Saturday, 31 December 2016

Orchard Christmas Lights - Crossing the Johor Singapore Causeway ( 22 December 2016 )

Singapore meets Malaysia
Missing Frankie and Rina
Orchard Road
Nassim Road intersects with Orchard Road
Orchard Christmas Lightings
Marina Bay Sands
Helix Bridge
Louis Vuitton, Marina Bay
Bayfront Avenue skyline
Ethereal, Gardens by the Bay

Riding into Singapore via the Johor Singapore Causeway has always fascinated Claudine. In operation since 1923, this 1 km long Causeway sees more than 250,000 commuters daily. While the Second Link Bridge also connects Malaysia to Singapore, only the Causeway is accessible to cyclists. Quoted as one of the busiest border crossings in the world and comparable to the USA-Mexican border, the secret to a hassle free crossing is to avoid the rush hour traffic!

It is with this view in mind that we decided on an 8 pm crossing into Singapore, a formidable yet enticing adventure for some of us. Meeting downtown, we parked our cars outside the JB post office, built in 1963. While the post office has gone through many facelifts, the cast iron post boxes still remain outside, at the far right.

Bernie was completely flustered when Claudine greeted him. Having reminded everyone to bring their lights, he had accidentally left his' at home! Thankfully, Andy had brought extras for he had put his car into drive mode, all ready to rush home!

Riding out, Bernie led us to Jalan Ibrahim. Passing by OCBC bank, we started to keep right. Where the road forks, we ignored the left turn to Jalan Wong Ah Fook. Instead, we took the extreme right which runs up the flyover.

At the busy intersection ahead, we went straight across to Jalan Tanjung Puteri. Here, we rode past Grand Bluewave Hotel before taking the slip road to Jalan Lingkaran Dalam. We kept left until we reached the entrance to the CIQ. Taking the motorlane, we went in and got our passports stamped with no issues!

Things starts to get tricky as we headed out to the Causeway. We have been reminded to be cautious of the metal gratings which could trap our wheels, more so the narrow roadbike wheels which typically runs 23-25mm. Gliding down from the Malaysian CIQ to the Causeway, the ride was bumpy as we rolled through the gaps on the road where the concrete beams meet each other. The speeding motorcycles though respectfully gave us a good margin on the narrow motor lane.

Grinding to a stop on the Singapore side, Claudine flicked out her phone to take photos. Bernie had clarified that photos are allowed but not inside the Singapore CIQ. However, the auxiliary policeman on duty was not happy when our camera pointed towards the CIQ. Sadly, we had to delete those shots!

When the long line of lorries going into Malaysia had crossed, our lane was reopened. We were at the head of the line but cowered when the motorcycles revved their engines to pack the entrance to the CIQ. Fearing a possible skin rub, we allowed them to clear the lane before joining them.

Entering the CIQ, we were baffled with signs that said manual and automated. When in doubt, we chose the manual lanes. Queuing up behind the motorcycles, we noticed the lanes on the right cleared quickly. Upon Andy's suggestion, we carried our bikes over the dividers but soon returned red faced!

The automated lanes were meant for people with employment passes that were synced to their passports. Hence, the reader reads the thumb prints on the passports. However, for full clearance, the autopass card is required for payment of vehicle entry pass. Bicycles though, enter for free!

Riding out of the CIQ we kept right. The left lane leads to BKE which is an expressway not accessible to bicycles. We slowly steered to our extreme right, then turn right at the traffic lights into Woodlands Road. Immediately, traffic quietened down!

We rode along the industrial area before turning right at the T-junction. Right ahead was Kranji MRT, our initial intended destination. We had planned this ride with Joho Foldies in mind but upon their lukewarm response, had switched to "all bikes", doing away with MRT rides.

Here on, it was a perpetual straight road starting from Woodlands Road to Upper Bukit Timah Road. Along the way, we passed Kranji War Memorial and the MRT depot.

Somewhere along this straight road, Bernie crossed over when the lights were green. Following behind, Claudine saw the lights turn yellow then red! As she got safely across, a warning horn blared loudly behind! Oblivious to the colour changes, Maggie was third! She braked hard on time to avoid collision!!!

It was awhile before we finally turned left to Dunearn Road. By this time, Andy had taken over the lead as Bernie had never come by this way. Andy led us on the left turn to Adam Road, then steered into a petrol kiosk. Grinning sheepishly, he now turned the tables on VT who flicked out his phone to check Google maps!

It turned out, Adams Food Center, our rendezvous with YC, Frankie and Rina was just at the intersection where we had taken the left turn! As it was a busy road, we decided to carry our bikes up a pedestrian walkway and down the other side!

Arriving at the food court, YC was already halfway through his Teh Tarik. Frankie and Rina were just arriving. Deciding on our supper, we sat down and chatted close to an hour before pushing off for Orchard Road.

An hour to midnight, YC took us on the most unpresumptuous tour. He led us through the National University of Singapore campus at Bukit Timah, wound our way through their law faculty and sports complex; then skirted around the Botanical Gardens. Then, he took us to Nassim Road to ogle over the Russian, Phillipines and Japan embassies before arriving at the intersection with Orchard Road.

It seemed, YC had choreographed the ride to perfection. Riding on Orchard Road, he strategically stopped at the Thai Embassy. Thereafter, he veered to the right where the road intersects with Paterson road. Surprised, we followed to realize he wanted to give us a photo op with a Christmas tree directly opposite Tangs!

Continuing on Orchard Road, he showed us how to push our bicycles to the center when the lights turned red. All ready, we rode across to Paragon when traffic starts to move.

Orchard Road on foot takes forever to walk but on a bike, we breezed through it within minutes. We were slightly disappointed when the Christmas decorations ended but new sights awaited. Travelling on Bras Basah Road, we glimpsed the 1939 architecture of Cathay cinema. The sights continue to entice with many colonial architectures before we screeched to yet another stop at Singapore's Art Museum. Here, Frankie and Rina had to leave us in a hurry when he received a frantic call from his wife that their littlest son's finger was caught at the door hinge!!!

Bidding them goodbye with a small prayer that all will be well, our group unanimously agreed to continue further to Marina Bay and Gardens by the Bay. We continued along Bras Basah Road, passing by old charms like Chijmes and Raffles Hotel.

Crossing over to Raffles Blvd, buildings began to take a modern twist. Hypnotized by The Eye aka Singapore Flyer, we followed it to the end before turning right onto Helix Bridge. As a true Malaysian, the first thing that caught Claudine's eye before anything else was the Maybank building that stood amongst the skylines of Fullerton Hotel and Merlion.

YC took us on the walkabout then to Gardens by the Bay before ending at Marina Bay Sands to use their toilet. The doors to the shopping mall was open even past midnight. Many toilets were closed for cleaning at that hour hence we ended up walking down a floor and passing by the entrance to the casino.

Waiting for the rest, we observed the cleaning in progress of the mall's water feature. Cleaners were sweeping heaps and heaps of coins thrown in for good luck with their hands while a supervisor looked on! We wondered how they will split the day's profits?

Heading home, YC led us to the center of Suntec City, then Rochor Road before Bukit Timah Road. We passed the famous Newton food center which was still lighted past midnight! He bid us farewell at Balmoral Plaza.

On our own again, Bernie led us on Bukit Timah Road all the way back to Upper Bukit Timah Road. Again, we passed by Bukit Timah Shopping Center and the famed Beauty World. We reconnect to Woodlands Road again, the lead passing from Bernie to Andy to Claudine and surprisingly, Mr Lim!!! Meanwhile, Suzie and VT dutifully took sweeper duty throughout the night!

Back at Woodlands Checkpoint, we went on the car lane instead. Maggie had another near miss when her shoe lace was caught on her crank. Suzie who had always been her guardian angel helped to untangle the laces while the cars behind waited patiently.

At the end of the car lane, we veered to the motorlane on the left. Taking our helmets off which is the required regulation at the CIQ, we passed immigration easily. Thereon, we crossed Tambak Johor, the other lesser known name for the Causeway, climbed the ramp to the CIQ and finally stamped our return.

Back on Malaysian soil, we heaved a sigh of relieve. It is always good to come home to our beloved country. It had been quite an adventure especially the daunting border crossings. As for the few of us who did it together, we now share a kindred spirit!!!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Sekinchan Fun Ride ( 18 December 2016 )

Sekinchan team
Wish upon a tree!
You don't need a drone to do this!!!
Kuala Selangor Fort
Waiting for York Fuan's tyre to be fixed
Brompton with child carrier
You can fall but not my bike!
Leaving Mango King
Riding along the canal
Altingsburg Lighthouse
The people behind the ride
The people behind the ride
Kuala Selangor
Kuala Selangor
Kuala Selangor
Kuala Selangor
Burning the rice fields for next harvest
No drone required
Sunset at Pasir Penampang
Ah Pek's lethal mix

Driving into Kuala Selangor town in the wee hours of the morning, one is guided by the blinking light of the Lighthouse! It stood atop Bukit Melawati like a lone sentry. Built in 1907, to navigate ships plying the Straits of Malacca, its strategic location at the mouth of the river now serves a secondary purpose of guiding the local fishermen home.

Beautiful Auntie!

Our meeting place for today's ride was Auntie's Kopitiam. She serves authentic nasi lemak bungkus, wrapped in banana leaf! Even the kaya in the toast had the smooth caramel flavour unlike some lumpy eggy ones served at many coffee shops these days.

While most of the riders are KL or Selangor based, the other handful had travelled from as far as Johor and Singapore to attend this friendship ride. York Fuan's journey was the most commendable, having taken the night bus all the way from Singapore!!!

Today's ride was particularly exciting for Claudine as it is the first time she meets Jotaro, the famous Ah Pek Biker! She had been following his blog for the longest time, using it as a guide on some of her travels.

Before rolling out, we were given a briefing by Herbert. He touched on safety issues, road conditions, highlights of the ride....Here and there, he cheekily dropped hints of beer stops, where to get cheaper beers, etc!

Rolling out, the sun was a giant microwave heating us up! Within minutes, we crossed the busy bridge that traversed the Selangor River. The huge LKIM complex, a fishery department, dwarfed all other buildings by the riverbank.

We travelled on the main trunk road of Jalan Kuala Selangor - Teluk Intan. This proves a dull road, filled with cars and nothing much to see. What caught our eye though were the endless placards on tantalizing food....mee udang banjir, cendol durian, etc.

The ride to Sekinchan was riddled with Brompton problems....

Peter had a seatpost that kept sliding down. He was assisted by Jotaro.

Much later, Claudine's water bottle jumped off the moving vehicle in a desperate attempt to end its life! It ended up in a recycling center, a few days later!

Thereafter, York Fuan had a tyre puncture!!! Bernie, Jim and a few DFCG guys got their hands dirty while she played damsel in distress, smiling and cheering them on!

Arriving at the town itself, we were all surprised with a strange impromptu stop by some rows of shophouses. It turned out DFCG had arranged for shutterbugs to take photos of the Sekinchan signboard!

Leaving the metal signboard, we turned off the main road and headed for the fishing village. Here, we cruised along a canal of sorts. Running alongside the canal was a sheltered structure of hooks, ropes and pulleys for the fishermen to bring their catch in. This will be a facility for the small sampans but we see none today.

We left the main street to cruise on a narrower street flanked by village homes. The red drapes by the doorway, Chinese silk lanterns and even Taoist altars, worshipping the Heavenly God reveals the predominantly Chinese ethnicity.

Stopping at Dong Xin Fishball factory, we were charmed by the trays of stuffed Yong Tau Foo in myriad colours of red, green and brown. Inside, a group of foreign ladies probably of Vietnamese descent deftly stuffed the fishpastes into chillies, ladies fingers, bitter gourds and bean curds while chatting away in their homeland's dialect.

A river strategically runs behind the factory. Filled with bobbing fishing boats docked to private jetties, the factory should have no problem securing its daily supply of fresh fish!

Opposite the factory, a shop dole out cooked Yong Tau Foo in small packets to consumers. They also sell all sorts of nick knacks, mostly products from the cottage industries around the area.

DFCG had thought of everything for the riders. Buy your YTF, packed them with ice and keep them in the 2 support cars that were following the entourage. But the hungry lot of us just buy and ate them straight away.....well most of us anyway!!!

Leaving the factory, we proceeded to Pantai Redang. The iconic tree filled with charms tied to red ribbons were more mesmerizing in real life than on photos and media. Next to it was a Chinese temple.

We were briefed on our lunch stop by the beachfront, a popular palate of fried oysters, shellfish and seafood. While the bigger DFCG group found themselves a place under a pergola by the beach, VT and Claudine chose to join Bernie and Suzie under the lush shades of 2 huge trees.

Meanwhile, Jo, the Sekinchan expert had a secret rendezvous with Peter. They steered away from the tourist traps, rode to the village center for char kueh tiau and even had time to check out a keropok factory. Not only do they make prawn and fish crackers! These days, they have extended to squid, clams and even lobsters!!! Whatever happened to original and traditional food??? Consumers' incessant demands are pressuring the food industry to go on overdrives!!! 

The botched attempt at mannequin challenge!

Regrouped again after lunch, Jo suggested a short detour to Pasir Panjang. This requires an off road ride along the bund which was most exciting!!! The tide was low and we saw the locals harvesting clams from the seabed. A swamp with sea palm fronds and grazing cows ran alongside the bund. 

We did not travel far before Jo realized he had underestimated the distance to Pasir Panjang. We did sight the coconut trees at the far end of our aborted destination before making a turn back. That was after a flawed attempt of the mannequin challenge!

We were actually quite relieved on leaving Pantai Redang as the place was getting overcrowded with tourists. Thinking we will shed them off, the buses continue to shadow us to our next stop, Ah Ma House, a newly built house fashioned after the old traditional homes with rattan wares, tiffin carriers and traditional food for sale. We ogled at the lady making love letters over charcoal fire, cool down on iced popsicles and tried out some rice crackers.

A little further down the road was PLS Marketing (M) SDN BHD, a rice factory surrounded by acres of paddy fields. Not many of us purchased the tickets required for a museum tour but preferred a hands on experience to the high pile of rice grains in the factory behind. This was sadly out of bounds! Instead we bought drinks and snacks and even made several attempts to join the long queue of tourists on toilet breaks. 

Enroute to the rice factory, some of us made a short stop at our first sight of unharvested paddy. We were delighted to see the paddy stalks filled with the rice grains. Bernie who made several attempts to enter the paddy field finally called defeat when his shoe was soaked through in mud!

We started on a humid morning with a real threat of rain. Even though we escaped rain, the weather was unbearably hot by noon. Too hot to handle, Frankie's family left us for the hotel's pool. Even one support car had gone home by then.

Finishing our last attempt on the mannequin challenge, we rode the short distance to Mango King to cool down on ice blended mango with assam. Done with mangoes, guava and etc which saw Bernie and Suzie nodding away, we rode home via the irrigation canal and watergates. Here, traffic is low and we could finally enjoy the serenity of the whole place.

Sweet Calvin walking his injured friend to support car
The straight and never ending road could have attributed to a fellow DFCG's fall. Riding in a peloton, he locked wheels with the front bike and fell over. Face, arm and leg bruised, we were very thankful our support car was still with us. He was quickly whisked away.

Continuing our ride in solemn, we soon cheered again at the sight of storcks on a paddy field. When the tractor pulling the plough runs over the land, disturbed insects flew out and were quickly feasted on by the white birds!

Finishing our ride at the lighthouse, we proceeded to a planned seafood dinner at Kedai Makanan Laut Hai Ung at Pasir Penampang. The food was really good and the price reasonable considering we had a flow of beer, Guinness Stout and a weird concoction of toddy and stout, a secret mix by our dear Ah Pek Biker!!!

Photo Credits :
Suzie Juliet
Jotaro Zen 
Calvin Ooi