Saturday, May 28, 2005


Arriving at Kuala Besut I was besieged by people trying to sell me tickets to the islands. Well maybe not besieged, but this was the first time in Malaysia I'd seen people actively trying to sell me something. I got a ticket and left my bike in the travel agents, after whipping off the front tyre and padlocking it up to stop somebody riding off in to the sunset with my bike!

After whizzing along in a speedboat, the last 20m you transfer to a small water taxi who takes you onto the beach. I found somewhere to stay and settled in. The next day I checked the footy and Rangers had somehow won the league! I celebrated with a few beers and probably bored the ears off some English guy about how they had snatched the league in the last few minutes :)

Nice white sandy beach and clear water in the Perhentians, with the ubiqutous sunshades slowly engulfing the beach, as opposed to the traditional palm tree shade. In the morning it is quiet.

I decided to go on the snorkelling trip but could never get up early enough for it, after spending half the night trying to swat a moquito who had found his way inside my net. Eventually on my last day there I managed to rise at 10:00 ready for the trip. We jumped in the boat and zoomed off to the first spot and I slinked into the water with mask, snorkel, fins & lifejacket. A few bits of bread had been thrown in and there were fish everywhere! Occasionaly having a nibble of people. After a while it was back on the boat and off to another place. A couple of people spotted sharks, but the rest of us missed it. Oh well, at the next spot we saw a giant turtle munching away on the ocean floor. It looked massive! We stopped off for lunch at a fishing village and then a couple more snorkeling spots afterwards. Really glad I managed to get out of bed to do it, it was excellent. The visibility seemed excellent with the water very clear. You could see a long distance away, but the optics underwater are weird. When you extend your hand away it still looks big and close, like you have large stumpy arms! Also saw a baracuda? with it's long snout jaw open being cleaned by another fish, some sea-cucumber on the floor as well as many unknown colorful fish and a huge variety of corals. Also interesting was a large shoal of small fish glinting in the light, as you swam towards them they parted and then regrouped, never allowing you to get that close.

Heading off on the bike again tomorrow, I've heard it's a nice ride along the beach most of the way to Kota Bharu so looking forward to that, if I can find the right road.

-- postscript

Change of plans, got a dose of the flu or something, people on the islands were sniffling away. Thanks! Spent a few days in Kuala Besut sleeping, which is about as exciting as Kuala Besut gets, being merely a stop-off point to the islands. Oh well, though I did watch people fishing (they caught nothing) and people flying kites!

Kuala Terengannu

After arriving in Palau Duyong, I cycled around for a bit before finding my accommodation Ali's Yellow House, which is no longer yellow. Situated in a fishing village, the other main industry here is boat building, Awi showed me his almost finished yacht, built from scratch. At the guesthouse I had some interesting conversations with a few Malaysians. Also I met a Swiss couple on their way to Singapore who, a year ago, had started cycling from Mongolia through China and South East Asia on a recumbent tandem with a trailer. A very peculiar looking machine about 2m long. They definitely most of got a lot of stares!

I tried to find the museum one day but couldn't locate it. The next day I had better success. I chained it up next to tank in the carpark and headed inside. Your not allowed any photos inside though, so I deposited my camera in a locker. It is a huge museum with various sections, such as Historic, Royal, Handicrafts, Natural, Islamic etc. I spent a few hours wandering about. It didn't seem particularly popular as I rarely bumped into anybody else, but apparently busloads of tourists arrive at the weekends. In the natural section they had vats of formaldehyde storing various creatures from the deep. Like a big fish over 200kg caught off the coast, and a large 12ft sea snake/eel crammed into a jar.

Palau Duyong was a quiet place, but come Friday the market arrives. The main street is suddenly clogged with hawkers selling there wares. I had an "apam balik" a kind of peanut pancake, some satay sticks and fried chicken leg before bumping into a guy from the guesthouse and going for a beer.

Later I tried to sort out my wheel as with the missing spoke it was almost rubbing against the brake pad. A few tweaks of the spokes later and I 'fixed' it. Although now it was worse! I also managed to mangle the spoke holders as they seem to be made of soft metal and so reversing the damage proved elusive. Thankfully with the help of the Swiss couple I managed to get it at least ridable. I have the details of a bike shop up in Kota Bharu, so hopefully I can get it properly fixed there.

I left heading towards Kuala Besut, the port for the Perhentians. I stopped off for lunch, but they didn't have any food and sent me back a kilometre to another cafe. Why a restaurant had no food I'm not sure. Still I got something to eat. I saw a sign saying 'Nasi Lauk' and I hadn't seen that before so I ordered that, turned out to be plain rice! So I got some sauce and chicken to go with it, washed down with iced orange juice. I was ready to hit the road again, I'd seen a sign that they were budget chalets a few km's along, but it most of been on the other branch of the road for the never materialised. I continued onwards and passed by a large numbers of people fishing with large rods. I asked somebody what was going on, turned out to be a competition, he also gave me a bottle of water beofre I continued onwards getting off the highway back on to the favoured beach roads. Often there is a path running alongside the sea, which only the occasional motorbikes use, great for cycling. Here I stumbled across a small inn, which also housed a conservation project for Coral Cay, almost on the beach with a small picnic table. I stopped here and the owner invited us all for tea, as one of the members was soon leaving after six months. The project seem to involve survey work recording animals numbers and natural fauna etc. It had previously surveyed the Perhentians and may go to Taman Negara next. Interesting to talk to the participants and one of these things I would never of stumbled across if I hadn't been on my bike.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


I arrived at the jetty to questioning looks. "You want to take your bicycle to Kapas?" Yep, I didn't fancy leaving it on the mainland. I would come back to an empty space. Dude! Where's my bike??

So, I dragged it down the beach to The Lighthouse. Stuck at the end of the beach, The Lighthouse is a longhouse raised on sticks. A friendly little place, where the pace of life threatens to grind entirely to a halt. The next night a Swedish guy, Johan, and his girlfriend were leaving after the Lighthouse after three months! The free booze flowed freely, and the owner, Dean, demonstrated his ability to dance like a rubberband on the bar. It was good to be at a place with decent music for a change!

Kapas is just a small island with a series of coves, connected by bridges over rocky outcrops. About 15 minutes walk from one end to the other. Somewhat strangely there are no real shops, just restaurants that sell odds and ends. Still the only people that live here run the restaurants or guesthouses. I headed into the jungle interior and began following a trail which was signposted, but after not long I'd lost the signs and ended up lost in the the jungle. Luckily I have my S3$ watch compass! So I beat my way due West with a big stick, with the exception of coming across a large yellow striped spider whom I gave a wide berth. Eventually I returned to the track and retraced my steps, but not before going down the wrong path and wondering what that gentle humming noise was. As I got closer I saw a flowering tree, where the sounds got louder & louder, I soon realised it was the buzzing of hundreds of bees around the flowers. Retreat! Retreat! I made it back our dripping in sweat, as the jungle humidity is intense. I also got lots of insect bits for free. Another route was along the coast and up along a ridge, here the path dwindled out into lots of plants. Back down at beach level, a snail posed for a photo, also the rocks were kind enough not to move for their photo, just like the leaves also!

On my last night there was a barbeque of fish, squid, chicken, pork chops & mint sauce, salad & chips. A Malaysian guy with the energy of a kid's TV presenter, appeared named John. He kept proclaiming he didn't know how to dance followed by a forward somersault and the splits. hmmm. "Come on people, let's dance!", he enthused to five BBQ bloated people slouching lazily in their chairs.

That night it was thunder & lighting & heavy rain. Given that the longhouse has a tin roof, not a quiet night. The storm moved closer, so that the thunder was no longer rumbling in the distance, but loud, make you jump, ripping, crunching thunder that made the room shake barely prededed by bliding flashes of light. Eek!

I also had a few games of badminton on the beach, just a knock around as there was no net, and not many people!

The next day it was off for a quick hours cycle north to Pulau Duyong in Kuala Terengannu.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cherating & Dungun

After returning to Kuantan, I headed further up the East Coast to Cherating, about halfway up. I found a place to stay and had a wander around. Seems quite a small place, a few guesthouses, a few restaurants. Big flat beach 5 minutes from the guesthouse. As I went for a lookabout, the guesthouse owner waved me over and gave me a coconut to drink. I'd picked this one as I'd heard it was friendly, seems they were right. The next day they cooked a Malay meal for me and another guest for free. Some chicken curry, fish & salad with the omnipresent rice. I met a woman from Edinburgh who had visited here six years ago and stayed for a month, now with her husband, a chef, she runs a restaraunt & travel shop here. There was a cultural display on, but when I popped along nothing seem to be happening. Oh well, and it advertised something like Monkey Climbing Coconut but not today it seemed.
Seems to be one of these places that people come to do nothing! I can do that :)

I headed up the coast on my bike to the next place, Kijal, I had a quick look around and decided I wouldn't be likely to find accommodation here. The only place I'd seen had it's own golf course. I got onto a path besides the beach and headed North again, but soon the path ran out and I was forced back onto the highway, well almost. The path led up to the barrier at the side of the highway. While I was wondering if I could lift my bike over the barrier without taking off the bags, an old woman shouted 'Hello' to me and pointed me off down a dirt path. Right enough eventually the dirt path connected back to the highway with no barriers. I had set off early at 07.30 as I rightly suspected it might the case that I wouldn't find anywhere to stay in Kijal so the next stop was onto the strangely named Dungun.

About 11.30 while cycling along through the strange mechinal landscape of metal towers, containers, distant pilot flams & pylons that make up a massive BP refinery I realised it was ravenous. Five minutes later I was in a road side restaraunt tucking into a big plate of rice covered in a ladelful of mysterious sauce and a couple of lovely fried chicken legs. Food definitely tastes better when you work up an appetite! After about 10km of roadworks prefacing Dungun I made it into town. I cycled down the main road and found a hotel. Seems like there is only two main roads here connecting at a T-Junction. No doubt referred to as the town centre.

I tried a couple of bike shops to try and fix my spoke again, which had broke less than 1km from my hotel, typical eh? My bad had slipped down and hit the wheel again breaking the spoke, I'll have to make sure I tie them better in future or I'll end up cycling on square wheels. No luck at the shops in Dungun, I'll have to get it fixed in Kuala Terrenganu about 80km further on, but first I'm heading off to Kapas a tiny island floating in the South China Sea. I was going to set off today but I couldn't be bothered getting out of bed, feeling tired, by the time I got up the sun was shining down fiercely having driven away the torrential downpours of late yesterday afternoon(thankfully I was cycling in that). So a quick rest day and set off early tomorrow. I headed down to a food court to get some lunch with my little book of Malay to decode the menu. I prompted for Tom Yam Campur. A big bowl of spicy soup with veg & chicken floating around. The waiter asked spicy or normal, I opted for normal but sitll had to choke back a cough after a sip, and guzzle my orange juice. I later found the culprit a mashed up red pepper lurking at the bottom, I must of slurped up the seeds.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Taman Negara

After Tioman I returned on the ferry back to Mersing, from here I cycled onwards to Rompin for a night, then Pekan the next day and Kuantan next. This was my first big town in Malaysia and traffic was heavier, but I still had the inside lane mostly to myself. After cycling around town I found a hotel, more expensive than I wanted but I was feeling tired after cycling over 200km in the past 3 days. Besides I was going to be leaving my bicycle at the hotel for a few days and I wanted it to be there when I came back! Having a look around Kuantan, I came across this shop, yeah well same to you, buddy. With minarets popping out above the skyline, the mosque is one of the focal points of the town.
I walked down to the bus station and tried to find out when the bus left. One man suggested I would get the bus if I turned up at 07:00. I took that as him meaning he didn't know when the bus left! I manged to ask a driver and he said 09:00 much better. So I headed off to Jerantut on the bus the next day, from here I caught a 3 hour boat ride down Sungai Tembeling to Taman Negara (literally National Park). On the way down we passed the occasional building, who built this??. Some people going in the other direction whizz past. Later on some water buffalo cool off in the midday sun.

After more wandering about with my bags, not so easy with two daysacks compared with a single backpack, I came across a hostel. The manager, Professor Halam was certainly a character. It turned out that he lives in the jungle for three months of the year with the local tribal people and is a mediator between them and the government. On the other hand he spent his time talking about how all new TV's have webcameras in them so 'they' can watch you, and how they force people to upgrade by switching off analogue transmissions in the near future, whilst animatedly waving his arms about and then laughing his crazy chuckle. Then he was off starting on world politics and he had some interesting ideas, seemed well informed but mad as a mongoose.

I lent him my book one afternoon as I went out and he'd read a fair portion by the time he came back, then he gave me a photocopy of an essay about "Who runs the world? - An overview of what's really behind the 'New World Order' ", Anyway, back to reality I was sharing a dorm with Sarah, who was also cyling about Malaysia and had previously cycled from Bangkok to Singapore which was interesting. The other person was Hamish, yep he was from Scotland, only eighteen.

The three of us headed off to go on the canopy walk in the park. The canopy is the longest in the world. Although I knew this once I was high up there in the trees it did indeed seem a very long way down. Don't look down, don't look down! Not to be done if you are very afraid of heights as it is a long way off the ground on a swinging rope bridge with a quite narrow couple of planks of wood to walk across. At each section there is a small platform attached to a tree, linking the bridges together. Then at a couple of points there is a ladder to climb even higher onto the next bridge. It is 400m in all. I was pretty glad to get back down, my legs were a bit shaky as I'm not that keen on heights, but glad I done it. In the meantime Hamish obviously has no fear of heights as h stomped across the planks confidently, while I was behind gripping the hand rope with white knuckles wishing the bridge would stop swinging.
After that we went along to a water hole, past a campsite with lots of signs, where some people went for a swim and I took some close-up photographs of butterflies, apparently drinking the water, but I was still suprised they didn't all fly away with a big lens in their faces! Tried to take some photos of the canopy, but it just a lot of leaves.

Later that night we headed out to a rather posh hotel, Woodlands Resort. It was the only place in town where you can get a beer :)
As it was Sarah & Hamish's last night we had a few beers and games of pool, then we headed downstairs and found a small room with a few people singing karoke. A couple of enhustic Malayasians were singing away happily and a tourist who thought he was Elvis. The hotel ran out of lager, so we ended up drinking cans of Guiness, most be an acquired taste. Bit like my singing :)
Evnetually headed back to the hostel where poor Hamish had to get up to get the bus in three hours, haha.

The next day I set out into the rainforest and headed for a cave. After crossing the river I looked for the signs towards the cave and didn't see any I asked somebody and the told it was on the other side of the river. Turns out to be a Y junction, so I had to cross back to the village and then cross over the river again from there. Eventually I was underway, I walked up steep down steep hills for what seemed like half an hour and then found another signpost. Hmmm, I had only gone 600m from the jetty and I was dripping with sweat. At least the cave was only 2km further on and over much flater ground. On the way to the cave, there was some vicious looking branches, and an absolutely huge tree. Also some strange things floating in front of the path, some sort of wormy thingy. The branches are sometime really twisted, almost like a prison!
I got to the entrance and sat on the bench and gulped my water. I was a bit apprehensive about going into the cave myself. Then three other people turned up Cliff, Cecilia and David. Cliff and Cecila were from Singapore and had met David when he was working there ten years ago. They were showing David the cave they had previously been to. So I tagged along with them. They were better prepared with a powerful torch. We clambered over the rocks into the dark, damp interior and then through a few passages where we came to a chamber with bats hanging upside down sleeping quietly, cue horror photo! Further in the bats were awake and flying all around as we clambered onwards. After about fifeteen minutes we looped around and came back out an exit. It was an interesting experience, my first time spelunking! Thankfully there was no where too claustrophobic it was more a series of linked chambers with the occasional short small passage to squeeze between, and made it out for the entrance photo.

The others offered me a lift back on their boat as they had a spare seat, saving me the walk back over the hills. We had a bit of time and so we nipped into a tribal village where the Orang Asli live in the forest. A large group of tourists turned up and they demonstrated how they made fire. The guy stood on a bit of wood and pulled a vine back and forth, not particularly fast with a small travel, but I thinking he was pulling hard to create the friction. Then the vine broke and a boy picked up the wood and tipped embers into shaving and picked up the whole thing into his hands and blew repeatedly to start the fire. He got the smoke in his eyes and the other villagers were laughing at him. The camp itself was mostly full of shacks and discarded plastic and rubbish. They move every three months or so for fresh hunting. Not exactly isolated from the western world as the boy was wearing his Converse T-Shirt and using a Swiss Army knife!

Later they demonstrated a blow dart made from bamboo. The mouth piece is made from sap and the darts are dipped in a poision from a plant.
The tail of the dart was created from a soft white wood carved into a cone shape. then heated gently by the fire. The shaft was whittled down from a stick and then they skewered the tail onto the shaft. He then heated a leaf in the embers to dry it out and polished the tail, with the sandpaper leaf, to make it smooth.
They pipe is a length of bamboo with a sphere of sap to make an airtight seal between the pipe and the lips.
He demonstrated by firing a dart at a polystrene dart board about 20m away. Although he just missed with the first he got a good shot the second time.

We hopped on the boat and I arranged to meet up with Cliff & co later. Back to the hotel for some more beer! We had some food at the hotel we may have been some of the first peope to eat there. The hotel looked very new. The others took care of the ordering by writing down what to get, no need for menus! We had chicken, fish, rice, noodles and salad. A tasty feast, washed down with a few beers.

I found out that we were all leaving tomorrow going back to Kuantan. Cliff, Cecelia and David were on a different boat. I got to the jetty and waited for them but they didn't turn up. It turned out that they got stuck, the driver was keeping quiet about what the problem was. Another boat was sent back up river to resuce them. Turned out they had run out of petrol! We got some lunch at Jerantut and then headed on the bus for a 3-4 ride to Kuantan. Later that night we met up for a drink. I offered to pay for the drinks but Cliff just smiled and said I was too late as he had already paid. They were embarassingly generous saying I was their guest. Thankyou, I had a great time! After a few more buckets of beer and pool we said our goodbyes. I hadn't slept that well the previous night, shouldn't of had that coffee! But I made up for it by zonking out till noon. So much for the early start for the cycling, I decided I would stay another day in Kuantan and get an early night.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


As the sun set on Tioman I sipped a beer and pondered the sign at the jetty, it read that Muslims are fined 5000RMs and or 3 months imprison and not more than six lashes of the whip for buying alcohol. Nearby Muslim girls are splashing around in the water fully clothed including headscarf.
As the sun sinks into the ocean day becomes night and the big lizards (upto 4ft) continue to prowl the paths and hunt for bird eggs, tongue darting in and out sniffing out their prey as they lumber through the scrub, sometime visible only by their extended tails pointing out.
Motorcycles with old trailers as sidecars skillfully navigate the narrow path running behind the beach, carrying goods and people from one end of the beach to the other.
I rented out a snorkel, mask and life jacket and donned the equipment and headed into the blue sea. I probably inhaled a good portion of the south china sea up my nose, but still isn't salt water good for cleaning out your sinuses. Once I had the mask better adjusted and a bit more used to it, although I still flapped about on my back like an upturned turtle, I managed to see some fish! Not even sure what half of them were, but once I got a bit deeper into the coral reef there was many varieties, a shoal of 2ft silver shark-shaped fish swam past me, very colourful angelfish pecked at the coral, amongst the forest of branch coral an occasional fish lurked in and out of view. Large annenomes protruded from the ocean floor, freaking me out as I wasn't quite sure if they were close or further away than they looked. Very black and very spiky. Also down there were many fish I had seen in the shops, all black with white dots just below the dorals, yellow tailed blue tinged fish, all sorts, it was just like being inside a good marine fishtank! Shame I couldn't take any pictures. One angry fish kept appearing in front of me and staring into my mask, then if I stood still he would come and bite me legs! I tried to punch him, but he had water supremacy and fins.

A system of buoys keeps snorkellers from drifting off out to the sea, and when I got close to them I turned back and headed for shore, checking direction often as I would find myself splashing off the wrong way somehow rotated in the swell. I have even less sense of direction underwater than above! Slowly I made it back to shore and planted my landlubbing feet back on terra firma.

Another day I tried to go on a trek to Monkey Bay through the forest, I set off with a big bottle of water, but in this humidity amidst the oppresive jungle heat, I just oozed sweat from every pore even whilst standing still. Sometimes you feel like your being watched, sometimes you are. It didn't take along to abandon the planned 3-4 hour trek and head back to the cafes for a nice and very welcome cold coke. However on the way I passed a large monitor lizard flicking his tongue in and out, and got this picture postcard perfect shot of Tioman. Still no to be outdone after my brief scurry into the forest, I decided to retry and be better prepared with more water and some sugar! Again I set off this time across the island to the other side. The path slowly rose up into the jungle, steps climbing steeply, after climbing for a while it twisted and turned until I had lost my sense of direction, suddenly a concrete path appeared, basically a road, leading back down the hill and into the village on the east coast. Whilst traipsing along this, suddenly a bright green snake appeared from the side of the road, nearly underneath my foot, I leapt in the air and the snake (the green line!) recoiled into the edge of the woods. We had both got a fright! But I took a few more photos anyway. Along the way down, I didn't encounter anymore snakes(yet!) but just some dried leaves whose arty black and white photos (1,2,3) should surely win me the turner prizer this year. Onwards past some bamboo trees whose trunks always grow together like this or this. (if you like B&W!). Eventually I descended the rest of the road and got to the jetty at the other side of Tioman. Nice clean beach and beautiful clear water. After a bite to eat and much liquid and a good rest I turned around and headed back into the forest. Soon I came across another snake! This time with a strange red tail, I think it was dead but I didn't get too close.