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Kuala Lumpur to Penang: Day 1

Planning for a three-day ride from KL to Penang started in August. Culminating with a last meeting over roti canai and thosai. And a loaf of home-baked sourdough bread courtesy of AiLin.

Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

Lay, Marvin, Amy, Pai and I were ready to go at 5:15. Mark isn’t in this photograph because he was the cameraman. Martin isn’t in the photo either because he was slightly late (he had to finish the breakfast his wife made for him before he was allowed out of the house).

Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

The first leg for the day was from Taman Tun Dr Ismail to the KTM station in Kuang. It had rained during the night so the roads were wet. Our freshly-washed bicycles didn’t stay clean for long.

Staying true to the R@SKL raison d’etre there were two themes to this adventure. Riding and eating. Our first food stop was at a coffee shop across the road from Kuang station. Three of us fuelled up with plates of noodles for the train ride to Tanjung Malim.

The 7:27 am train was on time so we didn’t spend much time striking poses on the platform.

Photograph courtesy of Marvin Tan

We had most of the carriage to ourselves. Once settled in our seats the first order of business was checking mobile phones. We did speak to each other during the one hour journey to Tanjung Malim. And one not-to-be-named person took a nap.

Photograph courtesy of Marvin Tan

Amy provided her truck as a support vehicle. That was very helpful because we could put bags in the truck instead of riding with saddle packs. Mark was the driver on the first day because Daddy duties prevented him from riding with us at 5:15 am.

We met Mark at a roadside stall about a kilometre from Tanjung Malim station. We had only ridden 30km / 19mi but were already into our second meal of the day. Roti canai for those who hadn’t eaten in Kuang. If you ever find yourself on Jalan Ketoyang, north of Tanjung Malim station, stop at Restoran Al Kassim Maju. Their roti is the bomb.

The riding then started in earnest. Our final destination for Day 1 was Kampar. 88km / 55mi north on Federal Route 1. Mark would drive ahead of us and park on the side of the road. After we went past him he would leapfrog us again.

Photograph courtesy of Marvin Tan

After ninety minutes we stopped for a break at Kampung Gajah, which is just south of Sungkai. Drinks only for all of us except for Martin, who had burned through his home-cooked breakfast and was hungry.

Photograph courtesy of Marvin Tan

We were riding under clear blue skies. The temperature was rising steadily. It was 25º C / 77º F when we left Taman Tun. It was 38º C / 97º F when we rolled into Bidor at noon.

Photograph courtesy of Marvin Tan

We had plenty of time to cover the 30km to Kampar. There was no point getting there before we could check in to the hotel. We spent ninety minutes consuming cold drinks and kai chai pang (chicken biscuits) under a fan at Restoran Mee Wah. Why the name “chicken biscuits” is a mystery because they do not contain any chicken.

Soon after we got going again clouds rolled in and we got drizzled on for a while. No one complained because the cooler temperature was appreciated by all.

10km / 6mi from Kampar the sky to the east got dark and the wind started to blow. A thunderstorm was on the way. We picked up the pace and got to the Kampar Boutique Hotel just ahead of a burst of rain.

After a shower and a short nap, we headed out to look for snacks. We found cendol, ais kacang and noodles.

Photograph courtesy of Hsing C Pai

It started to rain again, this time heavily, as we sat drinking and eating. We were trapped on the wrong side of the road from our hotel. After twenty minutes we gave up waiting for the deluge to stop and ran across the road through the rain.

Mark, Marvin and Pai were stuck on the hotel side of the road because of the rain, and couldn’t join us for cendol. Instead they went to Restoran Yin Phun Low, which is next door to the hotel. The rest of us joined them for dinner and beers. The food was so-so. I don’t recommend this restaurant.

The highlight of our time in that restaurant was deciding who would drive the truck the next day. In the week before the ride, everyone expressed a desire to drive. There was the talk of taking turns through the day as a way of getting some time off the saddle.

By the end of Day 1, that sentiment had changed. We had ridden at a relaxed pace. No one needed a break from riding. And Mark made it clear that the stop and start driving was no fun. There were no volunteers to drive the next day.

So Mark held out a fan of one ringgit notes and we each took one. Pai drew the note with the lowest last digit in the serial number. To the relief of the rest of us!

You would have thought that dinner would be the end of eating for the day. You would have been wrong. Kampar is noted for its Claypot Chicken Rice. A couple of the guys ventured out later that night for some.

Photograph courtesy of Mark Lim

The rest of us called it a night. We had another early start planned for Day 2.

Rail and Road to Ipoh

Ipoh Banner

Vegas and Hollywood were two of the highlights of our weekend trip to Ipoh.  More on that later.

Canning Garden in Ipoh, where we spent the night, is just over 200km / 124mi from Kuala Lumpur.  Which is just a bit further than we wanted to cycle.

So we went by train for part of the way.  Tanjung Malim is as far as you can go northwards on the KTM Komuter train.  The KTM Electric Train Service (ETS) goes beyond Tanjung Malim to Ipoh and onwards to the Thai border, but full-sized bicycles are not allowed on board the ETS trains.

Early on Saturday morning six of us met up at various points along the way to the Kepong Komuter station.  We would normally have boarded the train in Kuala Lumpur.  Track upgrading work means that there is temporarily no service between Kuala Lumpur and Kepong.

Day 1 Kepong Station Danial Marzuki

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

Danial, Halim, Choo Chian, Safwan, Ozzy and I caught the 7.10am train ride from Kepong to Tanjung Malim.  That was the last weekend non-peak hours train until 8.00pm.  Bicycles are allowed on Komuter trains during non-peak hours only.  The train ride took about 75 minutes.  We had the last carriage almost entirely to ourselves.  At 9.00am we were scouting the area around the Tanjung Malim station for a place to have breakfast.

The stop at Restoran Hijas was the first of many.

By 9.45am we were on the road northwards to Ipoh.  We cycled along Federal Route 1, which as the name implies is the first and oldest federal road in Malaysia.  Federal Route 1 was the backbone of the road system in the western states of Peninsular Malaysia before being supplanted by the North–South Expressway (E1 and E2).

Day 1 Traffic Light Ozzy

Photograph courtesy of Ozairi Othman

Our next stop was at the Shell station in Slim River.  So named for a Captain Slim, who in the nineteenth century sailed up the river, mistaking it for the larger Perak River, which was the main waterway at that time.

We were trundling along at a relatively relaxed pace.  We were all carrying clothes, toiletries etc. in our saddle packs.  Some of us had handlebar bags as well.  Danial was on a Marin touring bike.  We weren’t set up for speed.

So it was two and a half hours before we got to Restoran Shakir in Sungkai, where we had drinks and topped up our bottles with ice.

A word about the state of the road is appropriate here.  The entire length of the ride was about 125km / 78mi.  There were some badly rutted and patched sections, but in the main, the road surface was reasonable to good.  However, there was enough debris on the road that you had to keep your eyes glued to the road ahead.

3km after leaving Restoran Shakir I got distracted by a motorcyclist pulling off the road to my left and clanged straight over a substantial lump of stone.  The noise that made was loud enough to make me think that I had damaged a rim.  Not the case as it turned out, but I had pinch-flatted both my tires.

Thank goodness for riding with friends whom I could borrow an inner tube from.

Day 1 Flat Ozzy

Photograph courtesy of Ozairi Othman

Danial and Ozzy rode on while my three assistants and I fixed two flat tires.  We caught up with them about 10km / 6mi later at a row of fresh fruit stalls in Bidor.  It was 1.00pm and 33° C / 91° F by then.  Iced mango slices hit the spot.

We got to Tapah about thirty minutes later.  A good time to stop for lunch.

Day 1 KFC Safwan Siddiq

Photograph courtesy of Safwan Siddiq

The KFC in Tapah was packed but we went in any way.  The air conditioning was the main attraction.

My lunch was pretty good too.

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70km / 43mi done.  55km / 31mi to go.

After forty-five minutes in the cool of the KFC, we headed out into the sun again.  Not for long though.  It was 35° C / 95° F.  Twenty minutes later we stopped at the Shell station in Temoh for ice cream and drinks.

Thirty minutes after that we were inside a Petron station at Kampar.  I told you we stopped a lot.

The next ice cream and drinks stop was at a Shell station in Gopeng.  It was 4.30pm, and we had 18km / 11mi to go.  But we had two more stops to make before w got to Canning Garden.

All the Way from Tanjung Malim we had ridden past a multitude of roadside stalls, some quite makeshift, selling durians.  Durians are regarded by many in Southeast Asia as the “king of fruits.”

Day 1 Durian

Photograph courtesy of The Star Online

Durians are a seasonal fruit, and prices have soared in recent years as more and more of the local crop is exported to places like China.  But this year, a combination of unusually hot weather and heavy rainfall resulted in a long durian season.  This has produced an oversupply that has pushed down prices.

Danial could not resist the temptation.  We stopped in Simpang Pulai for a mini durian feast.  While the others were delving into durians, I noticed, set back from the road, the ruins of this mansion.

Day 1 Ruin Closeup

In its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, Ipoh was the epicentre of a tin mining boom.  Newly minted millionaires built mansions like this one.  Following the depletion of its tin deposits and the collapse of tin prices in the 1970s, Ipoh suffered decades of decline and neglect.  Epitomised by these remains of what was once a stately home.

Our last stop was at the Ampang Cycle House, where I bought inner tubes and CO2 cartridges to replace what I had borrowed.

4km / 2.5mi away from the bike shop is this terraced house which was our home for the night.  Choo Chian booked it online for us.  Very comfortable and well-equipped it was too.

Day 1 Home Stay

So why Vegas and Hollywood?  They are the names of famous eating places in Canning Garden.  Both are coffee shops housing a collection of food stalls, so there is a variety of dishes on offer.

It was 6.30pm when we arrived at Canning Garden.  After storing our bikes in the house, we walked, in our cycling kits, to dinner at Vegas.  Vegas is open at night but not in the morning.  Hollywood, 100 metres away in the next block of shophouses, is closed at night and open in the morning. We would be at Hollywood for breakfast.

There are no dinner food photographs to show, but I assure you the food was good.

Day 1 Dinner Danial Marzuki

Photograph courtesy of Danial Marzuki

After dinner, we washed ourselves and our cycling kits, and lounged in the sitting room for a while.  Some of the guys went back out at about 10.00pm for a teh tarik.  It was lights out time for Halim and I.