Sunday, July 23, 2017

Abang Adek Adventure to Songkhla, Thailand - Day 1

























In the Malay language, Abang Adek is more than 2 mere words that describe an elder brother and a younger brother. It can be used also to depict a strong blood bond of 2 siblings which is thicker than water. And this aptly describes our latest ride between 2 Bike Fridays - KC's Llama and my Tikit, both very accomplished bicycles with great reputations as one of the world's best touring folding bike and the world's fastest folding bike (folding speed of 5 secs) respectively from Green Gear Company, Eugene, Oregon.

The brothers were tasked to do 2 very noble missions. One was to travel in the belly of a bus for a 14 hour ride from Singapore to Hatyai, some 1000km away, and take their riders 30km to the coastal trading town of Songkhla to recce for a possible future LTF trip. Secondly, to return to Hatyai and pick up 6 orders of the Ergotec Space Touring handlebars from Tyro Bike.


KC and I met at our usual Kranji MRT point at 230pm and crossed the Causeway into JB to catch our 7pm bus at Larkin Sentral. We left early because we wanted to avoid the jam but still got stuck for an hour despite our early start at the Singapore side. Waiting in line with noisy smoky motorcycles was something our "Aristocratic" foldies were not accustomed to but eating humble pie, they say, is good for one's soul. Fortunately, we had nice sea breezes and that made the long wait bearable.


Clearing the Malaysian side was easy enough but at 33c with a blazing sun, we had had to find air-conditioned refuge. Big Bite Cafe was chosen for its ice cold surroundings and the staff kindly allowed us to park inside. We rewarded ourselves with a nice afternoon tea and with free powerful internet, we stayed for longer than we should. At 5pm, we forced ourselves to ride to Larkin Sentra to catch our bus, some 8km away but not without buying the famous Banana Cake from the famous Hiap Joo Bakery which still bakes using wood fire.



The evening ride to Larkin was surprisingly easy as it was a long gradual climb to get there. Perhaps we were on our very accomplished Bike Fridays, which made it a joy to cover the miles. We arrived at 530pm, and cooled off at KFC. While KC watched over our bikes, I went to find the Konsortium Bus counter to get our tickets. At about S$30 for the 1000km ride, it was quite good value actually and cheaper than going from Singapore, which would cost 50% more plus suffer through the evening causeway jam! One challenge was loading our bicycles into the bus and we had so much problems on our last return trip from Malacca. This time however, we were blessed and each Friday had a dedicated huge space in the bus luggage - so big that it was not necessary to fold!



We settled quickly into our comfortable seats and began the long journey north. Having done this more than a few times, I came prepared with neck pillow, warm clothing, socks (the aircon is always set at freezing somehow!) and some snacks. There were 3 stopovers if I remembered correctly and they were all very welcomed - to stretch our legs, have toilet breaks, get some hot drinks etc.  I'm very blessed to be able to sleep through the bus and when dawn finally came, we were near Bukit Kayu Hitam, the border crossing.


Thank God it was a smooth crossing, no need to take out luggage for customs inspection on both sides. Just a simple chop on the passport, no questions asked and off we went. We were privileged to witness the flag raising ceremony on the Thai side with all the immigration officers standing smartly! But what surprised me was when a Thai man came up to thank me for standing at attention and giving their flag my respect.


Just a few minutes into Thai territory, we were stopped at a Police Checkpoint. Our poor driver from Taiping, was pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt. The irony was that he had to go through a gate of a Catholic cemetery with a big white cross. The cross is a symbol of God's love, forgiveness, grace and sacrifice for us, but in this instance, it became a place to pay "fines" and our poor driver was out of his pocket for 500B. I gave him a tip later to help him out as it was the right thing to do.


It was another 60+km to Hat Yai and when we finally rolled into the 3rd biggest city in Thailand, it became a slow crawl. When we finally disembarked, Abang and Adek were glad to awake from their long slumber. We wanted to go to Tyro Bike but they closed on Tuesday. So we went to a 711 to get our mobile internet sorted out. Poor KC had some issues with his phone and had to seek help so I had a lovely foot massage while waiting for him,by none other than Batman.


We headed to Songkhla via the Highway 407 in the blazing sun. KC was wise to have brought his Da Brim and the ride was easy enough, flattish with a wide shoulder. It was already past 1pm and we were getting famish. Finding a place to eat in Thailand is never a problem and true enough, we saw an eatery with roast meats hanging on the window. I enjoyed a most delicious plate of roast pork and rice while KC had roast duck. We received wonderful Thai hospitality as usual where the nice lady gave us fruits - a mango, a rambutan and a banana for dessert. Such kindness makes me love the Thai people so much! She was also so proud of her daughter who  was in Uni and knew some English and took out a photo to show us.


The afternoon sun was really doing my head in and I really needed to cool off. Fortunately by then, we had arrived at the outskirts of Songkhla City and Abang Adek took a "we made it" photo together. It was easy to find the Club Tree Hotel which was located in the heart of Songkhla. Designed almost like a European hotel, we found the CTH more than adequate for our needs. At 900B with breakfast for 2, it is unbelievable value. Clean, spacious rooms, well appointed, centrally located, good service and with some imagination, you can almost believe that this is Vienna!

We did the usual laundry and washing up as soon as we checked in and had a short siesta. With the cold aircon, we were out like a light for a much needed rest. This didn't lasted long as there was much to explore and we decided to walk. First thing first and a must do is to explore the Old Town, particularly Nang Ngam Road, where there are many Sino-Portuguese buildings built some 200 years when Songkhla was a great trading port. The revered City Pillar made in 1842 sits in a magnificent Chinese Temple.


Some what like Penang, there are many art murals depicting the ordinary life of people and they make for great photos. A great write up here.



We came across a curios shop too which caught our attention because it was just fascinating and it had an old bicycle in it. KC had to say hi as well to a familiar friend.


One must do is to see the sunset at Blue Smile Cafe, rated the #1 place for a meal by TA. This Canadian owned place is full of character and colour and if you like art, this is a place to hang out. We were fortunate that being a Tuesday, it was quiet and we had our drinks right at the roof top! It was magical and our drinks at 70B, were beautifully made. It was special to see the sun go down behind the islands and the hills, with calm breezes and a darkening sky.



Dinner was taken at one of the oldest Chinese restaurant in Songkhla, and perhaps even Thailand. Tae Hiang Lew  turned out to be one of the best meals I've enjoyed this year. It is old school and feels like being teleported back to the 1940s or earlier. They serve simple Chinese Thai dishes and we ordered fried Mackeral with Thai basil, kailan with salted fish and a special omelette with mince pork that to our surprise, was seasoned with Worcester Sauce. I supposed this reflected the European influence in this region many years ago... This amazing meal with rice costs us only 300B or US$9!



It was good to stroll back to our hotel but not before exploring the explosion of night market stalls just outside Club Tree. Having dinner there is not a bad idea given the huge choice of food but we settled for desserts and found our favourite mango sticky rice as well as soy bean curd in ginger syrup.



All in, it has been worth every km for the overnight bus and bicycle ride to Songkhla! This town off the beaten track is not in the tourist radar yet and certainly worth more exploring, which we look forward to doing with Abang and Adek the next day!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

How far would you travel to buy a handlebar?

Dr Mike Khaw drooling and salivating over the original Jones H-Bar!


Having seen a Jones H-Bar on my friend Mike Khor's new Surly Troll, I have been rather smitten and the urge to get one seems to be growing. However, it is quite expensive and sells for S$200 and because it is too long for me, I would have to cut it shorter. When the Ergotec Space Bar was recommended to me, a quick research confirmed this was the bar for me. It sells for just 25% of the price of Jones Bar or 1250B and the smaller dimensions seem perfect for me.

Pic - Tyro Bike

Uncle John's Bike Shed has written a nice blog about the Space Bar here.

However, nobody seems to sell it in Singapore or Malaysia. Not even the renown tourer SK Lah who also runs the bicycle friendly hostel Tree in Lodge! After 3 days of searching and enquiring, I was elated when Tyro Bikes in Hat Yai responded that they stocked one and can order more if needed. This led to the perfect excuse to travel 1000km north to buy it and a hastily put together plan to visit the lovely coastal town of Songkhla as well. KC, my ever faithful cycling buddy, signed up for Mission Ergotec and we booked our bus for the 14 hr journey up north to the Land of Smiles.



The idea is to enjoy 2 nights in Songkhla, which itself is a fascinating town made up of a tapestry of Thai, Chinese, Malay cultures and sits between 2 seas. It used to be a coastal trading port where Arabs, Indian and Persian merchants did business and is historically rich. The Japanese Army also landed here in WW2 and began its invasion of the Peninsula all the way to Singapore so I look forward to discovering this historically rich town.

Pic from http://www.asienreisender.de

My friends tell me we are crazy to go all the way up just to get a handlebar but I now have a deeper understanding of why the famous touring website is called Crazy Guy on A Bike.

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Bike Friday Tikit - my foldy of choice thanks to its incredibly fast folding time, compact size for easing loading into the bus luggage and it rides well, very very well. It takes 2 Ortleib front packs on rear rack easily but I have learned to manage with just one.


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Reflections on finding something valuable after a long search...

This experience of hunting high and far for the illusive handlebar and eventually finding it, resulting in great joy reminded me of a similar story told in the Bible about a woman and her lost coin. The message is that God loves all of us so much and goes through great lengths to find us. 



Luke 15:8-10The Message (MSG)

The Story of the Lost Coin

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”

Wiki has the story here. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A great write up on the joys of bicycle touring

Definitely worth a read! Enjoyed this article  in the Straits Times today as it captures beautifully why we tour and don't mind busting our bums.

Pic from ST - My friend Ah Pek Biker

Check out his blog!

Malacca Chendol Ride - 300km




Winter is the time that I return back to Asia as I don't particularly like it when it gets below 5c and it is school holidays in Perth, where things slow down. Took this opportunity to organise an impromtu ride up to Malacca. The plan was originally to ride from Spore to Batu Pahat, then onward to historical Malacca over the weekend.

But the huge distance of 150km to BP would be rather exhausting for me as I have not trained and so I opted to leave one day earlier to break at Pontian, then meet the rest of the gang. George and KC decided to come along with me and we met at 740am at Kranji MRT station on Friday. Crossing the Causeway was a bit of a drama as I used the wrong booth on the Spore side. Note - only the extreme one on the left #1`can accommodate bicycles. The ride up to Pontian was easy enough but we had our first break at Hainam Kopitiam. As we approach Taman Perling, it poured cats and dogs. Our reward however, was a beautiful rainbow.


Another unexpected blessing was a car stopping for us and it happened to be Irene and her son of Khass Cycles. They wanted to know if we needed any help. Perhaps we looked like drown rats but we were fine. It was very nice of them.

Moving on, George went through a puddle and was not expecting a huge pot hole. This caused a pinch flat and he to stop to fix the puncture. We made it to Amin's for morning tea and continued on to Pekan Nanas where we went to a bike shop to get another tube. We arrived in Pontian relatively fresh as it was only 70km and the first thing we did was to have the famous Chendol.

Oikos Hotel, recommended to us by Chris, proved to be comfortable and bike friendly. We had a most amazing foot massage for RM$40 and enjoyed dinner by the seafront.

Day 2 Sat we had a Fishball noodle breakfast and set off to Nictar Farm, some 17km away near Pekan Nanas to meet up with Claudine, VT, Sue, Ying Chang, Berenda and Freddie. We had to wait as some were delayed crossing into JB from Spore due to the rains and traffic. So nice to see them finally as we waited at the coffee shop and together we continued on towards Batu Pahat. The ride was a bit hot but we all maintained a very good pace of 22-24km/h. Just 10km before reaching Batu Pahat, the touring legend Mike Khor appeared in his brand new Surly Troll. He had taken an earlier bus from KL to join us. When we hit Crystal Inn in BP, Berenda who rode from Tampines Spore on her Brompton clocked 177km!

Pic B

We ordered a lovely Chinese dinner and had a bit of a walk after that. What blew my mind was the local desserts, which was quite good and costs a grand total of RM15 for the 10 of us.

Our final ride to Malacca was "easy" as it was only about 100km. A highlight was meeting our new friend another famous tourer Acid Mustafa in Muar for lunch. Enjoyed sharing news and touring tid bits. I learned that he has double the bikes than I and that made me feel very happy! The ride to Malacca was very hot and an unexpected durian stop was most welcomed and invigorating.

Pic KC

We were very blessed as we approached Malacca to see a black Vellfire van stopping to meet us at our drink stop. Friends from Malacca, Siew Yung and KC Tay popped out beaming and welcoming us. What made this trip so special is the many friends we meet as we rode along. KC Tay hosted us to drinks along the beautiful Malacca River and that was most appreciated!

It was a bit of fiasco for those needing to go back that Sunday due to work commitments etc as only 2 bus tickets were available. Fortunately, Claudine and VT has a most amazing mother who was willing to drive down from KL to pick them up in Malacca, and drive them home to JB. She was even wanting them to have a leisurely dinner with us before setting off.

The rest of us 6 enjoyed staying at 3 Little Birds and sampled the delights at Jonker Street where we rewarded ourselves with magnificent Chendol desserts, some topped with durian.

All in, though this ride was a short weekend one, it was long distance wise and we had a most amazing time together. But more importantly, I discovered afresh what a lovely country Malaysia is for touring and am planning for the next long weekend ride - Malacca to Klang for BKT in late Sept.

Pic KC


Touring on the Bike Friday Pocket Sport


First time I took my wife's BF on a tour and this bike is fast! Was not sure if I could get used to drop bars but it proved comfortable. The Pocket was happy to cruise at about 25-28km/h and was in its element when it rode behind Freddy's road bike. To keep things light, I bought a Topeak Backloader 10L rear pack which proved to be more than enough for me.

And when it came to storing in the bus, it was as expected, much easier than a full size bike. Bike Friday rocks!