Tag Archives: Malaysia

North Malaysian Treasures and Goodbyes


After almost a week of wonderful company and lazing around we were finally ready to leave Penang. Once again I was a bit sad to go but there were plenty of welcome distractions to come. First we met Lily, one of Ty’s English students, who was planning on doing a cycle tour of her own. Between her job and our desire to cycle in the morning hours we only managed a quick coffee but got along really well. She had also lived and travelled in New Zealand a few years back and we talked easily about travelling, ideas of living and cycle touring.


A little while down the road we crossed paths with Brigitte and Fred who had cycled from Switzerland to Malaysia. It was so nice meeting them and as the next cafe is never far away in Malaysia we sat down and had another coffee. Now that’s a morning to my liking :). All the best for your journey ahead you two!


The rest of the day passed quickly…

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… and just when it got dark we reached our warmshowers host Chia Chen in Alor Setar. He had sent us a list with suggested activities + timetable before which left us a bit confused. But as he was very invested in showing us around we thought why not just stay one more day and experience Alor Setar. So we started our day with outdoors yoga which is a first on this journey and ended it with chanting songs in a group – also a first. But both enjoyable to me.


In between we visited a boating competition, conversed a lot with the help of Google Translation and I actually got to try myself at making Roti Canai, one of my favourite Indian Malaysian dishes.

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It is a lot harder than it looks!

We also ate a lot of different food which is always appreciated.


In between we tried explaining how we like wandering around in cities without checking off attractions. Or how we enjoy having a coffee and just soaking in everything around us. Not an easy thing to explain if you only share a basic vocabulary!

But we found these paintings of traditional crafts while wandering:





On our way out of Alor Setar we coincidentally passed the Rice Padi Museum. We haven’t frequented a lot of Museums lately but as we literally rode right past we discussed for several minutes if we should take the chance and go in. That meant giving up riding in the cool morning hours of course but it’s not like we haven’t done that before ;). So we parked the bikes and went in and it was so worth it! From the 360degrees dome with a painting of the changing seasons to the exhibition of different methods of rice cultivation and more – it was informative and nicely done!

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Kedah, the State we were in, is the main rice growing area in Malaysia which showed all around us.



After our museum visit we cycled peacefully through rice paddies which was a nice change of pace.

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As we were nearing the end of the dry season, it was all rather arid and we could only imagine how lush and green this area must look in planting season.

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With El Nino this year Indonesia and Malaysia have had exceptionally little rain and higher temperatures than usual. We keep hoping the coming rainy season will change that. It’s hot at the moment!

And so this was it. After several months in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia we finally leave for Thailand. The border is just around the corner and we’re excited for what’s coming. See you on the other side!

Cycling Coast to Coast in Peninsular Malaysia: Coconuts, Cameron Highlands and Street Art

March 2016


One thing you can be entirely sure of when cycle touring: After a flat stretch – however long it may be – the hills and mountains will always reappear. Always. In our case the hills started maybe a day after we left the East Coast behind. Ever eager to avoid the main road we found a small one and pretty steep one at that.

It’s hard to choose sometimes: The big roads are usually busier but the gradient is gentler. The small roads are quieter and the people tend to be more open and friendly. But if there are hills, the gradient is usually a lot steeper. However exhausting that may be and however much I curse about that sometimes – people like Sambi and his family make choosing the small roads all worth wile:


When we stopped at the road near their property they joined us for our break after giving us some time to relax (very thoughtful and much appreciated). We talked, drank several coconuts and joined forces in getting the hard meat out of the nuts. We laughed, hung out and got heartfelt invites to stay or come back whenever we wanted. Sambi told us that the road we were cycling on had just been paved a while ago and made a big difference for them. He showed us his property with all the coconut trees and the several houses of family all around.


This is why we take the smaller, steeper roads. The people we keep finding there are just something else.


After cycling over a few more (bugger of ) hills we had one long climb to go before we would be up in the mountains, the Cameron Highlands.


p1170522After leaving Kuala Lipis we camped at about 200m at a hospital and started really early for the big climb of about 2000m (including a lot of up and down). To our surprise it was actually quite enjoyable. The gradient was easy, the road big but also with a wide shoulder and there was almost no traffic.

p1170523The morning was absolutely beautiful…


… as was this cicada up close. Here are some more pictures of our ride up:

p1170534 p1170535 p1170537 p1170541 p1170542Going up there are not too many places where you can get water and you need a lot in this climate! But lucky for us there was a lot of water coming down the mountain. Mostly we were sure enough that there was no contamination somewhere above as there was nothing around.  If we weren’t sure we used our Steripen to treat it before drinking.

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Near the top we marvelled at the huge tea plantations and the masses of tourists flocking to them. But the best surprise was definitely the awesome Indian food we found. Cycling uphill makes hungry! Another novelty was the sudden change in climate: As we came closer to the top clouds started to cover the sky and it was suddenly downright cold! Don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly not complaining. What a glorious feeling not to sweat for once.


And then the biggest novelty of all – a real camp site! Due to the hot and humid climate and our scotish tent we hadn’t been camping a lot in the past few months. So we were both eager to tent and have cold nights once again. We found Sungai Pauh Campsite easily and set up our tent in a corner, a bit away from all the school groups.


We met Greg, a very nice teacher whose students had just left and spent the evening talking until midnight. Surprisingly I wasn’t the tiniest bit tired even after all that climbing. Maybe the cold weather?


Strawberries seem to be the big thing in the Highlands which meant that we just had to try some strawberry ice cream. What can you do? The Highlands were originally a place favoured by the British as they appreciated the colder climate. That fascination seems to hold steady until today and is probably also fired by all the produce you can find here: There is a lot of fruit, vegetable and tea growing around here.

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To put it mildly, the Highlands are touristy. Crowded would be a stronger word, especially as our visit coincided with school holidays. But I couldn’t have cared less. We spend so much time outside of touristy places and so much time in nature, that I sometimes relish things like these…


There is really not much a relaxed day with Indian food and cheese cake for dessert can’t fix. When our bodies had recovered from the climb we also did some hiking. There are some pretty good trails where you can once again hike without a guide as they are marked.


In the end we stayed for three days. Mostly because of the climate. As much as we like South East Asia, we both look forward to cycling in less than 30 degrees sometime again.

p1170589Cycling down was also beautiful, especially as the road was closed off in intervalls for construction and we enjoyed a mostly traffic free coasting downhill.

p1170596 p1170603 p1170612My mind was set on reaching Penang in a few days. There we would meet friends of Barbara, our host in Sabah. I was looking forward to that as we hadn’t stayed longer with anyone since Kuantan and I needed to be with friends again.

p1170624 What I didn’t expect was, that I enjoyed both Ipoh and Taiping, the two cities we stayed in between, a lot. Both have interesting architecture – for example old train stations – and a lot of street art.

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And if you’re into strong coffee – we usually liked the coffee in the Chinese run coffee houses the most. Very strong and tasty.


And then it was just one more monstrous cycling day to Penang.


125km, hills, monkeys and our first real wrong turn which added an extra 15k.


But it was still an awesome day of cycling and after leaving these peaceful roads behind…


… we finally saw Pulau Pinang in the distance. More about our awesome week with the fabulous Virginia and Tyrone in a little while!



Cycling Coast to Coast in Peninsular Malaysia: Caves, Hospitality and Taman Negara

March 2016


A beautiful tailwind pushed us on flat and straight road away from the East Coast. In no time we had cycled 80k, sat down for lunch and discussed further options. Torsten wanted to make use of the tailwind and cycle on while I was happy with an easy cycling day and was inclined on stopping and spending the afternoon blogging or reading. This sparked a big discussion on ideal riding days, on decision making, on compromising and needs and wants. Not an easy one but certainly a good one, especially in hindsight.


We did stop for the day, Torsten found a beautiful river and I suggested camping there. Setting the not free standing inner tent up wasn’t exactly easy but it worked in the end :).

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On the next day we cycled past a temple and a cemetery in the early morning and had awesome roti in a small village for second breakfast. Starting early really makes all the difference in this climate. Spontaneously we wrote to a couchsurfing host in Jerantut and asked if we cold stay for the night. He replied almost instantly and invited us to stay. Happy to have a place for the night, we took it easy and then stumbled upon some limestone caves on the way.


We had only about 20k to go, so we followed the sign and wandered around for a couple of hours in some sort of a Natural Park.

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Hiking wasn’t really possible without a guide but we could explore some caves which was very impressive!

p1170408 p1170416p1170423 p1170431 p1170438I absolutely love stumbling upon things like that without doing much planning. So after escaping the worst afternoon heat in the caves we quickly cycled the remaining 20k to Jerantut. We met Mohd, an absolutely awesome guy, who loves travelling and was just on the verge of going to New Zealand for a week. So we talked a lot and exchanged travelling tips. As he had no space to host us at his home at the moment, he brought us to a hostel and insisted on paying for us! We only accepted after he promised us to let us invite him for dinner later. Well, what can I tell you, he broke his promise. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how hospitable people can be!


On the next day we left the bicycles in our hostel and took a bus to Taman Negara. Sure, we could have cycled but going 80k back and forth over a lot of hills didn’t look too inviting.


We weren’t quite sure if we wanted to go to Taman Negara in the first place but given that it is one of the fewer National Parks in Asia where you can go hiking without hiring a guide we went. And I’m so glad we did! The village just before the Park has some good food on offer, the entry fee is really cheap (Entry: 1 Ringgit; Camera fee: 5 Ringgit; Overnight stay in a hide in the jungle: 5 Ringgit) and there are marked trails.You can hire a guide for the longer trails but it’s not compulsory.


We went up Bukit Terisek which only takes a couple of hours but still delivers some stunning views. What was absolutely mind blowing to me was the Canopy Walk though.


To use it you have to pay another 5 Ringgit which is again comparatively cheap and I cannot sing its praises enough: When we arrived it was completely empty which let us completely focus on the magnitude of the trees. For the first time I had an opportunity at grasping the height or the depth of the jungle. There is a whole different world up there which you usually just don’t see!

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Completely amazed and thankful for the experience we left and hiked some more. Eventually we took a bath in a river and arrived at our hide shortly after. The management built the so called hides to give people an opportunity at sleeping in the jungle and wildlife spotting from a vantage point.


Sadly they had just been burning the grass down in front of our hide which really didn’t attract any animals.  After specifically asking which hide would be the best to see animals we were a bit nonplussed. Oh well.


It was still nice to be out in nature. On the next morning we hiked back to the Entrance and decided on a Rest Day in Jerantut. We didn’t really want to start cycling in the middle of the day and Torsten could do with some time for work.

Stay tuned, soon it’s time to cycle up to the Cameron Highlands!

Meeting old and new friends: The Malaysian East Coast

February / March 2016

Some places are all about nature. About quiet peaceful scenery,  singing birds or chattering monkeys. Other places are just all about the people you meet.



While we cycled past some nice beaches, lovely roads…


…and impressive bridges, the Malaysian East Coast was definitely all about the people. We had so many touching, heart warming and beautiful encounters which made cycling in this area incredibly awesome. So, get yourself some coffee or whatever your drink of choice is and settle in to meet some of our friends!

Bob’s paradise

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After getting out of Singapore and Johor Bahru’s traffic we arrived at the relatively quiet East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. There we stayed for three nights in Bob’s green paradise.

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Bob is an amazingly generous person: He doesn’t cycle himself but still likes to invite cyclists over to his place and lets them stay for a few days. He is interested in a lot of topics and we talked about politics, the recent government scandal, nature, birds and the environment.

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When I felt a cold coming down, he taught me to open my own coconut to drink the water which is a lot harder than it looks like! I loved watching the Hornbills enjoying the Papaya trees and also did some bicycle maintenance: The pulleys needed replacement:

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I felt very accomplished after exchanging them. It was one more bicycle maintenance thing that is not hard to do. But if you’ve never done it, it takes some time to learn.

Apart from that we ate a crazy amount of food. Bob and his family spoiled us with food in regular intervals of about two hours which was almost too much even for us. Almost :). When we asked Bob why he hosts people, he said that he realized that a lot of people seem to be scared of Muslims. So with him being a Muslim he wants to get to know people and show that he’s not scary at all. It wasn’t the first time to hear an explanation like that but it still left me with mixed emotions: It makes me sad that someone feels compelled to do that and that there are people who have all kinds of prejudices against Muslims. Getting to experience Bob’s generosity and openness on the other hand is just something else. It is one more human connection that we made, one more friend, one more argument against fear of strangers and discrimination. Thank you so much for that, Bob!


Travellers welcome travellers


Further down the road we reached Mersing. We cycled past some camp sites and considered staying on one just because of the novelty of finding a camp site in Malaysia. But as we still wanted to check out the ferry schedule for the boat to Tioman on the next day we went into Mersing. Once there we weren’t quite sure what to do, asked at some hotels for prices and looked for more camp sites further on. It was already getting dark when we stopped at a house with a few guys sitting on the porch to ask for a place to set up our tent. And that’s how we met Raja, Arab, Mahmood and Jo.


They immediately invited us to stay with them, to share all their food, to have a shower, to wash our clothes and just about everything else we could ever need or want. I have no words for their impromptu generosity! We were pretty lucky in meeting them as the house was Raja’s home and all the others just come on a semi regular basis on weekends.


They had all previously lived and travelled in most parts of the world and completely understood what traveller’s need. For me that always gets very clear when someone offers you to do laundry ;). So we took a shower, got comfortable, talked and shared stories and discovered that we have similar ideas of travelling and living in places. And once again I was reminded why we travel the way we do. It is very unlikely that we would have met the guys in a hostel and I am so very glad that we stumbled upon them.


An impromptu bus ride to Kluang

In Mersing we also spontaneously decided to take Banghui up on her invitation to visit her in her hometown Kluang. We had previously met up with her in Singapore and as she is actually from Malaysia, she often goes back on weekends. As I wasn’t very keen on cycling the 100k back and forth we decided to just take the bus. It was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed the scenery from up above.

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Meeting Banghui again was perfect: We got to meet her family, enjoyed cheese cake with her siblings, ate at a Chinese restaurant with the whole family, walked up a hill, talked a lot and got to know each other better.

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After we had a yummy breakfast at the Kluang Railway station on the next day, she and her sister Jo-Ann even drove us back to Mersing as we missed the bus to get to our ferry in time. Thank you so much Banghui and family, we’re loved being able to just pop over and visit you!!


Rainy season in Tioman

Well, our time in Tioman doesn’t really fit the bill for this article but it was too nice not to include it. We loved being there in rainy season: Not many people, cheap prices and even if the water wasn’t very clear for snorkelling there is something about being in places in the off-season. The vibe is different somehow and I love it. Maybe you understand when you see these…

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A night in Nenasi

After Tioman we stayed one more night at Raja’s place – this time in our hammock and a cot:


With the wind coming from the sea it was so comfortable! After that we cycled on…


… until we reached Nenasi when it got dark. A small village where we wanted to look for a place to camp. As the beach was rather busy we ended up asking at the local Chinese school. And we couldn’t have found a better place! After the guard allowed us to set up camp we washed ourselves in the bathrooms and then met Mei, one of the teachers.


She was so very kind and offered us a lot of her food and we talked for a long time about the school and our travels. There are a lot of Aboriginal children coming to this school and Mei invited us to come with her to visit them in their villages the next day. We would have loved to do that but unfortunately we had already arranged a couchsurfing stay for the next day. But still, it was very interesting to talk with Mei and we felt like staying in a camp site: A kitchen, bathrooms, grass to set up our tent – it was all there :).


Palatian days in Kuantan

“Welcome to my palace” – that’s what Stefani answered to my couchsurfing request. So we cycled to Kuantan, found her place easily and were warmly welcomed with cold water and muffins (a dream coming true after a day of cycling in hot Malaysia). Her house really did feel a bit like a palace – a lot of space and beautifully furnished. Stefani was awesome: Very warm, interested, a lot of stories of her life in different places to tell and one of those persons you immediately feel comfortable with. We enjoyed a few days of rest, getting things of our to-do-list done and having wonderful food and South-African-Cider – of all things! Thank you so much, Stefani!!

All the things in between

And then there are all the encounters in between that make cycle touring so special: We met many more people on the road, had long and short talks and it happened often that we wanted to pay for coffee or food and someone had already taken care of that. All in all it was a beautiful stretch to cycle and travel and the people really made all the difference. When I look at those pictures above, my heart opens up to those people who just opened their heart and home to us strangers. There really is so much beauty in this world if you want to see it.

Discovering diversity: Along the coast to Kuching

January 2016


After our hiking adventures it was high time to get on the bicycles again!


After Bintulu we took a small ferry over the river and managed to get away from the main roads and cycle along the coast for a while.


It was calm and quiet and I loved the small roads. Eventually we turned inland again as we wanted to meet a warmshowers host in Sibu. We saw modern longhouses…


… and tried colourful desserts (ABC).


When it got dark we found a place to stay in Selangau and ate dinner outside. Soon a few guys came to our table and asked if we’re bicycle tourists. Erm, how do they know that? Our bicycles were locked up in our room and we were wearing normal clothes… Their answer was that we must be cycling through – otherwise why would two foreigners stay in that tiny town without any tourist attractions? I admired their combination skills and thought to myself that this is exactly why I like cycle touring. You get to be and stay in places where not too many travellers go. The normal places, the places in between attractions, the places where life is happening.


So we got to know the guys for a bit: They are all Malaysians, but live in Singapore and Melbourne. At that time they were on a fundraising tour for the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Hospital.


On the next day we made our way to Sibu.


It rained all morning and I loved it. It even felt a bit cold sometimes and I cherished that sensation as long as it lasted.


In Sibu we found John’s house easily and were welcomed by his family. It was their first time to host any foreigners so we were all a bit nervous. But we got along very well and over the following couple of days they introduced us to a truckload of new food!


I am still absolutely awestruck by all the new vegetables I got to know in Sibu. Some of them at John’s home – cooked and processed – and some of them at Sibu’s fresh market.


It has a jungle sections where people sell vegetables and more – harvested just a few hours ago from the jungle. It is seriously amazing!


I had thought that I already knew a lot of locally grown fruit and vegetables after a few months in Indonesia and Malaysia.


It turns out my knowledge wasn’t that big after all. There are so many different greens, so many fruits in all shapes, colours and sizes and often even John or his mum didn’t know the name for them.


There is an abundance of everything and for the first time I begin to understand what biological diversity really means.


We then took a walk around Sibu which was also very nice.

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An afternoon visit to John’s grandma in her village longhouse with a tasting of home made rice wine left us with even more impressions.



John told us that nowadays it’s mostly elderly people and kids who live there.



The young people usually look for work elsewhere.


When we said good bye, John’s grandma has tears in her eyes and I was reminded of my own family and the good byes after a visit to my grand parents. Some things are so similar, no matter if there is thousands of kilometers in between.

Thank you John and family for hosting us – we had an amazing time with you! I am so very thankful for all the new things we learned staying in and around Sibu. That’s what travelling is about!


From Sibu it wasn’t far to Kuching. We cycled along the coast, on small and quiet roads.


After meeting Alex, a friend of Simon (our host in Miri), he organised accommodation further down the road with a friend of his in Roban. So without a common language and only because we knew a friend of a friend, Mr. Ah Poo trusted us with one of his spare rooms for the night. These gifts that we get as we cycle along will never seize to amaze me.


On the next day it got even better. After a beautiful day of cycling we arrived in Maludam and looked for a place to sleep. Several homestays were on offer but too pricey for us. So we sat down in a cafe, had perfect coffee and steamed buns that reminded me of a German dish (Dampfnudeln 😉 ) my mum makes. We then asked the very friendly owner if he knew a cheaper place to stay for a night. He said he would ask his friend and came back a short while later only to invite us to his home! We gladly accepted and let the magic happen once more: Awang, Juria and their big family opened their house to us, gave us our own room and we had a lot of fun preparing and sharing dinner together.

There is a myriad of languages spoken in Malaysia, with Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin being the most widely used. On top of that there are a lot of local languages. On this journey we cannot ever learn all the languages we encounter properly but of course we try to learn at least a little. As Bahasa Malayu is similar to Bahasa Indonesia we could do some Smalltalk and try to explain our trip. And Awang’s family spoke some English, too. So with those two languages and of course body language we had a fun evening getting to know each other.


The next day turned out to be a crazy one! We had planned on cycling towards Kuching and staying somewhere in between. But when we started looking for places to stay there was just absolutely nothing around or later nothing in our price range. Interestingly a lot of places which you could rent for a few hours though. Buut that’s just not enough rest for a cyclist ;).

So we kept on pedalling and eventually it got dark and we still cycled some more. At some point we decided to just go all the way to Kuching. At least we would find a hostel there and get some proper rest tomorrow. So we kept on cycling, looked up a place online and got there, very much exhausted. With 145km we had just cycled our longest distance in a day! The manager of the hostel we stayed was very impressed with our journey and gave us a dorm room all to ourselves.


We stayed there for two nights and then moved to Syakirah’s, a couchsurfer who generously left us her place as she went away for the weekend. It was awesome to have a flat to ourselves for a while! So for a few days we didn’t do much.


My body needed rest and food and being stationary for some time. Kuching is a nice city to get all that, too.


We wandered around for a bit, had coffee, got invited by a few businessmen to join their Friday morning breakfast and met up with Simon, our warmshowers host from Miri once again.


All in all this stretch of cycling was beautiful and we met so many different people who made it even better. I love the diversity of it all: Sometimes we contact people beforehand (through warmshowers or couchsurfing) and sometimes we meet people on the road and sometimes someone invites us into his or her home without even knowing us. Each time when we leave we take another story with us, maybe a few words in a new language and each time we have made a new connection, a new friend. Ideas and preconceptions get replaced with faces and personal stories that I can relate to. This is how our world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. Bigger because of all the people and experiences. Smaller because all those people really aren’t that far away any more. I mean that in a cultural sense and in a physical one. Culturally we have a lot in common with all kinds of people we meet and physically – I mean, come on, you can go there on a bicycle! Why don’t you try it?




On friends and hiking in Sarawak’s National Parks

January 2016


After 5 months of cycle touring one of my dreams came true: Carina, a long time friend from back home was coming to visit! Very spontaneously she decided to spend her winter holiday in warmer climates and visit us. That was perfect for us as we’re not good long term planners anyway.

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With a bit of logistics involved we decided to spend a few days in Miri with our generous warmshowers host Simon who graciously let us stay in his flat as long as we wanted. There we would meet Carina and go off to hike several National Parks.


Torsten and I both love hiking but we haven’t done a lot of that since starting cycle touring. Quite often it involves a lot of planning and hassle (getting to the trail head, leaving the bikes and the luggage somewhere safe, having to engage a guide, paying a lot of fees for using the trail) and we already do a lot of planning for the cycling part of our journey. So this is why we were quite excited on the chance of actually going hiking again.


After a breakfast of roti we set off towards Lambir Hills National Park. Carina on the bus and we on our bicycles. We had quite the laugh when we managed to cycle into the entrance right as Carina’s bus arrived ;). We settled into our hostel accommodation and then walked towards several waterfalls. One actually had a lake where we could swim!


As it got dark we walked back “home”, cooked dinner and fought a battle against a lot of mosquitoes.


In the next morning Torsten and I hopped on our bicycles once more to cycle the 70k to Niah National Park. When we started it was raining lightly and it continued like that for while. It was the best weather to cycle in a long time and the 70k ride passed quickly. Carina hailed a bus in the meantime and relaxed a bit until we got there. Once again we secured a hostel room and I cannot recommend the accommodation in Sarawak’s National Parks enough! Simple, clean and affordable – what more do you want for a hiking adventure? We had thought about camping before but as Carina didn’t have a tent and it was hot and humid as always we preferred the hostel.


In the afternoon we walked along a perfectly comfortable board walk to the Niah Caves. I wasn’t sure if I would manage a long hike after already having cycled quite a bit in the morning but the trail was really easy. We spotted some colourful centipedes…


… and were blown away by the magnitude of the caves:


My camera is not good enough to take pictures in the dark, so you just have to visit yourself! There are a lot of birds flying around all the time and you see  many constructions and scaffolding for bird nest collectors.


The walk back was a quick one and after that we joined a group from Singapore for a Chinese dinner in Niah. Very delicious!


Previously we had planned to go to the next National Park in the morning but as we talked a bit we came to the conclusion that staying for one more day was good as well. Our accommodation was really beautiful and I already felt that we were going too fast and trying to do to much. So we decided to stay a bit longer. That meant that we would try and go up Bukit Kasut the next day.


And oh, what a hike it was! At first it started out all flat and we were wondering when the climb would begin.


And when it did it really went up up up! The steep slopes in the humid jungle let the sweat drop from our every pores and we took a lot of breaks to drink huge amounts of water.


But it was a lot of fun and the views were absolutely fascinating. Especially given that the elevation was only about 300m high.


After that we somehow got a boat over the river and had a late lunch in Niah. We did some shopping and hitchhiked back to the National Park. Dinner was an amazing set of about 5 home made dishes and we almost finished it all.


The next morning brought a first: Torsten and I would split up to get to Similajau National Park. I wanted to spend the time with Carina and we would therefore try and hitchhike with my bicycle in tow. Torsten would cycle the distance of 110k in the meantime. So he left early in the morning while Carina and I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and had time to talk and reconnect.


About two hours later we arrived in Similajau National Park, having successfully found two lifts. Due to my bicycle and the two of us it had to be a pick up truck with 5 seats or we would have had to split up. But it was easy enough and our second lift actually drove about 100k out of his way just because he wanted to make sure to get us to the park. We assured him repeatedly that we would be fine but he wouldn’t have any of it. What an amazing guy!


Similajau National Park lies on the beach and so we spent the next two days relaxing at the beach and hiking alongside it. p1150915

We didn’t see any crocodiles (much to my disappointment) but found other fascinating wildlife:


We marvelled at the intensely coloured rivers…


…and had beautiful sunsets.


And then – much too soon – it was time to say good bye again. Carina, thank you so much for visiting us! It was absolutely awesome to share our life with you, to reconnect and to get to know the diversity of Borneo together.



On making friends, train rides and a fabulous christmas celebration

December 2015

Sometimes everything just falls into place. You might have had a hard time before or even for the briefest of times thought about quitting but then something happens that makes everything perfect. In my case I get that feeling almost exclusively when I meet people. The beauty and sadness of travelling as we do  is that we know that we only have a few days with mostly everyone. So meeting someone new and becoming friends can happen very quickly and intensely. This is a story on making friends and absolutely loving it!


When we were in Keningau, Torsten’s achilles tendon hurt even during the 500m walk to our breakfast place. So we called our warmshowers host in Tenom to ask her about hospital options or any other ideas. Barbara generously offered to pick us up and after some consideration we accepted. We could have cycled but most likely it would have made matters worse. She arrived about an hour later and we drove over many more hills to Tenom. The small town nestled in the mountains became our cosy home for the next week. Barbara’s house was a haven to recover from the exhausting ride and my first two days were spent with doing a lot of nothing except for reading and eating. It was glorious.


During the following week we took turns cooking wonderful and diverse meals and satisfied our hunger for cheese and all kinds of food we hadn’t had in a long time. I’m talking quiche, curry and muffins and feta salad here. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was! It’s quite interesting how I get homesick for food sometimes…

p1150197 We also did a bit of bicycle maintenance. As my cassette was quite worn for some time now I exchanged that and finally put our cassette tool and chain whip to use.


It was actually really easy to do that! Over time I’m gaining a lot of confidence to do bicycle related stuff on my own or with a little help from Torsten. I like that most things are relatively easy – not like a car with complicated electronics and such.

As Barbara was busy setting up her new language school in Tenom we helped with painting one of the classrooms. I really enjoyed doing something with my hands for once and it was nice to see the change on the walls right away.


Apart from that we didn’t do a lot. We panic visited the botanical garden on our last day which was quite beautiful.


But the most important thing for me was the feeling of being at home somewhere. I like travelling and all the experiences it brings but I also miss spending time with friends and family a lot. In Barbara we found a very good friend and after a few days it felt like we had known each other for a very long time. We felt entirely comfortable there, sometimes spending time together talking, sometimes reading or working a bit, sometimes having coffee or a beer and watching TV. It was a relaxing holiday with the best company we could have wished for.


When it was time to leave an intense feeling of sadness overcame me and stayed with me for a while. Sometimes the part where we leave people and places behind is really hard. Then again this wasn’t going to be the last time to see Barbara! As Christmas was coming up she invited us to spend it with her and a friend at the beach and we gladly accepted. I was happy about the prospect of being with friends during the time of year where I would miss my family a lot.


So we took the fabulous rickety train out of Tenom towards Kota Kinabalu and enjoyed the hell out of it.

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The train has open wagons and slowly meanders through a river valley lined by small villages.

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It is a truly awesome experience!


After that we spent a few days in Kota Kinabalu. We met up with John, a warmshowers host and he introduced us to his friend Alex who’s sister would host us for a few days. Confused? So where we at first but it actually was a lot of fun. Henny and her family invited us into their home, gave us yummy food and let us try their home made ice cream! From that moment on I was won over… 😉


Alex invited us to a cycling city tour on the next day which was awesome as we didn’t have to navigate for once.


He also showed us a cheap bicycle store where I exchanged my chain rings.


On Christmas day we left the city and cycled a short 20k to the beach.


We were welcomed with a Christmas cookie buffet, coffee and mango juice. With the taste of home in my mouth and the beach right in front of me it was the perfect combination to celebrate Christmas on our tour.


We then met Barbara and her friend Louise and had loads of fun and more good food and drinks. It was heaven on earth!

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So sometimes everything just falls into place. You meet someone and get along instantly and all the hard times of cycling uphill in the jungle are forgotten. Thanks heaps, Barbara, that was all (and a lot more) that we needed!

p1150464(As we had the chance we actually surprise visited her once more a few days later. We rarely get to just pop by someone’s house with our mode of travelling. So we jumped on the chance of using the train one more time and I loved the look on Barbara’s face when she saw us sitting in her driveway!)


Into the jungle: Hills, Plantations and an elephant

December 2015

Finally, after almost two weeks and a course of antibiotics I started to feel better. Then of course Torsten felt sick for a couple of days but in the end we did manage to leave Tawau at some point. It was nice taking it slow for a while and I enjoyed getting to know the town. A few times we’ve been invited for food or drinks just out of the blue but overall people were a bit more reserved (while still very friendly) than over the border in Indonesia. It was relaxing not to be in the centre of attention all the time. But now we both felt antsy to get going.

We had decided to go inland once more to avoid the busier and more touristy coastal road. And thus the Kalabakan road awaited us and would lead us over many a hills and show us what cycling in the jungle is really like. There would be some towns in the beginning but then a  rather empty stretch of more than 100k. We didn’t have anything like that since Australia! On the first day we took it slow as Torsten was still recovering and cycled a mere 30k to Tawau Hills National Park. A lot of the National Parks in Borneo, Malaysia, offer accommodation and camping space, so we planned on hiking a little bit and camping for the night.


When we first got there we were joined by about 200 locals enjoying the picnic area for their Sunday picnic. But as soon as we started hiking it thinned out quickly. We discovered mosses and ferns and huge ants…



We got surprised by a heavy rainstorm and were soaked in the matter of a few minutes. For the first time in weeks we actually felt a bit cold and warmed up in these warm springs:

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And then it was just s short hike back to our camp site in a soccer field:



The next morning marked the first of many to come where we actually managed to start cycling with the first light. We had planned on doing that for a long time as it kept getting hotter. Now in Borneo the humidity was also a major factor which finally made us getting up earlier. And oh, cycling in the morning hours was pure bliss! Climbing hills was easy and I loved the breeze of cool air while coasting downhill.


We were in for some wildlife surprises today: It started with a beautiful moth on the toilet building of our camp site…


…and right after this sign…


…Torsten actually spotted an elephant in a plantation! I’ve read that they move into the palm oil plantations as their natural forest habitat gets smaller and smaller with all the logging. Still, it was pretty amazing seeing one in the “wild” without a zoo or anything. Over a few minutes we had a cloud of about 20 locals around us who stopped their cars to see what we were looking at. So I guess elephant sightings are not that common here!


For the rest of the day we had beautiful views over hilly plantation land accompanied by comfortable roads.

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The cycling got a bit more challenging though. While we enjoyed that breeze in the morning hours there was absolutely no wind later. Only the scorching sun and high humidity. So this is when we really got to know the most important feature of the Kalabakan Road: Apart from one 20k stretch some time in the end it was just never flat. And by that I really mean n e v e r. It was Up and Down or Up Up Down or Up Up Up Up Down Down Up Down Up Up. You get the picture.


During noon we found a little pagoda and I took a long nap. The heat exhausts my body in a very special way.


After that we cycled on, wondered about crass signs in palm oil plantations and finally found a place to camp at the Rest House in Kalabakan. It was a long day.


Nevertheless we got up early the next day and cycled on. The morning hours were beautiful again and the morning sun spread a warm light around us.


Today we left the plantations and finally cycled through forest. There was more shade on the road which felt great. Also we noticed a big difference sound wise. There seems to be a lot more insect life in the forest. Also a LOT of monkeys but they are usually too far away to catch with my little camera.


When it got hot we found a stream which made a perfect picnic place. And it was even deep enough to swim in and thus marked about the only time of day when I felt entirely comfortable.


After that we basically cycled up and down hills in the jungle. The ‘jungle’ triggers these wild and exotic images and yes, that may partly be true. The forest around us was a 100 shades of green, lush and overgrown. It was just beautiful. Often we would hear a swooshing sound and then see a monkey flying through the trees. We listened to birds in the distance and the loud singing of cicadas. Of course the forest is so dense that you wouldn’t see an elephant 5 metres away from you as there is too much green in the way. So our elephant spotting yesterday was quite lucky indeed.

After Kalabakan we barely encountered any traffic except for the palm oil and logging trucks with the very friendly drivers. That was fortunate as the gradients kept getting steeper today and we had a lot of 10+% ones. So we could mostly make use of the whole road and cycle up in switchbacks. It was still over the top exhausting. The uphills were long and steep and I usually had to stop a few times to rest and give my body a break. Hopefully there would be a patch of shade to bring my body temperature down a bit but if not I would just stand in the scorching sun and try to catch my breath.


Keeping the spirit high under these conditions was quite the task. But then we were once again rewarded in the highest possible way: When we had researched the road we found an Organic Farm in the middle of nowhere and thought we would just ask to camp there. And that’s what we did. The manager was very friendly and even offered us a room to stay in.


We cooked some dinner and couldn’t have been happier about having a place to stay when the heaviest rain started 10 minutes after we arrived. We talked away the evening with Tony, the manager, found out more about the farm and were then invited to stay another day.


In exchange for some help we got rice and fresh organic vegetables and thus had our first lettuce-cucumber salad in months! It’s absolutely not that I don’t like local food, but sometimes a little taste from home goes a long way.



We climbed up a fantastic tree house about 20 metres high and marvelled about the built in toilet and the fantastic views over the farm from up there.



We helped getting rid of weeds for a few hours and I was absolutely humbled by the hard work and the people doing it every day.


Once again I know deep down that all the exhausting cycling is worth it when we discover places like these.

Oh and look who said hi! A bit scary…


On the next day we had about 90k to cycle until we would get to a small town with hopefully a place to camp. We got up early, had breakfast and cycled off. and cycled through the muddy drive (from all that heavy rain) up to the main road  and almost instantly got stuck. The 500m to the main road took us about 15 minutes and then we needed about 30 minutes to get all the mud off the tyres and brakes. And there we were, once again drenched in sweat.


So after that slow start we finally cycled off when it already got hot.



With the never ending sun and many steep hills we got to Sapulut after about 8 hours later. With my body shaking from exhaustion the food in the restaurant never tasted so good and the coffees were amazing. We sat there for about an hour and relaxed before we got on to find a place to sleep. Being as tired as I was, I just wanted to find a bit of grass ANYWHERE and crash. Preferably with a bit of water around to wash. So we asked around but weren’t really that successful. Then one of the locals suggested we try asking at the nearby church.


We asked how nearby exactly and he said just down the road, maybe about 10 minutes with the bicycle. Do you know about that thing how never to trust motorists when it comes to distances and tiny things like elevation? Yep, that’s a thing.


Long story short, the very helpful local showed us the way on his scooter and soon we turned away from the main road, cycled down all the way to the river valley on a gravel road (all of which we would have to cycle up again tomorrow).


And that’s when I completely lost it. Somewhere in my mind I was aware of the fact that the guy was being nice and going out of his way to help us. But I was so utterly exhausted that I didn’t care about that at all any more. As we kept going downhill and then over a few more hills along the bumpy road I started to cry and curse and simply wanted to quit right there and then. When some dogs started to chase after me I rethought that option but overall it wasn’t my finest hour.


When we finally got to the church (me after pushing up a few hills) the nicest family was – of course – waiting for us and welcomed us into their home. It was incredible. They must have noticed my lack of composure but it didn’t matter. They were so absolutely kind, warm and welcoming, showed us to a room, to the kitchen and the bathrooms. We talked a little bit, made plans for breakfast and then they left us to relax. When the rain started and thunder growled in the distance I slowly started to regain my composure and thought to myself that this couldn’t have been more perfect. Somehow it always turns out well in the end.



The next two days were slow ones. Before leaving we had a beautiful breakfast with the family, got to know each other a little and in the end I couldn’t thank them enough. As they were going to drive the road up to the market anyway they took our luggage to the main road. That meant that cycling uphill was fun and didn’t take long at all. We looked around at the market, got a few snacks and said good-bye.


Over the next two days we didn’t cycle as much, had longer breaks and I found it increasingly hard to keep up the motivation.


There was one 20k flat stretch but apart from that another hill always came up and I knew that it was time for rest.


In addition to that Torsten’s achilles tendon started to hurt which is why we contacted our warmshowers host in Tenom. We planned on cycling the last 40k to Tenom very slowly or hitching a lift but when she offered to come get us in her pickup truck. And when I saw all the remaining hills we still would have had to cover I didn’t mind one bit.


So cycling the Kalabakan road was again a compilation of the most diverse things and feelings: Bliss in the morning, beautiful nature, friendly and helpful people but also relentless heat and humidity, steep gradients and an overall feeling of exhaustion. What stays is once more that someone will always be there when you need it the most. And for that I am so so grateful.

Sick in Tawau: On unwritten rules


After stopping in Nunukan for a couple of days and accidentally overstaying our Indonesian Visa (we should know better by now than to trust boat schedules on a board), we finally arrive in Tawau, Borneo. Our first days in Malaysia are partly amazing and partly just very quiet. Food wise we are in heaven: Suddenly there are so many different tastes and spices, something that we missed quite a bit in the last months. We indulge in Indian food, mostly bread with dhal and curry. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. YUM!


On other news I’ve been fighting with a slight cold since we cycled out of Makassar and unfortunately that has turned into a fully grown bronchitis by now. I’m coughing my lungs out and feel slightly tired all the time. When our neighbour from next door comes over to bring me some of her old cough medicine I know that it must be quite loud, too.


So I make use of our nice little hostel room: I drink about 3-4 liters of tea every day, lie in bed and watch a LOT of TV shows. While Torsten is somewhere working, I sometimes venture out to get food or medicine or just walk around a bit. And somehow this is just what I need: having a bit of time to get used to a new place.


While I don’t think that everything changes when you cross a border, Malaysia has still a few new things to discover / deal with. One of those things – and for cyclists maybe the most important thing of all – is always food. And by that I mean food choices, availability, prices and so on. Yesterday we were at a restaurant for coffee and I saw that they have Mee Goreng Tauhu (Noodles with Tofu). When I later went back there to have lunch I was informed that they only make noodles for breakfast. So I went to another restaurant and asked for noodles and what do you know – noodles seem to be a breakfast dish here. At least in the small and simple restaurants that we usually go to.


It’s small and simple things and unwritten rules like that which are quite important for us to discover. It’s not necessarily a Malaysian thing though, it might just be the city or a certain area. In the Indonesian city of Ruteng for example most everything seemed to be closed by 8 pm. On the contrary in many other areas in Indonesia people seem to pour out on the streets after it gets dark and get together to eat and drink and meet family and friends.


Another example is Martabak – a kind of crepe which usually has an egg vegetable filling and is fried in oil. Very delicious! When we wanted to buy that dish in Mataram on Lombok, every single roadside stand (and we saw about 20 of them) exclusively made that dish with meat. Before and after that city, Martabak would in 99% of all cases be vegetarian. So setting your mind on a specific kind of food at a specific time of day you might just be in for a lot of surprises!


I  try to understand things like that in retrospect and think about how Mataram as a big city might just be richer and meat might be more available. Ruteng on the other hand is high up in the mountains and might be too cold (in a relative sense) to hang out outside in the evening and therefore shut down its shops earlier.

For our daily (cycling) life that means that a lot of small things change all the time. Sometimes I understand why, sometimes I wonder, sometimes I never find out what it’s about. Sometimes the changes seem to be relevant in a certain city or for a specific group of people, for an area or even for a country. You never really know before though. And you never stop stumbling across those unwritten rules.

At the moment I enjoy having a lot of time finding out about life and food in Tawau, Borneo. And so I get better albeit slowly. After almost two weeks I’m finally fit enough to leave Tawau and take on the Kalabakan Road. Off we go, into the (Palm Oil) jungle!

Route planning updates

Adapting plans

As you might know we initially planned to cycle from Sydney to Darwin if possible and then try to find a boat going to Timor Leste. Well, that was the ideal solution. Given that we spent the first two weeks of our 90 day Australian tourist visa in Sydney waiting for a package with some gear that never arrived it didn’t look too promising in the beginning. Over the next few weeks we didn’t make too much progress distance wise either as we (and by that I mean me, mostly) were getting used to cycling with all the added luggage and that proved to be way more exhausting than expected – especially when cycling uphill.
So as it soon became quite clear that we probably wouldn’t make it all the way to Darwin on our bicycles we considered some more options like finding a camper van relocation and driving from Cairns to Darwin. Then we could still try to find a boat from Darwin to Timor Leste. As we talked that through it became more and more apparent that while we would get to see more of Australia it wouldn’t be going slowly but instead feel like rushing through the country. And we quite liked the pace we got used to in the last months.

Flying after all

So we decided to take our time. We wrote to some people with boats going in the direction of Timor Leste or Indonesia from Cairns. But no one even wrote back. We knew that it was a long shot and even if some people had actually done it, many others haven’t managed to find a boat. We also knew that being at a harbour might increase our chances of meeting someone who was going in the right direction but that would cut into our cycling time, too.
So, after much talking we decided to bite the bullet and fly. We would have loved to avoid that but with the little time on our tourist visas we didn’t really see a good possibility to do that. Looking at flights the connection to Dili in Timor Leste was an expensive one so we chose to fly to Bali instead.

Detouring Indonesia

The obvious route from there would be to go west to the islands of Java (and maybe Sumatra) and then on to Singapur. But ever trying to avoid traffic and wanting to see the Borneo part of Malaysia we decided to skip Java and do a little detour. So we plan to go east instead of west and cycle the islands of Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sulawesi and take a boat to Borneo, Malaysia from there. Actually, there will be quite a few boat connections in between, some ferries and the – in cycling circles – rather infamous PELNI boats. But I do think that that is not a bad way to travel Indonesia with its over 18.000 islands.
After Borneo we will take one last PELNI boat to Batam, a small island near Singapore and from there take a ferry to Singapore. This is our plan for now, who knows how it works out and how many changes we still make.