Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Weekend Getaway to SE Johor Day 4 - Cruising home across the sea to Changi

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We had a great sleep at Sungei Rengit City Resort and woke up about 7am. Seems everyone was still in bed when we checked out and we cycled 1km to town in search of a suitable Breakkie. One advantage about Malaysian towns is that food is never a problem with Chinese, Malay or Indian fare always available. A good way of determining if the food is good is to simply observe if it's popular with the locals. This little eatery that we decided upon sold noodles and it was doing a roaring business, especially with takeaways by the Petrochemical workers on their way to work.

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While waiting for our breakfast, it was interesting to see so many Seniors on their bicycles fulfilling their morning exercise routines. If you don't already know, keeping active through exercise is the best way to grow old as it keeps you fit, healthy and alert. Look at some of these Seniors who I truly respect and admire.

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Our noodles did not disappoint as it came piping hot, filled with lots of ingredients and laced with the classic black soya sauce gravy. We enjoyed it thoroughly and was tempted to go for another bowl but we had 20+km to cycle to the jetty and cycling with a bloated tummy was not quite a good idea. I was pleased that WTM Guru Chris Wee commented that this eatery is right on top of his fav eats in Sungei Rengit.

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Many people have asked what time does the ferry leave from Penggerang to Changi and the answer is whenever it wants to. More precisely, it leaves when they have 12 passengers to fill the boat and when that is going to happen is anyone's guess. So we decided to try to be there at about 930am, to catch the first ferry.

In the pre-Petrochemical development days, the route to the jetty was a pretty 17km coastal ride through sleepy villages with nice detours on country roads with tall swaying lallangs. Here is an account on Crazyguyonabike of our ride in 2007, to give you an idea of how serene this route was.

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I have many precious memories and must have done this old route over 20 times and most memorable was when my 6 yr old son rode this whole distance with us. Little did I know that his bottom was really bruised black and blue no thanks to the cheapy Momoki child bike saddle. I still feel guilty about that to this day!  

However now, we need to cycle north along the highway to Kota Tinggi for about 6-7km before veering left for 15-17km, and that leads to the last 3 km of the old coastal route to Tg Pengelih - a total of about 22km if I remember correctly. Needless to say, the ride along this modern highway was rather boring and open. It was a good thing that we rode in the morning as the heat would be unbearable and oppressive at mid-day.

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I was very happy when this highway ended and I instantly recognised the old route. We passed the Naval Base and before we knew it, the familiar WW2 Machine Gun Bunkers came in sight. These formed part of the British Coastal Battery and similar ones are found in Sentosa Island, Singapore though there, they had a battery of huge guns. Sadly, they all pointed the wrong way as the Japanese Imperial Army came via from the North and not South from the sea. 

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When we entered the Immigration Building, it was quiet as a mouse and we knew that was bad news. The security guard, an old unshaven guy who looked like Desperate Dan of Beano comics (ok, I just revealed my age) was friendly and advised us it was to be a loooong wait. Why not go for some tea a at the Malay eatery down the road? He was very kind indeed and we obediently went.

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This eatery is just 50 m down the road from the Immigration Complex. 

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While we were having our tea, a worker decked in his overalls came to introduce himself looking so pleased to see us. Apparently, Shah is a tourer himself and had noticed our bicycles with pannier and all. He was having his tea break and is presently working in the Petrochemical development. It was good that he also knew our friend from Muar, Datuk Acid Mustafa (the famous Malaysian tourer who has 25 bicycles at the last count) who he considered his Sifu (master). Shah recommended we try touring a lake near Phatthalung in Southern Thailand.

We had to wait nearly 3 hours before the 12 people quota that was needed to fill the bumboat was fulfilled. Salvation came when a Chinese family appeared in a car and all of a sudden, it was all systems go. Passport details were filled up by the boatman and before we knew it, it was time to clear immigration. We were so happy to be finally moving again.

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The boat fare was a reasonable 30RM or 35RM (can't quite remember) for one person plus bicycle. KC and I settled behind and got comfortable. We secured our bicycles with rope to the boat railings and felt really happy and grateful to finally be going home. 

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One key advantage of taking the breezy boat back to Changi is how easy and smooth this is compared to fighting it out with motorcycles at Woodlands Causeway breathing polluted air. For sure, this is definitely the better alternative to coming home. 

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Reaching Changi, we cleared immigration and headed to the Hawker Center where we enjoyed a nice Duck Rice lunch. I was really blessed to catch a MTBiker who had just finished cycling Pulau Ubin. He was driving a Grab MPV and was willing to send me and my bicycle home for S$15 as lived in the next suburb. One of many small acts of love from a loving Heavenly Father!

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Reflecting back on this mini-loop, I was very grateful that my buddy George Kee could cycle up with us to Kota Tinggi and restore his confidence back on the bicycle after his head injury. It was also a ride that brought me many happy memories as I used to tour this region very often 10-15 years ago with my family and friends. We used to stop at Ah Ma's (my wife's cousin's Grandma) house 6km before town and she would receive us ever so warmly! Though she has passed on, her poor family would have to move because of this development. Not easy after living all your life on a quiet spot by the sea. Felt a little sad that sleepy Sungei Rengit and its surroundings will be forever changed due to industrial and economic forces but that's life - and the price to pay for progress.

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This route is truly one of the better weekend escapes for Singaporean cyclists and I would certainly recommend it.  Although we took it easy and covered it in 3 nights, it can be done in 2 with the first night at Sedili Kechil. 

Hope you can discover this beautiful ride for yourself soon! 

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Weekend Getaway to SE Johor Day 3 - Coasting in the wet to Sungei Rengit

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We slept through heavy rains and thankfully woke up with lighter rains. It was to be a wet ride today - 67 km southwards to Sungei Rengit on the coast. 

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We had breakfast at about 9am which was a simple egg, sausage and toast Western breakfast. As the rain continued, we were not in a big hurry to leave and we took our time.

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Just as I was about to head off, I had a rear flat tire which was very annoying. My experience with these Primo Comet tires have been excellent so far when it comes to speed but they are not meant for touring. Punctures seem a natural occurrence with such light road tires almost like having to top up your water bottle! New Marathon Plus have been ordered.

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Setting off in the rain was most refreshing. We stopped at a bridge for a photo and then pressed on 35km to Tg Balau along some beautiful undulating roads. I always enjoy riding in the rain and have organised tours particularly in Aug in Thailand as riding in the wet is so special.

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One thing that is very needful are a good set of mudguards so that the muck and grime kicked up from the spinning tires are contained. Unfortunately, my rear mudguard was not long enough and it got my back a bit wet.

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KC and I spun at a very good clip and we managed this stretch in 1.5 hrs despite the hills, some rather challenging. As we pulled into Tg Balau, the rain was still falling but it did not dampen our spirits one bit. Tg Balau is just about 7km north from Desaru and has a decent beach. Despite the wet weather, many local families were picnicking there, undeterred much to my amazement.

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We stopped at the Tg Balau Beach Resort and a room there was about RM200 which was reasonable as it seemed to be a fully fledged resort with swimming pool, restaurants etc and was buzzing with people. Despite the rain, we enjoyed our lunch of a simple Mee Goreng and Nasi Goreng at a food court, washed down with hot tea.

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The next stretch to Sungei Rengit town was a mere 30km but we still have to battle the famous Desaru rolling hills. I have had to struggle through these before especially when the sun was blazing but this time, we seem to just cruise over them thanks to the cool weather with intermittent rain. When we arrived at the turnoff to Batu Layar, we veered towards the coast and was rewarded with the most beautiful scenery.

KC and I spend time with the famous black rocks and I had a drink at Batu Layar Beach Resort Cafe while waiting for him. At this point of the coast, the wind was howling non stop and my parked bicycle was covered with very fine sea spray - not good for a steel framed bike! KC took forever taking photos but I didn't mind one bit as I was happy munching on my crackers.

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Continuing down southwards, we had to go back to the highway for 3km - 4km or so before being able to turn inwards towards the coast again. This route brings back memories for me as I used to stay at Tg Ramunia Resort which sits in a beautiful private cove. We hung around for awhile and met up with the owners who told us that one night in a chalet with the sea literally 20m in front of it will be RM120 per night.

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After shooting too many photos, we continued on Hway 90, an easy 9km towards Sungei Rengit town and passed by a sign "Kg Simon". I'm always fascinated with this as it reminds me of my best friend Simon. We stopped at a stall selling deep fried snacks and we had a donut and a curry puff each. Total bill was RM2 - now this is definitely for the locals.

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As we were riding into town, I spotted a motorcycle wash and stopped to ask if they could give our dirty bikes a good spray. The kind boys did it and was not expecting any payment. We pressed RM5 to them gratefully and they were pleased, and so were we.

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We looked at a couple of hotels in town and what struck me was how this sleepy town is thriving! New restaurants and hotels everywhere with so many people thanks to the new Petrochemical Park that is being developed.

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All the hotels we used to stay Hiap Hwa Hotel etc had seen better days and as we cycled around, we spotted the brand new Sungei Rengit City Resort.

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Being the newest, there were quite a few long stayers - Koreans and other nationalities who were working nearby. The manager was kind to let us see a most suitable room and we settled there happily. They were also bike friendly which was most important. KC wasted no time to set up the laundry line!

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We enjoyed dinner at Beautiful Village Seafood, owned by a distant relative of my wife and the food was excellent. Prices were reasonable so long as you avoid lobsters and fish.  After dinner, we enjoyed a nice Thai foot massage at a very new and glitzy Loy Krathong Spa.

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It was nice to have our legs attended too after a long ride and when we were done, it was drizzling lightly. A quick ride to have the obligatory Teh Tarik made for a perfect end to a long day. Even at 10pm, this eatery was buzzing with people.

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As we cycled back to our hotel, fire crackers just opposite the entrance started and it reminded of the good old days when I was a young boy. This being the tail end of Chinese New Year, I supposed the family was making full use of the festivities to fire their biggest and best for good luck.

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Thankfully this stopped after 30 mins and we could sleep in peace. It was wonderful to be in Sungei Rengit after an absence of 5 years and how things have changed indeed.