Hitchhike to India leg 59: Kuala Lumpur to as close as I can get to Phuket

Saturday 17 December

It was with more than a little trepidation that I set out this morning on what was potentially a very lengthy and difficult hitchhike.  After the events of the previous few days – namely myself cocking everything right up – I was very nervous to get back on the road.  Making a series of in exhaustive, brain-dead errors recently did not bode well for my attempt to get back into Thailand; but nonetheless out I foolhardily strode in the early morning sun to see just how close I could possibly get to complete ineptitude.

7 am and not a sinner on the roads.  This could be a long day.

7 am and not a sinner on the roads. This could be a long day.

 It didn’t start well.  I opted for breakfast on the go, selecting what I hoped was something edible in a grocery store you couldn’t swing a cat in.  With no apparent fridge to speak of (and thusly a distinctly obnoxious lack of sandwiches) I selected a chocolate muffin thing – which turned out to be truly horrible.  Still, I forced it down in the knowledge I had little idea when I was going to eat again, and hoped it wouldn’t come back to say hello in some poor chaps expensive Honda.

It was looking decidedly bleak for all of two minutes.  Although traffic was near non-existent at this ungodly time, of the few vehicles that did drive by, one of them picked me up.  I was less than a quarter of an hour out the door, fed and watered, and already on my way.  Things were looking peachy.

First ride of the day - I hope I don't puke.

First ride of the day – I hope I don’t throw up.

My first host, an oil engineer, can take me about 100 km up the road, which I’m more than happy with to get me underway.  And it was to become the first of several rides where the conversation flowed freely, a constant back and forth of banter and camaraderie.  In fact – from here to the Thai border – everyone who picked me up spoke near native English, and although that meant me repeating my story around five times for the duration, it didn’t bother me one bit. The astonishing thing was just how fast I managed to make it to customs.

Change my shorts

Change my shorts

But it wasn’t without its hair-raising moments.  The road from the capital all the way into Thailand is pretty much highway the whole stretch – unless you choose to take the toll-free roads (which you may recall I did in an 18 wheeler on the way down to KL – seeing a lot of Malaysia at the pace of a snail).  So if you’re being dropped at a service station, this can be squeaky bum time when abandoned on the hard shoulder where traffic blazes past at 150 mph, and the resulting draft threatens to whip your hitch sign under tyres, the glasses off your face, the hat off your head and your head off with it.  It also makes it difficult for anyone to stop – which if I was anywhere else but Malaysia it might have been a problem.  Perhaps it was a combination of the kindness of Malays, the dangerous locale I found myself in, or just the absurdity of spotting a flustered, sweaty, sunburnt white guy with a large backpack and an INDIA sign that made people pull in to give me a lift.  Either way, I’m liking this country more and more.

Henry and colleague rescued me from the hostile highway.

Henry and colleague rescued me from the hostile highway.

And they dropped me here - much more beneficial for my anxiety problems - the coveted motorway service station.

And they dropped me here – much more beneficial for my anxiety problems – the coveted motorway service station.

Which is awesome because I can feed myself pot noodles - or try to bribe truckers with them.

Which is awesome because I can feed myself pot noodles – or try to bribe truckers with them.

As always with my beloved rest stops, I can visit the little boy’s room, have something to eat, and be back on the road in no time.  You have a captive audience for every vehicle that trundles by, and you can make accusing/pleading contact while seeing the whites of the driver’s eyes.  This means that waiting times are at a minimum, and you’re not going to get spread over a mile stretch of tarmac by a tanker.

This is Saridan. He is very cool.

This is Saridan. He is very cool.

And sure enough, I’ve barely wolfed down my noodles before I’m whisked into the next leg by Saridan, a university lecturer taking his boys on holiday.  We’re gassing non-stop for the next couple of hours, covering a wide range of topics, and with never a dull moment – and it’s a crying shame to see his taillights disappear round the junction he leaves me on. But the hospitality doesn’t stop there.

Once more unto the breach dear friends!

Once more unto the breach dear friends!

 I’m dropped at the beginnings of a toll road, but traffic is still coming too fast and I’d rather be anywhere but here.  Yet again Malaysia delivers as I’m in the passenger seat of another ride within moments, and yet again the hours fly by in conversation – this time with a charming nappy salesman.  That’s diaper salesman to you heathens over the pond.  I’ve certainly been meeting folk from all walks of life thus far, and he edges me closer to my destination by dropping me some 80 km south of the Thai border – but alas – on another motorway hard shoulder.

One observation regarding hitchhiking great distances is that invariably it’s the traffic in the fast lane that you really want to attract – but ain’t nobody stopping for nothing at those sorts of speeds. Folks crawling up on the nearside, on the other hand, are more likely to be able to safely pull to a halt – but the chances of them breaking 200 km are slim – unless they’re in the big rigs – and then you’re never making anywhere with any pace.  Both are as rare as the other, but on this occasion, I get a wonderful stroke of luck.

Look carefully under the bridge in the distance for the yellow car - those reversing lights are for me.

Look carefully under the bridge in the distance for the yellow car – those reversing lights are for me.

After another flurry of traffic screams by, I squint my eyes to see the unmistakable white of reversing lights twinkling for afar, slowly backing up to my position.  I’ve been standing here for a minute.

Dr Azman was flying past in the far lane when he spotted me, and then sensibly waited until it was safe to cross three lanes to pick me up.  Although reversing up the hard shoulder of a motorway would get you in some deep shit in the UK, lucky for me it seems it’s all right here, and he’s come back maybe 100 yards for my benefit.  Very soon, much like every ride I’ve had so far today, we’re chatting away, with his cute-as-a-button niece striking a confused small figure in the back seat.  ‘Who is this strange man talking at my uncle?!’  ‘Why is he taking advantage of my uncle being a doctor and asking him all kinds of questions about things that are going wrong with him?’  ‘What a strange man!’

I only asked him if he knew what this odd pulse feeling I kept getting in my legs was. Asking him about any other ailment in the circumstances would have been very embarrassing.

I only asked him if he knew what this odd pulse feeling I kept getting in my legs was. Asking him about any other ailment in the circumstances would have been very embarrassing.

And not only did the good doctor assist me in my current, end-of-the-world-as-I-know-it health problem (muscle spasms due to walking/traveling far on days such as this – I’m clearly getting old), he decided to take me considerably out of his way to drop me right on the border!  I was astounded.  Thanking him and his niece profusely, I marched confidently towards customs.  Leaving at 8 ish this morning it had taken me around five hours and five awesome rides to travel 478 km.  I’d made it to the border faster than public transport, and with a much better experience to boot. I sure am going to miss Malaysia – but I wasn’t prepared for how quick that yearning was to come.

Approaching customs - Malay side. Probably get in trouble for this.

Approaching customs – Malay side. Probably get in trouble for this.

As ever, when hitchhiking to and across borders, I always forget to factor in how just how much time it’s going to take to get out of one country and into the next.  This particularly rings true when it comes to shit-show crossings (of which it appears there are many in SE Asia). I’m standing in the queue in what I hope is the right line to enter the country, when I realise I don’t have one of those little immigration slips everyone appears to be clutching.  There’s a possible 5000 Baht fine ($150) should I not comply, but nor do I have a pen to fill one out when I eventually locate the office they distribute them from.  A kind lady volunteers hers, and then I’m still standing out of the shade and in baking heat for a considerable length of time while they sort their shit out.

Sneaky shot of the chaotic Thai passport control. An hour plus waiting here.

Sneaky shot of the chaotic Thai passport control. An hour plus waiting here.

I’m nearly run over by a bus, several trucks, and a chicken.  The cigarette smoke of several, well-charred Thai border dwellers constantly wafts among the crowd as everyone shifts their standing feet.  It’s so hot my eyes are stinging with the perspiration I’ve produced in not moving.  A tussle breaks out.  Dogs bark.  Children cry.  My balls are stuck to my legs and my crotch is riding up my sweaty crack.  I want to murder everyone.

What beggar’s belief is that there are actually no baggage check points I can see.  Once up to the passport counter (eventually), one quick look is all they need to stamp me through.  Nobody looks at my stuff.  I could have been packing several pounds of cocaine in my shorts alone and they’d be none the wiser.  Quite why it’s taken this long to cross is flabbergasting.  But unperturbed and still with high morale, I put my best foot forward and daylight between me and the frontier.  Then cave in spectacularly at the first sight of a MacDonald’s.

Alright, I’m not proud of it dearest readers – but just occasionally I crave a Big Mac and draught Coke.  Especially as my clothes have become a second skin, I’m dying for the loo and my only sustenance has been instant noodles 4 hours ago that were too spicey. Aside from this, I need to change my hitch signage, and manage to negotiate some cardboard boxes from store owners, which I dutifully carve up and fashion a new sign.  Signs for Thai locations should be written in Thai to maximise the chance of a pickup – and this often means a doodling session at the side of a road.

Border towns. Messy. Here I sat by some dumpsters drawing squiggles on cardboard.

Border towns. Messy. Here I sat by some dumpsters drawing squiggles on cardboard.

I’m losing light and it begins to rain, and I desperately need to push on.  While Thailand is a wonderful place to hitchhike – it’s clearly got nothing on Malaysia.  I’m waiting for the longest I’ve waited (so far) before this fabulous chick magnet pulls in.

Hello Kitty car! One of the strangest rides I've had!

Hello Kitty car! One of the strangest rides I’ve had!

I’ve never been in one of these themed cars before – but to be in a Hello Kitty one is rather bizarre, considering it is being driven by a local business man who is going to pick his son up from school.  Quite what he does for a living I don’t particularly want to enquire about.

Hello Kitty dashboard.

Hello Kitty dashboard.

Hello Kitty passenger side.

Hello Kitty passenger side.

Hello Kitty seats.

Hello Kitty seats.

Hello Kitty rear view mirror.

Hello Kitty rear view mirror.

Apparently, it belongs to his wife, and I’m sure he thought me very strange for jumping about like a bee in a bonnet taking pictures of it all.  As fun as it was, it still served a purpose, and I’m dropped at a busy intersection at Hat Yai – not too far from a potential base for the night – but it’s getting dark fast.

I’m waiting for what seems like an age when a pick-up truck pulls in.  Its driver doesn’t speak a word of English, but it seems legit, right up until the point he’s dropped me at a bus station.  At least it was a few kilometres down the road, but when he doesn’t speak my language and I don’t speak his, it’s almost impossible to make him understand “I don’t want to pay for travel”.

Me: (Pointing at the driver) YOU GO (Pointing at my hitch sign) PHATALLUNG?!

Driver:  (smiling and nodding) ILILILILILililILILIliLILililliLILILILILIHIHhHHHGGGggGGGGGLLLHHHJJJjjjLLLLOoooOOHHHHH Phatallung!

(As close to Thai as I could make the Roman alphabet).

Me: (Pointing at driver) YOU GO (pointing at my hitch sign) PHATALLUNG?!

Driver:  (smiling and nodding) ILILILILILililILILIliLILililliLILILILILIHIHhHHHGGGggGGGGGLLLHHHJJJjjjLLLLOoooOOHHHHH Phatallung!

Rinse and repeat, but regardless they’ll still drop you at the bus station for the public transport to Phatallung.  I just can’t get it across that this isn’t what I want.

Bless his cotton socks though he helps me a little way with the best will in the world, but with the sun totally gone I’m still many miles from a potential base for the night. I distance myself from the bus stop and get lucky with two rides in quick succession to the cross roads between Phatallung and Trang.  One of those rides is with a very attractive girl, who surprises me by picking up a foreign stranger as darkness falls.  Since the border, my hosts have spoken little or no English, and the gulf between Malaysia and Thailand in that respect has been enormous.  But with a little coaxing, the hospitality and hitching have been every bit as good.

90 kilometres to safety. Or was it...?

90 kilometres to safety. Or was it…?

Now there’s a dilemma.  It’s only around 7 pm, but night has taken hold, and if experience is anything to go by, hitching when it’s dark isn’t the best idea.  I could turn right for Phatallung and find cheap digs, or I could throw caution to the wind and turn left in the direction of Trang, Krabi and my ultimate destination of Phuket.  Have a guess what I did?

Standing for 7 hours in the dark by the side of a Polish road just outside of Krakow all those years ago gives me comfort.  It dropped well below zero that night at around 1 am, but here I’ve got time and temperature on my side.  And the gamble pays off.  I’ve literally just made the decision to turn left and push on when a parked trucker notices my Krabi sign.  In seconds I’m in the cab with his partner getting a ride to Trang – X km from target base.

Once again my company doesn’t speak any English, but trying to communicate is humorous and it passes the time.  They drop me at a police check point in what I can only assume is Trang, and as it’s so early I decide to push my luck even further.  But this is where it appears to run out.  Even after plying my trade under a brightly lit street lamp in plain view, and then returning to stand by and ask the police to barter me a ride – I’m coming up short. This is made more disappointing considering there’s still a decent amount of traffic to snare.

Police check point. This time it was useless.

Police check point. This time it was useless.

But the minutes tick on and this soon slows to a trickle. Two or three vehicles every twenty minutes.   It isn’t looking good.  Forlorn, I try once more.  A pick-up pulls in ahead, and I elatedly dash to the side door and throw it wide – whereupon I’m greeted with woman’s high pitched, blood-curdling scream.  She shocks the life out of me, but I realise they must have just been coincidentally pulling over and not stopping for me.

“Why the fuck did you pull over then?!” I shout aggressively, my voice shaking with confusion.  “For fuck’s sake!” I turn away angry and embarrassed and wearily approach the police once again to ask the officers for the nearest guesthouse or hotel.  I’m still elated I made it this far, but I’m then informed the nearest bed is 7 km away, and it’s now around 9 pm at night.

No luck here at all.  After dark everyone hitching is an escaped serial killer.

No luck here at all. After dark everyone hitching is an escaped serial killer.

I remember after my dad’s funeral I drunkenly staggered home 7 km’s in the pitch dark, down the middle of a country road in Scotland, not a light in the sky or along the way, and meeting nobody in either direction.  I would have cut a strange figure wearing a suit and my ageing dress shoes, which were worn through to the sole by the time I arrived home.  Could I try this again – only now with a backpack, guitar, hiking shoes and in a tropical country I know little of? Whereas I might startle a badger in the UK, what demons lurk in the shadows here?  I slowly traipse out of town, lowering my hitch signs dejectedly and wondering where it all went wrong.  For a laugh I sarcastically throw out my thumb at a passing pick up.  It stops immediately.

“Where you go?” beams a smiling face from the passenger side, while the driver is shrouded in darkness.

“Guest house…hotel…bed…sleep…sleep” I plead, making the universally recognised charade of closing my eyes with my head on my hands.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” “In! In!” He fires back, and without a second thought I heave myself into the truck bed and we leave the safety of the police check point lights.

I really hoped this was a good idea,

Maybe I should make a will.

Now ordinarily this would be a very stupid idea – and perhaps it is a very stupid idea.  But in my 5 years of hitchhiking round the world, I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character.  I trust these guys, especially since they’ve both just passed through and picked me up right at a police check point, complete with a large wall of wanted posters and cops armed to the teeth.  A risk it may be, but I’ve got my CS gas spray to hand just in case, and I’m confident they’ll take me exactly where I need to go.

And they don’t disappoint.  The problem was that my previous ride had not actually dropped me anywhere near Trang itself – I was just on the very outskirts of it.  These guys drop me in what’s more like a town centre – surrounded by lively bars and restaurants, as well as late night grocery stores and massage parlours.  (Not as dodgy as some would have you believe). In fact, after I lavish thanks and praise on my pick-up heroes, I ask one of the girls where I might find a hotel – only to find I’ve been deposited right outside a very comfortable establishment, which costs me all of ten quid for the night.

So there you have it dearest readers – probably one of the most amazing and memorable hitchhike days to date.  11 rides, 14 hours, 677 km. Particularly with Malaysia, I’ve been astounded by the minimal waiting times between rides.  I think the maximum was about 5 minutes – even on extremely fast highways. Picked up – dropped off – picked up – dropped off – picked up – dropped off. Who would pay for public transport?!  Although I didn’t quite make Phuket – which was a bridge a little too far – I’m near as damn it – and I’ve got a full day tomorrow to get a measly and leisurely 287 km.  And would you can believe it – the hitch was to be almost as astonishing as it was today.

Read More

Liverpool FC world – Kuala Lumpur event catastrophes

Friday 16 December

Bear with me dearest readers, as the following three stories are all somewhat connected, but to include them in a single post would – in this fast paced, impatient world – make anyone ‘X’ out in haste an horror at the mere thought of attempting the read.  Look upon this chapter as the first in a trilogy – but a standalone entry in its own right.  I’ll get writing the other two when I’m good and ready.

Our tale begins – like so many do – with heartbreak and disappointment.  With a young boy forced to live under the stairs, subject to abuse and detriment by his cruel guardians.  Or maybe that’s Harry Potter.  Anyway, what followed over the next few days might well make you choke emotionally on your tea.

A few weeks ago I discovered that Liverpool FC were running a world road show that began in Singapore and was moving up to Kuala Lumpur.  Coincidentally enough – this was to be around the same time I was going to be there. Indeed I decided to alter my plans slightly in order to attend, dumbfounded at this stroke of luck, and in postponing my return to Thailand I hung around Malaysia a little longer.  I contacted the club directly, regaling my story and charity details, and asking if it was possible to get a 5 minute photoshoot with some former Liverpool players (including Bruce Grobbelaar and Robbie Fowler – boyhood/teenage heroes), while holding my hitchhike to India sign and Liverpool FC flag.  Who knows – maybe I’d get my shirt signed and a couple quid towards a good cause from some multi-millionaires?  I received a response a little too late – but don’t begrudge them this because perhaps I didn’t contact them in time.

Honestly I did enjoy bits of it...

Honestly I did enjoy bits of it…

However that wasn’t the biggest bone of contention.  There I was ready to just attend the event anyway – and approach the players myself, when I discovered that none of them were turning up until the weekend (by that time I needed to be long gone) – and they were all attending on different days at different time slots anyway.  Now this was news to me!  It was not stipulated in previous advertisements, and until I checked the website for further details I was fully under the impression they’d all be there to “meet the fans” from day one.  I wasn’t even going to get to see the mascot, and I felt I had hung around for nothing and was very short changed.  I was heartbroken.

...and it was kinda nice to see this.  The European Cup.  We've won this 5 times so we get to keep it.  And by 'we' I mean I didn't do a thing to help.

…and it was kinda nice to see this – the European Cup. We’ve won this 5 times so we get to keep it. And by ‘we’ I mean I didn’t do a single thing to help.

This happened to coincide with a two day run of shitty luck – all in an effort to attend this event.  I was directed to the wrong place on the first day – crossing KL for an age only to discover it was at another mall with the same name but in another part of the city. It was too late to even attempt to make the right location – with taxi drivers quoting me stupid amounts of money for the privilege.  It took me HOURS to get home – including stepping off at the wrong spot and having to bite the bullet and spend about 10 quid on a cab.  I cancelled my hitchhike for the following day – because in spite of everything – I still really wanted to attend this event!

The next day was even worse.  I got on wrong trains, wrong carriages, going wrong directions, all spending far too much time and money for something that ultimately wasn’t worth it at all.  At one point my train departed a station and I realised I was going the wrong way.  No problem thought I – I’ll just disembark at the next platform, and switch back.  Except the next platform was so far away I felt I was going to another city. At the same time I noticed people were staring at me.  Some were frowning, others were giggling.  The one thing that these people all had in common was – they were all women.

Have a guess which carriage I got on?

Have a guess which coach I got on?

Mile after humiliating mile, back turned to the carriage, hiding my face in the gap between the doors and the seat you’re meant to give up for old people, hoping they wouldn’t notice my pathetic ginger beard; until I finally stepped off onto a platform in the middle of nowhere.  I offered my apologies to a guard that I’d traveled the wrong direction by mistake and asked how I could go back, only to be told I needed to pay the fare again.  I was alright with this until I realised if I’d kept my mouth shut I could just have found the other platform myself and saved the money.  I went into a cafe to have a bite to eat and their dodgy Wifi corrupted my phone.

Trainspotting.  That's the platform I should have been on.

Trainspotting. That’s the platform I should have been on.

As small as these trivialities seem, they do tend to add up in a concerted effort to give you a mental breakdown.  Throw in the unsympathetic heat, the sheer amount of time it takes to get around, the length of ticket queues, and the fact that the train line colours on your map don’t match the ones in the station – and you’ve a recipe for going postal.  It wasn’t about to get any better.

"Robokeeper".  I didn't get a chance to have a go - lucky for everyone watching.  And my pride.

“Robokeeper”. I didn’t get a chance to have a go – lucky for everyone watching – and my pride.

Wearing my Liverpool shirt and draped in my Liverpool flag I spent an hour or so at the event with very little contact with anyone.  Local lads were hogging the “robokeeper” game  (where you have to try and beat a robotic goalkeeper) and the staff from Liverpool seemed all too preoccupied with media and other more important looking types.  Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t want some kind of prodigal-son-returns-red-carpet-welcome-home bonanza, but a “Hello, how are you, what are you doing in Kuala Lumpur?” would have been nice. Especially from the pains I’d taken to even get here for this.  Dejected, I turned away to continue my hitchhike – but it was well into the afternoon – and the chances of me getting far were looking slimmer by the minute.  Especially as I totally cocked up the times of the public transport to return from the mall to the metro station.  I sat utterly bemused on cold tarmac for three quarters of an hour getting beaten by my chess app on one of the simplest levels.

It's lonely going to the last stop.

About half an hour previous, this carriage was rammed. It’s lonely going to the last stop.

Time isn’t on my side so I opt to take the metro to the last stop going north and hitch from there. But with all the debacle getting to and from the LFC event – back to my hostel to pick up my stuff and get out – by the time I’m even coming close to the end of the line it’s pitch dark.  A taxi driver at the station overcharges me to find a hotel, and I’m overcharged again to spend the night somewhere I should maybe block the door with the wardrobe.  Honestly I felt like crying.  Maybe I did a bit.  I don’t know – I couldn’t see – there was something in my eye.

I've stayed in worse I suppose.

I’ve stayed in worse I suppose.

I know!  I’m gonna have a Domino’s pizza to cheer myself up!  This was the smallest pizza I’ve ever seen for around the cost of a three course meal.  I think I ate it in three bites.

Upon returning to my hovel for some reason I decide to peruse the Liverpool FC website – just to see if there’s been any news from the day.  Imagine my distress when I see that today ALL FOUR former Liverpool players attending had in fact turned up moments after I had left.  ALL FOUR OF THEM!  They were scheduled to come individually from Friday onwards, but there they all were – “meeting fans” and “signing shirts”.  Staff at the event even told me they weren’t coming until the weekend – and I think it was a hush-hush media tactic just for a quick photoshoot and website propaganda.  Rarely have I felt so let down by something I hold so dear.

I’d not felt this low in a long time my friends.  I know it’s all first world problems – but y’know how it goes – straw that broke the camel’s back and all that.  The thing is – I don’t understand how or why I was making all these bad decisions.  Awful choices.  Shocking thought processes.  Mistake after glaring mistake.  It was like all my instinct and experience traveling had somehow vacated the premises, compounded by one hell of a let down.  I’d been given some mind-numbingly potent elixir that turned me into a gawping 17-year-old-vodka-swilling-dentist-chair-Ibiza fucktard. Maybe once again someone was trying to tell me something.

I knew that the only cure for this was to get back on the road ASAP – but recent events had turned me into a bag of nerves, and I was half expecting my luck to have properly run out and be found chained to a wall under a motorway service station.  And yet what was to come during my next hitchhike found my faith in humanity restored, and just tonic for both my idiocy and the disappointment suffered in attending Liverpool FC World.

And fuck it – we still beat Everton.

Read More

Hitchhike to India leg 58: Malacca to Kuala Lumpur

Thursday 15 December

Just as I’m preparing for my triumphant return to KL, the vile, sickly, green, snotty fingers of the man flu take hold.  This I attribute to one thing and one thing only – air conditioners.  Consistently walking around in 40 degree heat only to be then thrust into minus 20 every time you enter a 7/11 (which is an alarming amount) does not suit the fragilities of the human body.  What starts as a sniffle erupts into a full-blown pandemic in every cell of my being, hacking a sputtering everyone awake in the dorm room.  Watch The Exorcist in reverse for the sounds my nose was making as I tried to breathe.

So I put my initial plan on hold and waited it out.  This gave me ample opportunity for procrastinating, including binge watching Broadchurch and Black Mirror.  I am forever late to the game with TV series, oft having to rattle through swathes of episodes that people have been banging on about for years; but I’ll get there eventually.  These two I highly recommend.

When my near death snotty nose experiences are finally ousted, once again I set out intrepidly to make the return hitch to Kuala Lumpur.  Now this really should be in the bag from the get-go, and I’m overconfident with my predictions that I’ll get a ride right outside my hostel.  Indeed there is a road sign for the capital not 50 yards from the door, and it’s towards this that I step out in the late morning.

Staggered along here for miles.  The sun was BAKING.

Staggered along here for miles. The sun was BAKING.

Of course these things never turn out to be as easy as one would have hoped/thought.  I’m following the green KL highway signs through the town, holding my KL sign out to every driver that passes – but nobody is biting.  I’m not too worried, but walking to the outskirts of a city in blistering heat isn’t healthy.  The problem always comes from being in city centres – nobody is going your way, and you get far too much local traffic.  My T-shirt is clinging to me as I finally make what could be a decent hitching spot, with some good tree coverage, and space for drivers to pull in.  The volume of traffic is comforting.

Shade.  But I was stuck here a fair while.

Shade. But I was stuck here a fair while.

But I’m there for an eon.  I say I’m there for an eon – but it’s probably only about 45 minutes.  This is a lifetime by Malay hitch standards, and I’m not really sure the reason why.  It’s especially upsetting when two young boys on a push bike trundle curiously past, and then turn to gawp at what I’m doing.  This is where I desperately want to get picked up – to inspire them to have similar adventures – mesmerised by the Indian Jones type I am.  But even after changing my sign to read highway “E1″ (and then turning to show the lads my handywork), not a sinner pulls in and I’ve got egg on my face again.  Then it dawns on me – I’m not wearing my Superman T-shirt!  I dash to the side of the road, do a quick swap – and BOOM!  It still takes another half an hour but I do eventually get a ride to my beloved toll booths.

One of my biggest pet peeves in hitchhiking in these countries – and indeed why I struggle on certain roads such as this one – are the fucking scooters.  I HATE SCOOTERS.  They’re dangerous to me, they’re dangerous to their riders, and they’re dangerous to other drivers.  Every time a fresh batch of traffic pulls away from the green light, hundreds of scooters and crap motorbikes zip past, effectively forming a barrier between me and the four wheels I want to attract.  Sometimes the little bastards are coming the wrong way too – so I have to keep checking behind me to see if I’m going to get run over – or if some arsehole has shot by and snatched my gear.  Then you’ve got the ones who (bless their hearts) will stop in front of you and suggest you go to the bus station (as if you’d never thought of that) – meanwhile twenty odd potential rides are zooming past. GAAAAH! I know they’re trying to be helpful but if I’d wanted a fucking bus I’d go to a fucking bus station and I wouldn’t be standing at the fucking side of a road with a fucking cardboard sign would I?!  Infuriating isn’t the word.

Apologies dear readers.  I needed a vent.  To continue – eventually I’m picked up by a lovely chap who’s actually an Uber driver – but jokes there’s no need to worry for this one.  He’s driven past me once before – and returned round the block to pick me up.  I was to find this to happen on more than once occasion in Malaysia – people are very keen to help strangers and will go out of their way to do so.  My host is actually going to KL – but not until tonight after his wife is finished at work.  We have a constant natter all the way to the highway toll.  He’s a prison officer in the city – so it gives me a chance to pick his brains about the conditions – and although Thailand is notorious for the “Bangkok Hilton” style big house, he claims Malaysian slammers are even worse. He’s a screw in a facility built for 3000, but holding 5000 plus inmates.  Either way, Southeast Asia isn’t a place you want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law.  I’m sweating just crossing borders carrying 1000 L-Lysine capsules and ten paracetamol.

Shower time.

Shower time.

It’s a shame to see him go as he drops me under a bridge just as the heavens open and the daily monsoon is deposited from on high, but he’s promised me to pick me up should I still be there when he passes by later.  This I’m confident I will not be – for as much as the day has begun a struggle, once I’m in these kind of locations it’s a walk in the park.

Sheltering with the enemy.

Sheltering with the enemy.

And as predicted – when the rain subsides and the scooters (bastards) sheltering with me take flight, I’ve walked for less than a minute towards the toll before a young couple pull in and say they can take me all the way to KL.  See!  I told you this was gonna be easy!  I’m gonna be home in time for tea and crumpets.  MMmmmmm crumpets.  I do miss crumpets.

Read More

Hitchhike to India leg 57: Singapore to Malacca…and…Malacca

Wednesday 14 December

Singapore was sucking me dry and it was time to get out.  However that is much easier said than done as once again I negotiate the horrendous border nightmare.  So confident I am in making my destination in next to no time, I nevertheless make a glaring error in starting late and not factoring in the soul-sucking monotony that is attempting to get out of the country.  It takes me around three hours before I’m on the Malaysian side.  It’s around 2pm.

This.  For about an hour.

This. For about an hour.

And then this - for about the same time.  A fight even broke out.  And no it wasn't me.

And then this – for about the same time. A fight even broke out. And no it wasn’t me.

So apparently Johor isn’t the safest place to be.  I’ve been reliably informed that women get their arms cut off just to steal bracelets.  I guess it’s lucky I’m not a woman and I don’t wear any.  However it’s an unsettling thought as I plod in the direction of what I hope is the highway out.  I find a nice shaded spot under a bridge (the heat is intense) and I stick out my thumb.

Underneath the bridge...

Underneath the bridge…

Three drivers pull in – separately of course – all of them Indian guys, all want money.  My prospects aren’t looking good.  This I was to find was to become a regular occurrence – and it’s unfortunate to say that’s it’s always the Indians, and never the Malaysians.  It doesn’t bode well for hitchhiking in India – but I think by the time I make it there I’ll be done with it.

I changed the sign again to read the road number.  Seems to work well here.

I changed the sign again to read the road number. Seems to work well here.

Just as I’m starting to get a little concerned (only because I’ve been here 5 minutes and haven’t had a ride yet…), a young woman draws in and motions I jump into the passenger seat.  Speaking native English in ice-cold air-con, she tells me she’s already passed me once and drove through the one way system again to come pick me up.  I’ve still got it.

This is my foot.  Just to prove I was there where I said I was.  On that road bit.

This is my foot. Just to prove I was there where I said I was. On that road bit.

She’s not even going my way – but she confirms my fears about Johor being dodgy when I tell her about my encounters with the three Indian drivers, and expresses relief that she returned to pick me up, as you should be very careful and mindful of who you trust.  My knight in shining Toyota actually drives me all the way to the outskirts and drops me off at a service station at the city limits, and I lament the need to part – especially when she tells me she was due to go to Malacca today but isn’t feeling very well.  Lucky wouldn’t have been the word!

Chancing it in Burger King.  Go on...pick me up...you know you want to.

Chancing it in Burger King. Go on…pick me up…you know you want to.

I’m not worried in the slightest.  So much so that I casually have lunch in the burger place by the highway, leaving my sign out incase I get noticed.  Finishing up, I wander across the concourse to the slipway, and I’m barely there before a truck slows and offers me a lift to the Malacca toll both.  This really is taking the piss.

Leaving the services.  Barely got to the end before offered a ride.

Leaving the services. Barely got to the end before offered a ride.

I slightly regret my decision upon entering the cab, as there’s not enough room to swing a cat, my chin is on my knees, the air con doesn’t work (obviously) and my host doesn’t smell the best.  Added to the fact that we’re crawling up the road at a pace a sedated tortoise would balk at, and I’m not making base anytime soon.  Still I make the best of it, especially as he eventually deposits me at a short slip road within touching distance of Malacca – and my favourite hitch spot – motorway toll booths.

Easy peasy.

Easy peasy.

And as sure as god made little green apples (even though he didn’t because he doesn’t exist), I’m there barely two minutes before a couple of students pick me up.  Studying law in the city, they of course speak perfect English and drop me right outside the door of my hostel.  The only downside was they were Manchester United fans.

UNESCO stuff.

UNESCO stuff.

As this hitch was so easy, I’m also going to include my experience of Malacca – so I’m not bombarding you with posts in the next few days dear readers.  I waste no time in getting out to see the town – and enjoy the famous night market here, which is overcrowded with people every Friday and Saturday night.  I reward myself with a pitcher of beer or three, don the kilt for some shenanigans, and meet some lovely humans.  Malaysians are incredibly approachable and friendly, and certainly in Malacca a very fine people indeed.  The town is alive with what appears to be one big party – and school groups are wandering the narrow streets singing Christmas songs.  There’s even someone dressed as a giant Pokemon – which in this heat is to be commended.

Pokemon.  Not hot at all.

Pokemon. Not hot at all.

Festive cheer.  Malaysian Jennifer Lawrence is actually in there - but you can't make her out because they're all singing and dancing.  And it's a shit picture.

Festive cheer. Malaysian Jennifer Lawrence is actually in there – but you can’t make her out because they’re all singing and dancing. And it’s a shit picture.

In one of these school choirs, dressed like a sexy elf/santa type, there’s a girl who looks EXACTLY like Jennifer Lawrence.  Now I don’t mince my words here, I’m not talking about someone who merely bears a passing resemblance.  I’m talking about Jennifer Lawrence with dark skin.  THE Malaysian Jennifer Lawrence.  The only problem is I can’t very well ask a 15-year-old girl for a picture from a 37-year-old man wearing a skirt.  But trust me when I say – that would have gone viral.

The night market walk - fun and fantastic food, but a little too many people.  It is the holidays here after all though.

The night market walk – fun and fantastic food, but a little too many people. It is the holidays here after all though.

Malacca is an old Portuguese settlement, which was then taken over by the  Dutch – who apparently did a lot of nasty shit here.  It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site, and wandering around its picturesque streets you can easily see why.  Pictures speak a thousand words, so please enjoy a few of the snaps below that I took while I exploring.  But my issues are twofold.  For such a small, localised town centre, they need to be rid of the traffic.  I’ve been told that Malaysians can be lazy people, so everyone drives even if it’s just a quick pop to the shops.  Narrow streets are bumper to bumper with cars all day and into the night, shuffling along.  Malacca town officials – if you pedestrianised you’re entire centre, you’re going to attract double the amount of tourists you do now.

Standstill traffic all day long.

Standstill traffic all day long.

Which brings me onto my second peeve.  There’s too many tourists.  Bus loads.  Chinese.  Cameras.  Old people.  Hand on heart I solemnly swear I will never do a blue rinse brigade bus tour as long as I live.  And if I do, you have my permission to shoot me.  There they go, dawdling along, taking shit photographs and not smiling in them.  Photographs of utter crap.  Photographs with shocking competition considering the size and amount they paid for their cameras.  I’ve decided when I next visit a popular destination in these parts, I’m going to do a photo essay.  “Photographs of people taking photographs”.  Such is the very depth of my photography snobbery and sheer disdain for the shite people take pictures of.  And don’t even get me started (again) on the fucking selfie stick.  Have a word with yourselves.

Tourists.  Put em all on this fake boat and sink it.

Tourists. Put em all on this fake boat and sink it.

I digress.  Where was I?  Oh yes – I’m in Malacca.  And it is good.  I like it.  The end.  Seriously though – it’s a lovely place, friendly, absorbing and lively.  It just bounces at night-time, and – like most of Malaysia – the food is sensational.  Although the hour draws nigh when I depart this wonderful country, I reckon I’m not done with it and will return to explore further.  For now though, on the morrow the thumb is out again for my triumphant return to Kuala Lumpur.  You needn’t wish me luck though – because I’m already there.

Read More

Kuala Lumpur, Liverpool FC, fish and chips, and a random man saying he loves me

Tuesday 29 November

The Malaysians are doing something right; Kuala Lumpur is awesome.  Finally a city that I can get behind, could potentially live in, and not lambast the fuck out of with consummate ease.  Bishkek it is not.  There’s 1.5 million odd people here apparently, and in truth it does feel like a big village, but added to this, it’s simply got bags going for it.  My first venture is to one of the many botanical gardens and green spaces.

Botany

Botany

It’s simply beautiful – and there’s nobody else about.  It doesn’t feel like you’re slap bang in the middle of a metropolis as you wander round the vast space, barely encountering another humanoid.  In spite of this, there’s still the obvious traffic problem – but that comes with the territory in any big city.  However Kuala Lumpur excels in public transport – and it’s a joy to use.  Simple, efficient, clean and safe; most of the network is above ground – and the sky-train monorail is especially fun to ride as it zips between skyscrapers.

Planes, trains and automobiles...apart from the planes.  I don't think anyone wants to fly Malaysian for a while.

Planes, trains and automobiles…apart from the planes. I don’t think anyone wants to fly Malaysian for a while.

Unlike say, New York (which I feel is blacker than night), KL (as it’s locally known) doesn’t ever feel like it’s “coming in on you”.  It feels light, airy and spacious; and very, very green and clean.  Buildings are not crowded together, often separated by lush, tropical roots and leaves, and you can see the sky in spite of having some impressively tall structures. The most renowned of these – and world-famous symbol of the city – is the Petronas Towers.

My dinner time view.

My dinner time view.

Argentine architect Cesar Pelli designed the iconic twins, stars of film, TV, popular fiction and the impressive KL skyline. Until 2004 it was the tallest building in the world  – and still the tallest twin towers.   Standing beneath them one might be surprised at this statistic, but a quick check of the facts reveals it is indeed taller than the likes of the Empire State Building.  Recollecting the moment I stood on the viewing platform of that aforementioned construction and nearly fainting from the height – and I still can’t believe it.  Perhaps it’s got something to do with the towers’ position.  It – like the city – isn’t crowded out.  Walking around the purpose-built “city within a city” is as comfortable as breathing.

In the grounds of the towers

In the grounds of the towers

The fountains at night

The fountains at night

I opt for the viewing platform at the Sky Bar in Traders hotel.  The famous sky bridge on the 77th floor was closed on the day I visit – but I’m not too concerned.  It’s 15 quid just to go up, and of course you can’t actually see the towers in their entirety.  It reminds me of the urban legend of the tourist who – while standing on the Eiffel Tower – complained that in the view of Paris she couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower.  I’m guessing she was American…

What are the bet's on some cocktail drunk falling in here after too many daiquiris?

What are the bet’s on some cocktail drunk falling in here after too many daiquiris?

Pricier than most bars I frequent, instead of 15 quid on a sky bridge, I spend it on a fish supper and cheesecake in the Sky Bar, and boy was it worth it.  Malaysian food is supreme – fantastic fusions of east and west, Asian and European available everywhere – usually for rock bottom prices.  You can have the best curry of your life for about a buck fifty.  However – and especially in my delicate condition – it’s not a good idea to pound back the spice on regular occasions.  Opting for fish and chips (one of the things I miss most about living in the Oban area on the west coast of Scotland), it’s possibly up there with the best I’ve ever had.  And in continuing my side mission of finding the best cheesecake in the world – they could well have a contender there too.  Best meal I’ve had since my last meal in Malaysia – and worth every penny for the view alone.   But although I’m still learning and adapting to my first ever smartphone, I refuse to take a picture of food.  You can have one of the kind of stores that dominate the tower complex:

Breakfast?

Breakfast?

I have something of an unnerving experience while sauntering around the towers prior to my epic feed.  A young, twenty-something man approaches me and asks if I speak English.  He then informs me he has to get something off his chest – he’s bursting to let something out.  He then tells me he loves me.

It’s more than a little uncomfortable.  Especially when he asks if I love him too.  He’s gazing intently into my eyes when I tell him I love him too – and he asks if he can put my response on a Youtube video, to which I politely decline and make my escape.

Now I imagine it was some kind of social experiment, and not just some wacko stalking the public in a park.  Or maybe it was just some wacko stalking the public in a park.  Either way I was out of my comfort zone and beat a hasty retreat – but I hope he found whatever he was looking for.

What you looking at?!

What you looking at?!

I also pay a visit to the world’s largest aviary.  The KL Bird Park is a big tourist attraction here, and being something of an ornithologist, I decided to check it out.  However I had mixed feelings when I do.  Is it a zoo?  Is it a sanctuary?  Is it good for them?  Certainly the gazillion free-roaming ( and predominantly flightless) birds looked like they were having the time of their lives, but seeing any bird in a cage just feels wrong.  I felt a sour taste in the mouth that I’d supported the venture – but took some solace in knowing they are very well looked after and they appear happy as larry.

It's a terrible picture - I just find it hilarious.

It’s a terrible picture – I just find it hilarious.

I did tell one brat off for running around after a peacock screaming “SHOW! SHOW!” and stamping his feet – obviously his mother having no input or control over the demonic little shit.  In trying to get a peacock to turn for a selfie, one dundering imbecile actually tried to pull it around by the feathers.  In my shame I didn’t say anything here – because her boyfriend was decidedly bigger and harder than that kids mum.

These guys are a hoot.  The universe has a sense of humour.

These guys are a hoot. The universe has a sense of humour.

Walking through the botanic gardens and the sky begins to rumble.  There’s not a sinner about in the vast park, the sky is blacker than night, and the rumble of thunder crescendos into the loudest I’ve ever heard in my travels.  A shotgun is discharged right by your ear, and I’m getting the distinct feeling something bad is about to happen.  A giant bolt of lighting damn near blinds me, as the finger of god stabs the horizon.  Then someone turns on the water.

Monsoon

Monsoon

SE Asia is infamous for the rainy season, and it’s clear that I’m in it.  I thought the deluge I experienced in Thailand was bad – but this is insane.  I take shelter with some workmen under a construction site, as a wall of water pours from the heavens.  The reflection of lightning on the skyscraper opposite is as impressive as it is intense, but my error was not finding cover in the park – and I’m forced to stand for about an hour until the monsoon stops.  When it finally subsides, the street resembles a flash flood, and I squelch back to the hostel to dry off.

Sheltering with the locals.

Sheltering with the locals.

There’s still so much to see and do in this city.  People are super friendly, engaging and talkative. Everyone speaks English like a native, and it’s so easy and accessible to get around.  It’s a shoppers paradise too – you can get anything you want, anytime you want it.  The only downside (on a personal note) appears to be the price of a beer.  While not even close to the cost back home, a mug (not even a pint) of grog will set you back about three quid.  It adds up – especially coming from countries where it’s a fraction of that.  Most places also close at 2am, which means for the time being at least, my all-nighters are on hold.  But then this is nothing but a good thing and I’m actually getting shit done.

City fashions from the bus.  A second early and this would have been a really good pic.

City fashions from the bus. A second earlier and this would have been a really good pic.

The large percentage of Malaysian religious practice belongs to Islam – but it appears much more relaxed than previous muslim countries I’ve experienced.  I applaud the decision to wear the Hijab out of choice and not necessity – and the fact that ladies who do so are decked in bright garments – as opposed to the monotonous black.  It makes for a very colourful city indeed.

As if it wasn't wet enough!  A young local boy has fun with a fountain.

As if it wasn’t wet enough! A young local boy has fun with a fountain.

I make plans to hitch to Singapore in the next few days, when something quite astonishing happens.  I’m perusing the Liverpool FC website as I’m want to do on occasion, when an amazing coincidence catches my eye.  LFC are currently touring a fan experience world-wide, and yes – you’ve guessed it – they’re coming to KL next!  It’s unbelievable luck – and an opportunity to meet Liverpool legends Patrick Berger, Vladimir Smicer and Robbie GOD Fowler, as well as take part in games and experiences all geared towards die-hard red fans.  The tour is booked in for the 13th to the 18th December (I’m only going to be able to manage the first day), so I’ve got plenty of time to bounce around seeing cool stuff until returning to the city then.  I’ve even contacted the club directly regarding my charity hitchhike, with the hope I can get a 5 minute photo shoot with the lads, my team shirt and flag, and my INDIA hitchhike board.  Who knows?  It might just net me more traffic to the blog, and more importantly some extra pennies for a worthy cause – especially if some multi-millionaires dip into their deep pockets!  YNWA!

Colours at Peterling night market.

Colours at Peterling night market.

So that’s us all but up to date dearest readers.  On the morrow I undertake hitch leg 56 (I think) heading straight down to Singapore – and country number 60.  A young man from Bangladesh has just this minute offered me his home and a guide should I make it to his country – and I’m super stoked to continue the hitch such is the ease and friendliness of people in general here.  I’m looking forward to coming back up so I can start using my INDIA sign again and not confusing everyone that I’m going the wrong direction.  But as I always say – it’s about the journey and not the destination.  Onwards!

Read More
Website Apps