False starts and faulty parts

Having arrived in Melbourne I then flew directly to Malaysia.


Wait that's not right.

There was a glorious intervening year spent cycling in Australia and New Zealand and staying with my sister and her family in Sydney.

Have no fear hardy handful of readers. The pictures of that leg are uploaded and copious notes have been prepared. A poorly spelt overly loquacious account of those antipodean adventures will be enumerated here.

A sneaky peak of Tas, Nz and Gippsland

Just not right now. My sluggardly blogging output has left me so far behind that the entries risked becoming more memoir than travelogue.

So with a waft of my cyberJedi wrist while murmuring 'those were not the posts you were looking for' I invite you to join me as we touch down in steamy Kuala Lumpur at the tail end of the rainy season.

The departure from Sydney on a dark soggy morning after a fine Australia send off was tough. An emotional goodbye to Georgie and Charlie, my niece and nephew, conspired with a touching note from my sister to unman me. Handing over the bicycle at departures was a worryingly smooth and I found myself with that tense-stomached, cancerous-premonition feeling that I have contrived my means of travel and living to avoid.

A rashly booked, but cheap, flight from Sydney-KL had me arriving at 5pm. I was not cartwheeling in delight at the prospect of a 50k evening ride into a bustling alien city with little in the way of bicycle infrastructure.

Fortunately pre-trip online inquires into the best way to ride out of the airport put me in contact with Peter Yoong. A Chinese-Malay angel of a man who immediately offered to pick me up from the airport and host me. I was whisked me from KLIA and into the warm welcome of his home via an excellent evening dinner.

Eating Spicy Roti Chennai for breakfast the next morning with the man himself

[Yes. The plump and pasty individual with the extra 6 inches of hair is moi. Six months as an indoor cat/couch potato/part time manny and aspiring agraphobe with the appetite of  long distance touring cyclist had taken its toll. Peter expressed his surprise at meeting a motorbike gang member rather than a cyclist]

These encouraging beginnings were tarnished when we came to compare bicycles. Peter's gleaming Surly (awaiting the start of his own responsibility delayed tour to Thailand - and perhaps beyond.) was a geometrically precise standard against which the effects of AirAsia's baggage handlers rough treatment stood out harshly.
It felt violated. Like someone had kicked my pet*

It took me some time to regain composure. After a period of mourning and doubt I got things in perspective. It was nasty ding no doubt, the frames integrity may be compromised over the medium term, but it wouldn't prevent me completing my journey.

This set back was followed by some sure footed strides forward. Peter drove me into the the capital to find a nondescript hotel where internet rumor suggested a Myanmar visa service might be housed.
Returning at the end of the day I emerged the proud owner of a Burmese Visa.

Bureaucracy traversed with gratifying ease Peter set about showing me Kuala Lumpur.

The origins of the name probably mean muddy confluence, describing the swampy spot where the Sungei Gombak and Sungei Klang rivers meet. Just over 150 years ago it quite simply didn't exist. Thirty years later it had been made the capital of Selangor as the a Chinese led tin mining boom erupted and KL's rise to international metropolis began.
Above: The confluence. Below the Sultan Abdul Samad Clocktower at Independence Square 
- former centre of Malay government

The humble beginnings can still just about be discerned in the now corralled rivers dwarfed by the architectural profusion. This relationship seems emblematic of a city where the present explosive growth and global hyper-capitalist future seem to dominate the past.

The icon of this new Malaysia are the twin gleams of the undeniably impressive Petronas towers. Formerly the worlds tallest building and source of considerable local pride.

Relics  of a previous age, like the Royal Selangor club incongruous in its mock tudor splendor, peek out from under the skirt of Kuala Lumpur's breakneck modernity. Elsewhere graffiti provides an outlet for those less enamored by the rapid change.

Peter took me on a fascinating wander with special attention paid to the Chinese market. The area really comes alive in the evening of a Pasar Malam but the streets bustled even at this early hour.

And not just with gweilo like myself

To appreciate how lucky (and full after all the street-food stands)  I was to have Peter as my guide you can watch him do his thing in this lovely video from the nice people at dontstayput.com

Apparently this district has lost some of its vibrancy over the last decade succumbing to touristification as the food stalls were replaced by souvenirs and handicrafts. But someone forgot to tell the gents gutting fish guts and throttling chickens. 

They were not throttled in vain as Peter continued my whirlwind introduction to Malaysia's diverse cuisine with a chicken feet lunch - think a plate of cold gristly squid - served with a tasty spicy sauce.

As we ate we discussed his youth as a graphic artist in KL, the ubiquity and flexibility of the word la in the Malay vernacular and how a single four word sentence in Malaysia can contain words from four different languages.

Next stop, Batu Caves. A natural limestone formation to the north that has become a holy place for the Tamil infused Hinduism of peninsular Malaysia.

With Thaipusam only a few days away the place was gearing up for the thousand of pilgrims who would flock up the imposing stairway. 
The seriously big statue of Lord Murugan, God of Tamils and War, son of Shiva and Parvati is an imposing presence outside the entrance.

A 21 year old Juliet Boughton (mum) had graced these same steps up into Batu Caves during her year in Singapore and Malaysia
Note the five legged cow she photographed on her visit. 

When mum came just reaching the small kampong at the foot of the ascent took some doing. Peter went further and described his childhood journey by boat followed by a days hike through the jungle.
The lurid colours of the peeling concrete steps provides the perfect spot for jaded long tailed macaques to plot hit and runs on unwary visitors flaunting rules against bringing food into the caves.

Now a motorway overpass and train links disgorge sightseers like me at the base of the limestone monolith. Housing development began in the 70's but it is only in the last decade that the capitals urban sprawl has overwhelmed the village transforming Batu's surrounds into a concrete playground.

No longer a world away the sheer echoing size of the cave retains the capacity to thrill; railway concourse style interior development not withstanding. Necks crane and eyes are lifted upwards as people emerge from the echoing gloom of the towering Temple Cave into the glorious open air bowl of the back chamber. Light and water hewn stalactites draped in glorious greenery pour downwards to meet their gaze.

A sacred place.
A tarnished place.

Impossible perhaps not to feel a sense of loss. The heart flutters rather than soars, brought back down with a bump by the crass concreting and not quite joyful enough paint job which mars the bottom three meters of the chambers.

Centuries of water erosion to the limestone form has shaped the beauty but the resulting magnificence has been eroded by efforts to tame it. 
I refused to linger on the desecration inflicted here by man's children; religion and commerce. I kept my eyes upturned. The better to imagine the awe felt by those intrepid, lucky, individuals who first stumbled upon this place. So obviously hallowed without, and now inspite, of human veneration.

Now broiling in the mid day heat Peter and I retreated to the entrance of the Dark Cave. Encouragingly, efforts to develop the Dark Cave along the same lines as the Temple Cave have been resisted and the delicate ecosystem has been left untrampled. The natural air conditioning of a million tonnes of rock providing a sublime breeze in which to luxuriate while watching the macaques shenanigans.

Pao, congealed rice, banana leaf curry, pig trotter broth and plenty more besides.

A blur of hospitality followed: Great food, convivial conversation and excited route planning - pouring and purring over the wonderfully detailed government maps Peter had procured from the ministry.

All too soon it was time to bid Alice and family farewell and accompany Peter to Kuala Selangor. He would join a bird watching course, I would  begin my ride by tracing the course of the river Selangor from the coast through to its source in the central range.

Traversing the typical fishing village jetties south of Selangor as we sought potential routes for future bicycle tour groups that Peter plans to lead.

Catching a first glimpse of the Malacca Straights

An admirably spartan A-frame at the nature park provided a lovely base from which to explore the natural abundance of the Mangroves before my departure.

Best known for its birds, Kuala Selangor is ideally situated to witness the raptor migration across the straights from Sumatra. Alas I was a few months too late for that but wandering with Peter and his fellow nature guides I caught glimpses of Orioles, Little Herons and a Sunda woodpecker. Sundry Kingfishers, weaver birds and a whirling mass of high altitude oriental Honey Buzzards.

I love our avian friends as much as the next man but binocular-less I found myself distracted by smaller scale fauna on display much to the polite disinterest of the birders around me.
Insects abounded, not least the unpicured mosquitoes, but even the appearance of a full grown monitor lizard failed to infect the birders with my enthusiasm for the terrestrial.
Surely even the most one-eyed of twitchers couldn't deny the right to admiration of this so-far unidentified insect who visited my bicycle.
The wander through the mangroves continued to enchant as mudskippers posed like some evolutionary monument to the moment our bold ancestors dragged themselves out of the water.
Even the route itself held a fairy tale quality 
(Though the gloom and eerie holes in the mud ensured it was more Grimm's than Disney's)
Long-Tailed Macaques rampaged where they pleased and at one point threatened to overrun my A-Frame abode. Little did they know that this wasn't my first rodeo. My skills having been honed on the banks of the Rhine many moon ago. [See 16th pic down] Some King Kong style posturing soon had the dominant male looking for other less oddly patrolled accommodation.

These intense looking  Langur faces belong to the larger Silver Leaf Monkeys. Restricted to the increasingly encroached upon mangroves the Silverleafs, unlike their adaptable macaque cousins, are struggling generally but thankfully thrive here.

Then the time for me to get underway had arrived. One pre-dawn breakfast with Peter later I was heading east again. A cool morning, a gentle breeze, and swift early progress.

Were an aspiring horror movie director to deem the mangrove trails insufficiently creepy the frequent bird nest soup houses would surely pique interest. Loud speakers incessantly blast the twittering chatter of swallows the better to entice them to these windowless concrete compounds. A brave new world for the unwary avian.

New sights, new sounds. It felt good to be back on the road. Out of condition I might be but the turning of pedals is now almost as familiar to my body as breathing. I felt strong.

Forty kilometers covered in two hours was a creditable beginning as the heat of the rising sun began to seep into the palm oil plantation surroundings.


My right pedal suddenly felt loose. I pulled over to examine my cleat supposing that it might have come off.

Things appeared in order so I continued on my way for perhaps another 50m

Clunk.. Thunk.

Well shit.

The pedal had fallen out of the crank. Closer inspection revealed that it had sheared the threading. (It would later emerge that refitting my pedals with pliers rather than a spanner post-plane had left it insufficiently tight.) Attempts at side of the road repairs were quickly unmasked for the hopeless tasks they were.

I had a sit down - head in hands. After five minutes I had successfully rid myself of the excess frustration and decided to head back towards Bastari Jaya, the last town and bike shop I'd passed. 

What a lot of people won't tell you is that cycling one legged is a fucking nightmare.

10 kilometers and a lot of wobbly swearing later I rolled up at the bike shop to find them amused and helpful but lacking the necessary tools/parts to make the repair.

So it was that I manned up and cycled the further 30k back to Kuala Selangor. Thank goodness it was flat.

I rejoined Peter who still had a day left of his course. With the pragmatic generosity that I had come to expect of the man he immediately offered to take me, and the now crippled bicycle, back to KL for repairs. Fortunately this didn't take long and a day later the friendly guys at Basikal Akmal returned a healed steed. Peter and I took her for a a run out round the shinny newly built administrative capital of Malaysia.
A Nice big lake. Grand government buildings and public spaces. Putrajaya is difficult not to like but hard to love perhaps. Inevitably a newly built capital will lack the human history and shared experiences which imbue places with meaning and will thus feel a mite superficial and dare I say it soulless.
But there was something charming here. The mosque was impressive but more strikingly than that was the expansive main square. It was being used. Thaipusam had arrived and families thronged, children raced and young couples walked and tittered in the evening cool on the steps of Prime Ministers residence. The vibrant scene bore a sharp contrast to the newly depopulated Parliament Square in London. Putrajaya may lack history but my initial accusation of soullessness was wide of the mark.

* To date my numerous email to AirAsia have not been responded.


  1. Especially thrilling reading this after 40 years when I visited so many of these wonderful Malaysian places - not by bike I hasten to add but by public transport! Juliet x

  2. Good sharing, Dark Cave is biologically one of the best examples of a tropical Southeast Asian cave. It is a natural heritage site of tremendous scientific and conservation value. Dark Cave Conservation site is a show-cave dedicated for education, research and eco-tourism. See detail visit: