Saturday, April 20, 2019

Perak-Kedah-Penang: Cycling Kuala Kangsar To Gerik To Penang Day 6 - Pulau Banding To Baling

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Cycling Kuala Kangsar>Gerik>Penang Day 6 : Pulau Banding To Baling - The Virgin Territory
Central West Coast Peninsular Malaysia Day 6: Tuesday 12th March 2019
This is part of a small group cycling tour from Kuala Kangsar to Penang Island on a north-western central route of West Malaysia. Today's route is from Pulau Banding to Baling:
Total Distance: 113 km.
Cycling Distance: 14 km.              |               Level: Easy (the Kupang to Baling stretch)
Time : 10:35am to 12:25pm (Truck Ride)     |     6:30pm to 9:15pm (Bike Ride)
Cycling Time Taken : 2 hrs. 45 mins. (including stops at various viewpoints, for dinner &  regrouping, and lots of photo opps).

This is page 6 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
 < Go to D5 P. Banding        |       Go to Other Days             |             Go to D7 Kulim >

Route Recommendations:
1. Traffic Directions!
    Malaysia's traffic is right-hand drive, so cycle on the left. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    The first part of the route is a boat ride around Tasik BandingThe second part consists of a road trip from Pulau Banding to Gerik Town via the East-West Highway (Federal Route 4), and then from there to Kupang via the pristine and quite Baling-Gerik section of the East-West Highway (Federal Route 4) that cuts through the hills of s the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia'sElephants are also known to encroach onto both the highways, there are signboards along the way advising how to react in such a situation, please read and follow their instructions closely. The final part is a short ride to and from Kupang to Baling, a relatively flat route with heavy traffic.

3. Places of Interest
    Along the route were several places of interests, some of which we visited and others we did not for lack of time:
- Boat ride around Tasik Banding (Banding Lake) (GPS: 5.54400, 101.33326), this is an interesting, eye-opening ride not to be missed. The best time for a tour of the lake is in September when the migratory birds swamp to the lake. Organised by our resort at RM180 per boat that can seat at least 6-pax. A boat tour that also includes a half-hour hike to see the Rafflesia (world's largest orchid) cost RM250. For tours contact: +6019-5022633 (Khairul)
- The road along the Baling-Gerik Highway, between Gerik and Kupang. It an undulating road that goes high into the hills.
- The Bintang Hijau R&R (GPS: 5.50361, 100.95111) at Sungai Rui.
- Gunung Pulai at Pulai seen from viewpoint (GPS: 5.65735, 100.88445) at Kampung Tok Harun.
- The Betong Hot Spring (บ่อน้ำร้อนเบตง) (GPS: 5.84969, 101.07175). Note Betong is in Thailand, do bring your passports along if you want to cross over.

4. Food
a. Breakfast: Nasi Lemak at Mat Shah Floating Chalet (Resort Terapung Mat Shah) (GPS: 5.54884, 101.35297),
b. Lunch: Thai food from a road-side stall (GPS: 5.65718, 100.87309) near our home-stay in Kupang.
c. Dinner: Rice with Chinese dishes at Restoran Kong Heng (GPS: 5.67681, 100.91828) in Baling. Their signature dish is roast duck.

5. Accomodations
    Our accommodations in Kupang were two twin rooms at Village Hotel (GPS: 5.65655, 100.87174) at RM80/= per room per night:
Address: 135, Persisiran Kota 5/5, Kota Baling Jaya, 09100 Baling, Perak, Malaysia.
Phone: +6019-529 9688.

6. Weather
    March is within the tropical dry season, which is a hot period. At Gerik, morning temperatures ranged from 23-28°C. Mid-afternoon temperatures at Kupang peaked at 31°C with the perceived temperature was 37°C; night temperatures was averaged 31°C.
    A useful weather forecast site is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

7. Communicating with Locals
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Malaysians can speak fairly good English; but in the rural areas the locals speak only some rudimentary English, so learning some basic phrases in Bahasa Malaysia will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.

8. Staying in Touch
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Pre-paid phone sim-cards are easily available from most phone shops in the main towns.

9. Navigation
    Where data signal is available and strong, one can use Google Maps to navigate around. If the cycling options may not be available, just use the walking options.
In cases where data signal is weak or unavailable (like in remote rural areas), install MAP.ME into your phone. It's an off-line map app.   
    Alternatively, use a dedicated GPS unit like those from Garmin. However ensure that one install the Malaysia maps into the unit.
    We plotted routes both on Google Maps and Garmin: Google maps are more up to date and some roads are not shown on the Garmin maps; on the other hand the Garmin GPS units becomes handy when data signal is weak or not available especially in the rural and plantation areas.

10. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads with the relevant tools.


Yesterday was an interesting day as we took on a short 40 km. challenge of cycling along the East-West Highway to Pulau Banding.
Today will be an easier day, one of a boat ride to appreciate Mother Nature followed by a road trip from Pulau Banding to Kupang, one that goes through a quiet, rarely-used road.
We had thought of cycling along that road, but then .....

Cycle Route: Pulau Banding>by car>Gerik>by car>Sungai Rui>by car>Kupang>Pulai>Baling>Kupang. (Zoom in to Pulau Banding to see boat ride route around Tasik Banding)
This map includes the boat ride route around Tasik Banding, a road-trip along the Gerik-Baling stretch of the East-West Highway, one that runs quietly at high elevation through the hills; and finally a cycling route from Kupang to Baling.
Cycling Distance: 14 km,      |               Level: Easy

We woke up to a wonderful morning of nasi-lemak breakfast (provided by our home-stay). One of our better breakfast, the food was okay but it was just perfect -  the quite atmosphere on the slow-bobbing restaurant, overlooking the sun slowly peeping out to herald in a wonderful day to come.

8:30 am - With the help of Khairul (our homestay tour operator), we climbed over the timber railings of our floating chalets onto a roofed boat. Yes, it's an odd way to board the boat, but we are not complaining as we were eager to tour the lake and that touches the southern fringe of the Lower Belum (Temenggor) Forest Reserve
The Belum-Temenggor is likely to be in existence for over 130 million years. It’s one of the World’s oldest rain-forests, an ecosystem older than both the Amazon and the Congo. This is compatible with the age of the mountain ranges of Malaysia, which appeared through oro-genesis at the beginning of the Mesozoic eraThe forest reserve covers about 290,000 hectares which is almost four times the size of Singapore. In addition, it holds more than 146,000 hectares of virgin primary forest.

It was a moody morning with dark over-cast skies, just right for a boat ride so that it won't be too hot. As we set out the hills seem to part like curtains in layers, opening up more of the lake and forest to us.

Along the way, we passed by several small islands that stuck out conspicuously, a brighter green in front of the darker green jungle behind. I wondered why their trees were a lighter green: where they younger, or perhaps because of them sticking out, they gain more of the sun's light and turned a bright green in natural response.

The lake is quiet, its still water quietly mirroring the trees and the moody sky. Ever once a while we passed by small estuaries of streams draining into the lake, at these spots, oddly the water were a lighter green. Perhaps it was not so deep there, see, the Temmengor Lake is a man-made one that was formed by the Temenggor Dam.

We were on the look out for birds but only saw a few that occasionally flew over us. Khairul explained that we won't see that many as the bird migration period is in September, that's when the birds would be using migration route of the East Asia/Australasia Migratory Flyway.
"The East Asian–Australasian Flyway is one of the world's great flyways. At its northernmost it stretches eastwards from the Taimyr Peninsula in Russia to Alaska. Its southern end encompasses Australia and New Zealand. Between these extremes the Flyway covers much of eastern Asia, including ChinaJapanKoreaSouth-East Asia and the western Pacific. It is especially important for the millions of migratory waders or shorebirds that breed in Northern Asia and Alaska and spend the non-breeding season in South-East Asia and Australasia. In total, the flyway passes through 22 countries with approximately 55 migratory species travelling along it, equating to about 5 million birds."

Further into the lake, were these green huts, are they accommodations? No, most likely these are fish farms, rearing wild river fishes.

Often at some of the islands were owned by private companies, building chalets as a retreat for the staff. The island is called Pulau Tali Kail. It even has a houseboat which will take passengers on overnight cruises deep into the lake-forest.

The are not that much commercial fishing activity here, it was only once in a while that we see some other speedboats taking other tourists around.

10:00am - All too soon our boat cruise comes to an end as we approached the second Pulau Banding bridge. We had hoped to see some wildlife like elephants or tigers....

.... the only elephant we saw was this logo on the boat. Perhaps we did not smell right or were to noisy and drove the animals away from the lake's edge further into the jungle.

Back at Pulau Banding, it's time to say goodbyes. We rolled our bikes out from the floating chalet, across plank bridges and back onto land. Khairul was waiting for us; now he will be our driver, driving us on his pickup to Kupang almost a 100 km. away. 
We had had several options:
1. Had him drive us all the way via the Baling-Gerik section of the East-West Highway.
2. Had him drive us to Gerik and from there take a taxi or bus to BalingWe had checked and there were no buses from Gerik to Baling, and were not sure whether there were taxis, so this option out.
3. Had him drive us to Gerik and then we cycle the 50+ km. from there across the Baling-Gerik Highway to Kupang. I had much earlier asked him whether the route was good to cycle. He was quite hesitant to recommend cycling, stating that it was hilly. Also when I tried to plot a route using the Baling-Gerik Highway using my GPS app., it always led me on a long detour down to Sungai Petani and then back up to Kupang. I found it to be odd.
So to play it safe, Option 1 it is; and my buddies were most glad to hear my decision: "No cycling. Yippeee!" - I guess they needed a break.

We rolled on, not on our bicycles but in his truck. Not soon after passing Gerik, we were onto steep roads of the Baling-Gerik section of the East-West Highway (Federal Route 4), often with climb up to ten degrees. The road went undulating up and down many hills, and almost all the way there were no dwellings.

It's a road that's hardly traveled, very light in traffic, going through jungles. YES! THIS IS VIRGIN TERRITORY! Often there were signs indicating deer crossings and even elephant crossings. In fact, there has been numerous sighting of elephants here too!
 It's one not easy to get through, with many climbs reaching up to as high a 600 metres above sea level. It's not the elevation that's the killer, it's the many undulating, steep dragon-backs across an un-populated area with nowhere to top up water, sure there should be springs around BUT then there would also be wild animals around too. No wonder the GPS tracker app kept on avoiding this road; AND NO WONDER that many cyclists rather take a longer route along more populated Federal Route 76 (the Kuala Kangsar-Baling Highway) that heads up further north to Pengkalan Hulu and then turned down south again.

But we are in a truck, so there was no worries of pedaling. We just laid back to enjoy the surrounding, travelling up to the tops of hills almost a thousand metres high. It was an "ON TOP OF THE WORLD" feeling. Yes, the Carepenters' song "ON TOP OF THE WORLD" did come to mind 😁.

Almost mid-way, some fun at an arch-bridge at the Bintang Hijau R&R at Sungai Rui. This is a good place to stop, the place is very clean (even the toilets were uncharacteristically clean by public standards). Unfortunately, the stalls at the R&R were closed. By the way, the photo above was not at the R&R, but at the adjacent Perak Agrotourism (Patro) centre at Sungai Rui. Here there are fishing, camping are encouraged, there are even tent-shaped chalets for rent.

 Here's a view of Sungai Rui flowing down from the hills, it's banks clean and bright green. Yes, it's the same river that we had met earlier at Kuala Rui in Gerik. What a difference there is; here at it's infancy the water is clear and clean. Down at Kuala Rui, its water was brown from the eroded soil, and dirty from Man's pollution.

Sungai Rui was a respite. As we continued on, it was up and down the hills again, and un-noticed we have crossed the state boundaries from Perak into Kedah. The odd thing is the hills here seems to be scarred, with several of them having tree-less tops, was this Man's doing or were there bush-fires here?

We were still high in the hills, and then saw a sign that of a Malayan Tapir.

12:30pm - Here we are in a rare photo with Khairul, in front of our stay in Kupang - the Village Hotel hotel. Kupang is about 9 km. from Baling town. We had decided to stay here as the hotel looks reasonable new and clean, and their pricing was reasonable. Also it is nearer to Kulim, our destination for the next day.

Nearby the hotel, on a long stretch of road island were several food stalls. We had our lunch here at one selling Thai food, the food was not very good - and in fact Richard's Ayam Merah really came an un-appetizing pinkish red. Urrghs.... so no photo of the food but instead here's a photo of their wall menu.

6:30pm - Being cyclists, we just could not get away from cycling; so we decided to cycle to Baling! It's a short ride but at least it will stretch our cycling legs a bit.
En route, we stopped at an open space for photos with Gunung Pulai  in background, it's conical shape standing tall above the padi fields. It's funny, but the hills up north seems to be sharp, conical ones when compared to the rounded hills of the south. I had notice this in Perlis too, during our Perlis to Penang cycling tour. Perhaps they are younger hills, yet to be weathered by the millennial of time

Another unique sight here, Buraq Oil petrol stations. We don't see this further south as they only operate in the Northern States, and predominantly in Kedah. But don't mistake their flying horse logo as the red Pegasus, the one used by Mobil. In fact, the logo is not that of a flying horse. It is that of a Burāq (Arabicالبُراق‎, al-Burāq, "lightning"). a creature in Islamic tradition resembling the Near Eastern mythological hybrids(particularly the Mesopotamian protective deities), that was said to be a transport for certain prophets.

Except for Richard, it's the first time the rest of us have been to Baling. We were expecting a old town, but right in the middle a covered section called "Uptown Baling". Sure, the old colonial houses were still there, but somehow the gigantic shed had robbed them of their unique characteristics. Oh well.... so much for progress!
Baling HAS an important significance in the history of Malaysia; it is here that the Baling Talks were held in 1956. These talks were held to try to resolve the Malayan Emergency situation prior to the country gaining independence a year later. The talks were unsuccessful because the surrender terms were not acceptable to the Malayan Communist Party.

But to one side, several of the old houses still maintain their old frontage, we zoomed in on one called Kong Heng Restaurant for our dinner. It was a good choice as their food was "old town", and simple "home-style" delicious. We had several dishes, but notable was their fish head curry coming in a clay pot. It was not all head but also had chunks of meat, the curry gravy was well spiced and creamily santan sweet!

Not to be missed are their roast duck. It's roasted, but just before serving, I think they deep-fried it again as we found the skin to be crispy and the edges of the meat tastefully seared. !YummY!

Also not to be missed too is their lemon juice, their own home-grown concoction that tasted slightly pickled sweet. A slice of lemon was added for decoration and perhaps also to give a hint of lemon freshness. These were really good, we had two rounds and tried to order a third round, but then they were sold out 😦.

Happily sated, we cycled back... and then.... and then the rain came. What good timing to end the hot spell, with us cycling back in the drizzle, getting slightly wet. After days of hotness this was most welcomed!

We closed off the day with drinks in our room,  with another concoction - beer served with raisins. According to Richard, this was suppose to be very good. Looking at the raisin exuding bubbles did tickle our fancy... but then the flavour of the raisin had not exuded into the beer. Them raisins we used were too dry, one will have to use the wetter types... Well, there's always next time!


(For more photos of the Day 6Click Here)
This is page 6 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.

 < Go to D5 P. Banding        |       Go to Other Days             |            Go to D7 Kulim > 

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