Saturday, June 27, 2015

Let's Cycle 2015: Day 1 - Kuala Lumpur to Taiping to Kuala Sepetang

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Let's Cycle 2015: Day 1 - Kuala Lumpur to Taiping to Kuala Sepetang
Kuala Lumur & Perak: 19th June 2015
Let's Cycle is Malaysia's 8TV program about two cyclists (Baki & Rickman) taking on Peninsular Malaysia in 2014, cycling around the peninsular within a month. They not just cycled but went on to meet the people at the places that they stopped at, learnt and participated in the distinct local culture. Wherever they went there was always a warm welcome for them, with the locals proud to show them the local culture.
This year, in 2015 8TV is doing another TV program but this time with a unique twist. They have invited three other cyclist to join them in their cycling adventures. These will be senior people whom many may think old but who are young at heart (and perhaps physically they are too). The objective is to demonstrate that older people can take on tough physical tasks like cycling and at the same time enjoy life even in their later years. The three who will join them are Uncle Lim (a septuagenarian); and my friends Sin (of the hApPy HaPpY blogs) and Fenn, both of whom are in their fifties.
Together they will cycle from Kuala Lumpur to Penang Island in a week. Along the way they will pass the night at Kuala Kubu BaruBidorIpohSaukKuala SepetangBukit Mertajam. Their route will take them pass towns and villages where there will get to see and experience the distinctiveness of each place and their people. What an adventure it will be!


BIKE-PACKING FROM KUALA LUMPUR TO TAIPING
At the Ipoh Railway Station.
Some of us had thought of joining our TV friends (to give them some moral support) along part of their journey. The plan was to meet them at Kuala Sepetang, where they would be staying a night. Getting up to Kuala Sepetang would be an interesting exercise in bike-packing. Firstly it was by ETS (Electric Train Service) up to Ipoh.and then by bus to Taiping and then cycling to Kuala Sepetang. But even before that a few of us took an earlier Commuter Train from Kelana Jaya down to KL Sentral to catch the 11:00am train (... see blog on bringing foldies onto the ETS).
We had pre-purchased tickets for the same ETS train, so it was an interesting convergence of cyclists onto the train at several of its stops. Some of us boarded at KL Sentral and en-route Kong boarded at the old Kuala Lumpur Station; further on Anne and Robert boarded at the Kepong Sentral Station. When we reached Ipoh Jason (who had gone up a few days earlier to be his family for the Bak Chang festival) was there to meet us.

"Oops... did we miss the bus?" Fortunately no, this was an earlier bus.
1:30pm - We arrived at the Ipoh Railway Station and had to quickly unpack and unfold our bikes for a quick ride to the Ipoh Bus Terminal. We are trying to catch the 2:00pm bus to Taiping as we had to check into our lodging by 4:00pm. There was a long queue at the ticketing counter and we kept our fingers crossed as Jason lined up to get the tickets. Thank goodness he managed to get the last few tickets for us.

For those interested in taking the bus, I include here the Kumpulan Bus Perak's Ipoh-Taiping-Kamunting time-table for departure times. As can be seen, if we had miss the 2:00pm bus, the next bus would have been another hour later.

Above is the bus bus fare schedule, the fare from Ipoh to Taiping is RM9-30. Interestingly there is a bus from Ipoh to Parit Buntar further north, perhaps next time for another bike-packing adventure.

The good thing about the Brompton bicycle is its compact fold. Our six bike could fit in nicely into just one section of the bus hold and we just had to secure them with some bungee cords. There was even space left for some luggage.

Our hectic travelling from Kuala Lumpur did not allow us time to eat lunch and now we are on board the bus heading for Taiping. Fortunately, Jason being the thoughtful fellow had brought along some Bak Chang (sticky rice dumplings) and also some of the renown Ipoh egg tarts from Choy Kee Bakery.
It was Ramhadan, the fasting month; out of courtesy to our Muslim co-passengers we refrained from eating the Chang as it contained pork. But we were hungry and ate the egg tarts, even then we did it discretely. I must say the tarts lived up to their reputation.

3:45pm - We reach the Taiping Bus Terminal, Ho (a close Taiping cyclist friend) was suppose to meet us there. Unfortunately, there was some miscommunication and he had thought that we would be disembarking at the Kamunting Bus Terminal. A couple of phone calls and he was notified; but our poor friend had to pedalled like the wind to cover the seven kilometres to come meet us as we were on a tight schedule.
We quickly cycled over to the Larut and Matang District Office in Taiping town which closes at four to pay for our accommodations at the Kuala Sepatang Mangrove Reserve. While Jason went into pay, the rest of us finally got down to a good lunch by the roadside, that of the delicious Bak Chang made by Jason's mom.
Here we met up with Henry, Alan and Lau. The three of them had driven up from Kuala Lumpur to enjoy Taiping and also to see us! (See top-most photo).

As I would be flying back from Penang to Kuala Lumpur a few days later, I brought along my Dimpa bag and Impra boards for packing of my bike for air travel (... see blog on packing the Brompton for air travel). This will be the first time that I will be putting into practice cycling around with these and it was a good exercise. The folded Dimpa bag bag went into my C-bag and I used some longer bungee cords to strap the Impra boards onto the the C-bag. The only thing is when tied this way, the C-bag cannot be opened without dismantling the bungee cords. This is a bit inconvenient, so I learnt that things that need to be extracted urgently (like raincoat, power-banks for phones, etc) should be put into the two large back pockets of the C-bag which are still accessible.


THE RIDE
From the Taiping bus terminal we took the main road out to Simpang then onwards to Kuala Sepetang. We had wanted to ride the shadier "old railway track route" but were fighting for time.

Route Recommendations :
1. The route is relatively flat with only on section up a flyover over the Taiping Railway Station.
2. The route has hardly any shade, so do cover up or apply sun-block.
3. Kuala Sepetang is a fishing village with many interesting things to view and food to eat:
    - Don't miss the bridge of Sungai Reba, from its mid-span there is the best of trawler boats parked at the riverside.
    - The Mangrove Swamp Reserve is one that preserves the pristine nature of the swamp. There are even chalets there to stay in but do look out for mosquitoes; they could also improve on security.
    - The are several charcoal factories nearby, do pop in and see how they make the charcoal the traditional way.
    - Kuala Sepetang curry noodles is quite good, while there try the blended red bean drink too.
    - We ate at the Xin Kuala Sepetang Seafood Restaurant, entry is through a very narrow alley.
    - Another nice food to try is Mee Udang Mak Jah, just at the outskirts of the town.
    - If time permits take a boat ride out to view eagles nesting and in the evening the sparkles of fireflies at the river edge.


We finished our lunch just in the nick of time when we got word that the TV cyclists were approaching Simpang. It was time to ride and ride furiously. By then Ho had returned and he ride-guided us along the main roads towards Simpang. Ho, although using a single-speed Brompton with a Doval front crank, rode very fast. Together with Jason they were soon pretty much ahead of us.
The fast and frantic pace soon got to Anne. She had just recovered from a bad case of coughs and along the way she had to stop to catch heavy breaths. Fortunately, Henry who was just driving out from Taiping, saw us and his car conveniently became a support vehicle. Anne went on-board while her folded bike went into the boot. Some of the others decided to lighten their load and put their bags into the car too, which headed straight for the Mangrove Swamp Chalet.

4:50pm - We just made it in time as in another minute our TV friends came cycling round the corner. It was a momentous joyful moment for us and for them, a sort of mini reunion. For Ho it was a good time to get to know these riders.
While some of us stopped to get water, they rode ahead as they were still on a filming schedule. Jason rode ahead too, needing to open the doors for of the chalet for Anne.

The chalets at Kuala Kuala Sepatang Mangrove Reserve is in a good natural setting of the swamp and is approachable by board walks. Only thing is one have to be ready for mosquitos.
For us, we experienced a worst pest than the mosquito - thieves! Our friends who reached earlier dropped their bags there and rode out to meet us to take us in. When we reached the chalets their bags were opened and thieves had stolen some stuff, all this within a span of the fifteen minutes when our friends were not around.
Playing it safe, we decided not to leave our things in the chalet and instead lugged them along with us.

Ho had a secret to show us, he took us down a very narrow alley. Hmmm.... hope this does not lead to a pirates' haunt.
No it did not; it led to the Xin Kuala Sepetang Seafood Restaurant where he made orders for several dinner dishes. We came to order earlier to get the best and freshest seafood.

Ho then took us to the bridge over Sungai Reba. This is a place that should not be missed when in Kuala Sepetang as it has one of the best views of trawler fishing boat, on viewed from the centre of the river (from the bridge that is).

Coming down from the bridge, we bumped into the TV cyclists and their filming crew, the were enjoying good curry mee at a road-side stall next to the famous "Port Weld" sign.

Tempted, and even though we would be having dinner soon, I joined them; partly for the food and more for the company.
When here in this village, I try not to miss this delicious Kuala Sepetang curry mee. Although this time I just ordered a bowl without the noodles wanting to savour, the soup with it's fluffy tau pok and the cubes of coagulated pig's blood.
Did I hear a "Eeewwwww...."?

Ho has yet another secret to show us, he took us over to a bao (Chinese dumpling) factory/shop. Unfortunately, the place had closed or the day but we did get to meet the owner, a friendly old man. Perhaps, next time then.
This shop is operating from a corner single-storey house at Jalan Trump.

It's dinner time! And we are back at Xin Kuala Sepetang Seafood Restaurant.
All this cycling around must have worked up an appetite for Anne, she was ready to wolf down a super big bowl of rice.

Jokes aside, Ho did order a sumptuous meal for us, one of nine dishes! He was really a good host, showing us around and ending it with a bang of a dinner. Many thanks to you Ho.
We ate and we ate until we were full to the brim.

Especially good were the following dishes:
Seafood curry cooked and presented in a bowl of baked bread. The curry was very good, with the fluffy bread going very well with it; we took the curry and then slowly tore pieces of the bread to dip into the curry.

The steamed flower-crabs were very fresh with succulent stripey meat.

Steamed fish Teochew style, what can I say it was really, really fresh!

This being the Chang Festival, Ho ordered the glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leave, this coming as close as possible to the Bak Chang.

 The theft at the Mangrove Swamp chalets had us worried about our safety of passing the night there. So we decided to look for a homestay within the town itself, we were rather lucky and managed to get this one located at 2, Jalan Taman Kuala Sepetang 3. Their telephone contacts are +605-8582361 / +6016-7093218.
We slept well at this place in preparation of a long ride the next day.

This blog comes in a several parts. To go to other parts click on the following link to return to the summary page:


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