Thursday, December 31, 2009

Awe-some 2010!

My new awesome young friend, Lynette from Penang!

Welcome to a brand new year! 365 brand new days ahead of us given by our Creator like daily presents* to be opened, enjoyed and lived. I don't know about you but being a mid-lifer, day to day living can sometimes be mundane and routine.

That is why I really look forward to my cycling adventures or even just short rides. Being out in the open to enjoy the elements of nature and its beauty never fail to bring a sense of awe to my heart.

Being in awe wherever we are and whatever we do, just like a curious child, is important because there is so much to learn, to discover and to experience from life.
May you have a truly awe-some 2010!

*Wise words from Rev Dr Mark Chan at Watchnight Service yesterday.

Penang anti-clockwise

There is something about overeating that makes one oversleep. We didn't get up till 9am and started a little later for our attempt to cycle around the island. Penang is just slightly smaller than Singapore and the circumference can be 80km if you loop behind the airport.

Our first stop was to Batu Ferringi, the main beach area 15km away which was pretty deserted when we got there at 1030. The route was pleasant with a few gentle hills skirting the coast under shady trees.

We were determined to eat more healthy after last night's sin of gluttony and settled on a fresh orange/pineapple juice and a delicious plate of cut papayas and watermelons at a friendly cafe.

We met a retired Australian couple from Adelaide who were once stationed in the RAAF airbase in Butterworth in the 70s and enjoyed a short chat with them.

Many people will turn back after this point and that is a shame as we found the other side of Penang fascinating. A steep but short climb after the turn off from the coast saw us reach a beautiful dam.

Here, the road becomes narrower and climbs into the hills offering cool respite from the afternoon heat. It was special to ride inside the canopy of trees with crickets singing and the gurgling of streams.

At some points, there are breathtaking views and we were so glad we did this route for the first time. Discovering, exploring, adventuring are what makes bike touring fun. What goes up must come down and come down we did. It was exhilarating carving through the corners at high speed but I was careful not to scrape my brand new Ortelib pannier hanging on my front rack around the bends.

Our target was Balik Pulau, a small town 40km south of the island where we enjoyed another round of the famous Nasi Kandar. All those hills really made us ravenous and we wolved down our spicy lunch with great satisfaction. We thought that it was going to be an easy 20km ride back to town, cutting through the central part of the island but we were dead wrong!

The road began gradually for the first 400m, and then it was a cruel climb of 940m in only 3 short km. Despite my valiant attempt at riding up, I had to get off the tikit and pushed ALL the way up. My left knee was somehow hurting badly so I guess that was the perfect excuse I needed not to ride.

Even with the smaller 42t chain ring, it was tough to climb this stretch. Both Mike and I perspired profusely and we were so relieved to find a drink kiosk at the top of this torture. The Langkawi Cable Car peak was only 700m so we did felt a sense of accomplishment, even though we pushed.

Once again, such hard work uphill resulted in a blast of a downhill where my tikit exceeded 60kmh easy. At such speeds, I truly appreciated the stability and rigidity of its well-engineered frame and it helped too that the brakes were meaty and could scrub off the speed when needed.

Mike who rode the Expedition also commented on how secure and confident he felt on his Friday! I guess hills are like pregnancy - though the climb was hard and painful, the wonderful end result made it all worth it and the pain is quickly forgotten.

We arrived back at our hotel just after 5pm but not before battling the heavy evening traffic. After a quick shower, I rewarded myself with a Thai foot massage to soothe those aching muscles. It was really kind and magnanimous of Mike's school mate, Chor Kooi to host us a sumptous dinner at the Penang Swimming Club and we enjoyed getting to know his warm extended family and especially his lovely children.

Being Penangites, they were bemused that we actually cycled this crazy route and came back in one piece. Ignorance, they say, is bliss but I will recommend this anti-clockwise route to anyone who loves a challenge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eating silly in Penang

Flying to Penang from Langkawi must be the shortest flight I ever taken - a whole 35 mins! The plane was a twin prop by the latest budget airline called FireFly.

From the air, we could see the many islands around Langkawi and the glistering reflection of the sun over the sea pointed to an exciting day ahead.

I have cycled from Bayan Lepas airport to town once on a Strida several years ago and remembered the heavy traffic. We taxied into Berjaya Hotel in Georgetown but the taxi driver was a foodie of ample girth and we ended up lunching at his favourite Nasi Kandar restaurant.

This is an Indian Curry rice of several rich curries combined and it blew our taste buds to the sky with its exotic and rich taste.

Our hotel was a "proper" hotel which was a fitting end to our trip. Penang must be the best place in the world for food with its variety, quality and unbeatable value for $ so we decided to have a 5 course dinner at 5 different places. Assembling the Fridays was a breeze and we were soon exploring Georgetown, the colonial quarter after part one of our dinner extravagaza. There are plenty of British iconic buildings from its rich heritage.

At Little India, we bumped into a Scotsman, Patrick, who is a folding bike enthusiast as well. He was most intrigued by the tikit and was fixated by it. He had cycled USA and Canada and just bought a Dahon MU P8 in Bangkok. He wanted to see the tikit's folding magic and it became the circus attraction for the big crowd there. If only I pass the hat around, I may have collected enough for another free trip somewhere!!!

Exploring a new city gliding on 2 small wheels is truly the ultimate transport through busy traffic and unfamiliar road rules. What a sense of freedom and mobility!

All of a sudden, a city of 3 sq km is shrinked to a city of 10 mins in any direction. Mike who has never done this before kept exclaiming, "This is the way to go!"

To show you how excited we got about Penang food, this is what we had between the 2 of us in the 5 destinations we went in a span of 3hours:

Curry Mee, Belachan Fried Rice, Popiah, Koay Teow Tng, Rojak, Joo Eng Chye, Sotong Bakar, Assam Laksa, Nasi Lemak, Putu Mayam and for drinks, Soya Milk, Mata Kuching, Teh Tarik and fresh orange juice!

It was no wonder my stomach acted up later that night. A small but extremely satisfying price for eating silly in Penang.

Monday, December 28, 2009

To the clouds in Langkawi

It was with great reluctance that we left D'Baron Resort in Kuah as its a really nice hotel with spacious rooms and great seaviews. Breakfast was all 3 types of noodles in the Chinatown quarter of Kuah town in a coffeeshop,

and we set off at a leisurely 10am towards Cenang Beach, about 20km away.

The ride there was hard and hilly. It didnt help that the sun was getting hotter by the minute. I had to use the smaller chain ring on the tikit and that only just was sufficient to tackle some of the steeper hills. The saving grace were the beautiful coastal views skirting along the hillside. Malaysia is blessed with many small mom & pop's drink store and they are life savers on a hot day. Mike and I must have gulped 5-6 tall, cold lemon juices at our stop and it helped when each costs a mere US50 cents.

We checked into a pre-booked rustic, wooden chalet in Cenang Beach and though it has seen better days (very typical of overused hotels there), the cold aircon was a gift from heaven.

Although the ride was short, we felt a little sapped from the heat and the hills but a quick cold shower soon revived us. We treated ourselves to a Thai massage which really fixed those sore muscles. That got us ready for our next ride, this time 20km to the Langkawi Cable Car and we really rode very fast there. Mike seemed to have found his 2nd wind on the brand new Expedition and I was very impressed at his remarkable improved level of fitness.

Unlike the day before, the queue was only 20 mins instead of a crazy 2 hours. The views on top were absolutely spectacular and it was worth every pedal to get there.

One could see the many other islands of the Andaman Sea and no wonder this is sailing paradise for the many luxury sailboats docked at the harbour. The sunset was also impressive. There were times the clouds came upon us, and it rained right on top... This surely must be the highlight of Langkawi!

Our ride back to Cenang was in the dark and it was so differently refreshing cutting through the night air. Upon reaching Cenang, the heavens of monsoon opened and we were very grateful we could take shelter at Orkid Ria, a fabulous seafood restaurant that we enjoyed.

Another special day indeed especially being in the clouds at Langkawi!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looping Langkawi

We were glad to leave tourist infested Cenang Beach and we made our way up north, pass the airport and towards the Cable Car attraction. It was nice to fly on our Fridays along the quiet roads and it took us only 30 mins to pass the airport.

Our first drink stop was at a fresh coconut stall where served with ice, the juice was most refreshing. Mike showed off his Gasing skill (a malay top), something which he played with as a child and it was most impressive.

The north west part of Langkawi is much nicer than Cenang with hills, rainforest and beaches. Being super peak, the wait for the cable car ride was 2 hours and looking at the snake line of tourists, we jumped on our saddles and rode off.

Tanjong Rhu is said to have the best beaches in Langkawi and we were not disappointed.

We found a fruit/drink stall under some shady trees and took shelter from the blazing noon sun. There, our Fridays attracted the attention of a young German couple and we had fun chatting with them.

As its not a good idea to cycle in the heat, we rested and had a short siesta till 3pm where we made our way to the main town Kuah.

The ride there was pleasant enough and we rode into Kuah at about 5pm. Its a quiet town by the sea and we managed to find a gem of a brand new hotel called D'Baron. We met the sales manager who was impressed with our bikes and we got talking about organising rides here. Our very spacious room was great!

It also had a breathtaking sea view and we saw the magnificent sunset. All this for US$45 only!

Dinner was a lavish chinese one and we loaded up on duty free beer, at an unbelievable US60-90 cents per can! I think we will sleep very well tonight, at least my legs will. A glorious day indeed looping most of Langkawi.

A conferred native - When we checked out, I presented my receipt to get my key deposit back only to be confronted by the recep, "Sir, are you Mohamad Ilham?" Apparently, during checking in, I was registered under this name which I didn't noticed. I looked at my receipt and yes, that was the name written on both my receipts. I still can't figure how I became a "Mohd" that day...