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MALAYSIA – Through The Lens Of A Foreign Cyclist

Egyptian Mohamed Elewa discovers a Malaysia that even many Malaysians are not aware of.


Kampung Lawar Melintang, Jeli, with the imam

Looking at Malaysia from the lens of a foreigner is always an eye-opener for many Malaysians. It is especially so when the foreigner takes the slow and difficult way to explore our country. There are places that the foreigner goes that the majority of Malaysians have not even heard of.

Take for example, how many of us know that the southern-most tip of mainland Asia is at Tanjung Piai, near Pontian, Johor? That’s the place that Mohamed Elewa, an Egyptian explorer, stopped over before arriving in Singapore after 3,000 kms of cycling through Malaysia.
And how many of us know that there is a floating mosque in Kuala Terengganu? That’s where Mohamed went too. The Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque is considered the first real floating mosque in Malaysia and is situated in Kuala Ibai Lagoon near the estuary of Kuala Ibai River, 4 km from Kuala Terengganu town.
The 51-year-old not only captured his journey through images posted on his Facebook, but supplemented them with humourous anecdotes and deep observations. He also indicated every milestone on his photographs, for example, …
1,000 kms at Jitra, Kedah

2,000 kms at Masjid Sultan Abdullah, Pekan, Pahang

3,000 kms in Singapore
And, supplementing it with his observations:

“Yesterday saw my first milestone, the first 1,000 km which I achieved in 6 weeks. A very slow pace indeed but which aligns with the theme of this particular trip: vagabonding, laziness and wandering. Spending many days in the places I like such as Jitra, Kedah, where life goes on in slow motion.”

East Coast Appeal
And, when he reached the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, he fell in love with it as recounted by him:

“East is east and west is west, and I am falling in love with the east. I reached this stretch of the east coast on my road heading south. For about 10 kms, all you can see is white sand, clear water, green trees, two or three elegant residential houses and a tiny tertiary road parallel to the beach. No food stalls, restaurants or any kinds of shops.”

“I pitched my tent there and spent 3 full days. The few villagers in the neighborhood come to the beach for awhile and leave 2 hours before sunset. The whole place then becomes my personal property.”

I left regrettably this unique place.

He’s visited many islands as well, both in the west and east coast. But instead of spending long days swimming and tanning in the sun, he preferred to hike in the jungles or explore secluded beaches. And there are many such secluded beaches in Malaysia that he had been to that many Malaysians are not even aware of.
But for Mohamed, even more than the beauty and solitude he found in his 3-month trip in Malaysia, are his memorable encounters with the locals. Not only did they invite him for fishing trips or treated him free meals, he was also offered cash!
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At Kampung Batu Melintang, Jeli, Kelantan, he recalled: “This imam insisted to offer me breakfast. Then to my surprise when we hugged goodbye, he wanted to give me money! This kindness touched my heart.”
Wild Camping, Bikepacking

Mohamed has travelled to 15 countries by bicycle, mostly on a recumbent bike, the type that allows you to lean backwards. After 6 months cycling in Western Europe and another 2 months in Sudan totalling some 13,000kms, all done within the last few years, he decided to travel to Southeast Asia, covering Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
The 6-month Southeast Asian trip took him across 3,000kms in a journey that he describes as memorable and surprising, and a trip where he made many friends, some of whom he is still in touch with.
In Malaysia alone, he spent about 3 months in the second half of 2019, and savoured most of it – the good and bad. He was essentially bikepacking, which is simply backpacking by bike. For accommodation, he tried as much as possible to sleep in a tent.
Most days, he rarely exceeded an average of USD5-6 (RM22 – RM26) per day due to the savings from wild camping (camping anywhere that’s suitable) or staying with friends. Back when he was in Europe, however, he had to stay in hostels or with friends due to restrictions in camping.
But in Malaysia, Mohamed found freedoms that he could only dream of previously. In his Facebook posting, he wrote: “The problem of camping in Malaysia is not being unable to find a place to camp, but to choose the best spot among too many.”

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