Even before we hit the streets of Georgetown, we must indulge slightly in proper and uninterrupted sleep.

P1150181 I went to Penang twice in 2014, exceeding my trip quotas for the island since my previous trip was way back in 2009. That was the solo bike trip from Phuket. Although I like to stay in the midst of  old Georgetown amongst the grime and crime, namely the 5 decade old Hong Ping Hotel along Chulia Street within spitting distance of it’s street hawker stalls. I am not travelling solo this time.

Time for a change, change can be good and blow some budgets but everywhere is still accessible as we do have two very able bicycles with us. Those by themselves, allow for more eats and exercise as well as taking a Penang taxi only once, from hotel to airport on our last day.

P1150182 I do prefer smaller family run hotels with less than 10 rooms. We did find this one though when total renovations are done there will be about 20 or more rooms. It is out of the Georgetown heritage zone though, which means a slightly lower nightly rate of RM$140 on line. We were lucky to be given an upgraded and larger corner room by the nice manager at The Sovereign Hotel along Lorong Kinta. On her FB she was a former beauty queen. As with most heritage hotels on the island a nice facade is preserved in front but the insides can be totally gutted out and modernised. Low ceilings and limited windows are common as well as creaky wooden staircases. Our only window was the one in the bathroom that opened up into a stairwell and faced 3 other bathroom windows.

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 The entrance is a key card accessed glass door. It trapped our bike wheels more than once!

P1150443 Outside the heritage zone,  you can chose your colour scheme as you like with some tacky consequences.

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Nice suggestions. Seen in a restaurant in the ‘zone’

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 They have it all.

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A ‘younger generation’ business

P1150686 The oldest profession in the world can be found through this grimy entrance of the Paris Hotel. Quite a far fetched name. Many legs popping out of short skirts line the lobby walls. It was 12 noon and I was in search of a bike shop in the area.

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 An annual  15% increase in traffic with zero % increase in road space in down town Penang.

P1150637 Lebuh Acheh mosque

P1160866  A half day trip to the other side, Balik Pulau and experience it’s traffic jams.

P1170195 Old but new electronics. Haven’t they heard of IPad controlled lighting?

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Bad English but who cares?

P1170391 I have the same day pack in the same colour. The venerable Osprey Daylight.

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August seems to be opera time. Penang attracts opera troupes from as far as China.P1160768 P1150144 Teens left to their devices

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Attempting a 1968 selfie.P1150125

Brownie along Armenian Street has her own FB page

P1150519 The hallways haven’t changed in 5 decades. Hilltop hotel on Penang Hill. Temperatures here are  a few degrees cooler that the sweltering urban jungle below.

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The lawn at the only hotel on the hill with a panoramic view over ever expanding Georgetown

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The stories these walls could have told

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The latest funicular train up and down Penang Hill. It was fast. A $30 round trip.

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Where do I start? Penang has been a melting pot of cultures and races for ages. Chinese, indian. Malay and Eurasian. To summarise so soon, one will never go hungry in Penang by following  a simple formula of sampling the two main stays of noodles and rice and whatever else in between that you fancy on the streets of Georgetown.

Even repeat the process in more convenient food courts and air conditioned malls if a change of scenery is called for. We are partial to the streets as there’s food from 6 am to midnight, and we can easily cycle to them at short notice. Like every 2 hours. Accessibility by bicycle is actually quite a dangerous thing. You will see more and eat more and never worry about parking. Just carry a small bike lock.

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Wantan or wanton or jokingly, one tonne noodles, they are everywhere in town. The more popular ones will need their own space like a whole coffeeshop, instead of a small space shared with other hawkers.

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This humble push cart along Chuiia Street has been around longer than I can remember, Possibly since 1978 when I first set foot in Penang. The 2 sons have taken over from their parents. They are now balding and middle aged. People gather even before they arrive and wait patiently for things to get going. Queues form with people sitting on stools, and once the tattered well worn wooden panels are removed as a sign that they are ready, all hell breaks loose…. Another couple has a push cart a few shops down the road, and theirs will take up the slack if this original heavyweight is too crowded.

Closed on Mondays and opened the rest of the week rain or shine. (competitor opens on Mondays)

P1150653Springy egg noodles and a light black soya sauce are the magic ingredients and of course a large dose of fragrant lard and it’s crispy bits hasn’t changed in decades. The boiled wantans are better than the deep fried ones, while the red char siew pork slices have gotten thinner over the years. It still beats anything else for miles around !

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P1170629Another variant in another coffee shop. There must be dozens upon dozens on this island.  P1170632   P1160503A char siew supplier. Pork tanning in the morning sun, Charcoal roasted ones are the best.P1150260A Pulau Tikus Penang style Hokkien mee  P1160869Penang style laksa

P1170634Delectable char kuay teow has to be slightly moist and not too dry or burnt.P1150707The humble lunch time fried rice with char siew bits. Best with a dash of belachan in than saucer. Just RM$4.00  P1160483Chee cheong fun. A starter for breakfast.P1150677For a slight change, pork or chicken porridge and char koay khak / carrot cake  P1160489As authentic as it gets. The family has progressed from a wooden cart to polished steel one. P1170277  Firewood in 2014 ?!?P1170281Take aways only…….you’ll need to find a coffee shop and order some coffee or tea  P11702845 minutes later.  P1150259Thick fat bean sprouts to complement the sometimes salty and fried carrot cake. Pulau Tikus market.P1150448Curries at lunchtime. P1150558Since 1933 I believe…..  P1150555Good ol murtabak at Hamideeyah. Campbell Street. Penang style is not that crispy, but the insides are ‘meaty’  P1150034Indian curries on tap 24 hrs a day…….    P1150022Expect food center prices to be higher than individual street stalls. there’s better all weather seating for sure.P1150709Fresh  P1160701Mall food in cooler surroundings. Very good Turkish at Paragon. $14.00  P1150046Eventually we come to our complementary hotel breakfasts  …….P1150045  Ah well, they do look nicer…..P1170291I stayed here 5 days, so there were variations of this combination….  P1150335What I always term a last resort as there was nothing opened at Penang’s northern beaches in the morning. They do have almost clean toilets to clean up after a ride in the rain, 90% less flies than the outside, and wifi, but those don’t fill the tummy.

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Advertising in a hotel elevator.

17th May 2014 / 110 kms. 18th May 2014 / 35 kms P1140870 To rest well you need to know the Thai Betong Hotel’s floor plan. On the ground is the lobby, a small wannabe cafe, and shops for neighbours. 2nd floor is a 20th century evil, the empty orchestra or karaoke. Above it, the colourful windows are rooms. Above those in what used to be the roof are even more rooms. I guess those are the newest to be built and should be in an acceptable condition. Ours was one facing the back with a nicer and quieter view than this main road. If you have weak legs avoid the rooftop rooms. The elevator stops one floor below and you’d have to carry 2 mountain bikes up one floor each time you return. Sadly I thought this was our best bet. Away from karaoke and a room at the back. 1st night was blissful but my heart sank when 3 Perak plated pick ups showed up in front of the hotel, late afternoon. You could see the old hands sauntering in like it was their home and the newbies. Wide eyed, laughing and fidgeting and studying intensely any poster that had a scantily clad girl on it. Old hands handed out room keys to the newbies like chocolate treats on Halloween. If your drunk and pot bellied like our Indian neighbours on the second night, you should actually faint in the lift and let us sleep in peace ! Coming back at 3 am, and hitting each door hard, screaming for a friend, not knowing which is your actual room is not cool. I saw all the Planet of the Apes movies. They had better manners. P1140865 As we did not really cycle enough, I had this grand plan to look for some trails I saw when on the 24th floor of the Grand Mandarin Hotel. They were short and short lived. So it’s back to breakfast then. Across the street from our hotel, where the drunks are still snoring. Oh I usually get up early on departure days like 6 am. With 2 bikes and luggage to handle, noise is something I can’t avoid. Slamming doors and bike wheels hitting walls and doors are quite normal. If you have a hangover, well tough. P1140873 Thai/Malaysian style wanton noodles. Yummy, large portion for Thb 50, and should last a long while on the road. P1140876 Though the shop is old, they get an A plus for hygene in covering up the necessary utensils. P1140880 Back at our lobby check out is delayed as there are some important work related mails to answer. No point saying we’re in Betong. No Singapore city slicker has heard of it. What ? Where ? P1140886 There is no shortage of hotels in P. Hulu, a border cross roads, with Gerik and northern Perak, although do take the ‘highland’ parts with a pinch of salt. P1140892 The 10 km downhill from Pengkalang Hulu to Baling is savoured and relished as we did the opposite 2 days ago. P1140897 A break at a newish rest stop along highway K12 and then 4 directly to Penang. It was long, trafficked and boring, not many pictures to take dodging traffic and heat. Going in the opposite would also suck big time. Malaysians seem to be more on the roads on a Sunday. P1140898 We are just swapping seats, though the perplexed and clueless on FB had a field day dissecting our carelessness on leaving our bikes unguarded while lunching 5 feet away. P1140906 After a few wrong turns into some housing estates, getting lost in Kulim, we finally got only to Bukit Mertajam and to a choice hotel recommended by friends. I present to you, none other than the ‘Luscious Hotel’  Look closely, the lobby has French curtains. P1140903

Checkered floors and chandeliers too.

P1140907 A nice tip from some guys at a tyre shop led us to a simple but oh so delicious dinner. We were in a light industry area and there were no high brow places to speak off, not that we needed any. Soon after 2 guys from the same tyre shop came by. Hardworking small town chaps, dinner at 8.30 pm and then it’s back to the shop. P1140911

RM$4.00 / US$1.30

P1140918 When we checked in last night after 110 kms, a looooong day by any stretch of the imagination, the Luscious looked like a beacon of rest and relaxation, I mean look at the lobby and floors, this in the middle of tyre shops and sundry stores. Then came the shocker. No rooms, full. I did not make reservations, seeing they had quite a few rooms and this was Bukit Mertajam, small town Malaysia, though close to popular Penang. My mind was thinking, rest, dinner, regroup and find something else in the dark. A nearby mall was opening and all the rooms were booked out by ‘the Tesco people’ who returned at midnight and left at the break of dawn. Then came a flicker of hope. We have a Family Room for 4 people. Cool, Just charge us for 2 people, we won’t use the other king sized bed. No can do, boss’s orders. Where is your boss? Not here, at home. He will give you the same answer. Well OK for RM$159, we will use 2 beds meant for four. And bikes go in the room. On another note breakfast was spectacular for a small town hotel. P1140924 Yesterday as I was looking at my 1998 map of Penang in the fading light, a stranger got out of his truck to render some help. Why of course we were lost with a map from 1998, and could use some directions ! I had overshot some turns but he told us of a more scenic route to the hotel having stayed there too. As he was also a cyclist that helped a lot and  this morning in brighter light we had this kind of scenery in quite a built up area. The last of some padi fields and palm plantations around that did not have housing encroaching around it. Thank you stranger ! P1140926 Butterworth and the ferry to Penang was to be a paltry 20 kms but with our wandering over bypasses. U turns and incursions onto fast highways without paying tolls, we got 30 kms on the meters. Malaysian mile markers and distance signs are at best average in their accuracy. Add on 20 % extra to manage expectations.

P1140928Heading in the wrong direction after climbing another railway overpass. Another !

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As a law abiding citizen, I generally follow older trunk roads that lie under these kinda bridges which are highways and bicycles are usually banned from it. The roads below are a maze and after numerous checks with people, they said why not just use the bridge cos that’s all they know. The new bridge across the Prai River, an industrial suburb of mainland Penang, and the most direct route to the ferry terminal. So heck we did. High tolls meant that few cars were on it anyway and were probably on the old trunk roads below clogging it.

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We had to really hustle as a storm was approaching with every second lost. Pitter patter…..and made it just in time onto a departing ferry. As the clouds unleashed their fury, the winds were fiercely whipping up the waves as soon as the ferry departed. We were slightly wet but relieved and panting, having to ride at full speed the last few minutes. P1140945 P1140964 After waiting an eternity at the Georgetown side of the ferry, we rode in the pelting rain to get some lunch. Most of the traditional coffee shops were closing or closed, this being Sunday too, but not Subway at Beach Street. The weekly ‘Occupy Beach Street’  was washed out too. Tents were set up as usual but no one was around. A bit of coffee at Twelve Cups to finish off and I realised that we spent RM$55 and were still hungry! Welcome to expensive Penang. We need to watch our wallets the next 4 days. P1140977

P1140992I say, ‘Do you come here often?’

16th May 2014 / 20 kms

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Not exactly the Eiffel Tower, but it will do. We are in the exact center of Betong.

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Breakfast in the back lanes

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 The Thai Jesus bears a striking resemblance to Matthew McConaughey…

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Thai military presence is everywhere, more so right after any bomb blasts. The restive ‘insurgent provinces’ are usually those in  the eastern coastal provinces. Betong is being targeted, as like all border towns, there’s a bit of tourism centered on karaokes, pubs and bars. Illicit sex sells, though it’s comings and goings in Betong rises and falls like the tide. Nevertheless, it’s fair game for those who are intolerant of it, needing to bomb to make their ideology logical?

All I can recall is that there was one blast a few months before our trip and another a month after we left.

Can’t we all live in peace and appreciate some good bikes?

A short stroll to get breakfast turns up some good looking and well kitted out mountain bikes, their owners seated nearby, devouring their small town breakfasts.

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Not just the Mandarin Hotel, but the Grand Mandarin Betong Hotel sits atop a small hill and towers above all else. What can justify it’s existence? 24 floors of empty rooms. Well I should thank them for free wifi, clean toilets and views of the surrounding town and countryside. Thb 1490 a night. Whilst resting in their climate controlled lobby, we sort of found out, one reason.

3 senior looking Malaysian men on R & R, with 3 not so senior looking Thai Chinese girls. The girls looked like their daughters, but daughters don’t really sit on their fathers’ laps in skin tight clothing, teary eyed as these fathers would be heading back to reality and families, soon.

The girls had lots of gifts and shopping bags in hand. Their attention turned to those once the final hugs, kisses and goodbye waves ended.

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Betong’s claim to fame is this giant mailbox in front of the post office. I doubt it gets a 100% filled.

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 For a small town. Betong has quite a road tunnel.

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On the other side of the tunnel and after a short hill climb, we get to be further entertained by more girls in tight clothing, but these were very serious in their endeavours. High impact aerobics are still the rage all over Thailand come sundown. Any open space, mostly temple grounds as is this one, is fair game. This crowd was sizable and the 2 leaders were merciless, at least to themselves.

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 A different clientele. Super sexy models? Really?

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No Thai town is complete without a 7/11 outlet or a massage place. A wee bit pricier than other rural Thai towns, because of Malaysian clients. A treat for us. Slightly tired cyclists. Come tomorrow, we are aiming for Penang, a 125 km ride.

15th May 2014, 95 kms

Rte 175, K 15, 154, 76, 77,  (4106 Thailand)

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A 4 star buffet spread? Far from it, but when expectations are lowered, it doesn’t seem so bad. Except that in most other establishments, hotel staff helping themselves to the buffet together with guests is  not a sight to behold. At least I managed to get some ice cubes for my ride today. And freshly grounded coffee from the resort’s bar.

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Ready to ride into the mist. There’s another road that goes higher up to some transmission towers. I found that out after the trip looking at Google Maps. Might be interesting, though I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon as my last time here was way back in 1992.

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 Nice sweeping curves down the mountain. Lots of them.

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The occasional openings through the trees reveal our destination for today. Across those hills to the Thai border town of Betong.

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The metropolis of Gurun as seen from an overpass across some rail tracks. Eastern flank of Jerai in the background. Instead of heading back south to Sungei Petani, we cut eastwards along the shorter and quieter route175 to Jeniang.

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Many new overpasses are now built over the north south main railway lines. No more conflict with trains but quite a haul if on a loaded bicycle.

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Have you been to Jeniang, a small cross roads village? There’s a very nice lady with a rice and dishes stall. Just grab a ladle and help yourselves. We have ridden about 40 kms.

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One of the odder sights on this trip.

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Karst landscape of inner Kedah

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We stop at Baling for another snack. Char kuay teow. A heavy drizzle led me to put the bikes more into this small coffee shop. No one batted an eyelid.

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Small town Baling is close to the border or so I thought.

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Well it was 15 kms close but with the biggest hills for today’s ride, maybe 10 kms of rolling and steep climbs toward Pengkalan Hulu. Blah ! Only saving grace was that we will ride back downhill part of this way.

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The jungle scenery was as good as it can get. It was cloudy all day, so our tans will be even and not too intense.

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A must take photo before that marker is removed. It dates back to British Malaya, I guess…

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Entering Thailand, only another 7 kms to go to Betong.

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We settled into the Thai Betong Hotel. Easy reservations via email without any upfront payment. Thb 800. Bikes into the small elevator and into the room. 2 nights in a new town.

P1140759Finally, some Thai

14th May 2014, 90 kms

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Early May signals the start of the south west monsoon with winds that originate in the Indian Ocean carrying moisture and sometimes mayhem across all of Sumatra, over the Straits of Malacca and finally west Malaysia. It is prudent to get an early start when cycling lest the mid day downpours drench every bit of those outdoors. Above is a massive buildup at 0715 hrs. C’mon that’s much too early. Let us get breakfast, take a ferry to the mainland before we get soaked.

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I am entertained by two creatures beside an old rickshaw just outside our hotel.

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Penang has still a number of dim sum breakfast places. Watering holes for the pre work crowd and the oldies who hang around all day till closing time. Don’t expect Hong Kong style dim sum. These are vastly different in style and quality, but for the hungry cyclist, good enough.

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More huge cumulonimbus cloud buildup as we ferry across to the mainland to Butterworth. Childhood memories of past school vacations when the whole family drove up the 800 kms from Singapore.

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It is going to pour with thunder and lightning big time in an hour or two. These clouds can measure 10,000m from base to top.

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Once out of Butterworth, we take the roads as close to the coast as possible. Lesser traffic makes for better touring. We even ventured into the padi fields of Kedah, where possible till the paths ran out near Kota Kuala Muda. I’ve taken the odd ferry across two huge rivers here, the Muda and Merbok, but today we find a riverside road till it reaches a new bridge and cross that to connect to Sungei Petani and lunch.

Relevant roads are E17, P1, P107 and 1, the old trunk road 1 all the way to Gurun at the mountain’s base.

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The clouds have caught up with us along Kedah’s coast, and across the Muda River, but luckily they just hover with nary a drop.

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Lunch was easy and quick in the outskirts of Sungei Petani. We have to go a few kms near Guar Chempedak behind the base of Gunong Jerai where a small 13 km hill climb awaits.

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More photos were taken going down the next day, so for now we’re here at almost 1000m and the air is decidedly cool and very pleasant! The mountain is also visible from Penang, a guiding beacon for eons, for sailors that they’ve entered the northern end of the Straits of Malacca.

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As usual we mess up our room at the Regency Jerai Resort, supposedly a 4 star place but take that with a huge dose of salt. An extravagant expense at RM $190. Just for cooler air.

At reception  I thought that we were going to get hit for the $220++ rack rates, but online booking suggests that $190 minus the 10-15% that that whichever site takes, was going to be my choice. Told reception that here’s a chance to make all the full $190 instead of 15% less. No CC either, cold hard cash always works. After a 5 min. meeting and seeing that no one else was breaking the doors to stay at the resort, they agreed. Breakfast thrown in too.

There were some nice touches with the fittings here and there and especially the balcony. As with most resorts in remote locations with minimal staff eager to please, things fall apart and only so much can be done. The trick is to be there within 6 months to a year before deterioration sets in. We arrived just outside that time frame I think.

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I must add though that the location made up for any shortcomings. At least we didn’t have the neighbours from hell last night. We did have neighbours. They were quiet and turned early, soothed by the cool air no doubt. So we waited for sunset across the Malacca Straits before attempting dinner.

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Everything was fine till they started the squeezing, I think.

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19 deg C

13th May 2014

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A first for us flying into Penang, Malaysia. With 2 mountain bikes. Destination, somewhere in Thailand. It will be a 2 country trip, seeing that our neighbours are very close, within a day’s ride out of Penang. We fix up our bikes at Penang airport and ride right out of it. The taxi mafia, with paid coupons bought at a counter have going rates at $50 for a sedan to almost $90 for a minivan. Cool if you have 9 other friends, not so if it’s just 2 mountain bike boxes to haul into town. We will return to Penang in a few days, where I shall source for 2 boxes for almost nothing..

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After the bikes are done we ride 15 kms into Georgetown proper, settle into our hotel and look for dinner. It’s been some time since I was here, in 2010, after riding in from Southern Thailand. This is also the first time that the American is touring and with a Minoura low rider front rack that hasn’t seen action since the early 90’s.

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The view from our room at the over aptly name Grand Inn. The island’s main drag Penang Road and street level coffee shops that come to life at 5 am, meaning noisy for light sleepers.

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We headed to nearby Chulia Street where crowds start to form around the better hawker stalls, people hovering over other diners, waiting to grab their spaces. I order mine and it came quite quickly. This was because, the person who ordered it didn’t show up or wasn’t within earshot, so the hawker just passed a plate of wonton noodles to the next eager person, meaning me ! I paid and retreated into a dark corner, lest the original owner showed up….

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They’re sold in a small or large versions only. I got the small, even though a large was desired. RM$3.50/$4.50 Anyways we will be back in a few days. Any bike trip that involves Penang should start in Penang. Our quandry is that after feasting in Penang, we ride out but will still be coming back to the island, mainly because we also fly home from of the airport. Ride hard and eat less. That might work. Might.

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Love Lane lamplights under a full moon.

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At Rm$90, this is the deal for an overly famous Penang downtown hotel. OK rooms but crazy door slamming neighbours at all hours made for fitful sleep. A restful hotel is only as good as the neighbours you have. Same principle applies to public toilets or even those in $1000 a night hotels. It’s wholly a user problem. God bless ours at the Inn who seemed to be vommiting their lungs out too at 4 am.

A quick overnighter to Taiping, from KL. Last visited eons ago in 1999 on the way back from Penang and in 2000 on a bike trip from Kota Bahru to Penang. Nothing much has changed in this sleepy town under the shadow of Bukit Larut or Maxwell Hill. One thing’s for certain are the afternoon rains. It poured cats and dogs and more, a few minutes after we settled into the 4 decade old, but well kept Furama Hotel, close to the Lake Gardens.

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Malaysia’s wettest town is true to form. 4000 mm/year over the national average of 2000 mm/year.

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Off the wet season, the rains clear in around an hour and life continues…

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The road around the very lush lake gardens. Ain’t no drought here.

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Rain tree branches teasing the lake waters.

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Maxwell Hill transmission towers in the faint distance on the summit. There’s a road to the top, but access is only by hired government run Land Rovers. You can also walk up, but it’s quite narrow.

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The old long wooden markets cuts across 3 streets. Apparently there is an old one and a ‘new’ one, both built in 1884 and 1885 (the ‘newer’ one) legacies of Brirish colonial rule.

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A much newer post war version that could be 20 or 30 years ‘young’ Concrete ‘food mall’ type of structure that we’re more accustomed to. Row upon row of cheap, quick and easy food, right next to the town taxi stand at the back. Mostly shut down by 2 or 3 pm. It’s not a night place.

P1230274Chairs and tables spill onto the streets at a more recent addition to the town’s food scene. With such ‘modernity’ higher prices are a given. OK for the tourists but not for the grumbling locals.

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Typical coffee shop in old downtown area. Even the extractor fan has a wooden frame.

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Like Ipoh and Penang, the old streets and largely untouched pre war houses are attractive period film sets.

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‘Harrison’ has a Chinese heritage….

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A leisurely morning walk reveals some really old homes that look abandoned, but upon second glance are still occupied by older folk, and stray dogs, hanging on to the past long after their children have left for the big city in search of opportunities beyond Taiping or even Malaysia.

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The very slow life.

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Hand painted probably in the 70’s

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Art deco windows above a coffee shop.

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I had a beef stroganoff here in 2000. Nice to see it’s still in business. Probably the only place in town to serve western food in the 80’s or 90’s

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Nissan, rather Datsun 120Y station wagon, pretty much extinct in the big cities, or anywhere

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An extremely new business, for Taiping

P1230331Online research for the 1930 Peace Hotel in Taiping throws up two things. ‘Eclectic Straits Chinese style  in the Chinese quarter of town’ and more recently, ‘excellent roast pork and duck’ from a stall on the premises.

P1230339I recall reading somewhere that it’s more macabre past saw the hangings and beheadings of war victims by the Japanese during WW2.

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Slightly refurbished room at the Furama. OK for RM$79.50. I would have covered much more ground on 2 wheels, but alas could only do so much on one sweaty morning, before the drive back to KL.

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Of course it is, it’s as essential as running water in the bathroom.

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Very reasonable prices almost like Bangkok but not KL and definitely not in Singapore.

9th Dec 2014

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Wattana’s homely dining room/reception/entrance on the ground floor. Just 10 rooms in a 2 storey block. Immaculately maintained.

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A breakfast only a true Chinese would love. But not the fussy ones. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I am partial to porridge even though this is plain boiled rice that’s lukewarm in a rice cooker. The dough fritters are pseudo Thai Chinese and the salted egg is like bacon to Asians. Usually tongue curling saltiness, though some here are not that salty. A good thing.

The rice cakes with egg custard, wrapped in banana leaf are a Thai surprise, easily available from the morning markets for a few cents. Great portable cycling food ! These are just starters, disappearing after an hour or so, of cycling, leaving space for more sampling on the streets.

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Wattana’s Thb 800 rooms. Recently refurbished from an old apartment block. Google Maps will show up a jungle clad blue building circa 2011. This is all new, clean, spacious, well lit, and well furnished. I guess this is the benchmark for CM now. What’s lacking is a fridge, but there’s a big one on the ground floor stair landing as well as a water cooler for everyone’s use.

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Our water heater died one day but was quickly fixed in the few hours that we went out.

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A lengthy warning, laying down the law. I guess it’s needed because of the clientele. I did see one specimen, trying to light up outside his room. Upon seeing me he walked down and out onto the street. By the way at reception this sign is also in Thai and Chinese. I don’t read both that well, so I took this pic. There are also,’Don’t slam the door’ signs in every room.

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A bunch of university age school girls stayed a few doors down. This doesn’t bug me as much as smoking and karaoke, but just watch your step if they’re dripping. And if it’s 7 am and you need to get some drinking water, outside your room, it might be prudent to have a bra under that very transparent night gown. Or get your husband to get water. That’s what we are there for ….

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Here’s what I like about the streets in CM’s old city. It’s quiet when there’s no traffic, lots of nooks and crannies to cycle to, the smell of fish sauce at the markets, the smell of fresh laundry hanging on a rusty fence, the smell of BBQ chicken next to the laundry….and this classic MBenz 190 that graces the front of Pak Chiang Mai, a boutique guesthouse. I think it’s pricey Thb 1500 and up.

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And very close to such expensive rooms is this, a recycling business. I still have hopes of finding a tossed but  flashy vintage bike or parts of it amongst the rubble. You never know.

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At mid day we face the inevitable. Airport check in. Cycling is really popular here. Man in blue has a fancy downhill mountain bike in a $700 hardcase in black. He’s flying to Singapore, taking a taxi to a ferry terminal and ferrying himself back to an Indonesian island south of it, and still has someone waiting to drive him home. He spent 4 days n 3 nights in CM.

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As Watanna’s puny breakfast was fully digested we did the usual before boarding. This is wifey’s spicy tom yam. Loads of spices, chilli and oil.

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I dare not take such chances while in the air and settle for this. Heck they’re going to feed us on the plane anyway!

8th Dec 2014

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I last climbed Doi Suthep 11 years ago in 2004. Sure it’s manly to ride up all 18 kms to this point below the temple, but since we’re on a vacation of sorts and I had the numbers ie .2 more cyclists, it made more sense to get onto a red taxi or songtheaw and at Thb 300 less rich, we can start sweat free,  three quarters  up and across the mountain, and back down to Huay Tung Tao, the town’s largest lake.

From there on an easy 8 kms ride back into the city, in time for dinner or so I thought…

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D was not too happy about the 4 km climb through the forest lined road from where we dropped off to Phu Ping Palace where the royal family has what else, a palace. She has done this before, but would like to head straight for a second breakfast.  Haha.

There are also food and souvenir stalls and a parking lot for the hordes to linger in, as entry into the palace grounds and botanical gardens is limited. We avoided all these and plonked down to another snack of fried chicken and tete a tete, again. Time was on our side so we did not rush. I mean how long could a downhill off road ride of 20 kms take?

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Dire warnings as the place is popular with all manner of vehicles and help is far away…..

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This is the town’s most prosperous hill tribe village, because of tourism. It’s another 3 kms down from here and the road is congested with minivans. It’s only Monday. I suspect some residents head down the mountain to spend time in their weekend condos in the city.

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 At 1100 m the air is refreshingly cool and cold when the wind hits our sweat soaked tops. It’s a beautiful 4 km of rolling road, mostly rolling down. Do watch out though, it’s still a 2 way road, which should never be widened.

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There’s a camping ground at the park headquarters and the end point for yesterday’s ride which we did not do. I can’t imagine 500 people and their bikes here.

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Further down the road there’s a coffee plantation, so guess what beverage is sold here? There used to be even a few cabins if you fancied staying the night, but sadly they’ve been left to rot. The banana wrapped rice snack was courtesy of breakfast at Wattana’s.

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Downhill glorious downhills runs through a shady forest, that go on for 15 kms. Unfortunately for me, 3 successive punctures or rather valve blow outs on the front tyre, had me walking for at least 8 kms, while the girls slowly made their way down at crawling speed…….

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 Views of the city in the evening light were amazing.

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Flap flap flap. Never did such sounds sound so irritatingly depressing. I made the fatal mistake of using a presta valved tube in a rim with a schrader hole. Apparently, the skinny valve would start to creep sideways in the wider hole till it could move no more, resulting in the hole practically slicing the base of the valve off. Then all air inside would just leave the tube in double quick time. Kinda dangerous if I was going fast at that point. So I destroyed my existing tube and 2 more prestas in under an hour.

Ironically, I had purchased a schrader tube from Chaithawat on the very first day in CM, but left it in the room today.

Even more astounding was in well over 800 kms the past 2 weeks, over across and down mountain roads at high speed, the valve did not creep one bit. The devil must be working overtime this Monday.

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I tried to be positive, but at times sucked it in and walked and walked, occasionally breaking out into a slow jog. To catch up with the girls. Things could have gotten worse, like an injury. Needed to count my blessings first. Top most worry was darkness and not having enough time to go to a nice fancy dinner as it was our last night. That’s just me. Least of my worries was which bike to use the next time I’m here….and I will be back.

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When I had given up all hope of even riding slowly once the road levelled, I saw the girls at a junction, and D was talking to a pick up driver. He was heading out and seeing our, mostly my silly situation, nodded, smiled and motioned us to load up our bikes for the ride out. What a stroke of luck! There was at least another 5 kms out to the main road, on broken concrete that would surely destroy my relatively new shoes and strain my calves even more. They ached for the next 3 days. Legs are meant for cycling, not walking a bike on a dirt trail.

Unfortunately there was only space for 2 of us and 2 bikes, so D graciously told us to go and she would ride out alone in the fading light. She still had at least 30 kms to go before reaching home. It was too quick a goodbye and I felt really bad to leave her in the lurch, but she said not to worry and she’ll be back in Singapore next month, for more eats and gossip.

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It was not that easy to locate a bike shop in these parts. There’s a lake and food stalls here, And a posh housing estate. Most bike shops were back in town. Dropping us along the 108, I tried to tip the driver, but he would have none of it. Another angel sent to help us out in the most dire of moments. He was on his way to a doctor in Sansai and I just noticed that he has a set of crutches on the back seat!

We finally found a motorcycle shop and viola he had the last 2 mountain bike tubes in a cabinet. I installed one in a flash, pumped the tyre and we left just as fast. Now my tummy was rumbling so we popped into a 7/11 and I downed 500 ml of fresh milk to Coleen’s amazement. Liquid food for an angry cyclist I said….

Getting back to Wattana’s was all a very fast blur of overtaking evening traffic and a fat air filled 55 psi front tyre that hummed so beautifully, I could cry. What a day it has been ever since the first damn flat.

I thought back to other major bike malfunctions and consoled myself that the last one was in Bali in 1998. A $300 Machine Tech rear hub that failed, again on another downhill ride. I guess it could be worse if we were going uphill for 30 kms.

I should be so lucky.

After a nice long bath, our final dinner in Thailand beckoned. I wanted somewhere posh, as in a mall even. A promise to Coleen, but it has to be for for another trip.

5 minutes walk from Wattana’s there was mookata, a Thai kind of steamboat.

Crocodile was on the menu.

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