After returning from Tasmania following the Launceston AGM Event, I had a surprise call from Peter Baulch (Natcom). It was a good news/bad news sort of call. The bad news was that the winner of the early bird registration prize (John Paulger) had been involved in a motorbike accident and could not accept the prize. Refer edition 132 (Spring 2016) of Riding On for his story. The good news was that he would be OK, and that as the first runner-up I’d be heading off to Malaysia on a magnificent 5 day/4 night motorcycle tour with Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways (MMG). Added to this, tickets to the Sepang MotoGP were included.
What a very generous prize for MMG to have donated and John, I sincerely hope you’re doing well.
When I was drawn as runner-up at the Saturday dinner, the laughter from the others at my table was immense. So close, yet so far. I really didn’t want to know that I’d ALMOST won.
On hearing the good news weeks later, my partner Dawn, of course asked “can I come too?” How could I say no, she’s my organiser. She’ll do all the research and bookings and let me know where I need to be and when. No work for me. OK, it’s a deal. “But you’re paying for yourself” I said; to which I got no arguments.
Then the emails between Feizal Kassim (the owner of MMG) and us commenced. Feizal excelled in prompt responses, tour updates, and general information about Malaysia, what to expect when we got there and offers to assist with pretty much anything. As novice overseas travellers, we certainly threw a lot of questions his way.
We were later thrilled to find out that fellow Ulyssian, good friend and seasoned overseas traveller Yvonne Barker (owner of Girl Rider motorcycle apparel) was already booked on the same tour. How fantastic to be able to share our adventure with someone we know. We also shared the same flight to Kuala Lumpur, and pretty much followed her lead on getting from check-in to boarding. Thanks Von.
And so the adventure began in late October 2016.
To please Dawn our trip included a few extra days before and after the motorbike tour. For these days we stayed at the swish A-Loft Hotel in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Dawn’s research results determined that this hotel was a pretty good standard (which she of course desired), a reasonable price and suitably located to KL Sentral railway station (being right next door to it). The station enabling the best access to almost everything (being the things we or rather she wanted to do and see). Express trains from the airport arrive at KL Sentral. There’s a monorail station in the shopping complex adjoining KL Sentral. The MotoGP buses depart from KL Sentral. There’s a taxi rank at KL Sentral. There’s a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus stop at KL Sentral. You can catch a train to Batu Caves from KL Sentral. The parklands comprising the Butterfly Park, Bird Farm, War Memorial, Botanical Gardens (and much more) are all within walking distance. All of which we visited.
And you’d never guess it, but there’s even McDonalds and KFC at KL Sentral!!!
So, our first couple of days in KL were spent sight-seeing. The best of which was the observation deck at the Petronas towers. Tip – it’s very popular, so go early in the day to ensure you can get tickets for that day.
Pretty much every evening we’d head up to the roof top at A-Loft, and enjoy the warm evenings sitting by the pool to have dinner and drinks. The view from the rooftop was unforgettable. This was more apparent after dark when the adjacent buildings lit up, the monorail wound its way between the buildings like a glowing worm, and you could see streams of red and white lights on the freeway. Without doubt, if we go back, we’ll be staying there again.
It’s simply amazing how many motorbikes there are in Malaysia. It seems to be the most common mode of transport right across the country. In KL some of the footpaths are lined with hundreds of bikes, even though there are some dedicated motorbike parking sites. All bikes filter to the front at traffic lights and yes we did see a few bikes 3 and 4 up, a dad snuggling a very young baby on his chest and bikes carrying all sorts of loads.
On the Sunday we headed off to the MotoGP. We caught up with Yvonne there; as well as the three other tour participants (Bill and Collette from Brisbane and Kekulu from Sydney). We had a great day watching the races and spending our cash on Valentino Rossi gear and other memorabilia. You could pretty much sit where ever you wanted, so we picked the undercover grandstand on the hairpin bend at the start of the main straight. The day was warm with occasional showers, which delayed the racing periodically. The racing was awesome to watch. A few stacks happened directly in front of us; nothing too bad thankfully but I really missed being able to rewind and re-watch the action. Buses to and from the track were good. On leaving, there were long queues for buses, followed by a long trip back to KL due to diversions. We boarded our bus and ended up without seats. Dawn at least got to sit on the floor at the door and watch all the motorbikes go by.
Just one more sleep and we go riding.
Next morning we caught our hotel taxi to MMG headquarters about 30 minutes away. Once all had arrived, we were seated and Feizal introduced us to his staff (Zahed (Zed), Azmin and support crew) and then conducted a tour briefing. He definitely runs a professional outfit. The optional support vehicle (this costs extra but carries excess luggage) was definitely coming; probably due to so many girls on this trip. You know they don’t travel light. Our group would be eight riders; two guides and 6 participants. That’s 4 guys and 4 gals; all very experienced riders. I think that’s the most girls MMG have ever had on a tour. Feizal and Zahed would alternate being the lead as well as taking action photos and videos along the way using helmet mounted cameras.
After our briefing we were introduced to our bikes. Mine a Kawasaki 650 Versys and Dawn’s a Yamaha Diversion 600. Both proved more than ample for the journey around Malaysia. All bikes were just a few years old and very well maintained. We were soon on our way. Bonus; vehicles drive on the left, just as we do in OZ. Okay, so off we go.
Tour day 1 – Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands – 330 kms
Within a few minutes of starting our journey we were on a freeway riding through busy mid-morning traffic. We rode on a downhill stretch where we had views of the many tall city buildings. Soon we came up behind a queue of cars and trucks all waiting to get through toll booths. We do the Malaysian thing and ride in the emergency lane (aka the lane at the left shoulder). Bikes ride in this lane whenever in busy traffic, or if a little slow. But there’s another reason to ride here when nearing a toll booth. Every toll booth has a by-pass for motorbikes. These start a hundred meters or so before the toll booth, and turn into a bitumen path about 4 feet wide. These paths head off to the left, into treed areas and go behind buildings and then merge back onto the freeway again. What a terrific idea; and a real novelty for us. It was quite fun getting to know our bikes by riding in heavy traffic. Malaysian drivers are so used to motorbikes. Drivers generally stay centred in their lane and are expecting bikes to quickly change lanes to get ahead of them. Although city traffic is heavy, it’s surprisingly pretty organised. There’s very little horn honking here.
Not all that much later the freeway started winding its way upwards into some lush green hills, where we saw the first examples of terraced hillsides. The ascent increased and before we knew it we were in biker heaven. There are almost never-ending uphill sweepers, twisties and hairpin bends to get to Genting Highlands. This is an amazing stretch with a fantastic mountainous landscape. The road winds alongside and underneath the gondolas of the Genting Skyway (cable car), eventually arriving at a mini city in the clouds. We had a short stop at the top for refreshments and photos. At 1,760 metres it offers great views of the surrounding area. Back on the bikes we headed downhill; which required plenty of focus and the correct use of gears. The traffic was purposely slowed by a series of rumble strips and a speed hump just prior to each bend to be taken. The bonus was magnificent views of the distance.
In the afternoon we wound our way through an amazing variety of villages and scenic valleys towards the Cameron Highlands. One valley was a sea of greenhouses and another of tea plantations. Along the way we enjoyed the long sweepers of the Pos Betau ringlet stretch. The diversity of city and rural life is fascinating. There are people living in temporary demountable cabins in some of these mountain communities. Yet nearby there are the most opulent of buildings.
That evening we stayed at the Century Pines Resort, Tanah Rata. After freshening up, we headed to a local restaurant for an amazing steamboat dinner.
Tour day 2 – Cameron Highlands to Penang Island – 270 kms
Today we travelled through mountain towns and villages, past many roadside stalls and through more valleys of greenhouses. Along the way we were counting how many old Land Rovers we saw; they were everywhere in this area. We stop at some road works waiting for the opposite traffic to get through. While we waited, a large group of Ducati riders arrived as well. Once the traffic headed off, we found ourselves being overtaken by the Ducati’s. This takes a kilometre or two as there are 30-40 bikes in their group. It got really interesting at one point when their group were still in overtaking mode and all of us where stopping at the same scenic lookout; there were bikes going everywhere.
After the lookout we enjoy the magnificent long and downhill sweepers of the Kg Raja-Sp Pulai stretch (dubbed the best riding in the country). This didn’t disappoint. At the end of this stretch we pass through an area where the hills are being quarried. The air is unusually misty and the roads are whitish looking as the dust from the earthworks settles. We had a drinks stop directly across the road from a rural fire station. Being a fireman I just had to pop over a say hello. Zahed came along with me to translate.
We continue on and rode into the very large town of Kuala Kangsar. At one of the roundabouts here we needed to go straight ahead and it seemed that whoever had the biggest kohunas had right of way; or that’s the way I saw it. Just down the road we pass alongside a pretty river. There are formal trees lining an avenue that led to a spectacular mosque. We rode around the outside of it and stopped to view a beautiful old timber palace.
We rode into Kuala Kangsar for lunch at the OldTown White Coffee cafe. These are a great chain of cafes to eat at. Yvonne had a surprise for the ladies; girly hairclips and Girl Rider tee-shirts all around to celebrate Melbourne Cup day.
After lunch we headed off to a local pottery maker to inspect (and buy) their wares. We were also invited to try our hand at making something, with the efforts finishing in laughter. We continued our journey riding over the Titiwangsa Range before a sedate ride through the local countryside and into the hustle and bustle of Butterworth. Here we caught a ferry to our next destination of Georgetown, Penang Island. The ferry ride was a short and pleasant 15-20 minutes. On arriving we’re in the thick of afternoon traffic. Definitely the most congested traffic we had experienced. Slow riding skills were maximised and the bravery of one and all were put to the test. All good, the group stayed together and no near misses.
Our accommodation was the luxurious Evergreen Laurel Hotel. Before freshening up for dinner a few of us enjoyed a dip in the pool. Dinner that night was at the Bali Hut restaurant, where their live seafood delights are on display in a hundred separate fish tanks. Our banquet meal was truly amazing.
Tour day 3 – a free day on Penang Island
After a leisurely breakfast, the 6 of us caught an Uber taxi and headed to the funicular railway. Rain had been forecast, but it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. On the way to the railway we spotted a temple and the driver happily diverted to take us there. This was a really WOW experience; and I mean REALLY WOW! The 4 hectare site of Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple was very tranquil. It has magnificent views of the coastline as well as over Georgetown and the surrounding areas. But the best part was the magnificent 83 metre tall golden statue of the Goddess of Mercy. Although we spent quite a bit of time here, we didn’t get to experience all this site had to offer.
We eventually made it to the railway. The carriages/cars are all at an amazing angle. When you get inside there’s either steps down or steps up to get to the seating. Once it gets going, the 690 meter rise over 2km to get to the top of Penang Hill doesn’t take long. A clear day promises great views all the way to the mainland. The trip down was a buzz. We had seats right at the front and filmed as we went down. There was a class of school children onboard and they gasped and squealed in amazement; particularly when the track changed from single to dual track, just in time for an uphill carriage to pass by.
In the evening we had a leisurely walk around Georgetown, enjoying its well known street art (wall paintings, illuminations and sculptures) culminating in a delightful Chinese dinner at a local restaurant.
Tour day 4 – Penang Island to Ipoh - 200km
On hitting the road we took an anti-clockwise route to see more of Penang. We stopped outside the Tropical Spice Garden to marvel at the community of monkeys traversing the power lines. Further down the road we have a photo stop at the Telok Bahang dam. Beyond the dam there are some magnificent tight twisties as well as some hairpins. We had a drink stop at Titi Krawang stall before hitting the road again for more twisties. We eventually left the island via the Jambatan Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Bridge. Riding this bridge is an experience in itself. It’s a dual carriage way toll bridge (free for bikes) with a separate mini lane for motorbikes. It’s 24km long, including 17km over water. While riding the bridge you pass the odd island, fish farm and plenty of boats.
Tour day 5 – Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur – 330 kms
We hit the road for our final day with the focus to be sight-seeing. Our first stop was about 5km away at a local tourist attraction; the Kek Look Tong Cave. Dawn and I had visited a couple of caves since arriving in Malaysia and this was definitely the best. The huge multi-level cavern held many golden temples and shrines. On emerging at the other end you were greeted by a beautiful and tranquil garden containing rotundas, water features and a collection of statues. There was even a tai chi class underway on the lush lawn.
Back on the bikes it’s onto the freeway, where down the road we exit for a surprise stop at Kellie’s Castle. This is the ruins of an English style castle built by a Scotsman by the name of William Kellie Smith in 1915. We had a little hide and seek fun, which included a secret passageway and a walk around on the roof top.
The next stop was Teluk Intan where we visit the pagoda shaped clock tower, nicknamed the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan due to its definite tilt.
Our final stop in the afternoon was a nature experience at Malawati Hill in Kuala Selangor. This site was once a military base (evidenced by old cannons), but it’s now a museum and reserve for monkeys. Our group enjoyed feeding two monkeys who were happy to climb onto the shoulder of whoever had the food. But be warned, this can cause a bit of a squabble between the monkeys and potentially someone (namely you) could get hurt. Dawn was highly amused on the ride into the reserve on seeing a young monkey carrying a teddy bear. Yes, really, she has video to prove it!
We headed off from this last sight-seeing spot knowing we’d soon be back in KL; sad that we were at the end of our journey. On eventually returning to MMG headquarters our downer was soon turned into an upper when Feizal pleasantly surprised us with a preliminary slideshow of the trip. What a fantastic way to have ended the week.
Without a doubt, what made it a truly brilliant adventure were the crew from MMG; Feizal, Zahed, Azmin and their support crew. We all mixed well and were continually laughing and joking; we felt like old friends. From start to finish, nothing was too much trouble. I’d certainly recommend them if you are looking for new places to see, a great motorcycle adventure and at an affordable price.
Back to being a tourist.
Back in KL we still had a couple of days up our sleeve. After a glorious A-Loft breakfast we headed into the adjacent shopping mall and just for the fun of it we caught the monorail to the end of the line. On the way back we spotted a curb-side Honda display outside the Berjaya Times Square shopping mall. So off the monorail we get and head-off to have a look. There were a few race and street bikes on display, plus a gear shop. So, a few purchases were made; including some items for gifts.
Since we were then in the mood for shopping, we headed to Central Market to check out the local wares. This is the oldest market in KL. It was quite interesting to see what goods were on offer; particularly anything made locally. Purchases were duly made for all the grandkids; including a couple of very cool dragon kites.
Our final day was spent on more sight-seeing. We visited the War Memorial. This has an amazing city backdrop. This was followed by a long walk in the Botanical gardens. The gardens are enormous. There is a huge variety of garden styles and interesting displays. There’s a full size skate park and amazing play equipment for the kids. We even saw Edward scissor hands at work in the sunken hedge garden. Our last stop was the National Museum, where we enjoyed a display of fine local materials; including some materials and clothing belonging to members of the royal family.
The following morning we caught the express train back to the airport and flew home.
We had a truly amazing time, seeing new places, riding great roads, enjoying new foods, meeting some fantastic people and most importantly we made some new friends. If you are interested in spreading your riding horizons and wish to experience some magnificent roads and sceneries I would sincerely suggest you contact Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways. There was a previous article in Riding On (issue 133) by Melbourne Ulyssian John Cook on a tour he also undertook with MMG where he extolled the journey he undertook.
I’d like to sincerely thank Feizal Kassim, the owner of Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways. He and his crew truly turned our miles into smiles.
Stephen Draper #36741