Monday, January 23, 2017

A step back in time - my first cycle trip to Riau Islands, 1996.




Very grateful to receive from my good friend KG an article I wrote for a magazine some 20 years ago about a trip we did to the Riau Islands. Those days we did not have internet nor smart phones. A time where life was simpler and I rode my 93" Bridgestone MB3 which I still have today.

Hope you enjoy the first post for 2017 here at LTF!




Friday, December 30, 2016

SRT Day 5 - The long way home but not without a last visit to the best bike shop in Hat Yai!

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Our last morning in Hat Yai was a most fruitful one. Despite the rain, we decided to cycle for breakfast. Unfortunately, Siew Yung's pedal got stuck due to the rain washing away the lube.

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Small issue easily fixed and as we cycled, we were amazed at how near our destination was. A mere 3-4 mins bike ride and that only made us a bit annoyed about yesterday's Tuk Tuk driver, how he took us for a ride literally!

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Breakfast was supposed to be at Chok Dee Dim Sum but we were attracted to the huge crowds at an eatery beside it selling soup and rice. This place is frequented by the locals and we had challenges parking our bicycles even. The fierce old lady/owner scolded us for not parking properly and she was truly a food Nazi. That can only mean one thing - amazing food!

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If you are fan of spare parts, and I mean of the piggy kind, this would be the place for you! Unfortunately, I'm not but there was enough variety for me to have a decent breakfast.

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So famous was this place that all the regulars even from overseas came here and KC met a very good friend who is also a tourer. Seems like we were destined to be meeting interesting people this morning.

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Following breakfast, we made our way to Tyro Bikes after we said goodbye to KC. He had booked himself for a 1030am bus to Malacca while ours was 1230pm and we had plenty of time. We knew we were a bit early but would try our luck nevertheless. Riding there in the rain, we wanted to wait at a nearby cafe but that was closed. Upon reaching Tyro, we saw the doors opening much earlier before their 10 am opening time. These guys are on the ball! They were amazing and welcomed us warmly.

There are bike shops and there are bike shops. Tyro Bike is one of those rare ones that presents itself as a lifestyle bike shop. Beautiful decor, soft lights, fantastic range of products, showroom style presentation and even a cafe that serves gourmet coffees.

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They carried top brands such as Moulton, Dahon, Birdy, Fuji, Miyata, retro bikes, fixies and so many other types of bikes. I even spotted an old Japanese red postman bicycle beautifully restored.

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All of us were truly smitten and we went on our own way like kids in a lolly shop, scouting for stuff to buy. Siew Yung spotted some Pearl Izumi gloves that she liked, Berenda went on a shopping spree for bike T-shirts while I managed to find a new very impressive kick bike stand for my Tikit.

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Thank you Berenda for this neat T!

The mechanic fitted it professionally and when we complained about how our bikes were squealing after being ridden int he rain, he started lubing all our bikes!

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It was wonderful to meet up with Khun Antz who came a bit later, like a boss. Young, adventurous, intelligent and passionate about folding bicycles, it was a great joy to have a friendly chat with her. Antz studied English in Singapore and it showed with her fluency in the language. She showed me her special anniversary Dahon Boardwalk and it was pure joy to hear from Antz about her vision for Tyro Bikes. What is exciting is her upcoming bike hostel/guesthouse for bicycle tourers!

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Good bicycle shops are like magnets, attracting famous cyclists and we had the privilege of seeing a couple of tourers who had just completed the arduous Mae Hong Son Loop wheel in. It was none other than Malaysian's top tourers Acid Mustafa and friends. His legendary goatie and shirt/jean style was immediately recognised by Siew Yung who has toured with him before. So it was a real bonus to finally meet up with him and to hear his interesting stories.

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We really enjoyed our visit to Tyro and even downed a cuppa of Latte, served with style! It was hard to leave Tyro but we had a bus to catch and it was off to The Colour Hotel to pack our panniers and head for the bus agent. We bade farewell to Siew Yung who had to catch a mini-van to Padang Besar where she would catch a fast train home to KL.

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Since Berenda had not had her Pad Thai, we managed to find one eatery near the bus agent selling it and it turned out to be amazingly good. On hindsight, we should have ordered an extra plate but it is hard to enjoy a meal when you know you have only 20 mins left!

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We made it to the bus agent office with 10 mins to spare and folded our bicycles in preparation for the long journey home. The agent told us that it was to be a 14-15 hr bus ride and we would be at Woodlands Causeway about 4am. This was perfect as it meant a smooth crossing.

Though it was a full bus with plenty of other luggages, our foldies had plenty of room in the bus storage compartment.

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YC and I rode in the front passenger seats and settled ourselves comfortably for the long journey home. Berenda was seated somewhere at the back, next to a lady eating smelly cuttlefish. The Sadao border crossing was smooth and soon we were back in Malaysia, cruising past the beautiful and vast rice fields of Kedah.

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The bus ride surprisingly did not feel as long as the 14 hr it took and I appreciated the coffee/toilet breaks along the way every 4 hours or so. We arrived at Woodlands just before 4am and thankfully, crossing was not an issue as well. I would highly recommend this timing as anything later could mean being stuck for 2-3 hrs crossing the causeway!

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We arrived at Golden Mile just past 5am and it was sad to say goodbye to Berenda who had to rush home to get ready for work on that same day!  YC and I had time to enjoy a traditional Singapore breakfast of tea and toast before I caught the first MRT back home.

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What a trip it has been! This experience of taking long distance coaches has been a very easy and comfortable one for me, and I can't wait to embark on my next adventure using coaches.

Thank you for reading Lovethefold and as we say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017, may I wish you my dear readers a very blessed and happy New Year!  May your experiences both off and on the saddle be filled with much joy, fruitfulness and meaning.  God bless you!



You crown the year with Your goodness,
And Your paths drip with abundance.
Psalm 65:11


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Thursday, December 29, 2016

SRT Day 4 - Pootling in Hat Yai (Warning - more food than cycling here!)


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Pootle - to travel or go in a relaxed or leisurely manner (The Free Dictionary)

Hat Yai is a city worth spending a bit more time and we had planned another day here. Many Malaysians come here specifically for the weekend as it boasts of excellent food, shopping and night life. Though the cycling was over for all of us, Christoph decided to continue on solo towards Phattulang on Highway 4 today, some 100km north. His efficient wife had already booked a hotel for him. The next day, he would turn left on Highway 4 and cycle 70km towards Trang where he would fly off to Bangkok to meet his family. But before he went, we had to celebrate with a Dim Sum breakfast together at the best place, but getting there was an unpleasant adventure.

It poured cats and dogs and we decided to take the hotel mini Song Thew to ChokDee Dim Sum. It was only 1.5km away but our driver seemed to take forever to get there. Upon reaching there, it was closed. So he suggested another Dim Sum restaurant and it too was closed. One more recommendation from him we ended up at a Dim Sum place just outside our hotel.

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It suddenly dawn on me that this driver was really out to scam us as he gets paid per trip. As someone who takes tourists around to all the restaurants etc for years on end, he would have known when these famous restaurants are open/closed. He charged us 480B for these 1-2km sojourns and we were truly not impressed! It is very unfortunate when people make money their god and seek to earn it dishonestly, under the guise of being helpful.

As the saying goes. you can only con a person once and later in the day when we wanted to go somewhere, that driver came up to us again and offered his us services. Unbelievable! Thankfully in Thailand, this is more the exception than the rule.

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Do not take this Taxi in Hat Yai!

We put that behind us and enjoyed a lovely Dim Sum nevertheless. The Dim Sum taste is quite different from what I am used to but it was still very good. We all felt a bit guilty about indulging in such a yummy breakkie except for Christoph, who needed the energy.

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It was soon time to bid farewell to Christoph and we all gathered to send him off in style at the hotel lobby with a prayer and good wishes. 

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It was sad to see Christoph riding off alone in the rain but he among all of us, is just blessed with outstanding fitness being a triathlete and all. The BMW M3 was finally unleashed and he could go as fast as he wanted on the Thai Autobahn, and he did.

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Meanwhile, we had plans to cycle to the lovely beach side coastal town of Songkhla. It is a mere 30km away and I have never been there before. But the rains were still heavy and we had to postpone this visit for another trip. 

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This being a Tuesday, the famous Tyro Bike shop was also closed so what better way to mull away the time than to take a walk in the city and explore the many interesting sights and shops by foot. We also went to buy our coach tickets back to Singapore and decided on Grassland after 3 enquiries. The others were 850B but Grassland was 900B and offered better seats and non-stop travel straight to Singapore. We got prime seating and it was to leave at 1230pm, arriving at Woodlands causeway at 4am, which was perfect as it avoided the peak hour jam.

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YC told us about a mountain bike shop that was opened and we went to take a look. Unfortunately, it was catered more for MTBs and roadies, and although they had some foldies, there was nothing much for us foldies in terms of accessories. YC needed a new 20" tire but all they had was some local brand that would be out of place on his hi end ultra light Dahon MU SL. Tyro was our last hope!

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We were passing by some shops when an elderly lady invited us to sample her Popiah (some sort of vegetable roll). She was truly a very persuasive and warm lady and we obliged. Turned out that her Popiah was seriously good with crab meat and sausage on top! This was a great prelude to lunch!

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Just beside her shop was a restaurant that sold amazing roast meats. Looking at the crowds instantly told us that this was a "die die must try" eatery! Nan Yuan Restaurant did not disappoint as my Char Siew/Roast Pork Rice was absolutely succulent. Crispy, soft, sweet and just marvelously done. 

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We also had some crab meat rolls which is like our Spore Ngoh Hiang, except stuffed with crab meat. This is truly how I prefer to eat my crabs!!!

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There is a blog post about Nan Yuen worth reading written by a local and if ever you are in Hatyai, this should be in your list of must eat! You can also check their Facebook page here. 

We needed a wheelchair after such a satisfying meal to move ourselves out of Nan Yuen and as we walked back to the hotel, we came across a most fascinating coffee retail shop. The rich aroma of freshly grounded coffee really drew us in and with the sight of fancy coffee machines and all sorts of fresh coffee beans from all over the world, we knew this was a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon. Do check out Coffee at Home if you seek coffee perfection!

Though we sat there longer than most customers, the staff didn't mind one bit and continued to pour out fresh cold water for us and were warm, welcoming and friendly. Best 40B or S$1.60 ever for a Latte, Cappuccino etc.

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We all felt a bit guilty after eating/drinking so much while not exercising at all this whole day. And I feel a bit embarrassed that this post is beginning to sound like a food blog rather than a cycling blog but since we are on the roll, indulge me on reporting about our excellent dinner once again at Kan Eng Restaurant.

YC had 2 friends, a lovely couple Willy and his wife who rode up from Singapore. Not on bicycles but on their BMW F series motorcycles and they were on their way up to Chiang Mai. We had dinner there with them as there was still so many other dishes we have not tried.

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This was what we ordered and the dishes did not disappoint! Another wonderful dinner at Kan Eng and it was so interesting to hear stories of journeys on motorised two wheels.

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Our day of pootling in Hatyai was really fun and we were glad to have spend some time here to see and experience the culinary pleasures the city offered.

Hat Yai is certainly worth 2 or even 3 nights visit and although we could not visit Songkla, that only gives us another reason to plan another trip here in the near future!