Sunday, January 25, 2015

Riding into the Belly of the MCP – Day 2. Gerik, or bus!

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

The royal town of Kuala Kangsar sits peacefully by the Perak River and has a rich history, especially of British Malaya. It would be a shame if we just pedalled off without at least a quick visit to its historical highlights. After all, KC was born when “God save the Queen” was still sung daily upon this fair corner of The Empire.

It was very kind of the owner, Mr Leong, to share with us critical local information about where to go and more importantly, where to eat for breakfast. Our stay at The Shop was too brief, and certainly deserves a return visit soon. Our first port of call was The Malay College, founded in 1907, pattern after the best of Eton and the likes. 

The Malay elite would send their sons here to receive their privileged education from the British  and perhaps her most famous teacher was none other than Anthony Burgess, the famed author who taught in the early 1950s. We were suitably impressed by its stunning marble white vast building surrounded by lush green manicured greens. The tradition of rugby was still practiced and many of Malaysia’s present political leaders hail from this fine institution. While we were admiring the college, a Malay gentleman man from Termeloh drew along side us to enquire about our folding contraptions. He gleefully accepted my offer of a test ride. He had come to enrol his nephew and shared that entrance was highly competitive. Fees too were not cheap as expected but if I were living here, I too would not hesitate to put my son here.

We stumbled upon a 100 year old Anglican Church of the Resurrection as we cycled further and that stopped us in our tracks. It has truly traditional sharp Georgian lines and certainly captured the days of old where the glory and love of God radiated brightly in Malaya. There is a memorial plaque dated 1908 honouring a certain George Frederick Bird, Sir Hugh Low & Darres Wise, all who worked here and passed on in Christ.

The Sultan of Perak was once given a Skyhawk jet as a gift and it is proudly displayed in the town centre, near the Clock Tower (built 1957 to commemorate Merdeka), among beautiful gardens. We cycled 2km along Istana Drive in the cool morning air enjoying the pleasant river surroundings. The Sultan Azlan Shah’s impressive museum soon appeared and we were blown away by its Parisian designed buildings. It was unfortunate that they were still closed. We continued our climb towards the golden Obadiah Mosque before riding around the parameter of the present Istana grounds. The old Istana just round the corner is now a museum and is built with not a single nail.

Pic KC - New Istana

Feeling rather famished, we glided downhill back to town in search of the famous Beef noodles. This restaurant is housed in a white 1968 Chinese association building and judging from the old Mercedes and Datsuns parked, we knew we were in for a nostalgic treat. Inside, the walls were covered with Chinese writings in scrolls and marble, and we could very well be in a small town in Fijian, China. The piping hot noodles in tasty broth did not disappoint and each bowl was generously filled with delectable ingredients. It was most unnatural to begin our long ride after such a satisfying meal, but we must as it was already 10am and we had 110km to go.

The sun was starting to bake as we serendipitously pedalled northwards, but there was one more British historical icon that I wanted to see – Victoria Bridge. This was built nearly 100 years ago and still standing proudly across the Perak River. It was quite an adventure to get there as we needed to cycle through quiet kampong roads and when we arrived at a bustling small riverside town, there she was. The KTM train now uses its own bridge parallel to Victoria Bridge. It presently is a motorcycle/bicycle bridge and we crossed it, feeling really pleased.

Now across the river, we took the back roads that led to the main highway. It was truly a serene and shady ride, save for 2 hills that winded me. Still, I managed to make it on the Tikit without the use of a granny gear while KC as usual waited patiently for me on the top of each hill. With hills meant great descends and we were not disappointed as we flew close to 50km/h on our small wheels.

At the Souk intersection, we were surprisingly hungry and spotted a Malay eatery offering Roti Pratas and Teh Tariks. We cooled ourselves under the shade of coconut trees and felt immensely revived. We were told that this town is famous for fresh water fish, particularly fish balls but we had spent too much time earlier at Kuala Kangsar. Instead of the highway, we opted for the back roads once again and that seldom disappoints.

Pic KC

Our gamble paid off in spades as we came across a beautiful lake which took our breath away. Nestled between Karst mountain range, the shimmering blue waters plus cool breeze begged to be savoured. We stopped at a small hut overlooking the lake where a few Malay men were fishing, their rods ambitiously waiting for their prize. These young guys were well equipped with ice drinks and food, and they enquired about our adventure. I must admit I appreciated the break as the noon sun was really blazing.

At this time, our plans to cycle another 65km to Gerik was beginning to look like a mirage. With the heat turning on full, we limped our way to Lenggong. Monsoon floods had decimated this area just last week and we saw evidence of that as we cycled past houses, mosques and schools, some still submerged. It was sad but we admired the fighting spirit of the people at rebuilding their lives once again. We wish them well.

I was elated when we finally arrived in Lenggong in the 34c heat. By this time my head was throbbing in pain, a rather unfortunate thorn in my flesh when it gets too hot. This small town is reputed to have great Wanton noodles and we hoped to sample it. I pull beside an old Chinese lady to enquire and she said those noodles are long sold out by mid morning, surprised that we did not know this. We had to settle for another Malay eatery, but they had Nazi Padang and the life saver Ais Batu Chumpor – shaved ice in colourful, sweet syrup with goodies like beans, jelly etc inside. 

The ABC did its job to cool us down quickly, in addition to the splashing of ourselves with tap water. Feeling a bit cooler, we had a light lunch of malay rice and curries. By this time, we both had no mood to continue. Doing so would be suicidal as we would be well and truly baked by the scorching sun.

A quick enquiry saw us folding and covering our bikes, all ready for the Perak Transit coach at the bus terminal. Unfortunately, it was a long 2 hour wait for our 530pm bus to Grik and we got comfortable, and even caught a snooze under the shade of the hot and humid afternoon. When our bus finally came, we were elated.  

The Chinese driver and his able conductress welcome us onboard and told us to put our foldies up first. The fare for the 50km journey was only $7RM and what fascinated me was the tickets given. It was just like in the 1970s when I was a high school student!

The ride in the aircon bus was oh so comfortable, taking a mere 45 minutes. Looking at the terrain, we did not miss it one bit as it was just a boring smallish highway. At Gerik, we were dropped at the bus station and assembling our foldies, as usual, attracted the attention of the local cowboys. "How much did you buy that for?", "Where do you come from?", "Do you need a taxi? (duh!)"...

Gerik is a pretty small town and it took all of 3 mins to ride to explore it. We decided on SML Hotel as it looked clean and was near the eateries. It helped too that they were bike friendly. They wanted $60RM for an aircon room and we were more than happy to check in.

There were plenty of Indian and Malay restaurants plus a KFC but we wanted wok fried Chinese food and KC's sharp eye spotted a rather crowded Che Char stall. We obediently followed the recommended pork and chicken dishes, and that did not disappoint. Downed with ice cold Shandy, it doesn't get better than this. When the bill came, it was much less than I expected and the theory is that the further you are from Johor/Singapore, the cheaper it gets.

It had been a most satisfying day, experiencing a bit of Kuala Kangsar's heritage and enjoying beautiful rides along the Perak River. Though we had to bus to Gerik at the last bit, there were no regrets and this is why we ride 16" foldies. The priceless ability to hop on any transport when the fun stops and the need arises! Needless to say, we both slept soundly, very soundly indeed thankful to God for such a special and wonderful day.

Crossing Victoria Bridge on our foldies...

1 comment:

David J said...

Nice blog. Your images are great. Folding bikes are pretty awesome aren't they. I have a Singapore made Aleoca folding bike which suits both my wife and I. Looking forward to reading more.