There is little in the way of certainty when ordering a drink in Malaysia. Well, not for the hapless linguistically challenged touring cyclist that is. The concept of what constitutes a hot beverage and a cold one, has managed to get itself in a muddle. To add to the fun the recognised idea of sweet, sour and savoury, have also managed to acquire more than a bit of ambiguity.
A cup of hot tea comes surrounded with a saucer full of ice cubes. No explanation given, other than trying to make it more difficult to put the cup down and 100% certain of dripping tea stains onto your clothes. The drink in the photograph is the compromise we got when they had not got Lychees. We were after a cool, sweet refreshing drink. The top third of the drink is cold and the bottom third is hot and has ingredients that belong in a soup. There is of course a strange transitional zone where your taste buds are challenged to the maximum.
That is an extreme example with drinks in Malaysia, but you can conclude. If it is a hot drink, they will put ice cubes in or near it, and a cold drink will be made with at least 10% hot water. It keeps you on your toes that is for sure.
Chris Boardman, British Cycling’s head of ‘ secret squirrel ‘ technology, and one time hour world record holder always trained on Christmas Day. It is the one day of the year when you can get a competitive advantage over your opposition. Back home, if there is not snow on the ground or horizontal rain, we will try to get out just for the feeling of superiority and smugness. A Christmas Day ride around the island of Langkawi on touring bikes without the bags, made the day memorable.
A further day of R&R, and then it was back onto the ferry and back to the mainland at Kuala Perlis. It is Esther’s birthday, hurrah and quite different to any previous. We do a laughably short distance of cycling and end the day in Kangar, in a pleasingly cheap hotel. It is strange what you can and can not sleep through. Dog barking or baby crying and you will spend an unhappy and frustrated night. Drunks fighting or Crack Cocaine use outside your window with police helicopters and searchlights, and you are not getting much sleep that night. Constant heavy traffic outside and we sleep the restful sleep of the blessed.
We are up early enough to clearly see stars against a sky with just the merest hint of dawn light. We have our Mojo back and that is just as well as we have a long day ahead that includes a climb and a customs crossing. We have been toying with the Thailand border for some time now, off to the east of where we have been riding. We had been advised to head for a crossing point as far West as possible. There is unrest in Thailand in the south East and it is a good idea to give it some space. We could have taken a ferry direct from Langkawi, but wanted a couple of days more touring in Malaysia, just to say farewell.
With a low sun turning the horizon a milky wash of colour and temperatures in the mid twentys, we were on our way, linking the roads on the gps until we made our way towards Kaki Bukit. Passing through even small towns in Asia is an absolute riot of sensory stimulus. In the heat and humidity, ever molecule of air carries a duty free allowance of aroma. Often there is my favourite smell, Sandlewood, in heavy saturated clouds. There is wood smoke, diesel fumes, incense, hot food and frying. Times when you try not to breath, Dorian, car tyres burning and filth of over flowing drains.
There is a stiff headwind today. It remains a headwind as we turn through 180*. I will give it the benefit of doubt if it does not get stronger and call it cooling. 45Km into the ride and it is 33’c as usual which is a bit of a bugger as the first major hill since Cameron Highlands is just around the corner. This had been described to us by our friend Meng as ‘ Chicken feet ‘. He had got the wrong hill. This starts at 10% and then within half a dozen corners throws a 17% incline. It does this several more times, but never goes under 10% very often.
We walked, of course we did. We cycled where we could and we sweated in such profusion that it ran down our legs and squelched in our Sidi bike shoes as we walked. In an undertaking often devoid of glamour, this is one of the less glamorous parts of cycle touring, of that there is little doubt. The decent is glorious of course. Monkeys are crashing through the trees next to us and we have smooth tarmac under wheel. I am thankful beyond words that it is dry today.
Our last tea stop in Malaysia. A grandfather is bouncing a giggling toddler on his lap. Both are enjoying the process. He pays, gathers the child under his arm and straddles a moped with the child still under his arm. As he starts the bike and turns it around, the child is playing with the strap of his crash helmet. Back home, not having his crash helmet done up, would be the start of a very long list of offences committed. Both child and septuagenarian are beaming smiles of pure joy.
We get to the border having done 842 Km of touring in Malaysia, most of which were fun. Border crossings are never fun, but some how this is quite low-key. I have flown into Edinburgh, with a valid UK passport and nothing to declare, and been more anxious. A smiling Thai border agent tells us to go back down the road and sign out from Malaysia and ‘ leave the bikes here ‘. Then there are confusing forms to fill out and more smiles. Finally it is back to border guard number one for final smiles and entry stamp. Hello Thailand. We descend some more, through thick forest with occasional settlements. Alarmingly, there are far more squashed snakes littering the shoulder on this side of the border. There are also many more wild dogs, all harmless cowards and not squashed as yet.
The road becomes increasingly hectic as we near the town of Satun. I come close to issuing my first single digit gesture of the Asian trip. Dreadful driving, simply dreadful. Waves and shouts of ‘ Hello ‘, manage to keep me chilled out. There is giggling from many a moped, as three young girls who are passengers on them try out their English. Eventually we arrive in the outskirts of Satun. We then have a big chunk of good fortune. The hotel that we booked on the internet in Starbuck’s in Berlin is just ahead. We had chosen it at random just to fill in the visa application, never thinking that we would be in Satun. It is of course not the day we booked, but we can do something about that.
So, we are in the Hotel Pinnacle, in the town of Satun. Which is as friendly as you could hope for, and also surprisingly clean for a €15. The town is a frenzy of colour and sound but the usual nightmare of broken and missing paths. I can not begin to understand how it must be to be blind in Asia. To add to my problems, most of the stalls have canopy’s that are about shoulder height for me. We see our first fat dog in Asia. You might have guessed it would be a Labrador. We have lost one hour, as the clocks have gone back as we crossed into Thailand. This will mean getting up at an even more ludicrous hour if we want to catch some cool temperatures for riding. This is a significant challenge.