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Beaches, mosques and torrential rain – Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur

The road is a blur, my eyes are half-closed and my soaked shirt sticks to my back. Water runs down my nose, stings my bare arms and covers every surface. It’s wet season in this part of the world, and when it rains it really, really hammers down.

Local moped drivers shelter under bus stops, staring in bemusement at the crazy foreigners cycling through the storm, but our clothes will dry out quickly once the sun returns so we see no point in stopping. And anyway, the cool rain is a nice change from sweating in the sun.

We’ve had a few of these downpours since we left Bangkok, heading due south towards various big name tourist destinations and the Malaysian border. Cycling out of Bangkok was predictably bleak, but within 5 days we’d reached the ferry port for Ko Tao, an island off the east coast renowned for diving. We spent an excellent few days relaxing on the beach, snorkelling amongst colourful fish and bursting into laughter whilst trying to remember what it felt like to slog through Chinese deserts for weeks on end. Times have changed!



After catching the ferry back to the mainland we met with Mark & Hana (two Kiwis cycling from China to Indonesia) in the port town of Chumphon. We’d met in Bangkok and were all keen to cycle together for a while, so we joined forces and continued on our way.

To avoid the flat busy highway that runs down the east coast we followed a small road over to the west coast and spent the next 4 days cycling through areas struck by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Since then, evacuation routes have been signposted and warning sirens constructed in an attempt to protect people should another tsunami happen in the future.

Those 4 days were the wettest yet – it barely stopped raining! Apparently it was a particularly dodgy weather system, but in any case it was great to have the company of a 4-man peloton for a change to keep morale high.

Mark is a professional photographer and his collection of shots from their cycling trip are superb and well worth a look. I must’ve asked a million questions over the few weeks we spent together trying to garner as many tips as possible – thanks for being so tolerant Mark! Although he’s a few weeks behind in processing his photos, we’ve seen a few sneak previews of the shots from our time together and they look great – hopefully we’ll be able to post links to a few of Mark’s photos in our next blog.

We took a longtail boat to Railay Beach, a peninsula framed by huge limestone cliffs which make it inaccessible by road. It’s a famous spot for rock climbing and the cliffs create an incredible backdrop. Wild monkeys stormed the beach to steal bananas from sunbathing tourists, and bats raced laps around a circuit of trees as night fell.



As we reached the far south of Thailand, mosques started to pop up in amongst the Buddhist temples that have been a daily feature throughout Laos and Thailand. The last day or so in Thailand felt like a completely different country, with most communities being entirely Muslim.

This change was a prelude to the border crossing to Malaysia, where Islam is the dominant religion throughout the country. Like the other Muslim countries we’ve visited, the vast majority of women (in rural areas at least) wear headscarfs, every village has a mosque and our wake up call is the distinctive call to prayer.

Well it would be, but with only minor whimpering from Bex we’ve slipped into Mark & Hana’s cycling regime which involves a pre-dawn alarm with the aim of being cycling before sunrise. This lets Mark get the best light of the day for photography, and also gives us most of the afternoon ‘off’ in whichever town we end up in. In Alor Setar we arrived for a late lunch at one of the ubiquitous large Indian cafes, eating biryani and roti, before an evening photography session at the awesome Zahir Mosque.

The roads in Malaysia are noticeably busier, and it’s become harder to find the quieter back roads that make cycling so much more fun, whilst still heading in roughly the right direction (i.e. south!) On the rare occasions we have found nice quiet roads we’ve been rewarded with road-side stalls selling bananas, wild monkeys jumping from tree to tree and thick jungle scenery, although unfortunately much of the natural wild jungle has been chopped down and replaced by palm oil plantations.

We caught the ferry across to the island of Langkawi and cycled 25km to the far side to spend another few days relaxing in the company of Mark & Hana and enjoying a few killer sunsets. Having travelled in Southeast Asia before, Bex always said she was looking forward to this part of the trip, and now I can see why! The number of spectacular sights and relatively short distance between them makes it perfect for travelling by bike.

What suprised me, however, is that we haven’t seen a single foreigner on any of our cycling days between the well known spots. Even in Thailand & Malaysia, it seems it’s incredibly easy to see local villages and normal rural life from the saddle, just by cycling anywhere.

The last few kilometres into Kuala Lumpur were relatively relaxed, aside from one particular 4km stretch. While Bex hates it, I usually enjoy riding into massive cities as the busy traffic keeps the adrenaline pumping and all senses alert. But when the 4 of us popped out into the middle lane of a 5 lane motorway a bit too much adrenaline was involved even for my liking! It felt like we were lacking a few wheels and a seatbelt to be mixing it with the cars.

We turned onto a smaller road at the first opportunity, before saying goodbye to Mark & Hana. We ended up cycling 1,400km together in total, but they’re now flying to the northern tip of Sumatra for the epic next leg of their adventure. It’s been really great having some fun and interesting company for a few weeks, and having some other people to share experiences. Thanks for an awesome time guys, and see you in NZ!

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11 Responses to Beaches, mosques and torrential rain – Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur

  1. Amazing blog as always – your pictures look incredible as well – you are becoming true pros
    xxx

  2. Mark Watson says:

    Great post and awesome shots guys, cheers!
    See you tomorrow afternoon!

  3. Russell and Noeline Black says:

    Great to read and see pics of your cycling with Hana and Mark – may we will see you when you cycle through Plimmerton on your NZ cycle tour – regards Noeline and Russell Black (Hana’s parents)

  4. We love reading your updates and seeing your pics. You’ve been in some paradise-like locations lately and it’s easy for us blog-followers to forget that riding across the world is really hard. You’re opening paragraph was a graphic and fascinating jolt back to the reality that you need to be prepared to grind it out on the tough days as well as pleasant ones.

    I was interested to read your comment on Twitter that the hardest day of your whole trip was the day out of Sam Neua. Even harder than the mountain climbs in winter? Or the Tukmen-dash?

    • Ryan says:

      The Turkmen dash comes close, but that was more of a mental struggle to wake up and start pedalling! The hills on that day in Laos involved a lot of standing on the pedals and max effort just to keep moving. Awesome quiet roads though! The winter mountains weren’t as bad as the gradient wasn’t so steep, and we were nice and warm while we were riding.

  5. Mark Heffernan says:

    These photos have reached a new level. Absolutely Brilliant. Thanks for another great post Ryan and Bex. Love, Mark, Soraya and Alex

  6. stuartlansdale says:

    Hey guys, only recently seen this blog but spent the last few days devouring all the blog content. What an awesome trip and such an interesting route. I wish you all the best in completing the journey and am seriously considering tweaking the route I wish to do next year to something similar to this as the diversity of the places looks incredible. Keep up the excellent informative blogs.

    Stuart

  7. Felix Dance says:

    Great work guys!

  8. Pingback: Go Bicycle Touring!

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