Singapore & Malaysia

Umar gave me a look of relief, as he explained that the receipt would soon alleviate all my current visa dilemmas. I would simply have to hand over an assortment of photocopies, photos and a seemingly worthless receipt and in three days I would be allowed another month in Indonesia. My heart sank in an instant as I painfully recalled throwing away that very worthless piece of paper sitting in my handlebar bag.

“We might have a problem, mate”, I said in a dejected tone.

I’d originally planned to extend my visa in order to catch the weekly ferry from Jakarta to Palu Batam, granting me overland access into Singapore. After the recipt issue, my plan was further thrown in disarray when the immigration officer informed us that the ticket to Palu Batam had to be purchased in Jakarta. By the time I would have arrived in Jakarta my visa would have expired, my ferry would have left, and the $30 daily bill for overstaying my visa would have begun climbing. After driving around Bandung for two hours Umar and I came to the conclusion that an Air Asia flight would be the cheapest and easiest way to get to Singapore.

At first I was pretty annoyed, as I hadn’t planned on taking another plane until Cape Town, South Africa. But over a few cups of tea, I began to realise that having predetermined rules or ideas would become more of a hindrance and turn the whole essence of this ride into something it’s not. This ride is about going with the flow, accepting situations as they come, and not regretting them after. If I have to take another plane then who cares? An added bonus was that I got to stay a week at Citagung 108, a makeshift home for many of the cyclists in not only Bandung and Indonesia, but the international cyclists that pass through the area. The place has a legendary reputation amongst tourers and I could see why. My days were filled with amazing food, campfires, jam sessions and exchanging stories.

After disembarking the plane and stepping into Singapore, I was instantly amazed with the abundance of fresher air, albeit only slightly, than what I had experienced in Java. I was convinced that smoking in Indonesia was a national pastime, like having a BBQ on a warm summers night in Australia. The cleaner air gave way to clearer thoughts and I began to take in my surroundings. Whilst we all inhabit the same planet, it was clear to me that being in Singapore was like being in a completely different world.

Downtown, Singapore
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

In a strange sense of deja-vu, I unpacked and assembled my bicycle in the exact same spot that I had done three years earlier. It was quite a struggle to comprehend how the fuck I got here. The course of my life had taken a pretty big shift after the death of a close friend and a subsequent ten month fundraising bicycle ride. And three years later here I am again. Hopefully a little wiser, a little more frugal, and (of course) a little balder.

The flashbacks continued as umbrella wielding Chinese tour guides paraded in front of their tour groups with matching baseball caps, yelling as loudly as possible in that graceless Chinese way. My added wisdom was paying dividends as I cycled to the Tree In Lodge, a makeshift basecamp for globe trotting cyclists. SK, a former cycle tourer himself, welcomed me with open arms and half priced rooms, with generosity being a constant theme for the next few days. By the time I left Singapore I had a map of Malaysia and Myanmar, some helpful suggestions and ideas, and a friend that I will hopefully bump into again somewhere around the world.

Chinatown, Singapore

Singapore enjoys the very fruits that many Western countries enjoy. Amazing healthcare, education, low crime and economic stability make the country an envious utopia for many other South East Asian countries. For me, an average westerner, it was just nice to be in a metropolis again, without being the only white guy in town. I walked around in a bit of shock, taking in the hedonistic attractions like Maserati sports cars, luxurious shopping malls, and toilets you don’t have to squat on. I often thought about the many rural villages in Indonesia and their simplistic way of life. It still amazes me that an invisible, geopolitical line can dictate so many lives and the opportunities that can arise – or can be taken for granted.

Without doubt, my biggest ‘culture shock’ was the sudden shift in the cost of living. Always one to keep costs down, I hit a new low by donning my cycling bandanna and walking across to the local Sikh Temple. I would aimlessly walk around and within minutes I’d always be invited into the cafeteria for rice and lentils. After the third day I knew a handful of guys on a first name basis and even have an address in Punjab to visit.

​After three days in Singapore I crossed the bridge and entered Malaysia with a 90-day free visa. The monsoon season was well into gear

​Malaysia would usually be a cycling paradise for most. A generous proportion of locals speak English, the food is cheap, and the roads are smooth highway. It would seem a perfect combination. But the more time I spend cycling in Malaysia, the more I felt disconnected from not only the environment I was cycling in, but the social interactions that invariably took the same course. I’d left Adelaide wanting to embark on a grand adventure and I guess that Malaysia simply couldn’t provide that. The monotony of Malaysia’s vast palm oil plantations would only inspire the very people who own them. Hours merged into hours and days merged into days. With nothing else to do, I would cycle well over 140Km each day.

Most afternoons would see me arrive at a local fire station, exaggerating a look of dejection and asking if a poor foreigner could pitch his tent for the night. After interrupting their game of table tennis or volleyball, I would then inevitably be whisked away into my own room with an air conditioner, Wi-Fi and proceed to mock the tourists who would be exchanging their hard earned cash for the very same privilege.

I was often exhausted; leaving me in no mood to hear the firemen scoff at the suggestion that I was still single and that I really was only 26- most had me pegged at 35. After many nights at separate fire stations, I’d devised answers to each question, which would ultimately finish the conversations and let me go to bed. Hi, my name is Andrew Murphy, I am 35 years old, I am married and have two kids, and I am a Muslim. If at any stage I said I was atheist, I would have to spend the next hour explaining how it’s possible to live without believing in a God. One night this backfired sensationally, as the boss replied “Welcome to Islam! Tonight you join us for evening prayers, the mosque is next door”. I had absolutely no idea how to conduct myself inside a church let alone a mosque. The thought of hiding under my bed until shift change occured, but it would look quite awkward if I got sprung. Instead, I simply plugged my headphones into my laptop and talked to myself for the next hour whilst everyone went to pray. “That Andrew really is a nice guy – a bit strange though.”

Batu Caves, Malaysia
Changkat Bukit Bintang, Malaysia
Petronas Towers, Malaysia

​I’ve been on the road now for nearly now. During that time I’ve been able to notice my gradual transition into someone who isn’t enthused, impressed or interested in what many other travellers or tourists are seeing or doing. The daily unsuspecting life on the road gives enough variety to make well-beaten tracks and Lonely Planet suggestions even more cumbersome. With this always in the back of my mind, Malaysia would have to be one of the more boring countries I’ve cycled in. The only things I really saw were the Batu Caves, Petronas Towers, and street art in Penang.

It’s quite unfair to label an entire country boring, and rest assured, I would still recommend anyone who travels by bicycle to come here. Not for the landscape, food, or costs, but purely for the people. I would tell them to come for the generosity complete strangers who would pay for your meal. Or the Warmshowers hosts who would help you in any way. Or even just to meet Balan, the hostel owner in Penang who shouted me beers and took me around the city in his car to perve on hot girls – for many hours.

Street Art in Penang, Malaysia
Street Art in Penang, Malaysia

From here in Langkawi, Malaysaia, I’ll head north into Thailand for about 7 days and then enter into Myanmar. Opportunities are a plenty in this newly opened up country. Tourists have started flocking here and the impact is already starting to show. My opportune plan involves sneaking past checkpoints, gaining permits into tribal areas and seeing many parts of the country that people only dream about. Back to being the only white guy in town again…

Thanks – A huge thanks to SK in Singapore for being a fantastic host. Any cyclists or tourists heading to Singapore have to stay here. A really big thanks to Pablo, May, Alonso and Kendell for allowing me to sleep on your couch in Kuala Lumpur.

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