Cycling Plus #5:
Its very name appealed to me: the Jungle Road. This 500km pass links the
west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula to the east, crossing the range which
runs the length of the country's spine by way of its remote interior, and
emerging south of the border with Thailand.
The three lane highway that leads out of Kuala Lumpur is empty and as
smooth as marble. I leave it for the jungle road, looping its way through
lush undergrowth, matching the contours of the murky brown Sungei River.
Malay villages become fewer. In Kuala Lipis, two tourers from the UK are
heading the same way and we cycle together, as the surroundings change to
towering rocky outcrops reaching out of the land, looming over us. But for
a shiny black scorpion crossing the road, we are very much alone in the
Venturing off our route, the tarmac surface that cuts through much of
Malaysia's red soil soon becomes a washed out track, disappearing into the
distance. Caught in the afternoon sun, there is no shade to lurk in; we
arrive, exhausted, in the almost overbearingly friendly village of Dabong.
Jungle waterways lead to the next town, but no one seems sure if a boat
will pass by, or whether it can carry our steeds...When it does, at
sunrise, we pile our bikes aboard its skinny hull, and set off downstream
as the first rays of light appear through the dark morning clouds and thick
jungle canopy. Propelled forward by an enormous old car engine, the
pencil-thin boat travels quickly and we are soon deposited at our
destination, a bamboo raft bobbing up and down. We walk the gangplanks on
to land, with bicycles over our shoulders, where we continue on to Kota
Bharu stopping to enjoy 'roti canai', a breakfast pancake with curry, and
fresh watermelon along the way.
Throughout most of Malaysia, the roads are sealed and smooth, and once off
the main highways, almost devoid of traffic. The main challenge is the heat
that accumulates throughout the day. Malaysian drivers are some of the
friendliest I have met, leaning out to shout out encouragement up a hill
and leaving plenty of room as they pass. Trapped on a four lane expressway
into the capital, a moped rider sidled up beside me to ask me where I was
from, while trucks swerved to avoid him! I have had only one major problem
with Possum; leaving Kuala Lumpur, the rear rim began to spit. The bike
shop I visited was run by the national coach and fortunately had a Mavic
217, 36 spoke rim in stock. There I met his son, himself a Malaysian record
holder, who has decided to join me for a week's cycle in Thailand.
Drawing from a rich Muslim, Hindu and Chinese heritage, the country is an
intriguing mixture of high tech and tradition. In Kuala Lumpur, the
Petronas Towers stand as a showpiece to Asian achievement, the tallest
buildings in the world. In the interior, huts perch on stilts above steamy
jungle rivers. Mosques are reflected in the mirrored surfaces of high rise
towers, veil-clad girls surf the Internet in a McCyber cafe. Malaysia is a
fascinating country to cycle through; the perfect way to enjoy its
incredible food, meet its friendly people and reach some of the least
accessible parts of this varied land.