The plan: Fly to Kuala Lumpur on February 12. Bike to Bangkok by March 6. Beaches, countryside, and lots of spicy food in between. Stuart and I got married in August and this is our honeymoon! Stuart has done two long tours before, in Mexico and Laos, and a handful of shorter ones along the West Coast. We did one trial tour together, around the San Juan islands, and I loved it. Stuart is the gear-meister, and he got together two old mountain bikes for us, plus all the bags and even some adventure hammocks. I got together a secret stash of bars, and a bunch of swimsuits. Off we go.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after the most civilized travel day ever. We took EVA Air from Seattle: left at 1am late Thursday night (Hartman shuttled us in his giant van) and arrived at the Taiwan airport early Saturday morning. Sat by a sweet lady on the plane who got a real kick out of our crazy trip and called me “the bride” (as in, “Here comes the bride!” When I shuffled back from the bathroom) after we told her it was our honeymoon. Another wackily friendly guy came over midway through the flight and leaned way into our row and started talking to us all—wound up asking Stuart if he could come do the electrical work at his house in south Seattle. I assumed he knew the the lady, but no—just a friendly guy. Sweet lady was clearly kind of embarrassed for him, and told us “Most Asian men aren’t like that!” (Which made me laugh.)
Taipei’s airport is such a great airport—we had some time to kill, so we walked around the whole thing, which is full of wacky, huge displays (orchids, Hello Kitty, postal service memorabilia) plus luxury shops and many, many stores selling little (adorable) German wooden mobiles. Had great noodles at the place I like and read and waited for our flight. Again, the flight was incredibly civilized. Paper menus for lunch, in coach! We agreed that 24 hours on an Asian flight was much, much easier than a five hour flight to Texas.
We finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon, breezed through security, and got our bags and bikes. We found a nice corner and Stuart put together the bikes—all went smoothly and he had lots of amused onlookers. A guy from Borneo chatted with us by the oversized luggage carousel—he’d just got back from Dubai. He said it was very cool there (temperature-wise) and then he got his big luggage and as far as we could tell it was a giant Ikea rug. Puzzling.
Once we were ready, I plotted our route on my phone and bought us train tickets. After eating a croissant filled with chicken curry, we headed down to the train, where a guy excitedly said “Oh! You want to bring your bikes!?” How nice, I thought! But, no: “Not allowed!!” Shoot. Asked for a refund (of course I’d immediately thrown out the receipt) and after a few minutes of puzzlement, yes. So up to find a giant cab. Easy enough, though the van drivers kept passing us off to the next guy, not wanting to hassle with our bikes. Finally we got the last guy in line, wedged everything in, and off we went. On a terrifying journey. I sat in the front, where I could see our near misses with what felt like every other car, just barely squeaking by as our driver careened from lane to lane. He used the blinker about five times total—each time when there was absolutely no one around. But a pretty drive despite the terror: so green, with tons of flowers and palms growing up on either side of the road. I expected something like Jakarta but KL feels smaller, with the jungle very nearby and barely kept at bay.
We arrived totally one-million-percent-tuckered to our hotel, the 1000 Miles. Sweet front counter guy checked us in and was very amused by our plan to bike to Bangkok. Simple room but with AC! And TV! We both showered and napped and watched Japanese cartoons. Stuart had a scrape on his foot and it had gotten super agitated on the plane—really swollen, ow. So he put his foot up and I went around the corner to get Indian takeout from “Betel Leaf.” Wound up with about twenty little containers of delicious spicy stuff, lentils and okra and chicken and super good naan. Plus a couple beers from the booze bodega on the corner.
Woke up fairly refreshed and ready to go wander around a little. Had toast in the lobby to fortify us for a walk to Imbi Market—interesting walk through the sleepy city. Not a lot of hustle bustle here, surprisingly. Walked past quiet mega-malls, hospitals covered in bougainvillea, many many sidewalk restaurants, and lots of construction in between it all. Shoddy sidewalks but super smiley people who are big on eye contact , which I’m loving. Finally made it to the little market. Had rice with pork, shrimp, spicy stuff, and two eggs: one fried and one hard boiled. Plus peanuts and crispy anchovies. Poked around a little and headed off toward Kampung Baru, where we’d read there are some old Malay houses still standing. Another interesting walk—we wound up in a skyway maze but eventually made it. The neighborhood was more like some falling down old-ish houses with sandal shops in front of them, but we joined in a queue for a alley restaurant and had a nice rest with some milky hibiscus tea, surrounded by families and a guy playing guitar. Very chill here—I’m surprised. We both expected a megalopolis, but it feels very mellow. Traffic isn’t crazy and people are moving slow, taking their time, stopping for roti snacks every few blocks. There’s lots of big buildings and fancy shops, but they seems a little deserted—really we’ve just seen some schoolgirls having coffees at the malls. Had an odd experience walking past a huge Sheraton: AC freeze blasting all the way out to the sidewalk, gave me goosebumps despite it being 90 degrees.
We took a taxi over to the Islamic Art museum—went for a little bit of an adventure: wound up at the wrong museum, took a wacky route. Kind of think the guy was running up the meter but it’s hard to get too upset when he’s running it up from 4 to 5 dollars for a 30 minute ride. Museum was really serene and beautiful, lots of white. Had a weird shawarma and amazing iced tea in the deserted fancy restaurant. We were the only ones there—the waiter didn’t even stick around. Museum had cool models of famous mosques on display plus a gajillion fancy daggers and some incredibly beautiful linen tunics with passages from the Quran inked all over them, to be worn under armour for battles.
Walked to the nearby bird park afterward, but decided it was too depressing (saw a sad pelican through the net and we couldn’t face more of that) so we just had some juice (watermelon juice!!) and took a cab home. Watched Big Hero on TV.
Started looking at the details for our planned train trip to Ipoh tomorrow and got a sinking feeling that something wasn’t going to work out. Many phone calls and a visit to the train station and the end of the earth bus station later: cannot. No bikes on train or bus. Many heads were shaken. Many cabs were taken. Oh well. We are rolling with the punches. We will just get on our bikes early tomorrow morning and head out! It will take us about two days to get to Ipoh, but that’s alright. Maybe we’ll take a train at the end, into Bangkok, to make up for the time. I feel a little nervous about biking in KL, but nothing do be done about it other than just roll with it. Plus, it might turn out to be a great stretch of road anyway.