Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bangkok to Singapore by bike

Well we made it - 1161 miles from Bangkok to Singapore, and no injuries apart from a dead left hand (which I am told will gradually be restored if I stay off the bike for a while), so even typing this is proving tricky!
 I thought the toughest bit of the challenge would be having to dismantle my bike to get it packed into the bike bag that looked far too small - if only I had known what lay ahead of me.
First obstacle over, the bike was squeezed in, padded shorts packed and off I went.  I safely arrived in Bangkok after two long flights, but unfortunately my bike did not - the airline had managed to break it beyond repair (place a fragile sticker on anything being put in the hold and it appears to be carte blanch for them to crush it).  So, with only a few hours to spare, my afternoon in Bangkok was spent racing around the bike shops of the city trying to find a bike that would fit me in a country where the average height is around 4'3"!  

So off we set in an overland truck to the start of our adventure - cycling out of Bangkok was not an option, so we started a few miles on the outskirts.  Within a few hours it was very obvious that the organisers of the trip (Kukri Events) had no idea how to support a cycling team - for starters not one of them had ever cycled - not a great start!  So not only did they not know how to handle our bikes (chucking them in the back of an overland truck seemed fine to them - I was not so impressed with my brand new bike being wrecked so early on, and others who had bikes that were clearly worth a few thousand were even less impressed), they were also intending to feed us along the way.  We were in Thailand which, in my mind, is one of the best countries to eat in the world.  So what are we fed at lunch time?  Boiled pasta, grated carrot, chopped tomato and cucumber and luncheon meat!!  Seriously!  It turns out that the driver of the truck is doing the cooking, and his idea of a great meal is KFC!  And if the food is not sold in Tesco Lotus, then it isn't possible for us to have it, as that is where they did all their shopping (we cycled through hundreds of acres of pineapples but when we requested them for breakfast where told we couldn't have them because there were none in the supermarket!
The final straw was a few days later when we had to sleep in a brothel - yes, I kid you not!
So, after one week, four of us left the group and went it alone - so the next challenge was to find our way from the top of Malaysia to Singapore (thank goodness for Google Maps!).  We hired a local mini bus and a couple of drivers to support us and carry our bags, and low and behold one of them was training to be a chef - how lucky were we?  Instantly the trip changed and became really exciting as we learnt about the food and culture along the way.  Malaysian food is a real mix between Malay, Chinese and Indian, so depending on where you eat will also depend on how spicy the food is.  Rice and noodles obviously dominate most menus, but there are some great foods to be had, like these crabs that were cooked in a little shack on the side of the road where we had stopped for breakfast - we did consider hanging on until lunch, but had 108 miles to do that day so were under pressure to keep moving!
Although the locals do not appear to eat many deserts, it's not because they don't have a sweet tooth as their coffee and tea is made with condensed milk - a thick layer of it at the bottom of each cup, which gives it a very sweet and creamy taste.
It is easy to eat quiet healthily in both Thailand and Malaysia, they don't eat dairy or bread and everything is cooked from fresh - they don't have convenience foods like we do.  So I did manage to loose weight, but would have lost a lot more if we hadn't have found Magnum ice-creams in a few garages along the way!
Two foods really stood out for me - a lemon grass salad that included deep fried shells of prawns and cashew nuts, and Rempeyek biscuits that are made with peanuts and anchovies.  I will be testing both recipes over the next week, so watch this space!

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