Historically speaking, Malacca is where it all started. The birthplace of our nation if you will, where the first declaration of independence was made upon the triumphant return of the delegation.
In the narrow lanes of the historic city, bicycles and trishaws aren’t just mere tourist attractions but also still a viable means of transportation. Here, cycling is not just recreational but an integral part of everyday life for the hawkers, peddlers and trishaw operators living in Malacca city.
Having opted for accommodation just a stone’s throw away from the bustling Jonker walk, our bikes proved to be the ideal transportation. They say when in Rome do as the Romans do, particularly since there is no street parking available near the hotel.
On the saddle it’s easy to see why those living in the city haven’t given up on their bicycles, since navigating traffic on two wheels through the twists and turns and the one-way streets is a breeze compared to a four wheeler.
Cycling around Malacca town proved to be a pleasant experience, given the UNESCO world heritage status. Amidst the confluence of Asian and European architecture, pedaling around these streets felt like a ride into the past albeit with some modern elements to break the illusion.
While the excursion proved to be a pleasant experience especially compared to the dizzying urban traffic of Kuala Lumpur, the aim of our trip was to get some “serious” time on the saddle and to squeeze in some historic sights along the way.
From Kuala Lumpur, the 150km trip to Malacca is pretty straight forward thanks to the North-South Highway.
To get there make your way to the North-South Highway (E2) towards Seremban/Malacca/Johor Bharu, Once you’re on the highway follow the road south for 114km and take the Ayer Keroh/Bandaraya Melaka (Exit 231). From there, take the Lebuh Ayer Keroh (143) for 12km to get on Jalan Mufti Haji Khalil (M1) and continue straight to Jalan Taming Sari into the heart of Bandaraya Melaka.
A trip through time
Being in the heart of December, rain tends to intrude and impede any cycling excursion. The rationale behind this trip westward was to seek refuge from the northeasterly monsoon. The objective for the day was to head out from our accommodation in Jonker Walk and make our way towards Fort Supai, a roundtrip journey of 100 km or so. Along the way, we’d be taking in some of the historic sights that Malacca has on offer.
Given our ambitious plans, an early start was necessary. Setting off at the break of dawn proved to be a good call as the traffic had yet to pick up. First on our itinerary was breakfast. Without any concrete plans in place the idea was to get to Klebang beach to check out the Submarine Museum and take care of our dietary needs at one go.
However, our lack of proper planning derailed us a little, as we arrived hours away from the opening hours of the museum and none of the stalls along the Klebang beach were open for breakfast. Motivated by hunger, we pressed on towards Tanjung Kling hoping to find some much needed sustenance.
Roughly two kilometres away from our initial checkpoint we chanced upon a wooden food stall at the corner of a T-junction. Given the numbers of customers at the stalls and the rumble in our bellies, we decided to give the place a chance. Serving roti canai, nasi lemak, mee and mee hoon goreng most of our party opted for the first two options. Here, nasi lemak is served the traditional nyonya way, with blanched kangkung in addition to the usual accompaniments, something that I have only heard from my parents.
With the sun making steady progress across the sky we made sure not to linger; the rays had begun to make their presence felt. Next stop on our journey was the tomb of Hang Tuah, which took us through the picturesque Kampung Hailam.
Here lies the tomb of the most iconic character in Malaysia’s history, marked by a simple sign affixed on a brick archway along a non descript kampung road. Not knowing what to look for it is easy enough to mistake it as any other cemetery, as there is no fancy flourish to mark the site.
After the obligatory picture at the tomb, we resumed our detour along the coast adding some extra miles into our journey just to enjoy the morning sea breeze (not the drink!). Pedaling forwards to Pantai Puteri one would notice some unsubtle olfactory shifts in addition to the changing vista.
In the village, the savory and familiar scent of belacan and cencalok accompanied the idyllic kampung scenes. Exiting Pantai Kundur and entering the Tangga Batu, the traffic began to build up as the smell of exhaust fumes and hydrocarbons permeated through the salty sea breeze.
Along the trunk roads from Tangga batu towards Sungai Udang the traffic picked up even more, as lorries and other heavy vehicle made their way from the industrial areas to the trunk road. Aside from traffic, the elevation also continued increasing, at least in relative terms as the previous ten kilometers or so were a relatively flat coastal route.
Making our way past the Sungai Udang township was relatively painless. Here we opted for the scenic route, making our way towards the recreational forest to the north of the town. This particular stretch also hosted the only proper climb of our journey. Given the late morning hour, we were fortunate in that there weren’t many vehicles to share this stretch of the road and the shade afforded by the forest provided for a pleasant partially shaded ride.
As the incline threw a spanner to our loosely knit peloton, we took the opportunity to seek refuge, recharge and regroup at Ooooo chendol in Solok Duku just before the turning towards Tanjung Bidara. Nestled among the trees, this quaint wooden stall operates from the front yard of the owner’s house offering top notch cendol and mee jawa. With noon approaching and scant cloud cover overhead the cold treat provided a much needed relief from the heat.
Upon reaching Tanjung Bidara, we had to make our way past a narrow tarred road that appeared to serve as a communal driveway to get to the beach. There, a sea wall separated us and the shimmering waters of the Melaka Straits. Naturally, with the postcard quality landscape we took the opportunity to photograph ourselves and the bikes.
For the next 15 kilometres we took the scenic route, which entailed navigating our way through narrow roads of the coastal kampung that wound around the layout of the kampung house plots. Going past the various villages that line the coast one could not help but marvel at the architecture of the houses. Wooden stilts and floor to ceiling windows graced most of the houses that dot the coast, particularly those closest to the beach.
The most surprising building along this stretch is the Taoist temple, Feng Shan Shi in Kuala Sungai Baru, a small red structure with tall rounded column holding passive watch over the river and the sea.
After a couple of kilometres of the twisting coastal road, the novelty began to wear off especially with speed bumps and other obstacle hindering us from settling into a nice cruising speed. Rejoining the trunk road on Tanjung Dahan we were glad to able to pick up the pace despite having to contend with traffic as the heat began to take its toll on our group.
With five kilometres to go to our destination, Fort Supai, we pressed on only to discover that the floating restaurant that we had earmarked for lunch would only be in operation later that evening due to Friday prayers.
Taking a break at the parking lot, we decided to leg it back to town and look for the first place that offered lunch, regardless of what that would be. A roadside stall along Jalan Kuala Sungai Baru/Kuala Linggi was just the oasis we were looking for, offering simple fare of mixed rice to placate our gnawing hunger.
After a prolonged stop to wait out the blazing midday heat the journey resumed, only to be expedited by the impending rain. Skipping the remaining scenic detours we made a straight line back to our accommodation in the drizzle. Although, after roasting in the heat, the rain felt more like a belated blessing following a hard day on the saddle.
Looking back on the journey, the landscape summed up the development story of Malaysia as a whole, from a bustling trading port, to the agrarian society and our foray into industrialization.