Sunday, June 26, 2005


A bit of sightseeing

Once I arrived I went for a walk around Georgetown to try and orientate myself. I walked along past a church, with a man praying in front of the altar. Around and around, I passed the clock tower, Fort Cornwallis and along the esplanade, with people fishing in the sea. Through a bit of Chinatown and down to Little India, where sari shops mix with corner stalls selling necklaces of flowers and fruit.
Old shops mingle with the new, never quite sure if the shops that are shut will ever open again. In the reflection of a new glass building stands the Komtar building with 60+ floors, the tallest building in Penang. Nearby the chicken vendors are serving up their meals, not far from the pavements which consists of covered walkways usually with obstructing motorbikes. A man passes with an overladen bicycle, and I thought I had a lot of luggage! In Campbell street the shops are posher, full of gold and jewellery, even the lamposts are fancy! Here is a photo of something shiny!

On past shops full of mysterious jars of unknowns. Sometimes the walls are brightly coloured and for some reason I end up taking a photo! Passing rickshaw drivers lounging about in the sun, and some vacant rickshaws. Maybe the driver has went for a coffee, like me. The coffee here is apparently fried beans rather than roasted, tasty pretty good anyway.

By some sort of miracle, I woke early. Actually, maybe it was because my room was above the main street, where motorbikes revved up and down all day and all night. I changed hotel. Anyway, as I was up early I took a walk down Carnarvon St. which in the morning is transformed into a market. I whipped out my camera and strolled down the street snapping away as I walked past many stalls. Stalls selling durian fruit, spiky fruit (like lychee), fish, vegetables, meat, chicken, coconuts, some shrimps,
sweets, mushrooms, strange meals in polystrene containers, huge jackfruit, eggs, crabs, dried fish?, more chicken, greens, white things!, fresh colourful fruit, more veg, and mee goreng.
In a corner of the meatshed a cat gets a scrap, next door chickens in the cage get their throats slit and thrown into a large barrel and then a machine defeathers them and they are packaged up ready to eat (that chicken in the bag above)
Along the streets stall holders descale and cut the fish and generally hack them apart till they are ready to buy.
Meanwhile people weigh their prospective purchases (and wonder why people are taking pictures of them!). But mostly they ignore tourist with their cameras and get on with their daily life of chopping things up!

I finally got round to having a shave, after much thoughtful pondering. I had to get a new razor before the job was finished, and with just the moustache I looked like a crazed ringmaster escaped from the circus! Now smooth-chinned, I took a long walk down to the toy museum. Stopping off at many points for a drink, it was warm day and not much in the way of shade. Eventually I got to my destination, passing a giant painted flag on the motorway wall. It was advertised as "Malayasia's Largest and Only Toy Museum!". By that logic, it is also the smallest... Anyway, I had a nosy about, not really much different from a toy shop with crammed shelves, except it cost you 10rm to get in! Wandered past Hellraiser, Golem, the Alien, Spiderman, a Gremlin thing and that bad geezer out of Star Wars.

I went along to the Penang museum for a quick nosy at the exhibitions about the history and the culture behind Penang, quite interesting and only cost a ringgot. I had picked up a walking tour leaflet from the tourist centre, so one day I followed this around having a look at the different heritage buildings. There seems to be a lot of Chinese clan houses (Khongsi) around Penang. Some are very decorative and come complete with colourful dragons on the roof. I went for a look at Yap Kongsi close to the mosque. Stone carvings on the pillars outside, and inside the main hall was a large bowl full of ash, from previous burnings of incense sticks. Ornate golden covered walls and wax candles were dotted around, but strangest was the array of tea cups spread on a table. Drinks for the Gods?? Some old dusty flags in the corner, seemed to represent days goneby. Historical there was a lot of rivalry between the clans, with some clans joining one side against the others. Eventually there was a riot, but the police/army sorted it out. Back outside I looked up at a chinese lantern, looks different from down here.

Continuing on the heritage trail I walked past a nice blue house, which apparently was Syed Atlas Mansion, a rich Achehnese merchant, which has been restorated. It was closed, as the guy was going off on a prayer break. I headed on round to the Khoo Khongsi another fancy house/temple. Walking past a lampost, which the entrace stickers had covered. It had burned down in the early part of the twentieth century but been rebuilt. I think this must the clan sign, lets rock! After passing the entrance with expensive looking intricacies, you come across painted stone carvings and pearl chairs. Round the back there was some detailed large drawings, lots more gold and black chinese letters sculpted eagles , flowing curtains and stone lions! I final look back as I left.

Walking down Chulia street in Georgetown you see many different shops bunched together, sometime a road leading off has decorations. Walked past a welder, looked like he was attacking the pavement!

Another day I took a bus trip outside Georgetown to see Kek Lok Si, which I had heard described as a Buddhist Disneyland. They seem to be continuing to build on every spare piece of land here. More fancy temples, pagodas and decorated roofs. As you enter you walk past the liberation pond where many turtles are released. After many years, there are a lot of turtles, so not quite sure how the turtles feel about being liberated into an overcrowded pond, but I guess it beats getting flushed down the loo! Along the way an army of statues are found with a view back across Penang. But the highlight is the giant buddha. Standing mighty high and looking quite serene. Here a guy in a blue t-shirt approaches the petal base you can see just how high the buddha is here.
Reading a sign they have plans to cover the giant budha with a roof supported on octaganol pillars and flanked by a thousand six foot warriors! Nearby there was a quiet pond with lively fish.

I came across some strangely sculpted animals on a temple wall, but looking at my photos they didn't show the depth, so I've taken them from another angle as well. First the lion and from a different angle then the spitting head and from a different angle.

I also popped down to the south of the island to take in the War Musuem. It was interesting as it was a former British fort, which they abandoned when the Japanese invaded. So the museum is housed in what used to be the barracks, cooks quarters and such buildings. Also still present are the compounds used for firing cannons, explosive storage. The explosive storage bunker is housed underground in very thick walls to minimise any damage should an explosion occur. There is a small chimney-shaft type corridor with a ladder which I climbed up, the escape route. Quite claustrophobic! Outside there was a giant swivel gun. Later on there is a another tunnel which you have to crouch to get through, it leads off into complete darkness. I cheated and used my camera LCD to guide me through as I couldn't see my hand in front of me. In any event it loops round and you come back out on the other side, directly opposite the entrance.
Some of the exhibitions were pretty grim. I headed off out the museum and one of the guys gave me a lift along to the bus stop, and I got back to the hotel eventually after nipping in to an Indian restaurant for a Masala Thosia (Dosa?). I had left at 13.30 and didn't get back till after 21.00, yet I only spent a couple of hours in the musuem. Very mysterious! Though I did spend ages waiting for the bus, I found the right number parked at the bus station, but no driver, so I hung around waiting some more, eventually the driver turned up and told me I needed to get another bus. Waited some more, then the bus turned up and I jumped on. The bus went nowhere. Waited some more. The bus went about 2km, then stopped at another bus station. Waited some more. Eventually I got to the museum, I should of taken my bike, it would of been a lot quicker!

I went along to a restored house, it had been bought cheaply but the owners had spent millions doing it up in the correct fashion. Inside the had painted iron pillars apparently from MacFarlanes of Glasgow. Then I got told you're not allowed to take photos inside so that's all my readers get to see, one pillar. You'll just have to go to Penang yourselves. Back outside, a wall! And the exterior of the house looked like this, blue.
Later on at night I walked past a lit up mosque

I also popped down to the snake temple. A few snakes lazing about on the branches, looking like they had been placed there. They did have a good breakfast of eggs and fruit for them though. Continuing on, there is a garden where snakes are rumoured to be, but with continued development in the surrounding areas, the snakes have pretty much up and went somewhere quiter. However there is a guy who will place the (posinous!) snakes on your head and snap your photo. Oh, okay then!

Back at another swanky house, with what must be called purple drapes. They were set up for a wedding tonight. Big high ceiling and chandielers. In another room there was a display of traditional clothes and the ornate bed and table. Also the chairs had inlaid designs. The centre of the house was an open balcony with rooms leading off. More ornemental art was found around the house, such as the birds and the red designs. Also present was a small altar with various pictures and things. As I headed back to the hotel I passed a chinese temple. More fancy 3D artwork as well as this guy with the big tache

Football Frenzy

I went along to the City Stadium to see Penang play against Perak. The previous week Penang had been tanked by Perak 6-0 in the cup. They lost their home game 2-1 in the 2nd leg, I was going to go and see this game, but kinda pointless trying to overturn a six goal deficit! They then played each other again in the league with Penang in 3rd place a point ahead.

I arrived bought a ticket for 10rm and took a seat. Note to self, find out what colours the home team wears before entering the stadium. There seemed to be a lot of yellow shirts about, but that turned out to be the away team. I took a seat in the mixed crowd on the steps running alongside the pitch, opposite the posh seated area.
Turns out that like all the best teams, Penang play in blue. However it didn't help them much tonight. The kick-off wasn't until 20:45. Before the match started some nut dressed in a sequenced tassled outfits was running around the crowd shouting and joking in Malaysian. I guessed he was the equivalent of a cheerleader trying to rouse the crowd. The footy seemed to attract another couple of headcases. One with a scarf wrapped round his face like a desert tribesman, persisted through the whole match to shake the fence and shout, but I think he was just drunk. Meanwhile another big fat guy was dancing about, alongside the pitch to the drums, drenched in sweat.

But back to the action. Overall the standard was good, playing possesion football, a lot less scrappy than some of the SPL games! Penang probed in the first five minutes, generally holding on to the ball, while not causing any problems for the Perak defence. Then Perak ran up the park and scored in the first attack, shredding the Penang defence with some sharp passing and powerful running ending with a move, slotting the ball past the keeper. The crowd erupted, but then the Penang supporters noted the offside flag, and howls of derisions began.

Still that was just a taster of things to come. Perak looking much more dangerous on the counter attack, and so they scored around the 35 minute mark. Shortly after the break, they scored again. Penang looked toothless up front, with a lone Russian striker (not Shevchenko) being ineffective. Around the 70min mark, the game was sealed as the lively strikers of Perak combined and then 25yards out thumped in a shot which left the goalie stranded as it ruffled the net. Oh well, I don't think I'll get an invite back, I didn't prove very lucky.

I headed back into Georgetown and noticed a sign up, for the Confederation cup semi-final Brazil vs. Germany, so I watched that as well. Didn't kick off till midnight though. Brazil won 3-2, to set up the final against Argentina (which I also watched play Mexico, not much of a game). Now I can't get up in the mornings! The Argentina-Mexico matched went on to about 03.00 in the morning. Still a coupe of places on Lebuh Chulia selling food though. Off to watch the 3rd place match and final tonight. Final doesn't start till 03.00 though. Don't envisage an early morning tomorrow.

Cuisine Munch

Back on the main street at night a good selection of food is available in Penang, pretty much everything really. I had some of this and some of that, and some roasted chicken! Erm, lets see... What did I have? Barbecued ribs, although it tasted like stew. It came with iced green tea and undeciperable herbal black soup. Tasted of something I couldn't quite place, somewhere close to liquorice, very odd. Today I had some Taiwan beef noodle soup, quite nice. Noodles I can handle, chopsticks I can just about handle, but putting them together is just a recipe for disaster. Also splurged out on a steak (3quid!) but it wasn't that great, quite fatty. I had some dragonfruit from a stall, its kind of like the cucumber of fruits, not much taste. Some curry noodles, which was pretty tasty, though not that keen on the things from clams that looked like mushrooms but tasted like seafood. Also had some laksa which is just a bundle of different tastes. First time asam laksa at a stall, another time nonya laksa in a restaurant. No chilis the second time, but not much other difference. First pizza in eight months, I opted for tuna & pineapple with a hint of lime. Fans of the Fast Show will also be delighted to know that Cheesy Peas are alive and well in Malaysia, having purchased a packet of the "Cheese flavoured pea snack" I'm not sure the international audience is ready for such audicity. Anyway, the food is good! You even get strange drinks, like Flash Fruitade in the shops, or fresh carrot juice & milk from a stall if your feeling particularly healthy.
I bought some soup off this old couple, looked like they had been with their stall for some years. The whole stall is on a bike which can be cycled away, the bicycle pump doubles as bellows for the stove below. A great selection of cheap food on sticks in available. Simple take what you want and dip inside the boiling water, pay at the end with the colour of the sticks. Onto Chinatown where my camera is a bit shaky. Many of the streets had lights strung across like a celebration. Finally past the art gallery before heading off to bed.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Cycling the East West highway

East West highway

I decided to cycle over the mountains to Penang from Kota Bharu. This path would take me along the east west highway, route 4. Starting off from Kota Bharu I headed to my first stop, Tanah Merah (57km). So far so good, no hills as I first had to head south. There are two road running parallel to Tanah Merah, either side of a river, I never did find out which one I was on, but no matter I arrived. I saw a sign for a lodge which looked newly built on the road out of town towards Jeli but it was full, so I headed back into town. I tried another chalet place but that was also full. I stopped off for an orange juice, and to ask for any other hotels. It was a Friday and the town seemed quiet.
I was given a plate of food. It took me a while to realise the woman was speaking English when she pointed at the food and said "Yams!", also I had a coloured glass of what I assumed was my orange juice, but in fact it was water. Shortly a boy reappeared with a bag of oranges. He had obviously been sent to the shop to replinish their supplies!

After quenching my thirst, I asked for a hotel. They pointed my off to the centre off town and sure enough a hotel was found. A couple of guys were hanging around the entrace. I dithered about as I wanted to leave my bike and run upstairs to check if they had a room, and I wanted to wait till they had gone. However, one came over and advised against leaving my bike about! I didn't exactly point out that was what I was thinking.

I settled in there for the night, and opted for some junk food from KFC. I have to say though, that the chicken you get in the street side restaurants tastes a lot better!

Heading off the next morning to a place called Jeli (49km). On my way out of Tanah Merah it seemed busier than the Friday. On the way I encountered my first hills, takes a bit of getting used to after trundling up the coast, which is rather obviously at sea-level and hence flat. I got to Jeli, scrapping within mere kilometres of the Thai border, and saw a sign for a chalet and followed it, but again the chalet disappeared. Maybe I'm not very good at following signs. I coasted round town and spotted a sign saying "Rumah Rehat", Malaysian for resthouse. Set back for the road was a few rooms on stilts which I would of missed if not for the sign. A very useful piece of Malay to know!

I had planned to head off early the next morning for what I expected to be the toughest stage of the ride, 85km to Banding, involving a lot of climbing. I had found a cycling blog earlier and they had taken a break after the climb and pitched there tents. I had no such luxury and would have to push two of the cycling days together. However that night, heavy rain brought out the noisy frog chorus and insects singing all night, and a few birds chirping not to mention the two 5 foot monitor lizards under the eaves of my roof who were fighting/making baby lizards, whose whipping tails on the tin roof made a fair racket!

After waking up I decided I didn't feel like a punishing day, so I took a rest day in Jeli. I didn't do very much, hey it was a rest day! I found an internet cafe just as they were closing, and I watched some football, the asian qualifiers between South Korea and something-stan. Then read a book called Tramping on Life by Harry Kemp.

The next day I sprang out of bed before dawn (okay, staggered off to the shower with my eyes closed)
I was underway before 07:00. A record early start, but I surmised that my climbing speed is probably around 10km/hr. Well that day I learned that I push my bike uphill at around 6km/hr!

The first 14km was fairly level, no big ups or down. Heading off early gave a spectular views at dawn of the forest-clad mist covered mountains. Soon I passed a curious limestone peak sharply climbing out the ground. After that the climbing started and didn't let up till the top of the peak. At 30km I spotted a sign for chalets, I didn't know about this! I headed down for a look, you can hire a boat to take you across the lake to the chalet(60rm). I considered breaking my journey here, but it wasn't even 10:00am so I headed back up onto the main road with weary legs. A couple more kilometres further on, I saw a sign for a lodge on the right hand side, leading off down a red dirt track. I'm not sure if the guesthouse was still in business, I only had a quick noisy before pushing on to the restaurant. A small plant nursery was being tended to next to the restaurant. Unfortunately somebody had eaten all the chicken when I got there, so I had to settle for Nasi Lemak with a fried egg thrown in, along with a Milo Ais (Hot chocolate with ice, suprisingly good if a bit strange, hot at the bottom cold at the top, requires much stirring)

After lunch I pushed on and came to the peak of the mountain with thick forest stretches endlessly in the distance but another restaurant await. A few tourists in cars, come out and have a nosy about, check out the view. I grabbed a cool can of coke and some chewy sweets. Mmmm sugar! The viewpoint at 1100m (3400ft) is just inside the state of Kelantan. As you head down the other side you slip into Perak. And whoosh a long, long descent. Eventually things level out and then more undulating hills and troughs continue all the way to Banding, although more downhills than uphills. Banding is situated around 400m (1200ft) above sea-level and I was going to stop here, but the rooms are quite pricy (85rm for the cheapest). So if a fit of madness, I decided to push on to Gerik (Grik). As I left Banding I crossed another bridge, I had forget that it is actually an island and thought I had somehow looped round and was crossing the original bridge backwards. With traffic I couldn't turn round until I got to the other side, and then back across to see if the jeti was on the right hand side. Nope, no jeti a different bridge. I was going the right way after all, sigh. Oh well third time lucky, eh?

After that it was back to the climbing, groan. I was wondering about the wiseness of my rather rash decision to head on by this point. But I just pushed on further, I should get there eventually, even if I had to push my bike, which on the steep hills I did. With signs for elepants crossing on the road, I passed by some elephant dung, and later on I thought I saw a trunk between the trees, maybe my overactive imagination, but there was something trampling about for I could hear it. I came across another restaurant about 20km outside Grik and got some more liquid and an ice-cream, aaaaah. And yet more liquid!

I was no hurry to set out again and had a little rest there, the sun was still beating down. It had been a beautiful sunny day, I wanted a cloudy day!

A policeman saw me ask somebody for the time, and came over to enquire what I wanted. I had a chat and asked him what the road into Grik was like, he said it was level. It was better than that, it was downhill for much of the 20km, thankfully. At around 17:30 I rolled into town, I had popped into a few dwellings of civilization before Grik but no places to stay. I spotted a digital thermometer besides the traffic lights, 40C (104F) it read, eek! I wondered what the temperature at 15:00 had been, when I been climbing??

The next day I continued on to perhaps Baling or Pengkalan Hulu, where the road signs pointed, but it wasn't on my map. I had planned an early start but upon waking I kept on thinking, maybe one more hour in bed. I got underway at 11:00. Yesterdays monster ride had deaden my legs though. Not so much sore, as just nothing in them, feeling empty. The first 20km went okay and I stopped off for some lunch. They only had Mee Rebus, so that's what I had, surrounded by lots of flies as well. The next 10km was up and down, and then the worst bit, a steep seemingly never ending hill winding its way continually upwards. I got off and pushed. Then got tired and jumped back on cycling in the lowest gear. And then off again for more pushing, periodically flopping on the grass besides the road. Phew, real tough going. Even the downhills seemed hard! But as they say what goes up must come down, and when I finally reached the top, it was helter-skelter to the bottom! I maxed out an impressive 61km/hr.
Slowly the kilometres passed by and into Pengkalan Hulu I trundled, bereft of energy. Got a hotel at the second time of asking, 20rm vs 65rm. Time for some resting, at dusk a lizard pauses on my hotel window.

So, I had a rest day in Pengakalan Hulu, I heard that you burn up carbohydrates while cycling so to ensure a full supply I had to drink a big bottle of Tiger beer! I had some fish and chips at a Chinese restaurant, not a bad attempt, but not quite the same as from the chippy. So onto the next day, I had planned an early start again, but a bit slow to get underway. I headed off and I was flying downhill for the first 15km to Baling. After that it was undulating up and down, not too many long uphills, but it was getting hot. I stopped off at a cafe, and had some chicken curry for breakfast. A large bit of tasty chicken breast, with lots of rice and another chicken leg with different spices. I was hungry! Mistaken for an American today, I've been variously mistaken as Dutch, English, Arab and Muslim (maybe I should have a shave) and probably a few others I've forgotten. After my breakfast it was hard to get going again, but slowly the kilometres ticked down and into Sungai Petani I rolled. A fairly large town, you can tell it's a bit bigger than other places because it has a mall. Actually most places on this route have been bigger than I imagined, it seems that ATM's have spread everywhere.

The next day is was finally onto Penang. A fairly straightforward route, nothing much to report except for passing a guy with a fridge on the back of his motorbike. When I got to Butterworth I hunted around for the bridge over to Penang, but could only find a bridge with workmen and JCB's not the right route. I ended up getting on to the ferry, and another cyclist told me that you aren't allowed across the bridge on a bike anyway. The other cyclist was living in Penang will being with the military, he led me to the main street with accommodation and saved me some hassle. So I'm now in Penang, I must say that I enjoyed the cycling across the country, but some of it was really hard work. Going to spend a few days (at least) off the bike, and give my tired legs a well-deserved rest.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Kota Bharu

I finally made it up the East coast to Kota Bharu, my destination when I left Singapore. I was trying to stick to the coast as I had been told that there was a path running alongside the beach. I headed out along some of these small paths, but invariably was pushed back onto the highway. One time I headed towards the sea, pu the path started looping back, so I had a look at the beach, it was flat and the the tide was receding. So, I pushed my bike onto the damp sand and started pedalling along the sand. Steering is kinda hard before you get used to just leaning into any turn rather than turning the handlebars! After about 5km a river appeared, I had to drag my fully loaded bike through the soft sand, where it sank into all too easily. It was hard work! My bike wheel was in desparate need of repair and I had been informed that a good bike shop lay a couple of kilometres outside the city. I headed off and found Razani's Pro Bike Shop. Unfortunately Razani was not there just now but if I came back in a couple of hours, he could see what could be done.

Thankfully it was all sorted out. As seems to be the habits in bike shops the all work at a hundred miles per hour. He whipped off the wheel, pulled of the tyre, strips the inner tube, wrenches off the gears, gives a few quick snips with a pair of wirecutters and takes out the other spokes whose holders had been mangled by yours truly. He fits in four new spokes and balances the wheel. It is round again!

The next day I headed off to the cultural centre and watched a traditional Malay drumming group. They had husks of coconuts with the top removed and a plank of wood fixed above the hole. So when the plank was struck by a padded stick the coconut resonates to produce the sound. They bashed away for a bit, making quite a racket! Then we were invited to join in, so I'm now an expert on playing the coconuts, ahem.

Next there was a traditional game of keepie-ups using something similar to a shuttlecock, a small piece of circular wood bent round into a rough ellipse, this gave it a bit of spring when kicked, and attached were chicken feathers. The tourists were invited to join in, although the locals were obviously the best.

I went to cycle back to the guesthouse, but my tyre was now flat! So I pushed it back instead. I tried to fix the puncture and it seemed to work, but five minutes later it was flat, so I used my spare inner tube. I popped back over to Razani as I wanted to pick up a pair of gloves as my fingers have been getting pins and needles after riding. He again whipped off the wheel and added a plastic ring round the inside of the wheel to protect the inner tube from any spokes sticking through. He invited me along to ride with his group tomorrow, but they average around 30km/hr compared to me leisurely 17km/hr, so I politely declined. Razani is Malaysian number one triathlete, so I think I may just be ever so slightly out my depth trying to keep up with him! They were off for a 'short' 55km ride on Friday as a prelude to their 160km ride on Saturday. Gulp.