Singapore & Malaysia...

Singapore
08 December 2006 - 14 December 2006

After our manic departure from India, we arrived in Singapore in the wee hours mildly worried that we had nowhere to stay, but still mightily relieved to be there. We found an accommodation desk at the airport, but the only room they had was in a bit of a plush hotel. We had planned for Singapore to be quite expensive, but this was a bit out of our budget. Feeling extremely tired and a bit lazy we decided to just take it, and were very glad that we did. A few day's rest in a nice place with some creature comforts did us the world of good.

Singapore was definately one of the best places we have been to. It may have had something to do with the massive contrast between there and India, or the fact that every street was decked out in Christmas lights, but we enjoyed it immensely.

The bikes had been a bit neglected in our final chaotic days in India, so we decided to treat them to a service and an overhaul. We were a bit embarrassed about taking them to a bike shop covered in mud and dust, so we set off to find a local garage that might let us use their water supply and some cloths to give them a bath. They were quickly taken off our hands by some car wash attendents, who gave them a good soap and spray. They looked as good as new, but no one would accept a penny for the job.

We spent the majority of our time in Singapore eating and sleeping, with some cycling and sightseeing thrown in for good measure. Richard was particularly taken with the Botanic Gardens, where he saw ginger plants for the first time. Kat was more impressed with the number and variety of restaurants, and being able to have pork ribs again.

We could quite easily have stayed in Singapore a fair bit longer, but Christmas was looming, and we wanted to make it to northern Malaysia by then, so we had to make tracks. The border crossing between the two countries is by way of bridge/causeway, so it was quick and painless.

 
Malaysia
14 December 2006 - 04 January 2007

The city on the Malaysian side of the water, Johor Bahru, seemed like a decent place, but we thought that a daily total of 25km was a bit pathetic, so we pressed on towards the west coast. This meant riding on an eight-lane expressway for some of the way, but there didn't appear to be a way around it. We arrived in the seaside town of Pontian that afternoon, after a heavy downpour. We were informed while taking shelter that this happens at pretty much the same time every day in this part of the year. We met the first touring cyclists we'd seen since the road into Istanbul in the Pontian hotel. Unfortunately they were going the opposite way, but that at least meant they were able to warn us about dogs in Thailand.

We have been tearing through Malaysia at quite a pace, to get to Penang island for Christmas. We rested only one day in eleven to do it, which was a bit of a shame as Malaysia has been one of the nicest countries we've been through. The people we've met have been incredibly friendly, the cycling has been blissfully flat for much of the way, and the food has been fantastic. One of the great things is roadside fresh juice stalls where we can stop and cool off a bit. Kat had fresh coconut for the first time, and Richard has had some foul smelling brown drink with slimy bits floating in it. We have got a taste in some of the small local Chinese restaurants of just how much we are going to struggle when we reach our destination. We think even remembering and recognising a couple of Chinese characters will be quite a challenge. Fortunately we have had picture menus so far.

We had a long day to get to our Christmas destination (Georgetown on Penang), and got a ferry over rather than a long bridge. We've been quite surprised by all the Christmas decorations and music blaring it out everywhere. Although it is not celebrated in a religious sense in Malaysia, it does seem to be a good excuse for some festivities. Although we had a Christmas dinner (beef or lamb instead of turkey), it just doesn't seem quite the same being in the tropics.

Like a bad smell, we hung around in Penang for a few days after Christmas, partly because we liked it, partly because Kat had found a chicken rice stall she particularly liked, but mostly because New Year is celebrated the world over, and we wanted to make sure we actually had some where to stay for it. As is customary we both had a frightening amount to drink, and spent a good evening/morning with an English couple (Hello Gerard and Kate!) we met in the beer garden of a bar.

Before leaving Penang we did manage to stumble into a brothel. It looked like an ordinary respectable pub, and even on walking in we did half think it could still just be an exceptionally seedy bar, until we saw that the price list offered beer at your table, or in your room. And then noticed the rooms.

We don't have a whole lot of luck when travelling by sea, so it was no great shock when our ferry from Georgetown hit something before leaving port, and we had to wait on board for ages while a diver went to sort it out. We were due to be sailing to Langkawai, a resort island in Malaysia, before getting a same day ferry service to Thailand. We were only mildly concerned about missing the boat - the prospect of spending the night on Langkawi isn't that dreadful. In the end we had an hour to spare, just enough time to spend our last ringgits and experience the very best in squat toilet facilities, courtesy of a Langkawi shopping mall.