Sunday 17th January
George Town to Taman Desa Gentang (SE Penang)
Oh what a day!! (Gary, totally agree).
it was supposed to be an easy day but it was far from it.
We had a lazy start, my fault I had been awake in the night and didn’t wake until 8.30am (with a little help from Gary)
We didn’t set off until 10.30am, breakfast in the hotel was poor so we decided to eat on route. Our first stop was a temple (Kek Lok Si), the sky was grey and we were really hungry so we stopped in a food hall for some breakfast, I had dahl and rotties again, Gary had chicken and rice both meals cost less than £3 including drinks. The heavens opened whilst we were eating, we didn’t mind as we thought we had probably escaped the rain, how wrong could we be… No sooner had we cycled up to the temple than the heavens really opened and we were stuck for a little while in a tunnel leading up to the temple. A kind guide offered us her umbrella but we both ended up getting soaked, I was soaked because the guide’s umbrella was dripping down my back and Gary got soaked returning the umbrellas. It was a nice gesture but it didn’t work. It didn’t matter as the sun came out as we were walking around and we were virtually dry before we got back on the bikes.
The temple was a newish temple and was interesting to walk around, we took a vernacular railway up to the main buddha as the steps were wet, I had my cleats on and nearly fell over on the wet ground walking around the buddha. There were a lot of shops leading up to the statute which sold an array of tack including sponge bob and square pants stuff, why I have no idea.
Once back on the bikes we figured we had about 20 miles of cycling to do before arriving at our destination but this was not to be the case….the first 5 miles were up a very steep hill, so steep that I wobbled a lot and eventually got off and pushed my bike, the road was narrow and I was a danger to myself and everyone else. I felt a little gutted but it was the right thing to do. We stopped with only 12 miles to go for a drink and a snack, surprisingly most places were closed we can only presume this was because it was Sunday, which didn’t quite fit with the island being mainly muslim.
The next 12 miles were interesting, we first had some lovely coastal roads to cycle, Gary even pulled over to admire one bay but it turned out to be dirty and smelly. With only 8 miles to go, Gary questioned whether we should stay in the bay as at least some shops and restaurants were open. We decided to press on, it felt too early to stop, this was a mistake.. We followed the garmin and when we came to a dead end and the garmin still pointed ahead we stupidly followed it. This is probably a little harsh as the bike symbols on the road suggested it was the right way and we saw motorcycles coming out of the off road section. After a mile or two though it became apparent that there was no way through, we even stopped two motorcyclists to see where they’d come from and to check whether we could reach the main road from the direction they’d come but they were quite adamant this was not possible and pointed us back in the direction we’d come. On route we’d met two motorcyclists who could speak good english but they also struggled to find a route through and eventually turned back.
Gary, This route was tough but cycling and walking through the forest has its rewards and it was a true adventure. loads of large butterflies settling right next to us, a live brown snap about a foot long passed just in front of us, and some nice views over the bay (of course this means we had and to clim a hill to get there) and some steep drops right next to us ready to swallow us up. I was very disappointed that we couldn’t continue especialy as we were only 3,8 miles from our destination, turning back added another 12 miles to the day.
Once we’d cycled (in fairness I pushed mine most of the way, I really don’t like off road cycling with steep coastal drops) our bikes back to the main road we were met by two young boys on a cycle which they had strapped on motorbike fairings so we gave them a race down the road with the boys making engine noises we headed to the town we’d cycled through earlier in the day. We hoped to find accommodation in the town but other than a very expensive hotel and a very naff hotel (even Gary turned his nose up) we decided to cycle on to the next town. Unfortunately the accommodation was just as elusive and we cycled to a place called the White resort, where we were rudely turned away, (Gary, I think this place was an army base) we tried to find a homestay that had a sign from the main road but nothing indicating which house it was, we even followed directions on Gary’s gamin for a hotel but this didn’t appear to exist eventually we headed out of town to a hotel we’d looked up on booking.com. It was really, really basic, a wooden box with a mattress on the floor, shared bathroom but it did have air con and wifi. We quickly checked in £15!! for the night which was expensive for the area and went back out on our bikes in search of food and beer.
Monday 18th January
Taman Desa Gentang to George Town
Another late start, I had another rubbish nights sleep, I tossed and turned and watched the hours go by, I must have fallen into a deep sleep in the early hours and didn’t wake until 9.30!
Once up and dressed we went in search of breakfast by the sea. We had met a motorcyclist the previous day that had told us the area had a beautiful beach, all we could find was a fishing estuary. We did however find some breakfast and whilst looking in the estuary saw a large lizard struggling to eat his fresh catch of what looked like a stingray.
We had another big climb to do, but the gradient was much lower than the previous day, so much more manageable, the road was also much bigger and the views far better including views across Penang and of the sea.
Gary, this route along the back of Penang was really nice, fairly light traffic, winding turns and a 700 foot hill climb up approx 7% gradients, on the downhill we past a dammed reservoir with views going out to sea.
We had intended to stay in a seaside resort but Gary wanted to see if we could get back to George Town and possibly over to the Cameron Highlands by bus before we go to Kuala Lumpur. It was only a further 10 miles away so I agreed, but on arriving back in the town we encountered lots of traffic and with no hotel booked we spent a lot of time cycling around in the heat and getting stroppy with each other. We agreed to stop and look at the internet so that we could get make an informed decision about our plans and after a little research realised that it would not be possible to do the Cameron Highlands in the time we had, they’d also received some negative reports on the internet. We are now left with a choice of staying in Penang for an extra day or going to KL early.
We eventually found a hotel on the internet, we didn’t book choosing instead to cycle directly there as it was less than a couple of miles away. On arrival we were charged more than the internet price so had to book on line, what a palaver but as Gary rightly pointed out it is no different in the UK and the staff were really helpful, they were just following the rules.
Tuesday 19th January
George Town chill out day
Following a report of a failed suicide bomb attack in KL we decided to spend the day in George Town. It was a really laid back day, In the morning we went to the bus station to book a bus to Kuala Lumpur for the following day. The first provider informed us that none of the buses would carry our bikes as wizened travellers we took no notice and went in search of another provider who after a little persuasion agreed to book them on to a bus leaving from a station 10 miles away.
After successfully paying for the tickets we went shopping for a couple of jumpers it looks much colder in Oz than in Malaysia (it is 26c compared to the 35 – 45c we’re used to), I managed to pick up 3 jumpers for less than £8, I also bought a couple of dresses which were really cheap and some baggy black trousers, which I’m already having second thoughts about. Gary bought a snazzy red teeshirt. In the afternoon I went and had my hair cut whilst Gary plotted the route in Tasmania.
In the evening we found a local bar (a rare thing in Penang) and had a couple of drinks, Gary had a glass or two of Guinness which he had not had since the UK whereas I had a cider or 2 (half pint glasses). We had dinner in a local food hall, fish (red snapper, rice and veg) it was a really enjoyable evening
Wednesday 20th January
George Town to Kuala Lumpur
We were up and packed very early but decided to head out to the bus station rather than spending further time at the hotel. When we arrived at the bus station we were sent away, the guy was pleasant and recommended the Queensbury Shopping Mall. We didn’t really need anything but we agreed to find somewhere to sit down and read our kindles with a coffee. On route Gary saw several hairdressers so decided to get his hair cut, I didn’t like it initially as he looked like Hitler but now it has settled down it looks ok.
The bus journey to KL was pretty uneventful we both read our kindles all the way but unfortunately another party had a very eventful trip as they thought the bus was going to stop at a different station to the one it was scheduled to stop at, it was quite late and dark outside but they insisted the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere so that they could be picked up rather than going to the station.
We arrived in KL quite late but it didn’t take long to put the bikes together and cycle to our hotel. Once settled in our room we went in search of some food and beer. Our hotel was situated in a retail park so we were spoilt for choice for food but alcohol was limited to one or two restaurants. We both wanted a beer so we opted for one of these restaurants but when we asked for a beer we had a little communication issue, I thought the waitress had said the beer was going to be the equivalent of £10 a bottle, I questioned her several times and eventually we realised the price she had quoted was for a bucket of beer (5 bottles of beer). We knew the beer was expensive in Malaysia but £10 a bottle would have been ridiculous. We ordered a pizza to share but we had to laugh when the waiter came out with a tiny pizza that wouldn’t have filled a mouse let alone my hungry tum.
Thursday 21st January
Kuala Lumpur rest day
We had an early start as we had agreed to meet our Malaysian friends who lived in KL for breakfast. They’d kindly acquired two bike boxes and tape for us and had generously agreed to drop them off at our hotel. Our intention had been to treat them to breakfast but they would hear none of this and insisted on treating us because we were their guests. We had a really lovely meal and met their daughter, the conversation flowed easily so when they suggested meeting up later in the day we agreed. We spent the morning washing and drying clothes and taking the bikes apart and packing. We’re getting quite good at this and had finished by mid afternoon. This gave us plenty of time to visit the Pewter factory with Faridah and her daughter. The factory was really interesting, it was not something we would have chosen to do but we enjoyed it and the time flew by, so much so that we ended up cutting it fine to pick up Kamat before heading into central KL for dinner.
We ate in Chillies with views over the water feature under the Petronis twin towers. Faridah and her daughter left soon after ordering their food for evening prayer and Kamat kept us entertained with tales from his travels around the world. The family again insisted on paying for dinner, so on our way down to look at the sunset, a huge chines lantern arrangement in readiness for the new year and the musical water feature we stopped off and bought Faridah a small gift to say thank you for her hospitality. The family were lovely and really made us feel welcome in KL.
Friday 22nd January
Kuala Lumpur to Sydney
We had an early flight so had to be up at 5.00 to get our taxi to the airport. We flew with Air Asia and everything from checking in to the flight went really well. I did have some reservations when we got on board as the seats were small with very little leg room and there was no in house entertainment (unless we wanted to pay an additional £10 each) but much to our surprise the flight went by very quickly, which is more than can be said for the passport and customs section of our journey. Once off the plane we took our time going through passport control, we weren’t in a hurry as we knew the bikes would take a while to be off loaded. We didn’t expect them to take an hour. Everyone had to wait ages for their luggage, apparently ours was one of the last flights of the evening and there was a shortage of staff. We spent another hour going through customs, which was made more tortuous by the fact that the trollies were naff and the staff were unhelpful.
We finally left the airport 2 hours after landing! to then have to negotiate the taxi rank which was another painful experience. We could see where the taxis were, there was no queue so rather than taking the trollies around the queuing system we asked if we could feed the bikes over the barrier. Apparently this was not allowed so we had to struggle with the bikes, with no help from staff to end up exactly where we started but on the other side of the barrier, it was really frustrating. We thought our trauma was over until we got into the taxi and realised that the meter was already running and started at 11 dollars! the final fare for a 1.6km journey was 48 dollars which is approx £24. The driver was lovely but we didn’t offer a tip as we had hardly any Ozzie money left. We quickly checked in and went to the bar next to the hotel for a much needed pint of lager. We managed to order this just before the bar closed but were shocked to be charged a further £10 for 2 beers. Living in Australia is an expensive affair.
Our hotel was lovely but we couldn’t afford to eat there breakfast was a staggering £15 each!. The alternative had been booking a hotel in central Sydney but the cheapest was approx £50 and this was in a hostel with a shared bathroom. The idea of staying in a hostel in the middle of Sydney on a Friday and Saturday night did not appeal so we opted for the slightly more expensive option, which meant we had our own bathroom and a very big clean bed.
Saturday 23rd January
Sydney rest day
We had arranged to meet Bharti and Pete in the Central Railway Station at 11.15 so once we woke up we made our way in to the city. We set off a little bit early which gave us time to have breakfast on route (stale sandwiches, warm chocolate and a drink). It was an overcast day but warm we arrived at the train station before Bharti and Pete. They arrived at about 11.30 it was so great to see them as we hadn’t seen them since their last visit to the UK 2 years ago. We greeted each other with big excited hugs before setting off to the harbour for a walk around and an early lunch.
The conversation flowed easily and we had a really enjoyable day, which we spent dodging the rain in and out of pubs and walking around the harbour. Bharti and Pete spoilt us by treating us to lunch and dinner and even buying us gifts for the Christmas tree, although I’m not sure the Ugg bootie will be replacing our fairy, sorry Pete but we will make sure it is somewhere near the top of the tree. The day flew by and we were sad to leave them, hopefully we will get to spend some more time with them the next time they’re in the UK.