Leaving Penang

It’s that time again.

It’s the day before we set off. It’s the day that we do all the planning, washing and maintenance. Time to tweak all the little niggles, do an all-round spanner check on the bikes and grease the bits that should be greased.

About 830km (just over 500 miles) left before Singapore now and we’re pretty much just riding down the coastline.

Penang has been very interesting but it’s a bit like landing in Koh Samui and trying to understand Thailand, or landing in Las Vegas….you get my point.

I’m sure the clash and compromise of Islam, China & India here is normality to those that live here but after 3 days it still seems to jar to us. Is it any different from crossing Shaftesbury Ave in London though from Chinatown to eat in a Greek restaurant? As human beings, we normalise a lot of stuff fairly quickly.

It’s probably the Islamic element that’s the most alien to us. We are in one of the upmarket restaurants last night and a very apologetic waiter explained that as a Halal certified restaurant, there was no wine list. Whoops, my bad 😊

And it *was* my bad, it’s down to us to adjust and embrace or to leave.

But before we start talking about Malaysia, we should wrap up some thoughts on Thailand.

We said goodbye Thailand at the end of the year, you will always be our first love of South East Asia.

When travelling it’s difficult not to be seduced by the overt and sincere friendliness, the quality and complexity of the food, the general cost of living, the general quality of the roads and the proliferation of food and cooling stations, otherwise known as the 7-11 chain.

Our problems with ferries at Satun threw us together with another cycle tourer also heading to Langkawi. He is an Australian and we spoke about many things but I was particularly amused by the similarity of habits that we had all developed. In the 7-11 it was a long, slow shop to make the most of the ice-cold aircon as we shop for nuts, fruit, carbs and our favourite brand of iced tea.

Hotel arrival routines were also similar:

– Aircon on and look for the “super boost” button
– Sodden sweaty clothes dumped on the marble floor
– Legs akimbo and max airflow to the twins 💨🎾🎾


Cycle touring is hugely enriching and satisfying, but sexy it ain’t!

Back to Thailand; it would have been easy to get irritated with the ferry company at Satun for not being able to coordinate tickets for two legs of island hopping with the same company, and I was very tempted, but as soon as a long wait and an overnight stay on Langkawi was inevitable then I reminded myself that this is just the flipside of the same coin that gives us the genial laissez-faire that we enjoy so much here. You can’t have it all ways.

We love Thailand and if I had to make a decision today on where to live in South East Asia, it would be Thailand. But Vietnam excites us more at the moment and if you asked us about where we would rent for 6-12 months, then that would definitely be south Vietnam, somewhere close to Saigon, maybe Vung Tau.

Keep watching. Changes are afoot over the next 18-24 months.

Penang has given us time to reflect further on our life and desires.

Firstly, has this trip met expectations?

Nothing like what we expected and far, far exceeded what we thought we would experience. We’re in a sort of sensory overload.

Do we miss home?

No. Sort of. We miss family and friends. I’m missing golf & guitars and the thing we’re both missing the most is our own kitchen. We love to cook just for ourselves and tears of laughter dripping into a failed culinary experiment have been a constant joy in our 25 years together.

Have you coped ok physically?

Sort of. Undeniably we’ve got fitter and the hills have become gradually easier. But we are in our 50s and there are some bit of our bodies that we’re nursing. Knees particularly. It’s like “Hi knees, I want you to do relatively fuck-all for 50 years then I’m going to ask you to knock out ~4000km in one go.” No surprise really. Also, the soft fleshy delicate bits have taken a bit of a mauling. I won’t be indelicate and give details beyond saying that although your sex life doesn’t stop on a bike tour, it does take a different dimension.

Is perpetual cycle-touring for us?

Mixed. 4 months at a time is enough. We’re looking forward to this last 800km down through Malaysia but we’re also looking forward to it being the end of the trip. A different hotel every night is wearing and eating out every day is often a chore. The upsides of the experience far outweigh these elements, but some travel downtime is now needed. Going forward, I suspect extended periods of travel with periods of pause, wherever we are.

Singapore is now only 2 weeks ahead of us and it still seems a long way off. It still seems as distant as when we started even though we’re nearly 3000km closer. That’s hard to process in our heads.

Enough procrastination, the prosaic calls now and it’s time to finish off the preparations for tomorrow.

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