Monday, July 21, 2014

Wasping from Singapore to Thailand - Part 7: Wang Kelian, Penang, Malacca


Wang Kelian, Perlis

If you are looking for mountainous, meandering roads, flanked by hills, the ilk of Mae Hong Song, you can look no further than Wang Kelian, a miniature version of Mae Hong Song.

Situated in the smallest state of Malaysia, Perlis, it is a quiet kampung, visitors come here for the open border weekend market which straddles between Malaysia and Thailand.

Sharp left turn.

Right turn. Is this a skate board park or what?
Long straight road juxtaposed after the windy mountainous road to render different thrills within the vicinity. Traffic was very clear, a vehicle pass us once in a while. At times, we have the entire straight road to ourselves. If you want to test your top speed, this is a good place to do so. For my 21 year old 150cc scooter, there is nothing to test. Test how slow I can go... Sure!

Eeeee Haaaaaa.
But be careful, there are a few security check points along the way. At each check point, the officers would check our luggage and ask us questions. The presence of the weapons in their hands was quite intimidating at first but their tone of interrogation was of inquisitive and cordial nature.

"Where are you from?"
"Where are you going?"
"You go fast?"
"You modify your scooter?"
"Can ride far ah?"
"Scooter spoil or not?"

After all the questions from them, Ah Weng would reciprocate the question of,

"Can we take a photo?"

Sharon getting into pose with officers wielding Kalashnikov.
We had no GPS, no 3G on our phone in Malaysia. I tried to memorise the route back to North South Highway from Perlis but gave up halfway. Flat plains flanked the road, hardly any landmark in sight. Fortunately, the road signs were good enough to lead us back to the highway. As long as you are alert enough, you will find your way back.

We found our way back to Chang Lun where we purchased our vehicle insurance to Thailand. And then, it was back to the dull North South Highway.

Boring... simply boring, nothing much to say about the ride to Penang. North South Highway is the only reason why I wish I have a faster bike. I instantaneously missed Thailand roads after we exited Perlis. Perlis roads were pretty breathtaking I got to admit.


Penang

We took the Penang Bridge for the third time in this trip. The first two times was due to my misdirection resulting in our three weeks early arrival for the 3 Nation Charity Ride.

While refueling in Penang, a man approached us, started a chat and then handed us his namecard. It turns out that he is a scooter mechanic specialising in Piaggio and Vespa. His Vespa was down and was waiting for help.

Here is his contact. In case, you happen to be riding a scooter there and require help.

Rusty Scoot Motorworks
Rostan Mustapa
018-900 4500
018-2181602 (Whatsapp)
FB: Rusty Scoot
No. 1 Bengkel Berangkai, Jalan Tunku Putra.
09000 Kulim, Kedah D.A.

Our arrival this time coincide with the 3 Nation Charity Ride. However we could not join the entire event because we had to leave on Saturday morning for Malacca. The entire event was from Friday to Sunday, with the convoy on Saturday.

I was hoping to bump into fellow biker friends there but I am looking forward more to meeting Wei Jie's cousin, Jenny.

It is a complicated story how we got to know each other but it was through that we forged a connection. We had never met in person but occasionally chat on Facebook. Meeting some one you have known but whom you have never met is always exciting because nothing beats a face-to-face interaction, a real one. The physical presence of a friend there renders the time together precious and valuable, especially when both lives far apart, just like how my unexpectedly shortened sojourn with my Italian friend is so treasured.

Our rendezvous was at Gurney Drive's food market. We found a table and Jenny went for her round in getting many dishes. When she returned with food, she chided me for leaving my handphone and wallet on the table, even though it was still within my sight and arm reach.

"Eh, don't leave your wallet like that. People will just snatch and run. There are already many cases here. I very scare one leh."

Still ensconced in my Singaporean and Thai sense of security, my initial thought was, "Cannot be that bad la. My stuff is still near me." I am no longer in Singapore or Thailand, I better heed her advice. Execution of snatch crime could be bolder than I expected.

We strolled along Gurney Drive, grabbed some root beer, sat down to just appreciate the nightscape of Penang. As I went on to take some photographs, I left my wallet next to me again, resulting in another round of reminder from Jenny.




Even though it was our first meeting, we had a long heart to heart talk until 11pm, talked about our lives, our families, plans for the futures, our anxieties. It has been a long time since I opened myself to someone like that. It was a much needed respite from long held emotional burdens.

Jenny went on to recommend me places to visit and food to try.

Penang is one of the two historic and UNESCO cities of Straits of Malacca, the other being Malacca. George Town is a cultural melting pot developed from 500 years of trading between the East and West. The vibrant Peranakans is one of the resulting community born from the many cultural fusion and assimilation. Jenny suggested visiting the Peranakan Museum where she took her wedding photos.

Studying the UNESCO city of George Town over a pot of green tea.

Some interesting street art on the way to Peranakan Museum.





Pinang Peranakan Museum

Complimentary tour can be conducted for groups of more than 5 with prior arrangement. Unfortunately I was alone and it was an impromptu visit. It is a shame that I could not get much details and history of the exhibits there.





Dining area with a taste of European flavour









Jenny said this is the hall where the wealthy owner and his family were beheaded for not supporting the Japanese during World War II.





Goldsmith's work bench



Kung Fu Girl

Pinang Peranakan Mansion
29 Lebuh Gereja, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
http://www.pinangperanakanmansion.com.my/



Malacca

We were supposed to meet our Vespa kakis, Alex, Erika and Steven in Malacca. From Penang, we set off early enough to see the sunrise from the Penang Bridge. Although we came down from Penang, much further than the rest, we arrived way earlier at Ayer Keroh.

At the last petrol stop before entering Ayer Keroh, a gentleman in a car approached Weng, knowing his name and about our 3 weeks trip to Thailand. I reckoned he must have heard about us through Rostan on Facebook. First hand experience on how Facebook shrunk our world.

Weng giving Sharon a hand massage while waiting for the rest.


In Malacca, one has to visit Jonker Walk, where good food and people are.

Long queue at the museum cafe.

Wide selection of Laksa


The interior of the Jonker 88


Chendol to offer some respite in the sweltering heat.
Tasty Durian Puff from Taste Better
96, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200, Melaka. (Jonker Walk)
Ms Goh 017-299 2128 / 012-635 5912

Durian Yogurt Puff

The clogs making workshop. This is a dying trade.



Hand made clogs

Steven ordered a pair of customised clogs.

Malacca is our last stop before we return to Singapore. Just like that, 3 weeks had past, it was back to normality the next day. We left Malacca in the late afternoon so riding in the dark was inevitable. Unlike in Singapore, we have lamp post on our expressways. On the North-South Highway, visibility largely depends on your headlight and other vehicles' lights.

In this trip, we planned such that we avoid riding after sunset. Honestly, I didn't feel confident riding with that limited visibility, but I had no choice!

Innovative blinker on the pillion rider. Have to make sure we are visible in the dark.

Back in Gelang Patah R&R. We survived 3 weeks on the road on our Vespa scooters!
This trip has received skepticism and concerns from friends and family.

"Ride to Thailand on a scooter? Is it safe?"

One of the first thing my mum asked when I returned was not, "Did you enjoy your trip?" Instead, she asked "Did your bike break down?"

It is an unconventional way to travel so naturally, others will have their doubts because they have never done it before. If I were to travel by bus or flight, doubt many will question because other have done it so many times.

Likewise, many have done long distance on big tourer bikes, so I reckon no questions will be asked by riders if I went on a "real" bike.

During the trip, we learnt of a coach bus that crashed in Genting Highland, killing 37 passengers. It dawned on me that when we take communal mode of transportation, we are unwittingly putting our lives in the driver. So what exactly guarantees safety. The only thing that is certain is uncertainty.

Some secretly expected our scooters to give way so that I will change my mind about the choice of bike for my round the world trip. Whatever! I still believe that any functional bike can go the distance, it is the matter of comfort and riding style.

When I returned, an experienced rider shared with me, he believes any bike can go, he himself had even done it on small bike. One advice he shared was to travel at 80% of the vehicle's top speed, maintaining the top speed throughout the journey is only going to stress the engine, leading to problems.

Based on Weng's past travel experience on his Vespa, I learnt that to have a smoother road trip with any type of vehicle, it is imperative to understand vehicle and oneself. In his previous trip to Phuket, riders were tired and some riders were riding too fast, resulting in a number of seized piston and accidents.

This time round, Weng enforced enough rest for the scooters and ourselves throughout the journey. "If you are tired, please stop ok. Rest, don't paiseh."

We rode slower than the previous trip, with cruising speed of 70-90km/h. My spare piston and block laid idly on my floor board throughout the trip.

Compared to bigger tyres, small tyres require more revolution to cover the same distance or speed. Thus, it heats up more easily. When Weng's 8 inch tyre rim was pried open, he and I witnessed how his tube melt and and sticks to the tyre itself. Sharon and I who were on tubeless tyres had very little problem besides punctures. My tubeless tyre got punctured in Thailand and the deflation was slow. I used my tyre repair kit to fix it, and now 11 months after the trip, I am still using the patched up tyre. Although the tube tyres are easier to change, the merits of heat tolerance, safety and ease in patching of tubeless tyre had proven itself to be a better choice.

Through this 3 weeks trip, I developed a better understanding and respect for my scooter and elements of long distance riding - natural, physical, mental, mechnical, cultural. Recognise the strengths and limits of your vehicle, respect them. Listen to your body, never belittle the consequences of fatigue.

So to all skeptics, our scooters managed to survive!

Special thanks to
  • Weng, Sharon and Wei Jie for their guidance and patience to a noob like me. Weng for helping in the preparation of the scooter like installing the 2-for-$10 spot light.
  • Warm hospitality of Bambi and wife during our sojourn in Koh Phangan.
  • Andy and Sim Eng who lend me their maps and offered good recommendation (of Khao Sok and Wang Kelian) and advice from their 2 months ride around South East Asia.
  • Panther who offered advice and suggestion to apply for our Thai tourist visa.
  • M and the staff of Tree Top Jungle Safari for taking care of us, and M for being an amazing guide, and that contemplative conversation at the Lake House. Not forgetting you spending the entire night making the necklaces for us.

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