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Cycling from Pangkor to Penang
with Johan an 8 years old Malaysian boy


My little friend Johan has been cycling from Pangkor to Penang. It was a 5 days journey with a day rest in Taiping to visit the Taiping Zoo. We cycled a total of 250 km.

Cycling gets more popular nowadays in Malaysia but it's still a minor group of people enjoying it. Many consider cycling in Malaysia too hot, too crazy and not safe. In fact, cycling in Malaysia is a great (and safe) way of exploring the country and Johan has seen some areas few people see and less experience it in the way we did.

Johan on the way to Teluk Senangin Helping making sugarcane juice on te way to Trong

Preparation

Johan stayed with me two times now. The first time it became clear he loved to cycle around. We went to visit some beaches in the area where I live, which is Sitiawan, not far from Pulau Pangkor.

During his first visit I was thinking of bringing him back to his mom in Penang riding out bicycles. I called Nazlina and asked her about the plan. After all, she's the mother and if she would not approve, there would be no cycling. But Nazlina was enthusiastic. And so was Johan. For some time he could not think of anything else, I was told.

Johan having lunch on the way to Teluk Senangin

So Johan came to Sitiawan on the 20th November 2006. As I did not really know what he could cycle, we did some training rides. The first was to Teluk Senangin, a beach he wanted to visit during his first visit to my house.

Johan cycling away from the beach near the Turtle Breeding StationWe did a bit of detour too and when we came home we had done 55km including 2 hours of swimming. Johan had a shower and ..... wanted to play with his friends. He took his bike and went out for another 2 hours, adding another few kilometers to the impressive 55km of that day.

On another day, we cycled at Pangkor to the Dutch Fort and the Fu Lin Kong temple before swimming at Pasir Bogak.

The first stage, Sitiawan to Pantai Remis

It's Monday morning and Johan and I wake up to get ready for breakfast and our first stage of the 5 day journey to Penang. We have a nasi lemak at the Home Curry House.

We leave at 9am. Pantai Remis is only 36 km away but it's not an easy ride. Just out of Sitiawan there are three big bridges to conquer. The first two bridges are not a big problem but the third is a nasty and quite steep one. Johan however, does not have any problem with it.

After the bridge, the road is a bit hilly, we take here and there some rest and keep drinking which is essential considering the weather circumstances in Malaysia.

Segari is only 8 km from the third bridge. We have a Pepsi stop. Then we cycle to the junction where I want Johan to make a decision either to continue to Pantai Remis, which is another 12 km away or visit the turtle breeding station and the beach. If we choose that, we have to add another 15 km to our day today. Johan wants to see the turtles.

After 7 kilometers of flat terrain we arrive at the beach and the turtle breeding station. Johan is very excited and we spend quite some time with the turtles.

Pantai remis, Turtle Breeding station
Johan at the Turtle Breeding Station

We have a two hours swim before we continue the last 20 km to Pantai Remis where we check in a hotel, have a shower and go out for our dinner. The first day is a success.

The road to Taiping

The next morning the hotel staff is baffled to find out about this little boy on his little bicycle who will cycle to Taiping and Penang. I can see them thinking I must be the most irresponsible person in the world but when they speak with Johan, they find out his enthusiasm.

Johan on the way to Trong Johan on the way to the mountains south of Taiping

After another nasi lemak breakfast we cycle north. We take the junction east to Beruas, a much nicer and quiet road that brings us closer to the mountains near Taiping. Johan is not at least worried about the mountains. We spot birds (mostly eagles and kingfishers) and other animals. Johan finds a dead tortoise. We feel sad, the turtle died of a car accident. Although turtles still live here in the wild, there are not too many left.

Somewhere halfway we have a lunch where again people look baffled to see a little boy doing what he does, and he does it with pleasure.

After lunch in Trong we get in the hills. We get a few quite serious hills to cross. They are not high but for a boy like Johan, are serious enough. Johan however doesn't even look tired when we come up. He has however a bit of fear when it goes down. In the days before he found out he doesn't like to go faster then about 35 km/h. I taught him how to use his brakes without flipping over which is possible at that speed. Johan does an excellent job.

We have to shelter just before Taiping due to heavy rainfall. But Taiping is nearby. That day Johan writes in his diary: 62 km.

Parit Buntar

Wednesday is our rest day. It's the day we invite Johan mom Nazlina and his 4 years old sister Johanna to join us to the Taiping Zoo. My own cycling experience tells me it's good to leave the bikes for a day and do something else. The zoo is great and Johan is happy to see his mom and sister. But the next day we are back on the road.

We cycle out of Taiping to Kamunting and take the road to Selama. The mountains come closer but before the climbs start we take the junction to Bagan Serai.

The road to Parit Buntar, Johan enjoys On the way to Trong

Here some climbing has to be done but Johan cycles like any experienced cyclist. On the hills usually he speeds up. His technique is perfect. Though he likes to stand on the pedals, he is not moving his bike.

The power of his legs is extremely effective used forwards in the climbing's. And for sure, he did not learn this from me as I have a different climbing style (I keep sitting). It's magical to see this boy doing what he does.

We cross Road 1, the trunk road that connects Taiping with Bagan Serai, Parit Bunta and ultimately Butterworth. We cross it in the direction of Kuala Gula bird sanctuary. It's a new road that leads us over estates to Kuala Kurau. It's a long and mostly empty road, great for cycling.

On the way to Kuala Kurau

Not far from the junction to Kuala Gula bird sanctuary on the way to Kuala Kurau

We have bad luck, the old ferry used to cross the river is no longer running. Therefore, we have to cycle back, 10 km extra plus the huge bridge that nowadays connects both sides of Kuala Kurau. At the bridge, Johan is fascinated by what he sees. Many of the house in Kuala Kurau are build on the water, there is a fish farm in the middle of the river and fishing boats coming and going. Dogs run on the fish farm too. Johan wonders how they got there.

We have lunch in the town and then cycle to my friend David who lives in Parit Buntar. Johan eats another plate of rice with curry chicken, checks his speedmeter and tells us he has done 81 km that day. He also wants to know if he can go out with Davids' two sons and cycle a bit around! Does he ever gets tired, I wonder.

Back home to Penang

David has a homestay guest house where he receives cyclists from all over the world. However, Johan is the second Malaysian cyclist ever to visit his guest house and family.

Johan and I cycle on Friday morning away from David and his family. The first kilometers we are able to skip the trunk road but after 16 kilometers we have no alternative anymore. The last 30 kilometers will be on the big busy road to Penang. It's the least pleasant part of our journey.

in Parit Buntar
Johan in the middle with David (left) and me

In Butterworth everybody, including cyclists, are directed to the motorway. It's busy and for sure no fun but we make it without any problems to the ferry. At Penang, we only have to do another 10 km to go back home. Johan finishes his journey at 5 pm on Friday afternoon. He has cycled 250 km, something to be very proud of.

This clearly shows that you do not have to own a big fancy expensive bicycle, or be a big strong person, to achieve what he does. Johan shows that all you really need is determination to achieve your goals. I also feel very happy to be part of his cycling adventure.

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Here is the report