Saturday, June 9, 2012

perlis trip (day 2 & 3, of 3)

photo: along chuping road.

decided to just check-out from brilliant inn today and not bother with staying another night after all. i was thinking to maybe overnight in kangar instead for a change, or if i had sufficient time in the evening and we didn't get a heavy evening tropical rain today, i'd move on to either jitra or alor setar, which will be only around 2 hours extra from kangar. that'll cut short my return journey on the third day too.

started the day heading east towards pauh, where there were some sort of morning market going on with various stalls along the road. a little further, the road merged into changlun - kuala perlis highway. a junction on the left, unmarked on google maps, has a signboard indicating that it leads to chuping, so i took this instead of another main road junction further away. at the roundabout towards felda chuping, there are 2 concrete signboards declaring chuping as the hottest place in malaysia, and also as the largest sugarcane plantation in malaysia.

photo: the hottest place in malaysia? okay...

40.1 degree celcius as the hottest recorded temperature? hmm.. my cycle computer showed up to 42 degree in the afternoon heat around perlis, and that was while constantly on the move. stationary, it'll shoot up a few degrees more.

very few vehicles on the chuping road early in the morning, and hardly any other cyclists too. heading northwards, there are more 'ups' than 'downs' - not sure why i always managed to pick the harder direction to ride on.

photo: along chuping road.

chuping, with a large area dedicated to sugarcane planting, has always been a unique scenic place to pass through in Malaysia, especially when the planted sugarcanes are matured enough. the chuping road, passing right at the edge of these plantations, was a joy to drive through when i was here a few years ago.

sadly, on this trip, there were hardly anymore sugarcane plants left around. hmm... maybe it was just past harvest season? a chat with a local cyclist at the lookout point on the road to wang kelian later revealed the sad news - there will no longer be any sugarcane mass-planted there, where they once used to stretch wide and far into the horizon. the last sugarcane harvest recently was the final batch, and the whole area will now be planted with rubber trees instead.

maybe it makes sense from an economic standpoint, but to me, that place used to have one of the nicest memorable scenery in perlis. and now it's gone...

photo: ostrich birds playing dead.

nearing padang besar, a passing car's wheel hit a small rock and flung it towards me, striking the front wheel. it made a really loud metallic sound - luckily no obvious major damage, spoke breakage etc... and luckier still that it didn't hit me instead. didn't bother to go into padang besar town, and turned left towards kaki bukit instead. there's an osctrich farm midway, with a few birds out on display for visitors.

there were quite a lot of vehicles heading towards wang kelian, likely due to the school holiday season. the road to wang kelian passes over a ridge, and some of the hairpin turns on the climbs are crazily steep on the inside corners. with many cars passing through, it was a bit dangerous to move to the less steep outside corners, and coupled with the unbalanced pannier on the back, i had to shamefully admit that i got down and push through many of the hairpin corners...

photo: hairpin corners at the climb towards wang kelian..

it was another hot day, and although there are two gazebos for resting near the lookout point, they are both located at lower areas and do not offer the same view from the higher lookout area itself, which is just an open area. from here, one gets a wide view of the surrounding locations, including the timah-tasoh lake which is an artificial lake created for hydroelectric power generations.

didn't proceed to wang kelian weekend border market as that'll mean another steep climb under the searing sun on the return journey, and anyway i've been there before. a unique aspect of the wang kelian weekend market is that malaysians can venture across the border into the thailand side of the market without needing passport (just identity card is enough), as long as they stay within the market area. this also applies for thai nationals crossing over to the malaysian side of the market as well.

photo: lookout point along the road to wang kelian; timah-tasoh lake at background right.

coming back down from the wang kelian road towards kaki bukit village was a speedy affair. took the less-used village roads on the west side of the timah-tasoh lake to head towards kangar. this route passed through mostly rubber tree plantations around the lake area, before opening up into paddy fields further south.

photo: kangar waterfront.

traffic was light in kangar, but the mid-afternoon heat made it a little unbearable for slowly exploring around, so i decided to just pass through onwards to alor setar. at least when cruising at sufficient speed, i generate my own wind to cool down a little...

photo: crossroad between changlun - kuala perlis road and kangar - alor setar road.

a long, straight stretch of the kangar-alor setar road runs right beside a wide water canal, and here, one has the option of taking the small village roads that run parallel on the other side of the canal - being further away from the busy traffic of the main road and more enjoyable. there are small bridges linking both sides of the canal at short intervals.

photo: water canal running alongside kangar - alor setar road a.k.a federal route 7.

further on, at one stretch, there was a long queue of cars stuck waiting before one particular traffic light junction, and it was so much fun breezing past what must have been over a kilometer-long queue of slow-moving cars, with wide road shoulder to ride on too. of course, all the cars overtook me again as soon as they cleared the traffic light. hmm... bad traffic light timing here?

riding in the busy alor setar city traffic was no fun, and riding on clipless pedals made it scarier in the start-stop conditions of a heavy jam. add to that impatient car drivers that just squeeze into any available spaces, creating their own new lanes and blocking off passages for two-wheeled traffics on roads that do not have any shoulder space to ride on in the first place. sigh...

wasn't sure of the accommodation options around here as it was not in my original plan to come to alor setar, so just rode around randomly looking for places to stay with reasonable price. but the aforementioned traffic condition was making this exercise a little tiring - so finally, just whip out the phone, fire up the gps navigation app, go to list of nearby POIs (places of interest) for accommodation places, then check online for contact numbers as well as photos and user reviews, and call ahead to enquire for room availability and prices before heading there. having a smartphone with data plan is definitely very useful in these kind of situations :).

and so, accommodation for the night was at bee garden motel, very close to alor setar tower. $55.50 for a regular double. bikes not allowed in the room, but they have a big storage room on the ground floor to store the bike, and the front desk is staffed round-the-clock. however, the free wifi signal in my room at 3rd floor was very weak and i could hardly get any useful connections.

photo: night view of alor setar tower against an (almost) full moon.

dinner was at a nearby food court - as usual for trips like these, it'll be double the usual portions for me to stock up on energy.

apparently, the room cleaning people appeared to have forgotten to put the towels in my room, and when i want to check out in the morning, they actually have someone go up to check the room first and then tell me the towels are missing. excuse me but there was no towel provided in my room in the first place. after a few phone calls around only do they return back my deposit (it was $50). btw, of all the cheaper/little-to-no stars places that i have stayed at so far, this is the first place that actually finds the need to have a staff inspect the room first before returning the deposit money (many places don't even collect any deposit to begin with). are many people around this city so dishonest that they have to do that? just wondering...

didn't visit much places in alor setar as most places will not be open so early in the morning, and i don't really fancy hanging around longer as it'll get hotter further into the day, so just stop at some places along the way for a few photos. and then, it was straight back to kulim, stopping only for drinks and short rests. wasn't in the mood to detour around today.

photo: alor setar clock tower.

photo: balai besar.

photo: masjid zahir.

photo: nobat tower (behind the white arch door, duh)

photo: random traffic light junction.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

day 2: arau, perlis to alor setar, kedah via pauh (r6) - chuping (??/1002) - padang besar (r16) - wang kelian (7/r15) - kangar (r15/7/r144/r121/r5) - alor setar (7).
day 3: alor setar, kedah to kulim, kedah via gurun (1) - padang serai (1/67/k824/136) - lunas (136) - kulim.

total distance cycled: 140km (day 2) / 108km (day 3)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

perlis trip (day 1 of 3)

photo: the "old folk's home" from the 2011 malaysian movie "Great Day/天天好天"

this will be my second visit to perlis - the first was a day trip a few years back using the car. originally i had a different destination in mind, but due to the lack of base mile training rides recently, decided to change to perlis instead for a shorter, less taxing trip. and so, taking advantage of the longer weekend due to a public holiday, the new plan was to ride to perlis on saturday and overnight there, and spend sunday exploring around perlis before returning on monday. and once again, the rear rack and pannier is called into service.

only around 70km+ into the journey, around simpang empat, the front tire flatted out. and it was a fast leak. not a good sign now was it? seemed like there were many patches of glass shards along the road from vehicle accidents, just swept to the road side and left there, and i probably picked up one of those along the way that caused this. and so, here i was, experiencing my first roadside tube change...

photo: getting a puncture on the front wheel, just a few hours into the first day of the trip. sigh...

i couldn't seem to find the cause of the puncture though after running through the internals of the tire a few rounds with my fingers - although there's a ~1mm hole on the tube. anyway, the replacement tube held up fine for the rest of the trip, but note to self, next time don't buy a tube with short valve - it's a bit inconvenient to use...

not sure if it's the tire that's crappy or just due to the higher mileage that i'm doing this year, but i did not get a single puncture last year, yet this is already the second puncture for the year - the first was a slow leak on the rear tire that i only discovered after finishing the ride previously.

nearing mergong, the sky ahead appeared to have started drizzling, so i stopped at the next Caltex fuel station ahead for a short break. anyway, the drizzle lasted for mere minutes, but thankfully it helped to bring the afternoon heat down a little. the not so good side of this was that there were now water puddles around on the road to avoid.

photo: powerline stretching over wide paddy fields.

turned off from the main kangar-alor setar trunk road towards the coastal area a little too soon when i saw the signboard for kuala sanglang, and then recalled that the correct road junction should have been after the perlis border instead, which i have yet to cross over. anyway there were small roads linking across the river/canal towards the coastal road on perlis side, so it's fine.

a few wrong turns later, i finally saw the signboard for 'jalan pesisir pantai' which is the road running right beside the coastal area of perlis that i wanted to ride through. the sea was at low tide though, so the views were more of mudflats than seawaves crashing onshore. large rocks were lining the small space between the road and the sea, presumably to prevent erosions. sadly, it appeared that there are hardly any sandy beaches along the coast of perlis... but then, langkawi island is just nearby.

photo: cooling down under the shade of a tree.

photo: approaching kuala sungai baru fishing village.

riding on coastal roads like these also meant being exposed to strong winds, and unfortunately, it was a strong headwind for me all the way to kuala perlis. even trying to maintain 20km/h on an essentially flat route turned out to be a struggle. it would have been so much fun riding from the opposite direction instead...

photo: a restaurant building jutting out over the sea.

photo: more coastal road.

closer to kuala perlis, plenty of roadside stalls start popping up into view, their proprietors getting ready for probably another evening of weekend diners crowd.

photo: entrance to perlis combined-cycle power plant.

kuala perlis around the jetty area was a mess of long queues of cars and seas of people, likely due to the public holiday, school holiday and weekend combinations. decided not to stop here after all, and navigating out from the horrendous traffic here, i went in search of the so-called 'rainbow house' nearby. glad that i didn't plan to stay overnight in kuala perlis in the first place.

this 'rainbow house' - as it is referred online - is the colorful house used as a location for the malaysian movie Great Day (天天好天). the actual location is in the nearby seberang ramai village, further north across the river from kuala perlis jetty.

photo: paddy field at seberang ramai.

heading to arau, while trying to return the water bottle to its holder, i misjudged and dropped the water bottle onto the road instead. had to quickly dismount, ran over and kick it out of the way of an approaching lorry before the lorry make a pancake out of it...

accommodation for the night was at brilliant inn in arau, near the local fire station. $58 for a standard double. they're ok with me bringing the bike into the room. i had booked a room in advance this time around due to the holiday season, and rightfully so, as both this inn and the nearby metro inn are both full for the night. went for a walk at the nearby c-mart shopping complex to look-see before a late dinner at a nearby stall.

originally i had wanted to extend my stay here another night (i had booked for only one night just in case something came up and i couldn't make the trip), but the front desk girl seemed intent on making it hard for me to do so. twice i asked, twice i'm told that she'll let me know later at night as she needs to confirm the existing reservations first. the third time i went to the front desk to ask, she was gone for the day, and the night shift person can't make decisions on reservation matters. a quick check on agoda (where i made the reservation for the first night) showed 5 rooms still available for booking for tomorrow. duh...

and also, is a floor mat so expensive that there is none provided, causing me to have to leave trails of water all over the room's tiled floor everytime i have to go into the bathroom? but otherwise, the room (and the place itself) is fine, just disappointed with the poor service from the front desk with regards to extending my stays.

photo: in the motel room with the bike...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

day 1: kulim, kedah to arau, perlis, via lunas/padang serai (136) - gurun/simpang empat/mergong (k824/67/1) - air hitam (k139/7) - kuala sanglang (7/k102) - kuala sungai baru (r152) - kuala perlis (r152/81) - seberang ramai (r144/r100/r103/r105/r107) - arau (r103/194/7/186/r145/179/r3/r6).
total distance cycled: 183km