fact according to the paper it was 39.5C, a new record for March!

The next day I headed up to the Hanuman temple, crossing the river in a small oracle. There is great views over the entire Hampi landscape, even from halfway up. The landscape in Hampi is very unusual not having normal hills or mountains. All the moutains are made from piles of rocks balanced up on top of each other, giving a strange look to the area.


The MG Road area of Bangalore is more modern than most areas in India, this means it is now full of shopping malls, fast food, cafes and bars. Not sure everybody will agree it's progress!

Also one of the fews places where you hear snippets of Indians conversing in English.

I noticed an English cinema so I wandered in and watched Constantine. Not particularly good, but maybe not as bad as the guy behind me thought, he snored through most of the movie.

Indian seem to have the envious abilty to fall asleep anywhere. If you take a walk around cities you'll usually see people lying on bits of newpaper on the ground. Presumably to keep them clean, rather than for padding. And of course the autorickshaws drivers squeezed into the back of their machines, but I suspect that's the same for taxi drivers the world over!

I had a nosy into a pub for a drink as the outside intrigued me. It was a theme bar called NASA. Inside all the staff wear outfits like airplane pilots. A small modern bar, with booth and quotes about space exploration that I can't remember, although I do remember the sign below the DJ booth, No Dancing!

When it was time to leave, I had a few hours to wait for the train, so I jumped into the cinema to watch a film, it's hard to miss the large adverts! This time a Hinda or Kannada film, who knows? I followed the start but got lost later on too much dialogue not enough action.

It started with a boy who won some sort of prize, but maybe only second. Then he had a fight with his dad or uncle, where he flings a bowl at his head, covering him in blood and then he runaways. He is shown curled up from hunger and asks a stall owner for food who laughs at him because he had no money. Cuts to a drunken man surrounded by beer bottles, who is getting hounded by bad guys for money. The boy intervenes just before they get the drunk guy and smashes a bottle over their head. He takes the wad of money, peals off just one note and hands it back. Back to the stall, he is shown biting in to a chicken leg.
Cut to the present day and he is grown up, a moody fighting machine. Later he gets in another fight where a group of guys try and beat him up. Cue him dropping his cigarette, beating up four guys and cut back to the cigarette hitting the ground, that was quick! A few more fights, but too much talking to follow well.

Oh well, off to catch the train to Hampi.

Pondy & Mama

I stayed in the Government guesthouse, a large rather ramshackle place when I first arrived in Pondicherry, hmm who built these locks??. Pondi, is a former French colony where the police men wear funny red caps. Not sure whether the guy that got on the bus with the huge double-barrelled shotgun was a policeman or not, he didn't have a hat, still I decided to stay out his way.
Pondicherry is roughly split into the French town at the seafront and the Tamil town behind.

For my first meal I ordered the garcon to bring me the finest coq au vin!
Nothing special actually. In Indian you get exactly what's on the menu, which I forget sometimes so you just get a plate of chicken with no veg or anything, you have to order all side dishes.

At night all the Pondicherriens go for a stroll along the seafront, with the good sign. Passing a statue of Gandi. While strolling along I came across a small musical performance with a couple of drummers and two people playing a long flared flute-like instrument but played straight in front on the musician. Also they had several reeds tied to the mouthpiece which they could swap in and out. It was quite good for a free concert!

Another day I hired a bicycle and set off for Auroville ( Eventually I got there and had a look around the visitor centre. It seemed to very reverential towards the founder, a strange place. Never found out how they got their hands on the massive diamond which is in the meditation hall, although the hall isn't open to visitors.

After a few days I hopped on the bus for a couple of hours heading north to Mamallapuram. Here there is the Shore Temple situated, yep you guessed it, closed to the sea. A large wall had been erected around the temple to prevent further erosion from the sea.

Also in Mamallapuram there is a monument called the Five Rathas. These are all carved from a single large rock. You can see the rockbed joining them together. Seems a hard way of doing things, but at least you don't have to move the carvings! Still if you want to carve an elephant the hard way...

I nipped up a few steps to a viewpoint across Mamallapurm but not really a great view.

In a restaurant I was given a menu which looked about twenty years old and barely readable, it turned out that this had been caused by the tsunami which swept into the restaurant.

I didn't stay as long as I had planned in Pondicherry or Mamallapuram so I had some extra time in which I could nip over to Hampi and back, a roundtrip of about 1700km!