Singapore…and the end of Asia

17 October 2019

Friday 11 October,  Malacca to Batu Pahat. 99km. 

We were fortunate to have a 24-hour cafe across the road from our accommodation in Malacca, so we could have a hot breakfast before getting on the road today.  Fuelled up with tasty egg paratha and tea …..

 

…we set off at 7am for what we knew would be a long day.  (By the way, those are “clean” clothes I am wearing!)

We were staying on the right side of town so getting out wasn’t too difficult, and although we were on a fairly main road it wasn’t too bad traffic-wise.  But it was hot! For most of the journey we had hot sunshine, temperatures in the mid-30s, humidity in the high 80s and very little shade, so it was hard going.  But being Friday we had lots of cheery hellos and waves from the many Muslim men sitting in cafes, drinking tea and chewing the fat, which broke the monotony of what seemed like a very long day in the saddle!

The last 25km gave us some respite from the sun as we had a lovely tree-lined route almost right into Batu Pahat, our final destination.

 

Nothing too exciting to report about the town itself…and it was the usual check-in, snooze and dinner routine.

Saturday 12 October. Batu Pahat to Pontian Kechil. 75km

Much the same as yesterday it was hot, sweaty cycling on a not-very-exciting road so it felt much longer than the 75km we covered and it was much busier than yesterday. For the earlier part of the journey we had some shade from trees along the road but the last 20km were pretty tough as there was nothing except the sun beating down right above us.  As we are now very close to the equator (south of 002N) the sun is literally right on top of us! We reached Pontian Kechil, by the sea, around 11.45am and when we saw that we had to go up steps to get to our hotel reception our hearts sank.  Not only would it mean carrying all our luggage up stairs but it was also possible that we wouldn’t be able to keep our bikes inside because it was too small. Not at all!  The hotel staff, as it’s always been in Malaysia, were amazing, letting us check in early and carry our bikes into our very spacious room with a balcony, and there weren’t as many steps as we had initially feared so it wasn’t all that bad.  Usual story of lunch and snooze and staying out of the heat for a few hours.  But being by the sea we decided to take a nice walk before dinner to see loads of locals out there fishing….

 

….followed by a lovely meal overlooking the sea.  A very enjoyable way to round off our time in Malaysia.

Sunday 13 October.  Pontian Kechil to Singapore.  99km.

We set off in the dark as we knew today would be a long one and we wanted to give ourselves as much time as possible to get to the border early. Surprisingly for a Sunday, the road was busy from the start – even at 6.30am, and the drivers were going so much faster than we had been used to in the rest of the country.  We were aiming to cross into Singapore at the most southernly bridge as we figure the E-road on the bridge would be less busy than the main causeway which was an AH (Asian Highway) road. We have also had experience of not being allowed on AH roads before.  About 20km into our ride we saw a sign that said no bikes on the E-road.  Aaaaagh, what to do??! We decided to go for it, but a few kilometres down the road we had second thoughts and texted SK, our cycling friend in Singapore, to ask his advice.  Good job we did, because we weren’t allowed on that road or to cross into Singapore there, so we had to double back on ourselves and head for the main causeway, adding about 20km to our day.  It wasn’t the nicest of roads with the traffic really speeding along, and what was very disconcerting was there were no signs directing us to “Singapore”.  Only for the fact that SK has mentioned that we should head for the “Woodlands” area when we arrived in Singapore gave us something to aim towards.  But we kept our heads down and before we knew it we were at the border. Getting out of Malaysia was a speedy, uncomplicated affair and took a matter of minutes, and then we were on the causeway crossing the narrow stretch of sea into Singapore!

Of all the land borders we have crossed, we expected Singapore to be one of the fastest and most efficient.  Disappointingly that wasn’t the case!  The border check area looked like a huge toll plaza rather than an international border crossing and we had to queue for 45 minutes in the searing heat to get through.  There was only one booth open for the manual processing for bikes and motorbikes and when it was finally our turn we realised we had to complete a form.  I am sure there was lots of eye-rolling and muttering behind us in the queue as bloody foreigners held up them all up for even longer, but our passports were stamped and then we were on our way through the last land border crossing of our trip! We were very disappointed that there wasn’t a ‘Welcome to Singapore’ sign at the border or even cheerleaders and a brass band to welcome us…!

We still had 30-40km to cover to get into the centre of town but the road SK had recommended to keep us off the expressway was very quiet so it was quite pleasant, especially as we passed a reservoir and a national park.  Our GPS hadn’t been picking up satellites over the last few days for some reason, so effectively it wasn’t working, and we didn’t have a local SIM card to use Google Maps so Nigel was practically navigating blind.  By the time it reached 2pm we were really starting to wilt….hungry, hot, sweaty and knackered.  But we ploughed on and by 2.45 we reached our Air BnB accommodation, which was a lovely big room in an apartment owned by Rambo (his English nick-name, which sort of sounds like his real Chinese name), who was there to meet us.  We were expecting to feel euphoric on reaching base and the end of our Asian cycling, but we were far too tired and hungry to feel much to be honest.  But after some food, a shower and snooze we were in better form and headed out for a celebratory burger and chips in a very bling-tastic shopping mall nearby. Although the price of the meal was definitely back on western territory, the greasy, finger-licking, calorific mass of meat and bread was absolutely worth every dollar.  One of the best burgers we have had!

 

Job done – Asia conquered and a few days ahead to enjoy the delights of a very well-ordered and western-feeling Singapore as well as prepare for our Australian flight on Thursday. We also remembered to apply online for our Australian visas today ….best not to forget those!

Monday 14 October to Wednesday 16 October.  Hanging Around in Singapore.

Our time in Singapore has been a mix of getting final bike repairs done, chores to prepare for Oz and our last horrah at being tourists in Asia.  Monday morning involved a great bicycle ride along the Marina taking in the Singapore’s great skyline and the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

 

We have both been to Singapore before and although we didn’t dislike it, we didn’t love it either as it felt a bit too clean and sterile, and therefore a bit soulless. But to be fair, on that visit we stayed in a typical tourist hotel in the downtown area and didn’t venture much beyond the tourist sites.  This visit has made us realise that there’s a lot more to “real” Singapore and we like it a lot!  And we’d have both noted that it’s the first place we have been on this trip (including London!) that actually seems “finished” …with no obvious construction work going on or visible cranes or scaffolding! The suburb where we are staying is only 5km from the downtown area but has lots of interesting food places full of locals. 74% of the population of Singapore is Chinese and that’s reflected in the food, which isn’t our favourite cuisine but we gave it a good go  – as well as some great Indian food.

We spent a very sweaty and exhausting 11 hours on Tuesday meticulously scrubbing our bikes, bags and gear in the hope that they pass customs inspection on arrival into Australia.  If they don’t, it won’t be for lack of effort on our parts!  And after all the cleaning we then had to pack everything.  Again no mean feat as it involved taking bikes apart and getting them to fit into boxes in a way that we can only hope they aren’t damaged in transit – literally was a full day of hard sweaty work!

On Wednesday we decided to enjoy Singapore so went to visit the Garden by the Bay, a fabulous nature park by the Marina Bay, with waterfront gardens and one of the largest glass greenhouses in the world.  And what a fab way to spend our last full day in Asia.  We absolutely loved it and spent hours just immersed in a wonderland of man made forest, flowers and sculptures right in the heart of the city.

 

 

 

But one of the main highlights of our visit was finally getting to meet SK Lah.  He’s a fellow cyclist who cycled from Finland to his home country of Singapore in 2004, and since then has become a valuable source of information for long-distance cyclists. We were put in touch with him in Europe by an Irish cyclist Will and have been in contact with him since. He has helped us with so much throughout Asia….putting us in touch with bike mechanics, other cyclists on our route, giving us visa advice, giving us his address to have bike parts and other post delivered, organising bike boxes to pack up for Oz, organising our maxi cab to the airport..he’s been an all-round good egg and it was brilliant to get to finally meet him in person and to spend our last evening in Asia with him. The three of us talked so much it’s a wonder we didn’t run out of breath…..!

 

Incidentally he told us that he knows of a few cyclists that tried to cross into Singapore  at the first border crossing we had been aiming for and were actually turned away by the Singaporean officials (so after exiting Malaysia) because bikes aren’t allowed on the road there. So glad that we got in touch with him to check before we got there as it would have meant a 40km turnaround to get to the main crossing.  He also said that a 45-minute wait at the border was actually quite good….other cyclists have been there for around 2 hours in similar heat to what we experienced, with one girl almost passing out!  Yes, having SK at the end of a phone has been very useful for us and we will be eternally grateful for all his help.

Thursday 17 October.  Singapore Airport. 

Woke up feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement…Taxi to the airport arrived on time, check-in was pretty straightforward and uncomplicated and we had a few hours to spare wandering around Singapore’s impressive Changi airport.  Apparently the Jewel area of the airport has the biggest indoor waterfall in the world, which we were looking forward to seeing…..but as luck would have it, it was closed for a private event so we had to make do with just the indoor forest…..

 

,,,,which wasn’t unlike what we saw yesterday.  We were having a grands old time practicing our Australian language skills in bonafide Australian accents, especially when talking about “flaming galahs”, when I commented that things had gone surprisingly smooth.  Not long afterwards I lost my phone….so am now phone less for the foreseeable.  Anyone trying to contact me on WhatsApp or Viber won’t be able to, but I can get email. Oh well…..it could have been a passport or wallet mishap, so definitely could have been much worse,  a bit of a scramble to get my visa and contact details for our Australian hosts on to Nigel’s phone, but we are there.

Now ready for Australia….the question is, is Australia ready for us???

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