Riding a big Adventure bike around Malaysia you get used to people randomly waving at you, talking to you and trying to help you by suggesting places to stay, eat, visit, photograph and so on. It’s usually other bikers but that’s by no means a rule. Route, time and distance questions, random advice and selfie requests can emanate from a wide variety of sources; truck drivers to kids on scooters to petrol pump attendants. I pulled up to a stop light in a one-horse town devoid of merit or interest and a young guy in a car next to me in the queue for the lights became wildly excited. Not hugely unusual but he was overdoing it a bit and gesticulating at his phone a lot. I assumed he wanted a selfie so I suggested he just took a photo from where he was sitting. “No, no Mr, I have you photo here” was the answer. I probably looked a bit quizzical but I just put it down to his pigeon Minglish losing something in translation and assumed he wanted me to stop for a photo somewhere. I duly followed him into a layby and the guy jumped out and ran over to show me a photo of me, taken by Tom-boy Nor two days and 600km ago. It seems that I’m going viral around Malaysia and ‘Roop-spotting’ has become a national Facebook pastime, it’s like a nationwide game of Where’s Wally!
… Anyway, I digress, so I descended into Kota Bahru, looking for a school building landmark to stop and phone Chik Gu Mat when another random guy starts gesticulating at me from the other side of the road; another Roop-spotting perhaps? The scooter rider ignores the traffic signals, races the wrong way across the carriageway and beckons me to follow him. On enquiring as to why and what purpose it turns out this guy is the guy I’m looking for; Chik Gu Mat who has been scooting around for the last hour looking for me! Amazing. Chik Gu Mat escorts me to his parents’ house where another open-house buffet feast for Hari Raya is in full swing. I am thoroughly fed, watered, maternally pampered, selfie-ed, family portrait-ed and quizzically interrogated about my crazy trip. Malaysian hospitality continues all afternoon and evening with Chik Gu Mat and his wife who take me home and feed me some more, just in case I haven’t been stuffed enough at lunchtime. The next morning, after much breakfasting, thanking and some more selfie-ing I head south to Singapore to visit my friend Sam, her boyfriend Paul and their new 5-month old baby Indie. My main concern is the stories I’ve heard and web pages I’ve read about the nightmare of getting a foreign registered bike into Singapore. Apparently it’s like trying to thread a needle wearing boxing gloves.
In terms of distance, the longest day for me in the last seven months was getting from Kota Bahru on the north east coast of Malaysia to Sentosa Island on the southern tip of Singapore. Even the most direct route is over 700km and of course I rarely take the most direct route; that’s boring, you miss all the interesting bits. So 770km (that’s nearly 500 miles) after leaving Chik Gu Mat’s family hospitality I arrived at the causeway border between southern Malaysia and northern Singapore. The ride down had been mostly uneventful but thoroughly enjoyable; speeding effortlessly down almost empty coast roads with the South China Sea on my left and endless palm, coconut and rubber plantations on my right, blue sky above and perfect tarmac below, I am back in biking bliss. It’s why I’m here, doing this trip my way on my bike. It makes me smile even though 770km takes its toll on your bum cheeks!
The Woodlands causeway between Malaysia and Singapore is by far the busiest overland border crossing I’ve experienced in the last 40,000km. Several thousand people cross by car and motorbike every day, commuting from the cheap accommodation in Malaysia to the higher wages in Singapore. So the border crossing is very efficient, you don’t even need to get off the bike, you just pull up at a counter, a bit like the toll booths at the Dartford crossing and hand over your passport. According to the online forums and travel advice you need a whole bunch of special documents from Singapore transport and insurance offices to get a foreign registered vehicle across the causeway; you have to leave your vehicle in Malaysia, get a bus across the causeway, spend hours (or days) traipsing around offices in Singapore getting permits. Hmmm, I don't have the time or patience for that so I think I'll just chance my arm, turn up at the border, hope they don’t look too carefully at the number plate and see what happens … Keep the immigration officer talking about Brexit (probably the only good thing to come out of that idiotic vote is its usefulness as a diversion conversation). Acting like I do this every day and it’s a typical formality and within minutes ... bingo, I’m riding my big British registered bike down the perfectly manicured boulevards of Singapore. This was always my end goal, my final destination, to ride to the bottom of Asia. It’s 35,000km from Mumbai if you take my scenic route, and a million miles from the Indian assault on the senses which I met 7 months ago. I allow myself a bit of American-style fist-pumping celebration as I waft along past pristine floral displays (other countries would call them kerbs or ditches, but not here – they’re too immaculate). I know other bikers have ridden for longer and further, but not many have ridden off the side of a mountain, or got stranded in a monsoon at the top of a mountain, or flipped their bike down a remote Indian road, rode across rivers, dropped it in rivers, smashed the front wheel a thousand clicks from anywhere, glued their screen mounts half a dozen times and found that the most useful tool to carry is indeed a Jeremy Clarkson hammer!
It turns out that whilst I can get the bike into Singapore, I’m not allowed to go onto Sam’s rather exclusive mariner island called Sentosa at the very south tip of Singapore. I’m escorted off by an effusively polite policeman and have to leave the bike in a shopping centre multi-story and take a cab over to Sam’s idyllic little bit of flashy hedonism. They live on a luxury boat, permanently moored in a private mariner with the usual accoutrements of pools, bars, coffee shops and BBQs. This really is a million miles from where I’ve been since starting my tour of Asia in the sweating stink of Mumbai. The world is a diverse place. I’m more than happy to spend the next three days drinking Macchiatos and Margaritas, wandering around air conditioned shopping malls, lazing in the pool, cycling round the harbour and playing with 5-month old Indie – now there’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying … playing with a baby, that’s really not very “Rupert”, things have definitely changed since I left Surrey!