Day 82 Ipoh to Teluk Intan 108 km

We were glad to see quite clear sky as we got ready to ride this morning.  No sign of rain!
We rode through Ipoh, and again we did not see any bouganvillea, so mystified as to why it was described as the bouganvillea city.  In the country, we do see nice bouganvillea bushes blooming in front of some houses, so they are in season.
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There is a typical type of store lining the streets of the towns.  They are two stories tall, with a  roof designed to contain vents.  Many of them have arched windows, and many have an archway over the sidewalk.  Very practical and good looking.
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The ride was among plantations and rice paddies, all very flat land, so not scenically special, but we spotted a pack of monkeys sitting on the hydro power lines.  When we stopped to shoot pictures of them, they quickly disappeared in the busy; too quickly, we couldn’t get our cameras out fast enough.
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Otherwise fairly typical sights on the road; a number of mosques and a couple of Hindu temples, lots of wooden houses, and always people going about their business.  There were many stalls along the road selling Durans, a fruit about the size of a coconut, but with spiky skin, and a very strong smell.  In fact, they smell so strong that several of our hotels have had signs on the front doors telling customers not to bring durans into the hotel!

Day 81 Taiping to Ipoh; 103 km

We were in more interesting country today; some hills and rice-growing valleys.  The rain held off until the late afternoon, when we were all at the hotel, but there were clouds hanging in the hills.
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A good portion of the ride was on smaller roads with little traffic, so we could hear the birds in the trees along the road, and there was a mix of houses and plantations.
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Clearly a mix of religions here; mosques, Hindu temples and even some churches.
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Day 80 George Town to Taiping 112 km

Started off in the rain, and it showered on us several times during the day.  Without my waterproof camera, this limits picture taking on the road.  In any event, the scenery was unexceptional; quite a long ride through industrial suburbs on a big road, and when we turned onto a smaller road, there was one huge palm oil plantation that went on for kilometers.      At one point it abutted a mosque, and it looks like the cemetary became part of the plantation.

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There was some interesting wildlife in the ditch; one group saw a water monitor lizard, and I saw a number of kingfishers plus a big raptor.  None of those chose to stick around and pose for a picture, but lots of colour on one Hindu temple along the road.

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We also got a good view of fishing and fish-farming operations as we rode over a kilometer-long bridge over an estuary.
It is always striking how dense the population gets wherever there is a resource available to exploit.

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Day 79 George Town rest day

I spent a good part of the morning trying to find and get into the state art gallery.  Partial success; I saw a show featuring a single contemporary artist, but the permanent collectrion area never opened all day.  Bonus; there were caged birds and an iguana-like reptile in the grounds that housed the gallery.
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Highlight of the day was the tour of the “Blue Mansion”,the former home of Cheong Fatt Tze, who was the “Rockefeller  of the East” at the turn of the century.  A charming guide showed us around, providing a lot of interesting detail of life in those times.  A lovely building, apparently painted blue because blue brings good luck. Lots of amazing decoration.  Much restoration has been done in recent years, following a long period of neglect.
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Also a lovely moment at the Hainan Temple, Chor, the patron saint of sea farers.
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Went to a huge downtown shopping centre to buy a couple of things.  What a massive complex,with hundreds of shops and kiosks.  Christmas music playing, and even a place tor Santa pictures.  Some of the clerks wore red and white santa caps.  Cute at home, but rather out of place here!
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A fun dinner in the “Red Market”, another food court with lots of choice, including Thai, Chinese, Malay, Korean, western, and even waffles with ice cream…  Again, well run, with the possible exception of the Christmas musioc.
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Day 78 Sungai Petani to George Town / Penang 42 km

A reallly short ride today, very relaxed.  A relatively late breakfast at 7:30, and we started out in relatively bright light, but no fear of getting too hot because of the short distance.  
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We passed by a number of nice mahogony homes; not super fancy but well loved and maintained.  They look great when the shutters are open and the breeze is blowing through the house.
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We took a short ferry ride over to the island of Penang, and arrived at out hotel before noon.  Our rooms were not ready, so I used the pool shower, took a short swim and changed into clean clothes, before heading out with some colleagues to find lunch and explore the town.  One of our local guides told us how to find “little India”‘ and it felt like being back in India. 
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We found a nice little restaurant where we ordered lassis, talis, papadams, and chai.  A delicious feast that set us up for exploring around town.  I walked down to the waterfront, where there are “clan jetties” sticking out to the water over the mud flats.  These are a series of little houses and stores built on poles into the sea bottom, with a  boardwalk leading between them out to docking areas at the harbour end.  Would be a very humid place to live, but probably less noisy than beside the streets in town.
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I also toured the state museum, which gave some context to the city, emphasizing the many different places people came from to live here; from Armenia to China.  On the way back to the hotel, I ran across a remarkable mural on the side of an apartment building.
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Fortunately I was taking a break in the hotel when the afternoon downpour occurred, and by the time we went out for dinner the streets were dry again.
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We went down to a local food court on the “esplanade” by the sea for dinner.  It was very well organized; we ordered food and drinks from different vendors around the area, told them where we were planning to sit,   and while we were sitting there admiring the view, they brought us our orders and collected the money.  Lots of locals enjoying dinner while we were there.  Great selection, and good service.
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Day 77 Kangar to Sungai Petani 121 km

Another nice day for riding; no rain and a reasonable amount of cloud to protect us from the full impact of the sun.  By midday, the temperature was 35 degrees, which is quite a contrast from the snowy conditions at home….

A good portion of the route was along dikes through rice paddies, with occasional irrigation canals along the road.  At times, it looked like Holland or France, with trees separating the roadway from the canal.
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We were quite near the coast, and we crossed a number of rivers where there was a very different atmosphere, with plenty of fishing boats docked.    Standing on the bridges looking down was particularly pleasant because there was always more breeze up there than down among the trees and the houses!
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We got a couple glimpses of the coast as we rode along; huge mud flats were visible, as it was evidently low tide.
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Sungai Petani is a large regional centre, and our hotel is on the outskirts, near the bypass road, so not much sightseeing, but tomorrow we will be a more scenic town.

Day 76 La Ngu to Kangar 112 km

Better luck with the weather today; only a tiny amount of rain, and enough sun to make me cover up in the afternoon to avoid a sun burn.  Very nice; everyone is in a better humour.

We rode out through some karsts again, and then climbed gradually up to the Malaysian border through a national park.

The border officials for both Thailand and Malaysia were efficient and the process was quick and hassle-free.  They could teach a lot of other countries useful lessons about how to manage  a border.  They collected our information without any additional fuss.
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After the border, we climbed over a pass in a park on the Malaysian side, then shot down the hill onto a flat rice-growing plateau, and made our way to Kangar. 
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This seems like a nice little regional centre with an interesting selection of shops.  Dave alerted me to the water monitors that live in the local river.  These are big reptiles that swim in the water rather like an elongated beaver; with their head up. They are as big as some caymans, but look far less vicious, although they are known for snatching chickens.
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Day 74 Au Nang to Trang 142 km

The hotel produced a great breakfast, and we hit the road as soon as there was enough light.  As we biked through sleeping Au Nang headed South East, I was amazed to see how much of the town, including hotel accomodation, was far from the beach.  I came to appreciate our hotel, which was right on the beach, and in the less busy part of town; just enough restaurants and little stores to serve our needs without all the tourist traffic.  Sweet.
On our way inland, we went by some beautiful karsts, first seeing them at a distance, and then passing between them.
The far off ones reminded me of the shapes of distribution curves!
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A little farther along, we went by a buddhist monastary which had a lovely gong installed in its courtyard, with coloured cloth wrapped around the ancient tree nearby, reminiscent of how the Ojibway put coloured cloths around trees.
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After that it began to rain, and as you may recall from yesterday’s report, my waterproof camera died during the snorkeling excursion, so I am now relying on my good point-and-shoot, which I don’t want to pull out in the rain, so I didn’t take any more pictures that day, as we rode in occasional showers, and finally a pretty steady rain until we got into the big hotel in Trang.  That, plus there was not so much visually different than what we have seen elsewhere; lots of plantations for rubber and palm oil, and houses lining the road. 
We went by one place which was described as a Wat Museum — i.e. temple museum –that was closed at the time, but I was amazed by the paintings on the wall of the main building; they were unlike buddhist temple art, and reminiscent of native paintings.
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Day 75 Trang to La Ngu 108 km

Setting out from Trang, we knew that the weather forecasts promised rain, but it was merely drizzling as we left.  Our clothes had dried pretty well overnight, but our shoes are not drying out. 
I had procured a number of shower caps from our hotel stays, and was using them to cover my front pack, my rack pack, and my helmet, which triggered a certain amount of teasing from my colleagues, but everyone else give up on fashionable attire some time ago, when the rain began.
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We rode out of  Trang in a convoy, to simplify the instructions, and as a result we were less spread out than usuaal.  Sure enough, the rain increased and decreased throughout the day, but the temperature was warm, so no problem coping.

The only time I felt safe taking my camera out of its waterproof bag was when I saw a delightful parade float parked under a temporary shelter by the side of the road.  This machine was a masterpiece, presumably produced by a village, since it was not parked in a temple area.
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Today was the King’s birthday, which is a major holiday, and we were expecting to see lots of carnival activity along the road, but unfortunately the rain may have spoiled those plans.  Observing the traffic, I concluded that this was the day that parents were more likely to let their children borrow the motor bike, because I saw an extraordinary number of young kids driving motorcycles on the road!  Not many cyclists on the road.
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Our hotel tonight is on the beach, but it poured rain all afternoon, so no chance to take advantage of it.

Day 73; Rest day at Ao Nang

Still high from a delightful trip snorkeling around some islands in the bay.  Got organized with half a dozen colleagues to book a snorkeling trip with a local dive outfit, which was fun right from our departure in a mahogony fishing boat with its propeller installed on a long shaft counter-balanced by a car motor on the other end.  We had a careful and smiling young capitain who took us around to three different snorkelling spots, and took good care of us.
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As soon as we dropped into the water off the boat, we were surrounded by little fish with perch-like tiger stripes, who were checking us out for snacks.  Our capitain passed some bread to Fred, who was then the centre of attention.
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As we swam away from the boat, along the cliffs, we saw a huge variety of fish species, but unfortunately my camera quit, it seems the waterproofing isn’t what it used to be, so no pictures of all the amazing colours on the fish.  I felt like Iwas swimming in an aquarium.  Most of the fish were not very scared of me, so I could dive down and swim among them. 
The only thing that drove me back to the boat after a while was feeling cold.  The water was warm to get into, but after 45 minutes, the loss of body heat added up.
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Lots of other boats with lots of other people anchored near us, but I hardly noticed them, because snorkeling involves looking down, so another swimmer has to be extremely close before I realize they are there.  Some other boats were taking people out to the beach, or rock climbing…
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