Thursday, October 6, 2016

EWAR Day 1 - The long bus ride north to Kota Bharu, then a short 48km cycle to Tanah Merah.


Pics KC

There are basically 3 options to get to the NE town of Malaysia, 737km from Singapore. To fly - but that means going to Senai Airport in Johor and is pretty troublesome taking public transport with a boxed bicycle. The 2nd is to take the overnight train from JB Sentral via the Jungle Railway and this is a arduous 16 hour journey on a sleeper. That was my preferred option however, only upper bunks were available and that gives me claustrophobia as it was window-less. The 3rd was a Transnational overnight 11 hr coach from Beach Road Singapore at about S$38, which was our choice.

It was really nice to have dinner with Papa Mike and YC before I cycled to meet KC at The Plaza @ Beach Road where our coach was to leave. Turned out that we were the only 2 passengers in the bus and we left 30 mins before schedule. Reaching the Causeway at 730pm with the daily rush hour traffic, we took 1.5 hrs to clear and arrived at Larkin Bus Terminal in JB where we had to change to another bus. Fortunately, this was a newer and more luxurious bus and our foldies could not be happier to ride comfortably in the belly.

We had seats just at the back of the driver which gave a spectacular view, and as the bus began its long journey up the East Coast of Malaysia, we fell asleep in no time. It stopped every now and then to drop off passengers but what fascinated me was an early morning break at a mosque in Kampong Anak Ikan. The driver spent 20 mins inside for his unannounced morning prayers and nobody complained.

When the sun finally peeked out, we were at the outskirts of Kota Bahru and felt very pleased to disembark at the bus station after 11 hours. As we unfolded our Fridays, a curious small crowd gathered for the morning entertainment. It was off for a delicious Kelantan breakkie at a local eatery and we were blown away at the multitude of delicious dishes. Unbelievably, it only costs S$1 each for our rice and curries.

Second order of the day was to buy a tent but the shops opened only at 10am. As I am a war history buff, the Kelantan War Museum looked promising on Tripadvisor as the Japanese landed here in 1941 before making their way south to capture Singapore. When we arrived at the GPS spot, the whole museum seemed to have been demolished, making way for some new building project. Perhaps we were at the wrong location and that still puzzles me...

We were told to check out the camping section at Giant Supermarket but what was on offer turned out unsuitable. After a quick shower, it was off to a nearby camping shop and we got a 1.8kg tent for a reasonable 80RM. Our parked Fridays attracted an Englishman who owned a Brompton and he came in to say hi. We found that he also owned an impressive Tern X18 and it is always so nice to meet a fellow foldie!

It was an easy 48km as we head south along the river towards Tanah Merah. What fascinates in KB are the many beautiful mosques and how ingrained Islam is everywhere. A recent 2014 tourism cultural push is to market it as the Islamic City of KB. When I was here some 30 years ago, it looked like any other Malaysian town.


The ride itself was easy as the terrain was absolutely flat. With the sun blazing away, it was hard for me to get used to it and we stopped every 15km or so to take shelter in the petrol stations for cold drinks and cold aircon. It was obvious that KC was fairing the heat much better than me as I looked like a drowned rat.

There is no shortage of drink stops along this route so that is good to know if you are planning a ride here. I could not believe my eyes when I thought I saw a Starbucks Cafe just by the road, right here in the boonies but as it turned out, it was actually StarBung and that literally got KC to fall off his chair/saddle! So much for copyrights....

The worse time to ride is between noon to 2pm here in the tropics and I was getting a migraine. Seeing the Tanah Merah sign finally appearing before my eyes brought a big smile and we were getting hungry.

Looking around for lunch as we whizzed by some eateries, the promise of Nasi Briyani
POWER stopped us in our our tracks. Power is what we want and needed and the Chicken Briyani I ordered turned out to be quite good even though the chicken looked really scrawny.


Our hotel was the brand new Humaira, purported to be owned by some Malaysian Royalty and at 157RM per night, it did not disappoint. The rooms were very comfortable, very modern and most importantly, bike friendly. It was worth "splurging" as we wanted a good night sleep after the long bus ride.

After a shower and a short sleep, we were ready to explore the hamlet of Tanah Merah. Our hotel is just a stone's throw from the railway station and I would recommend getting off here instead of going to KB if you want to attempt the East West Highway.

We had a simple local dinner which was delicious. Being so close to the Thai border, the influence on the food here is keenly felt and our Tomyam soup, veggies and Thai omelette was very satisfying. It was a mere 22RM for the 2 of us and compared to JB, the prices are truly inexpensive.

I could not resist the smell of freshly grilled satays nearby and had had to order some as well. 6 sticks and it was only 4RM, and we were beginning to enjoy this very easy on our pocket tour. Walking back to our hotel, we stopped into a stylish modern aircon cafe for drinks and had our fill of freshly squeezed juices just to finish our evening wit some vitamin intake.


Reflecting at our long day, we can't believe we were actually up here in the North East of Malaysia and felt very excited at the start of our EWAR journey. Grateful too to God for the safety and good connections to arrive well. Sleep came easy and we could not wait for what is to come over the next few days.


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