Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Long-Ass Days in the Saddle

20,000 miles and still going!
It took us another two days of riding to get to Malaysia. From Chumphon, we rode all day to get to Hat Yai, which we reached, again, after dark.  On the way, we did stop to take the official 20,000 mile picture. We got a room at the Park Hotel, walked to the night market for some more khao mok khai, walked back to the hotel, did some laundry, and went to bed.

The next morning, neither of us really wanted to hoist ourselves out of bed to do it again, but we did. 
Three full days of riding wreaked some major havoc on our butts and the backs of our thighs, both in the joints (the poor knees and hips) and the skin (I had an extra nasty rash), but we couldn't stop- places to go, races to spectate, and all that. We hobbled around the room as we repacked our stuff, and thanked the gods of cheap accommodation that the Park Hotel had an elevator to carry our bags to the ground floor for a change. 

Pong and me in Hat Yai
We were on the road by about 9:15am, working through the morning city traffic, when we stopped at a light along with a pack of other motorbikes. The rider to my left smiled and asked where we were from. I told him, and he smiled again and pointed at the ADV sticker on the front of his bike. It was the same oval sticker I have on the front of my leg shield! Before the traffic light changed, he gestured for us to pull over for a photo op, so I hollered to Colin to stop once we got through the intersection. When we stopped, we met Pong, who is a motorcycle enthusiast, a fellow ADVrider (hence our matching stickers), and is (he peeled a sticker from his bike and put it on my top case). We chatted for a few minutes, took some photos, and Pong took some video of us before we said goodbye and rode for the border.

Welcome to Malaysia!
We made it to the Thailand/Malaysia border before 11:00am and completed the exit process from Thailand. We rode past the Welcome to Malaysia signs and pulled into the drive-thru Immigration lane, where we handed our passports through the window to be stamped and returned to us. I expected to have to at least take off my helmet, but the officer didn't even make me raise my face shield. We rode through the border, looking for the Customs office in order to get our Carnets stamped and never saw it. About a half-mile down the road, there was a checkpoint where I asked the guards about Customs. They gestured back to the border complex we'd just come through, and indicated it was in building A. We made a u-turn and headed back to the complex, where it soon became apparent that the Customs building was on the far side of Immigration. Hmmm. We parked our bikes and spent the next ten minutes explaining to various border officials that we weren't crossing back into Thailand, had already been stamped into Malaysia, didn't need to go through Immigration, we just needed to find Customs. This was all complicated by the fact that we only speak about five words of Bahasa Malaysia, and none of them really applied in this situation. We finally found the building (which wasn't building A) and an agent who spoke excellent English and could point us to the office that would process our Carnets. We stepped into the blissfully air-conditioned office, and in less than ten minutes, were walking back to our bikes. The error was ours, in that we rode through the lane for ASEAN motorcycle riders. Even with this confusion, we still cleared the Malaysia side of the border in about 30 minutes. The whole process only took about 45 minutes and cost exactly 0 dollars. I love Malaysia. One of the reasons I love Malaysia is their highway system. We were now on a limited access, modern, four-lane, divided highway, complete with wide, paved shoulders, excellent signage, and even rest areas (with fuel). Many of the highways are toll roads, but once again, since we were on motorbikes, they are free for us.

Talking to the locals on the ferry about our bikes
We covered the 80 miles to Butterworth in about two hours, since it was easy to maintain a 40 mph average. The scenery here was still relatively flat, but everywhere was the dark green of oil palms and mixed jungle. I know that oil palm plantations are and environmental disaster, but they sure are pretty. We were heading for Butterworth because that's where you get the ferry to the island of Penang. We followed the crazy, circular ramp over the water and around to the ferry, where we paid our two ringgits and joined the queue of other bikers waiting to get on the boat. The ferries here are huge, two level affairs, with passengers on the upper deck and cars, trucks, and motorbikes on the lower. After all the four-wheeled vehicles boarded, we joined with the 75 to 100 other motorbike riders and rode onto the ferry. The ferry ride only took about ten minutes, but it was a fun time, since each of our bikes drew a small crowd, and everyone wanted to know about our trip. The other cool part of the ride was that Re found herself parked next to another SYM underbone. Malaysia gets a variety of SYM models, but not the Symba. This makes Malaysia the only country we've visited that has SYM badged bikes. India had a few SYM models, but they were sold under the domestic Mahindra brand. Actually, there were some older SYM motorcycles in Cambodia that were used as moto remorques, but they were all old and shitty. Riding down the highway from the border to Butterworth, we saw several billboards advertising a variety of SYM underbones, scooters, and motorcycles. After we disembarked from the ferry, we found ourselves on the streets we walked so many times on our previous trips to George Town. This was nice, because we knew exactly where we were going.

We made our way up Chulia to Love Lane, then left on Muntri, to the Star Lodge. It was a bit like coming home, since we spent over six weeks here in the past. Robert, at reception, remembered us, and we were soon unloading our gear into our room. Since it was now nearly 4:00 pm, we decided to walk over to Komplex Komtar for a treat for our sore butts. In the mall they have what we refer to as the “executive chairs.” These are the massage chairs you see in various malls around the US and were all we could think about for the last couple hours of the ride. We walked the half mile through familiar streets and into the mall. We soon found a bank of executive chairs, sat down, and fed them a one ringgit (.33 cents) note for a three-minute massage. When our three minutes was up, we did it again.

Feeling suitably pummeled and refreshed, we walked around a bit, checked out what was playing at the movie theater, and then made our way back onto the streets and up Lebuh Cintra for dinner at our favorite dim sum restaurant. One of the very best things about George Town is the food. The island of Penang is on the Straits of Malacca and has been an important trading port for hundreds of years. It was a major port and stop off on the journeys between Asia and Europe and the Middle East. Consequently, there is a large Chinese population here, and also, a large Indian population that mostly arrived during the British colonial period. While this creates a fascinating multi-ethnic society, the real winner is dinner. The variety of food here is unmatched by any other place we've been. Everywhere you look, there are small restaurants and hawker stalls selling delicious food for cheap. Really cheap. We grabbed a table at the dim sum place. A pot of tea arrived, and then the same three ladies as two years ago wheeled up their stainless steel carts full of goodies. We chose two of the rice, chicken, sausage, and egg wrapped in tea leaves, one of the taro cakes, a curried potato “egg roll?” a couple of different prawn-filled dishes, and a vegetable filled omelet roll. We stuffed ourselves silly on the delicious food, and the total bill came to 7.66 USD. I love Malaysia. For comparison purposes, each one of these seven dishes would be between 3 and 5 USD in Portland.

After dinner, we went back to the room, where Re scrubbed our Darien pants on the floor of the bathroom, while I caught up on the internets. Our Dariens are absolutely filthy after our time in Laos and Cambodia, and the difference that a good washing made was dramatic. They smell horrible, feel greasy on the outside, and the armpits of my jacket are actually discolored. I realize I am no petunia, but you know it's bad when you can sweat through a shirt and a loose-fitting, tight-weave jacket. I am one nasty gal.

One reason I don't love Malaysia is the incredibly high tax on alcohol. Malaysia is a Muslim country, and so high sin taxes are the rule. For example, a 650 ml Chang beer in Thailand is 1.33 USD or so, whereas, in Malaysia, the same beer is at least 4 USD. But after our long rides over the last several days, we both wanted a beer, so we walked out to our favorite corner bar for a cold one. We jokingly refer to it as the Corner Bar, because it's on a street corner. There are more traditional bars aimed at the large number of tourists who visit here, but they are more expensive (and nowhere near as interesting) than the little local bars. The corner bar's clientele is almost exclusively Indian and Chinese, and rarely sees any farang. It's down a bit of a back alley, and there are a few beer coolers and a small bar behind a rollup door. You choose your beers from the cooler, pay at the bar, and then go sit in the plastic chairs next to the folding tables out in the road. Plus it has some great shows going on in the gutters and alleyway. Between the herds of robust rats looking for morsels to gnaw on in the garbage, the scrappy dogs looking for something to scratch against, and the bar owner on the lookout for the police, it's quite an entertaining venue.

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