Sorry no pictures this post
Feb 19-27 Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia
Getting to the bottom of Thailand. Two 80 km bike days got me from Trang to Satun. Each day was about the same. I was good on the bike and had no heat issues. Mind you I finished each day at about 11:30. The first night was my most basic place yet. There was nothing tourist oriented in the town. I ate what might be called left-overs in the market. Cold rice and a dried chicken leg. I took a beer back to my hotel and just basically hung out there,
Satun was completely different. A bit larger town with lots of sleeping options. From Google Maps I picked the hotel, DD Resort, furthest through town, I had no other indications of the nature of the place. Like the previous night it was a bit off of the road, but it turned out to be a resort on the river a few hundred meters from the ocean. The restaurant hung out over the river and the rooms were ultra-modern and chic. As I said I pulled in before noon and the rooms were just being made up. The woman in charge looked at her book and indicated that they were full. I had entered through the restaurant and one of the women there had taken me to the office. The two had a bit of a chat and the room gal had a closer look and decided since I was only staying one night it would be ok. I had beer on the restaurant deck, washed clothes, had a good dinner and full breakfast at 6:00 am. DD Resort was a dream.
It is 10 km from DD to the ferry that would take me to Langkawi in Malaysia and right beside the ferry is another Mangrove Bird Reserve. I got there before 7:00 so I had 2 hours to have a look before heading over for what I thought was a 9:30 ferry. I saw a few birds, got no worthwhile pictures but the major disappointment was at the ticket wicket. I think I had missed one and was told the ferry left at 3:00. Kicking myself that I did not check before heading into the mangroves, all I could do was to go back for another look for birds. I did no better and spent the early afternoon in the terminal. The ferry was the enclosed kind where you can’t get out on the deck. I had had a similar ride in Turkey in the fall. Bike Friday did much better. He was passed by deck hands to the deck on the front of the boat, and had the wind in his face the whole way.
I had hoped to have part of the day to look around Langkawi and then decide what next. We also lost an hour going into Malaysia so it was late when we arrived. Langkawi was an even bigger surprise. The terminal on Langkawi was teeming with people coming and going. There are Starbucks and MacDonald’s, no end of butiks selling everything. I got money and a sim card with no trouble. But it was a bit of a turn-off for me. I was expecting an idyllic tropical island. I decided not to stay.
The next morning I was on another ferry heading for Panang Island and the city of Georgetown. I was expecting more development here as Panang has a rich colonial history and I was prepared to have a bit of a back-packer experience, primed for such by the thoroughness of Lonely Planet coverage. I booked for two nights. A good part of Georgetown are the Chinese and Indian Sectors. I stayed in that area and over the two days ate Chinese, Indian, Syrian, Malay, washed down by cheap draft beer. I know this sounds like a lot but it was mostly street food.
On my day in town I biked about 40 km, mostly getting to the Botanical Gardens to look for birds. I headed over a bit after 7:00 (It now gets light about 7:20). On this Sunday initially the streets were bare, until I got close to the section of parks the Gardens are located in. The traffic thickened, parking was at a premium and by the time I stopped and locked my bike at the Gardens I had passed 1000s already heading out to climb up the hill, to walk in the parks or to visit the gardens. It is interesting to me in this country with healthy populations of Native Malay, Indian and Chinese it was the Chinese who were out early this Sunday.
In spite of all the people there were still a few birds flitting about. I spent about 2 hours walking around and sitting in the odd spot to see what might come by. My best result was in a quiet spot not particularly attractive to look at but it had a nice concrete abutment to sit on. After a while an egret landed in the little creek, and then a grackle came in and started scratching around. But the highlight was when a streak of royal blue flew by and sat in a tree beside me. My first view was into the sun so I carefully made my way around him. It was a kingfisher of some sort. He flew off across the creek but I could still kind of see him, and then he came back. Each transition gave me better pictures. He was a White-breasted Kingfisher that I had already seen at Baan Maka, but my pictures here were a lot better.
I had a long bike day planned so I was at the 6:30 ferry, still dark, for the 15 min ride across to Butterworth the mainland side of Panang. I had a poor first stab at a Malaysian breakfast waiting for some light to hit the roads and then I was on the way. I was on freeways, I carried my bike across medians to get to an exit I wanted to try. I was sometimes on the wrong side of 4 lanes going my way. It was awful. Always congested, never with a good shoulder. I went through 100 traffic lights, a good sign that this was not a real freeway. I had a 100 km to ride and by 11:00 I was not much over half of that, and still the traffic was just as thick. In heavy traffic I ride harder, not sure why, but it meant that I was getting quite done in. Sometime later the road passed by a train station. In I went and got a commuter train to the town, Taiping, that I was headed for. It was only a 20 min train ride but it saved me.
Taiping is the first real Malaysian town that I have experienced. My place was nice, but the choices of restaurants and places to buy food was very limited. In the meanwhile my travel plans were rattling around in my head. I had a pretty good feeling that I could get onto better roads close to the ocean for the next days as far as Kuala Lumpur. Complicating that was the desire I had to get to Fraser’s Hill and the road along the coast did not help there. Fraser’s Hill was built by the British in colonial times to get away from the heat. It is 1200-1500m above sea level. To get there I had planned riding the highway I was on out of Butterworth until close and then taking a bus or something up into the hills. In Taiping I spent a lot of time on Google looking for ideas.
I decided to bypass the coast and KL and I was not getting back out onto that same highway. Two Trains and a 75 minute taxi had me in Fraser’s Hill the next day, a Tuesday. I booked in until Friday, when the crowds would start to come. I was going birding. A big plus of this plan was that from Fraser’s Hill it looks like I can bike straight south, eventually getting over to the coast again, but missing all of Kuala Lumpur, which I don’t need to see. I have yet to test this plan, but that is it for now.
My three days in FH were great. The temperature range is from 20-30, whereas out of the mountains it is 35-40. I walked many kms up and down roads and trails having some success finding birds. It is very quiet here during the week. I hired a bird guide for four hours and he helped me see lots more birds. Photos are tough as in all jungle environments but I have quite a few that I like.
Tomorrow I head out after breakfast. I have over 1000m of altitude to lose, but unfortunately it all happens too fast, so before long it will be biking in the heat as usual. My only hope is at least the traffic might be less. Singapore is 5-600 kms away and I have time to bike this, but if I strike out on road choice then I may do more public transport. Wish me luck.