Leaving KL was like drinking tea from a chocolate mug – hot and messy. Negotiating yet more packed motorways in the humid conditions eventually brought me out to exactly the same place I had entered the city a few days earlier. After an hour weaving through traffic, I found myself riding a small road into the hills. The lane snaked upwards under the cover of a tree canopy, and was almost quiet but for the hum expensive carbon bikes zipping down the road next to me. There were some serious toys on show – enough to give me plenty of bike envy.
I was drawing quite a few funny looks followed by thumbs up’s and waves from the roadie’s finishing off their Sunday cycle as I began to near the top. The whole thing was only 600m tall, but still easily high enough to draw out a few pints of sweat and long enough to get stuck into a good audiobook. At this time, I was listening to Bear Grylls talking about SAS training, which put my morning foray into perspective. It wouldn’t have been my first-choice book, but I found myself drawn into to his crazy tales and was laughing my head off around one corner, when he casually dropped in that James Blunt used to be in the forces. Apparently they would strap his guitar to the outside of the tank, clearly he wasn’t much of a hit back then. Well If ‘Blunty’ was really a hard man in a previous life, I felt I could at least put in a good shift through the heat of the day, perhaps even humming ‘You’re beautiful’ as I went.
The day was sweaty but fairly uneventful, in the evening I pulled up in a small village where I asked to sleep on the floor of a mosque. The place had a cold tiled floor and large fans overhead – basically the dream spot for any happy camper in this heat. The people there were more than happy for me to stay the night, so I was to come back after their final prayer at 10 where the cold floor would all be mine. After a few conversations explaining what I was doing cycling through their small village, I set up a small nest for the night before putting my head down. About half an hour later I heard someone washing their hands nearby, a man then walked directly towards me across the floor. Figuring he was a man of the mosque, maybe putting in an extra prayer before bed, I got up to greet him and make my presence less of a surprise. He walked straight past me without any acknowledgement and sat down just opposite my spot.
Stationed 6-feet away, a glowing red ember of a lit cigarette was the only thing I could see of him. He just sat and stared blankly at me, completely unfazed that there was another person here. I was less than happy at the addition of company (I’m a solo cyclist after-all) and after 10 minutes of this bizarre silent staring face-off, I conceded my ground. With my belongings moved around the corner and over to far side of the floor, he then proceeded to take up my old spot, meaning he could now see around the corner. Once again I was being watched – brilliant.
Slightly concerned this might all go south, I stationed myself against a wall, tucked my valuables away in the pannier I was using as a pillow, and kept a beady eye on the lookout. It turned out to all be for nothing, as, after a slightly uneasy hour of continual staring, he rolled himself in the carpet on the floor and conked out. I managed to get few winks before the first call to prayer began to ring out at 5am.
My strange staring adversity was still cocooned in his blue carpet on the far side as everyone walked past him into the mosque without paying any attention. It seemed they were all familiar with this stunt, later informing me that he was a homeless man struggling with a booze problem who often lodges here. Cheers for giving me the heads-up lads…
Back on the bike, things quickly heated up as the daily inferno of the Malaysian climate returned to its full force. It was somewhat comforting to hear the locals themselves were struggling with the heat, but they were all sensibly tucked into air-conditioned rooms. I was left to sweat it out, now cycling hard to reach what I hoped would be a brisk sea breeze on the eastern beach fronts. I neared the fabled coast as the darkness fell, falling back to another trusty mosque floor for that night’s sleep. It was the first day of Ramadan, and the mosque had organised a hearty meal for everyone which they kindly invited me to join. A few hours sleep was bookended by the late meal and the inevitable early call to prayer.
After waiting for the sun to rise I set off down the road towards the coast where I stopped at a beach shack that night. The place is famous amongst the cycle touring community, with the planks covered in scrawling’s from many riders gone by. I recognised the names of lots of the people there, many of them I had been following their journeys through social media for over a year now. It’s funny how you often chat to these people and consider yourself friends without having ever met them.
The little shack was set up in a beautiful spot on a private beach. After adding my name to the list of tourers, I sat about watching an incredible sunset over the sea. After enduring a horrible night’s attempted sleep in the oppressive 30-degree heat, I came to the decision that I was no longer going to camp on my way down to Singapore. I had already been accepted to stay in one more couchsurf, meaning I would only have to pay for one night between reaching the continent’s most southern mainland city. It turned out to be the right decision. I could ride the following day happily thinking of all that sleep I was going to enjoy that night.
The road finally started following the coastline; stunning white sandy beaches giving way to picture perfect blue water. It was nice to stop for a swim and to read a book for a few hours in the afternoon before rolling onwards to small town of Mersing. I had a cheap hostel bed waiting for me there, where I turned out to be the only guest for the night. The sleep was an absolute godsend, and I was looking forward to the next night, where I was due to stay with ‘Bob’. Bob lived just shy of 100km’s away. It had been a while since my last couchsurf, and it seemed fitting to have my last night ‘on the road’ in Asia at a warmshowers.
It was hot slog of a ride over to Bob’s. Hours of rolling hills and an accidental excursion through a forest track later, I’d arrived at his village. A large guy on a comically small moped pulled alongside, asking where I was going. All I could tell him was that I was riding to Bob’s place, at that, he signalled to follow him before leading me down some small lanes in what felt like the right direction. A few minutes later and sure enough, there was Bob. Nestled in a lovely casita surrounded by a crazy garden, containing a small waterfall, a boat, and a what looks like a castle moat full of huge fish. The place felt like some crazy wonderland.
Over dinner it transpired that Bob had two wives, 29 fighting fish and four geese. The wives lived in separate houses about an hour from here and he chuckled that the key having them get on was threatening to marry a third if they didn’t. Quite the character, I was interested in finding out more about him, so when Bob suggested staying on for a few more days, I gladly accepted. For the next three days I spent mornings reading down on a beautiful empty beach, before having lunch with Bob. A bit of Karaoke in the afternoons consisted of belting out the Beatles classics, and after that, dinner would never be too far away. Cycling out of his drive for the last time, I was genuinely sad to leave. This was to be my last day’s cycling in Asia and Eurasia for that matter, and it felt right to be starting it from a couchsurf.
Riding out towards Singapore, I could reflect on all the lovely people I’ve stayed with on this continent. A lot of them I’m still in touch with now, and even for those who I’m not, their individual kindness and stories have all had an influence on me. I look forward to having cyclists stay with me in the future, wherever that may be. I’m sure I’ll recount my glory days, cycling into Singapore in the crazy heat, amongst crazy traffic, they’ll nod along, eagerly awaiting the same hearty meal that I’ll have been served many times. From the outside, it can seem like a one-way street – someone gets something for nothing – whilst the host pay’s the price, yet I’m sure that when some sodden cyclists arrive on my doorstep, it will stir that adventurous feeling I first got when knocking on a stranger’s door. That door which led to many others, to here, mere miles from the metropolitan epicentre of Asia.
To reach the bridge I needed to negotiate what was turning out to be a horrible series of flyovers and turnoffs. Riding the hard shoulder of what grew to be a 5-lane motorway, I would have to cross 3-lanes of traffic turning left to keep going straight on towards Singapore. It was carnage. At one point I came a foot away from being nailed by a white people carrier, easily the closest I’ve come to being killed on this trip. At least let me reach Singapore first mate!
Some faffing around with border guards and a long queue to pass through the Singapore side later, I could finally ride the clean streets of Singapore that I’d heard so much about since setting off. Even a large downpour couldn’t dampen the mood as I hid away in the first subway I’d seen since leaving home. Everything here still felt slightly English, if not slightly more preppy. I rode past a school where kids in pristine uniforms emerged from a door beneath a sign telling them to ‘aim high’. The whole place felt like some strange utopia. I didn’t care however, this utopia meant I had cycled the whole of Asia. From the protests in downtown Tbilisi, the arid plains and high mountains of central Asia, the bizarre western reaches of China to the chaos of India, the backpackers met in South east Asia and the empty Malaysian beaches, it all ended here.
That afternoon I was due to meet Clare, a friend of a friend of the family. She would let me in to an apartment where I was to stay for the next 10 days. The plan was to explore the city, venture out onto the closest Indonesian islands and relax before what I knew was to be a big next leg of the trip. Over the next few days I had an unexpected visit from my Dad, we caught up over a few celebratory beers on the Marina Bay Sands building before the obligatory Singapore Sling at Raffles. We rented him out a shiny town bike and proceeded to spend the day dirtying the chrome riding over the uneven Indonesian roads. It was a different world to Singapore, which you could still see over the water. We rolled around a coastal road, stopping at a beautiful wooden hut for lunch before taking the ferry back to the city. It was great to see him over here and to explore another place together (we cycled together through Pakistan 9 months ago now). It was nowhere near as crazy at last time, yet we had a great day exploring the small island of Batam.
The next day, Jo, whose apartment I had been staying whilst she was away, was throwing a party for her work colleagues. It was one of those memorable nights where you think, ’how the hell did I end up here?’ A suitable send off to crazy continent. It was now time to box up the bike and head to the airport, Perth is only 5 hours away. After admiring Singapore’s automated cleaning robot and having to repack my bike box in the oversized bag check-in (purchasing 40kg means no one item can weigh 40kg – brilliant) I was ready to reach my third continent – bring on Australia.