Wheel alignment

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

G&J's Excellent Asian Adventure, part 1

Jennie and I have just got back from a holiday in Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, a bit jet-lagged, unshaven (err..in my case) but very happy about the way it all worked out.  This is the first of  a few posts about our encounters, food, fun and lots more besides - even motorcycles!

The capital of Kuala Lumpur was a convenient stopping-off point 10 hours flying time from NZ to give us time to catch our breath for 3 days before heading on to the main part of our holiday in Vietnam. I'm not sure what we were expecting but the surprises started on landing at KL airport.  It's as modern and organised as the best airports anywhere, with a rapid transit system to other parts of the airport within a few metres of getting off the plane - simply superb. The second surprise was the motorway systems connecting different parts of the country to each other and the airport and again, as good as you'll find anywhere. By and large, the motorists were pretty well-behaved although speed limits seemed to be largely advisory. Apparently, all the expenditure on good infrastructure and city development has come about through relatively recent large finds of oil and gas and although some of the smaller provincial communities still seem a bit down at heel, that applies pretty much anywhere in the world.  Religious tolerance is enshrined in Malaysian law and relationships between various ethnic and religious groups appears to work well in practice from what we saw and read about.  Everyone was very friendly and went out of their way to be hospitable to us, even out in the backblocks.

Petronas Towers - glass and stainless steel
One of the tallest buildings in the world

There are huge numbers of bikes in Malaysia but most of them are small capacity scooters which are used for cheap family commuting.  However, there were plenty of teens who rode jazzed-up scooters and small bikes who will probably become the enthusiasts of the future.  There were also quite a few big bikes, both cruisers and sports-oriented.  Difficult to know whether these were locals or not as Singaporeans duck across the border to misbehave as the Malaysian roads are better for bikes and the cops rather more forgiving of ummm... a brisk pace! The freeways are bike-friendly and on major toll roads, there are toll booth bypasses for bikes.  The photo shown below shows the bike lane diverting from an urban freeway toll booth.  The bike lane on the freeways is exclusively for bikes although the fast boys seem to prefer mixing it with the cars rather than tangling with slower scooters.

Lane splitting at speed is the norm in Kuala Lumpur and at traffic lights, there are always dozens of bikes at the head of the queue.  Despite a lot of the bikes being 2 strokes and the consequent blue haze covering cars when the lights go green, there's never any horns used in anger like the western world; everyone seems remarkably tolerant.

One practice which we never got to the bottom of was how jackets were worn!  Protective gear for general commuting was virtually non-existent apart from light helmets.  Flip-flops were the safety footwear of choice - eek!  Jackets were light nylon zip-up affairs, presumably as a nod to the high temperatures and humidity.  Here's the thing though...... most commuters wore them unzipped and backwards so that they were open to the rear!  The only reason we could think of  was as large-scale ventilation to stop getting sweaty at low speeds!
Motorcycling toll booth bypass

Kawasaki ER6 
A very rare example of protective gear in Malaysia!

Backblocks village in Malaysia - Street Triples get everywhere!

Leaving the motorcycle scene for a bit, we toured round the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and came upon the Batu Caves, a significant place of worship for the Hindu religion.  By the stairs to the cave was a 48 metre high statue of a Hindu deity, an impressive piece of sculpture by any measure. The steepness of the 300 steps to the cave mouth were a real trial, especially with temperatures in the mid 30's C and humidity to match.  We were knackered and wringing wet by the time we got to the top!  The main cave itself was impressive, albeit choking with incense.  We had a quiet chuckle at the enterprise of the (presumably) approved vendor at the top of the steps.  He was enthusiastically selling tacky religious artifacts to the devoted whose resolve had been eroded by the steep climb, but we struggled to find religious significance in the model helicopters and toy guns he also had on prominent display.  Safer not to take a photograph methinks!!

Impressive 47 metre high Hindu deity outside the Batu Caves

We also visited the world-renowned Royal Selangor pewter factory and saw some beautiful workmanship ranging from pewter tankards through to the most intricate pieces of art.  Training the craftsmen not unexpectedly takes several years.

 Pewter trophy from the 2007 Malaysian F1 GP

A bit bigger than your usual pewter tankard!

Traditional skills in this part of the world are very much in evidence and on the way back to our hotel, we called in to a small enterprise where Batik textile painting on bolts of cloth was being carried out, mainly on silk. Although the work was stunningly beautiful, we couldn't see Jennie wearing a sarong at a traditional Kiwi BBQ back home, so opted for a magnificent hand-painted orchid on silk cloth to get framed in NZ.

Batik hand-painted orchid on silk

The following day, we headed for an elephant sanctuary some 2 hours away from the capital.  There is still a large amount of wildlife in Malaysia, even close to to the major freeways which seems a bit bizarre by western standards.  Stopping for a roadside pee and ending up as a light snack for a tiger or a big python brings an interesting dimension to motorcycling thrills in this region!  

Stopping at a village eatery on the way was also interesting.  Putting aside our reservations about hygiene (mainly because we had sufficient pills to cure most diseases known to mankind), we dived in to sample authentic Malaysian cooking.  It was a buffet arrangement  where for a miniscule amount of money, you could help yourself to as much as you liked.  Some items which looked like entrails cunningly disguised with lots of sauce were carefully avoided but anything which resembled real meat and fish were gamely tried.  A few selections were eye-wateringly hot, but delicious.  Even better, there were no repercussions a few hours later!  The proprietors and locals eating there were good-natured and welcoming, making it a really enjoyable occasion.

Ingredients unknown but absolutely delicious!

 Being the butt of jokes

A bit of padding would have been nice... (wince)!

One of many spectacular dragonflies

An ant over 10mm long - would hate to be bitten or stung

Three days in a new country is grossly inadequate to make any meaningful assessment but we very much liked what we saw.  Friendly, industrious people, religious tolerance and appearing to develop in a thoughtful and planned manner.  Oh, and very few western fast food outlets in evidence.  That's got to be a measure of a society with its head screwed on, hasn't it?

Onto North Vietnam.......


  1. Geoff; I have only visited Malaysia once and loved the place, I have many friends who are Maylasian andthey are great people. Great to see you indulgeing in a bit of traditional cusine, which I think is one of the delights of travel, it is always worth a try.

    I think bike ownership is simple transport to many, and not a hobbie like us. No doubt there will be the enthusists though. Neat read, looking forward to hearing the rest.

    I notice though, so far no mention of a "sock & bathroom" incident, I presume this is still to come, or was Jenni keeping her eye on you.

  2. Hi Roger!
    Cuisine and culture are always high on our priority list and yes, small bikes are normally just a cheap form of transport, especially Vietnam - more on that later.

    No disasters with socks. At Auckland airport before flying out, Jennie said, "You aren't going to be an embarrassment, are you?". I took this to be a polite shot across the bows rather than a question.

  3. I'm delighted to know you are back safe home. I'm looking forward to more about the trip. Thanks for sharing.

  4. ohhhh!! Fun, fun!! From the few images the city appears very clean. Was it really that clean?

    No shots of the nylon jackets on backwards??

    Love the elephant butts. I have one of Oilburner and the dogs on an outting from last year. Too cute. But the line up is great with the elephants. :)

    Looking forward to more tales of the trip. Though I am a little nervous to find out what a "sock and bathroom" incident might be... LOL


  5. Welcome back Sir!! great writeup - sounds like it was an incredible trip Geoff.

    Can't wait to hear more!!


  6. Geoff:

    I'm glad you are back home safe and sound, and no embarassing moments that you are devulging. That elephant ride looked dangerous and no protective gear ? Of course there would not be any sock disasters if you didn't bring any, right ? I am very cautious of the food I eat too, better to be more careful than not.

    I also saw riders wear their nylon jackets backwards in China. They do it that way as a wind shield and when it rains. Scooters are just transportation. I don't think any of them go for pleasure rides.

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  7. Keith:
    Thank you. At no stage in the countries we visited did we feel insecure, other than with the traffic in Vietnam - more on that later!

    Yep, KL was pretty clean and there were lots of street sweepers out in the early hours. some of the smaller places were a bit grubby, but certainly not bad.

    You have a shot of Oilburner's butt? I don't think i'll ask any more questions ;-). No sock and bathroom incidents, except one vaguely linked one when we got home on the first night! I needed to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. Being jet-lagged and a bit disoriented, as well as it being pitch black; I couldn't remember where the bathroom was - thought I was still in a hotel, but couldn't remember which one! Blundered around bumping into things before I remembered we were at home!

    Thanks mate! Of all the places we've travelled in the world, Vietnam would be right up there. Would recommend anyone to go in the next 5 years or thereabouts before it changes too much. Wonderful place, wonderful people. More soon.

  8. Bob:
    For once, I managed to behave like a normal human being(mostly):-). The only thing dangerous about the elephant trek was falling off, or possibly being cut in half by its narrow, bony ridge!

    Your comments about jacket use in China fits well with the Malaysian scene. Presumably, zips at the front leak water and cool air, otherwise, why not just zip the jacket up normally? The Vietnamese have a much better solution, just wait and see!

  9. Geoff

    Sounds like a great trip, and it's like Greece where the scooter/Honda C50 is a transport tool rather than an indulgence for pleasure.

    I went for a day trip to KL once (from Singapore I hasten to add) and I recall that we failed to give an audible presentation to a potential customer due to the noise of the afternoon rain on the tin roof!

    Best wishes from near the Benghazi front line, N

  10. Hi Geoff, welcome home!
    I will be interested to hear the details of the Vietnam leg of the trip - D is very keen to go there but I must admit I've always been a bit reluctant to embrace travel in Asia.

    Cheers Jules.

  11. Nikos:
    We did have a shower in KL, but it is currently the "dry" season so were ok. Somewhat perturbed about your current location. Had no idea that engineering (apart from nuclear engineers) could be so hazardous. You certainly move in mysterious ways ;-).

    Cheers Jules!
    You'll both adore Vietnam. We've travelled extensively and it's right up there with the best of the best. Go in the next 5 years before it gets too westernised like so many other places. Next instalment coming up in a couple of days :-).

  12. Glad you are home safe and sound. It looks like you had a marvelous time. I would have guessed the nylon jackets were backwards due to a high bug population with the high humidity. I think Bobskoot is on to something with wind protection.

    I think after climbing the stairs at the caves they need to supply oxygen. Love the elephants. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your vacation.

  13. Thanks Trobairitz!
    Not even a stomach upset among us so everything worked out brilliantly! Yep, I think Bobscoot has nailed it.

    You're right about needing oxygen, plus a nice long cold drink. Climbing those suckers at close to 100 degrees F and 95% humidity was a bit of a mission!

  14. Malaysia seems like an interesting country, would have loved to see pictures of the caves and the flip flop riders ;-) can't wait for next installment :-)

  15. Hi George

    The whole of S-E Asia is great! The caves were so big that my flash was grossly inadequate. Bet you'll find the Batur caves on Google images. you'll see plenty of flip-flops in forthcoming posts!

  16. Wow, fantastic images. What a wonderful trip!
    That elephant looks very uncomfortable for sitting.

  17. Thanks Kari - it gets better and better!

    Yup, fair makes your eyes water :-)