Greetings from Thailand and our first, bit overdue blog of the New Year. It seems every time I came to sit and write this blog, a more immediate urge came to sit on the nearest toilet instead. Such are the joys of a prolonged bout of food poisoning. I am feeling much better now and have only to drag myself out of a lazy hammock slumber, induced by the shady swaying palms above – which is proving an equal challenge. But looking at pictures of snow from home, sat in our simple, yet ample bungalow on the beach, reminds us that we are still a long way from home. 2013 is going to be a big one!
Christmas on the road.
It was going to be strange spending Christmas so far from home, in a hot Muslim country. It was going to be special though because Kat’s mum was coming out to join us. Logistically, this put us in an interesting situation as we were meeting her in Penang in northern Malaysia, but leaving KL we still had plenty of time to go a relatively short distance. We never planned to spend much time in Malaysia, it just worked out that way. I am glad it did.
I think Malasiya seemed a little bit bland after Indonesia – calm, reserved and reasonably developed. The route we took up the coast was pretty flat and dominated by endless palm plantations. With no self induced pressure to go very far very fast we drifted up through the countryside and through the small little towns that generally had little to say about themselves. Sometimes staying in simple Chinese run hotels in the centre of a town, other times in new developments on random stretches of road.
But there were some wonderful things most of these communities had in common. For one Malaysians love their night food markets. Even the smallest town has an area that is a buzz at night with the hustle and bustle of people coming for their evening meal. Often we would hear or smell it before we saw it.
They normally consist of a large area of tables, surrounded by various small vending enterprises. This means you can sit with your friends and family, choose the food you want from the array of stalls and it is then brought to your table when it is cooked. Because of the mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures in Malaysia, there is always lots to choose from. To eat with young and old from different cultural and economic backgrounds coming together for dinner was always a treat for us.
Off the beaten track I think we were often viewed with caution – and why not, we look like weirdos and smell like badgers. But after a smile and a few fumbled attempts at Malaysian greetings, everyone was so hospitable. I don’t think in our entire time in Malaysia we ever saw the slightest sign of aggression or anger towards another individual. We always felt safe. On one corner perhaps a mosque, and two streets away a chaotic Chinatown.
Before we knew it though we had reached the island of Penang and Christmas Eve was fast approaching. We had been looking forward to some time off from cycling to enjoy some festive excess and Kat was desperately looking forward to seeing her mum.
We haven’t seen any family from home since we left 8 months ago, so it was a real treat to have Ronnie with us – I think Kat’s face says it all!
Christmas was a great time to reflect, catch up on news and just be. Oh, and eat a ton of lovely food!
It was lovely to see Kat and her mum so happy and at ease together – knowing that although we have been away a while we haven’t changed too much. It was sad to say goodbye, but the road was calling and Thailand was on our radar. I also had concerns about being able to fit into my lycra if we had any more time off. But thanks so much for coming out and treating us Ronnie, it has given us a real boost.
We also had some new toys sent out from our sponsor Compton Cycles in Catford, that we wanted to try out.
We were a little sad about leaving Malaysia. It had been good to us and it had provided a period of our trip where we could truly relax. As we got nearer to the Thai border, generosity continued and we were given a great Malay send off. One lovely lady, ‘Mummy’ as all her staff called her, flagged us down and invited us into her home. As well as feeding us, she filled our panniers with goodies. Another lovely chap, Mr Hashim, chased us down the road with his camera and then gave us some money to help us on our way
Tandem Turners take on Thailand
Enjoying Malaysia we changed our plans for entering Thailand via ferry and the island of Langkawi – instead we headed up to the north-west of Malaysia to a little used border near the town of Kaki Bukit. This would allow us to avoid the troubled south-east of Thailand, where sadly a violent and bloody struggle for independence continues to plague the region. We realised why it is little used as we climbed deep into the jungle, snaking up through gradients that made us realise we were a bit rusty after our Christmas break.
Stopping a few times to catch our breath and drink, the trees were alive with jungle sounds and some massive monkeys bounded down the road.
The road continued to cut its way through the steep mountains and then after spending the last of our Malaysian ringgits buying water in a little village, we were at the border. While confusing to understand which office we had to go to and in which order – it was all very friendly and easy. We had our stamp and we popped out in country number six, Thailand.
Within minutes of cycling, a massive (2 metre) snake forced me to brake and rasped across the road in front of us, powerfully whipping its tail. Thailand was already feeling a bit edgy – and we liked it.
Our first night in Thailand we managed to find a strange ‘resort’ signposted on the main road. Happy to have some where to stay we pulled in. As we have later learned, a resort in Thailand refers to any accommodation outside urban areas. After much giggling and misunderstandings we were directed to this funny looking bungalow.
A woman then proceeded to demonstrate every function in the room as if I was an alien. She turned on the TV, showing me how to change the channels and the volume etc. Turned the air-con on and off making the necessary shivering and fanning actions should we be in any doubt. This knob for water etc. After ten minutes of being treated like an idiot and exhausted from the border crossing we just wanted to get out and have a relaxing bite to eat. After a quick shower we closed the sliding doors to head out for some of that famous Thai cuisine .. the key promptly snapped off in the lock. Seeing we were having some trouble, the hotel’s resident mime artist waltzed over. She looked a little horrified – how could she have forgotten to show me how to use a key. We were then given another performance, this time acting out closing and locking the door – happy face. Snapping the key – sad face and shaking of head. ‘I know how a key works, it is just a cheap lock’. Cue repeat of actions.
Farang is the Thai word for foreigner and today it looked like I had successfully managed to confirm for this woman that they are all stupid. Still, I didn’t have to pay for the lock….
Luckily we are now settling in to life on the road in Thailand.
I Love Rubber!
As soon as we crossed the border the vast stretches of palm plantations disappeared and were replaced with smaller rubber tree operations.
The rubber comes out of a cut in the tree and is collected in small cups. These are collected regularly. In this raw form the balls of rubber are collected and put in front of peoples houses. Locals call them ‘rubber shits’. You can get some money for them in this form from guys with big metal containers on the back of their vans – but they stink like the name suggests and are of low grade.
If you have a machine you can process your rubber shits into rubber sheets. We have seen hundreds of washing lines like these. This stuff is higher grade and gets a better premium. Mr Schwalbe uses this to make our bike tyres – brilliant!
A final thought from the hammock – Zen and the art of duct tape maintenance.
It is often cited in books and tales of cycle travel, the importance of duct tape as a magical resource to fix and solve a multitude of problems on the road. It is a fact – it really is wonderful stuff and an incredibly simple idea; a material that has the combined properties of a piece of waterproof fabric and sticky-tape. Somehow, its application is infinitely wider than what the sum of the parts would suggest. The magic of course is not in the material itself, but in the creativity of how it is applied. There are websites dedicated to sharing its uses. I am just a novice, but as I sit here typing it is wrapped around my wedding ring to stop it falling off my skinny little finger, it holds my watch strap together (that has now snapped in three places) and it covers a hole in my sun hat that would otherwise be exposing my thinning noggin’ to the sun’s harmful rays.
We are now surrounded by the real experts of simple fix-it solutions here in SE Asia and I love it. I think duct tape solutions nourish the soul. Why does it bring me more joy to fix a pair of sunglasses that we found in a bush with a piece of old inner tube and some super glue, than to just buy a new pair for £1 at the market? Maybe fixing stuff is good for the soul. Maybe I am just tight.
When we were cycling through an empty stretch of outback, Kat spotted a pair of leather sandals by the side of the road. That was weird but stranger still they fit me like Cinderella’s slippers. Two months later I passed this man just sat by the side of a busy street in Kuala Lumpur.
He makes his living from a tin of glue, a hammer and a box of odds and ends. I pointed at my rapidly disintegrating sandals at which point he went to work with a care and craft it was a joy to watch. I had to watch of course because I was now stood in the busy street barefoot. 15 minutes later after removing grit, sanding, gluing, applying pressure, banging and filing edges my mysterious flip-flops had a new life. They are the most comfortable sandals I have ever had and I smile every time I put them on.