Bidor to Ipoh

Had spicy instant noodles and sweet instant coffee for breakfast and hit the road. Pretty easy morning: rolling gentle hills, lots of downhill action. The morning light is incredibly beautiful, blues and pinks, so soft compared to afternoon glare. At times the way it falls on things is really, truly divinely gorgeous—it makes run-down gas stations or stands of trees look painterly and just staggeringly pretty. We stopped for roti and spicy curry (just a tiny bowl of incredibly good sauce) and dal. After that we both had another roti with an egg inside. And more sweet coffee! I am quickly developing a major sweet tooth.

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Rode till Kampar (I remembered the name by thinking of “kampai!”) then turned off on Google’s walking directions. Google took us out through a neighborhood with some neat old boxy employee housing by the railway station. Now that we’re not on the train, it seems so sad to have missed all this by riding straight to Ipoh! Google directed us along a river, through more littlr houses, up to a hill where we could look back on Kampar and it’s crazy grand hotel—Grand Budapest Hotel style, in the middle of a middle of nowhere town.

On the map it looked like we would wind through a really swampy area, with tons of little lakes. But a whole bunch of them had been filled in for a wild new development—rows of townhouses and a ridiculously colorful “downtown.” Fake colonial facades with so many different textures—looks like they went to the hardware store and bought a little hunk of everything. There was even a big sign promising a castle by 2016. All desolate and dusty. Totally befuddling—we poked around for a while in awe.

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Then we got back on a real road for a while, passing by lakes full of lily pads—tons of birds flying overhead. Eventually we tucked back into palm forest, where we took a short rest.  We realized that we’d missed our turn, so we went back and found our tiny winding road through the trees. Guy on the side of the road confirmed that the path led to Batu Gajah with an enthusiastic thumbs up. After a little while it became desert-y again, dusty land and fences made with concrete posts and sheet metal. We were running out of water and getting tired, but when we finally got back into the trees, wow, such a miraculous relief! Just shade makes such an enormous difference.

We biked for a few minutes before coming upon a little village, which truly felt like an oasis, so quiet and sweet. Gave me that good, goosebump-y travel feeling of seeing something real. Guy sitting in the shade shirtless mending a fishing net. Clothes strung out in the sun. Three tiny streets meet and work around jankily a stand of palm trees. School kids just getting home and moms out sweeping paths. Passing through took only about a minute or two, but felt so wonderful. And strange, knowing how strange we must seem.

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After we were past the village Stuart and I looked at each other with actual emoji-style jaw-dropped faces of awe.

Kept biking on weird dirt paths and roads, some single track. Saw huge lizards run across the road and tons of cranes and ibis. Biked past a lake and heard a huge WOOSH and saw an enormous black mass move in my peripheral vision—tiny little bit terrifying! But it was dozens of water buffalo pulling themselves out of a lake, all at the same time, as we passed. Wild.

We eventually made it to Batu Gajah and sat down for lunch, nasi goreng and iced teas. After we finished, Google route took us along a river—down a really beautiful path. Blue birds, maybe kingfishers, flitting around as well as butterflies.

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Long ride along the river, some very fun single track. We couldn’t believe Google knew about the route. Saw some chickens and tons of trash.

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Made it into the heart of Ipoh, and while we were waiting to cross a big road an old guy on a moped with a sparkly gold helmet rode up and asked us where we were from and welcomed us. Yelled “Bruce Lee!!” As he rode away.

Found our hotel after some searching, and a nice girl called the number as there was no one at the desk. Staying at the Sepeking Kong Heng—part of a little complex with restaurants and shops. Old buildings mostly, but we are in a new building, in a big trendy room for $70 a night. Reminds us of the San Jose in Austin— it’s funny how trends travel. We’re curious about who built/owns the place. We were both pretty tuckered out, so we decide to stay here another night and take a rest day tomorrow. Kind of a relief (I was glad Stuart suggested it) and weirdly, I felt more tired after we decided. Almost like my body was holding it together to get through more work, but once there was the chance for a break all the tiredness came on.

Old Town shuts down at night, so we crossed the river toward where the guidebook said there were lots of street stalls. Got sidetracked and wound up at a great place that serves only chicken and bean sprouts. More delicious than expected—steamed chicken served with cucumbers and green onions and red chilies and plump little bean sprouts sautéed and served warm but still super crisp, with soy and white pepper. Alongside: rice and a bowl of rice noodles in great broth. Mix and match and top with vinegar-y chili sauce from the self-serve bucket on the wall. As we were finishing, a big Indian family plopped down next to us and ordered a ton of chicken—seemed like a very Malaysian moment. Indian family (bindis and saris and all) eating Chinese-style chicken on the street. Loved it. Read online that this kind of chicken is ideally very slippery. Slippery chicken. (Indeed it was.) We’re going to open a slippery chicken joint in Seattle.

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Walked around after dinner looking at all the incredible old buildings. Many falling apart in a very picturesque way. Giant new condo project in the thick of it— the “Octagon.” Walked by a karaoke bar—loud, enthusiastic, bad man singing coming from inside! Wandered for an hour or so back to our neighborhood. Tried to get a beer at the bodega but it was already closed, so we followed lights through the little streets, wound up getting  pointed down a creepy alley. We bravely headed down there and were glad to come upon a super lively little scene. Corner restaurant with plastic tables and chairs (of course) but also tablecloths. Guy laid one down, saw that some shrimp were stuck to it, and just flipped it over, which I loved. Stuart and I split a big beer in tiny glasses and watched the scene. A giant crane pulled by, just barely squeaking though. Teenagers at the table next to us drank tea over ice and smoked. Two ladies shared lots of noodles and beers. Then we headed back home to bed, so tired.

Woke up and went out to get breakfast, wound up at a killer curry noodle spot. Egg noodles and shrimp in super pungent curry broth with little limes. Tried the famous Ipoh “White Coffee” which turns out to be kind of just oily coffee. Poked around Old Town a bit, went and saw a big clock tower erected by the Brits and some of the old colonial city buildings. Pondered a bit about how odd it was that the Brits sort of just took everything in the world. Sat in some bleachers by an enormous and impeccably kept playing field, then decided to go to the movies. I’d stepped in some kind of poisonous plant the day before and woke up with a super swollen foot, itchy and semi-concerning.

We went to a fancy mall to go to the movies and I stopped by a pharmacy, got some goopy ointment and pills, which both seemed to help. Then up to the fifth floor to see “Lost In The Pacific,” a Chinese movie in English. Totally ridiculous. As low budget as a movie theater movie could possible be. Totally great. Set in the future. A giant plane crashes, everyone falls in love. Mutant cats eat half the cast.

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Napped in the afternoon and went out for dinner. Both of us kind of out of it. Me with my foot and Stuart just tired and a little queasy. I totally faded at dinner, there was a twenty page indecipherable menu and I couldn’t hack it. And we keep getting this incredibly gross tea, tastes exactly like mold. But we (miraculously) made it through dinner—a whole fish—without passing out and went home to bed.

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