17th July: Cheating on the world’s slowest train

The photo:

The route: From Gua Musang to Kota Bharu by train. 250ish km -but it would have been faster to ride

The chat: While we do find a good old fashioned guidebook indispensable from time to time,    one of the (sometimes questionable) joys of overnighting in random small off-the map/guidebook/internet towns is in finding a knowledgeable local or two to impart some wisdom. Having planned 8 hours cycling along a motorway tomorrow to get to a non descript town that we didn’t want to go to, we were pretty relieved when a cafe owner  informed us that there was a jungle train to a way more interesting town (Kota Bharu) leaving at 7am the next morning. Having deliberated for all of 5 seconds, we woke at 6am and headed excitedly for the train station, only to find that the train was delayed. No-one else seemed particularly bothered by this during the first, second, third, fourth, fifth hour spent on the platform waiting for the train – a good reminder of the benefits of relying on your own method of transport, even if it is a hot and sweaty one.

The train finally arrived 5 hours late, and we wedged the tandem into a corner and settled down to watch the jungle crawl by very slowly for 6 hours. Luckily the scenery was spectacular. We arrived in Kota Bharu,  a large and very Islamic town on the east coast in the late afternoon, and spent the evening marvelling at the multitude of river side mosques, markets and high intensity birdsong – the city’s inhabitants love the noise so much they have dedicated entire buildings to housing birds, whose calls are amplified around town during regular birdsong competitions. The Islamic influence in East Malaysia is ever present – the muezzin’s call to prayer was audible throughout the city as the sun set, and the night markets apparently shut down completely between 7pm and 7 45pm so that the stall holders can pray. Tonight at the night market I was the only woman not in a hijab. Not sure how those lycra cycling shorts are going to go down…

We stayed at the super friendly and accommodating Cerana GH http://www.ceranaguesthouse.com/ – the owner even took us to an ‘unofficial’ (ahem) liquor store to pick up a bottle of something for the nearly-dry Perinthians, and gave us stickers for the bike – legend!

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