Posted On 23 Feb 2024
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This entry is part 3 of 33 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#24


The roads are remarkably good. If you think coming to Malaysia means you’ll be bounced out of your saddle by potholes, think again

There is an old saying “If you don’t like the heat…get out of the kitchen”. Stepping out at Kuala Lumpur airport is like walking into a sauna with your clothes on. It’s hot, but then again not as hot as some of the food I would encounter on the tour around northwestern Malaysia. I began to wonder if the heavy leather jacket I’d brought for the trip was really going to be necessary.

Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways (MMG), whom I was joining for this ride, is based in Kuala Lumpur (KL), but covers all parts of the Malaysian peninsula.

I had arrived a couple of days early to take in the MotoGP at Sepang – I only mention this as I was absolutely blown away by the enthusiasm of the people for motorcycle racing. I have never seen so many people arrive on a potpourri of machines from all over the place, including Indonesia and Thailand. Attendance was over 80,000. Phillip Island – eat your heart out.

MMG has a small office in KL and I was to meet them there at 8am Monday morning. My taxi ride that morning would introduce me to the Malaysian rush hour, which as you can imagine, is hectic. I started to get a few butterflies in my stomach imagining myself weaving in and out of the trucks and cars that seem to operate in an organised chaos.

It’s just as well that you ride on the left in Malaysia, just like home. It may be a small thing but makes the experience a whole lot more relaxing not having to think about which side of the road you should be on, especially in KL rush-hour traffic.

Leaving KL was not too bad after all, but I made a bit of a boob and forgot my passport in the all the excitement so Zahed, my new buddy from MMG, and I had to double back into the madness of KL.

Once out of town for good, our first stop would be heading east into the Genting highlands to visit the Chinese temple Chin Swee. The roads are remarkably good. If you think that coming to Malaysia means you’ll be bounced out of your saddle by potholes, think again.

The road leading up to the highlands was smooth and twisty with switchbacks every 500m. Switchback is a new term I learnt from my Canadian riding companion Jim. And if I thought this bit of road was good, oh boy was I in for a big surprise later on.

From there we headed down into the lowlands, which are dotted with small villages. I had started to feel confident about riding in Malaysia by now and begun to notice that the drivers actually respect motorcycles and consciously move out of the way for you. Cars are becoming increasing popular as personal wealth grows here, but once you are out in the countryside, it’s all mopeds. The most popular one is the Honda EX5 110, which believe it or not was photographed by yours truly doing over 110km/h on a freeway, ridden by a kid with sandals and a T-shirt as attire. I tell you they live dangerously over there.

option. We spent the morning whipping around the island, dropping into the war museum for a historical lesson on just how cruel humans can be to each other. The Japanese occupied Penang during WW2 and delivered swift and merciless retribution to the Chinese and Malay’s once the British had left.

From Georgetown we crossed the Malacca Strait using the First Penang Bridge, which is much shorter and opens up the southern part of Kedah to those wishing to enter Thailand. Parts of Kedah are mountainous and we spent the latter half of the day scaling a road that can only be described as a pile of bobby pins laid out side by side and slowly ascending a 1200 metre peak.

It left us breathless by the time we had reached its apex. It was a testament to my tour leader, Zahed who negotiated these ‘switchbacks’ with aplomb. I must have counted over 100 hairpins, one after another and in ever more slippery conditions as we approached the pinnacle of the mountain. Once we got to the top it was so cloudy we couldn’t see anything so it was a bit of a dud. However on a good day the view would be stunning and well worth the jangling nerves negotiating the countless hairpins.

Once off the mountain with all present and uninjured, Jim from Canada said he had never encountered such roads and was quite relieved to be back down in the heat. I had a quick snooze on the back of Zahed’s bike. It’s a tough ride being a photographer sometimes. Our ride back to Penang for the second night used the ferry that crosses the strait like a weaver’s loom, backwards and forwards all day every day.

The trip is quite amusing as there are more than a few scooters that vie for position, so you need to be on the ball to make sure you don’t get left without a place on the packed ferry. Once the gates open it’s like the Melbourne Cup with scooters all jostling for a spot before the boat is too full. It reminded me of the bumper cars you rode at the carnival, young or old, it didn’t matter, either hustle or wait for the next boat.

On the way out it’s the same, 200 scooters all heading for a bottleneck can have some interesting moments. Food that night was a local Penang specialty, fish head soup from a well-known Indian restaurant. It wasn’t the most attractive sight I have ever seen on a plate but tasted very good.

Next morning we took the ferry back over to the mainland and another superb ride into the hinterland of south Kedah.

The weather was sublime with clear blue skies and slightly lower humidity. Our journey took us out of Butterworth and onto the main road that leads to the mountain resort of Belum. The road to Gerik provided another one of those Zen stretches that have you in the zone: the bike slinging from left to right every few seconds, hanging into corners that make you feel like Rossi. With the Versys 650 purring along nicely, this was a road that I will not forget in a hurry.

Up ahead of the pack, Zahed was pushing along at around 110, taking the corners fast and overtaking any cars that we approached without a second thought. When we came up behind a police car I thought we might slow down but Zahed just overtook the cop car, so I thought what the hell. Next thing I’m leaning into a corner overtaking a police car on a bend, waiting for the inevitable siren to go off. Each second I was expecting something to happen, but no.

As we peeled off the miles, the scenery stayed stunning. Passing through some of the high country gave a certain Alpine feeling although the intense heat reminded us where we really were. Our next stop took us to Belum resort, high up near the Thai border. Somewhere I’d like to return to with my girlfriend Amy one day, hint hint.

From there we headed down to Ipoh for our last night on the tour. We spent it enjoying some great local fare from the many street vendors that are exponents in wonderful cuisine.

Our last day was a long trip back to KL and back into the rush hour that we had left five days ago. We passed through the paddy fields of Teluk, which are quintessential Asia.

Our journey had given us a taste of Malaysia and we had clocked up nearly 1200km in that time. The trip had fl ashed by but left some everlasting memories – through my photographs I will always be reminded of a modern country that has charm and more than a bit of old Asia. The people of Malaysia are charming and most of all proud of their national identity. Do remember this is a predominantly Muslim country and there are not towns full of cheap bars and nighttime drinking. Funny though, I didn’t miss it one bit.

MMG operates a number of different tours that take in most of the Malaysian peninsular. On our tour, Zahed was the leader and Emir the sweep rider. I was very impressed with their professionalism and felt safe the whole time.

Getting to Malaysia could not be easier these days. I flew with a budget airline, which operates a cheap, no frills airline but will get you there in one piece for about $500 return. Prices for the tours vary, but they would have to be among the best value for money tours around.

Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways are easy to contact, they have a big presence on Facebook and you can check their website for tours: As the boys from MMG would say “turn your miles into smiles”. I have a big smile on my dial, let me tell you!

Nick travelled as a guest of Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways.

There’s method…

…in our coverage of organized motorcycle tours. Quite a few of you have found that you enjoy these tours, and quite a few more have asked us about them. They are simply so convenient, and once you add up alternative costs they are also often remarkably good value.

So we’re looking at them for you – and while we obviously need to write about specific tours, the point is just as much to get you to think about the concept.

Remember – wherever there is a road, and even in many places where there isn’t one, chances are you’ll find someone who runs bike tours! PT

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