Random Roadside Encounters

The most beautiful places I’ve been to, over the past two years of the pandemic, haven’t really been places – they’re moments on the road, like that long stretch through the jungle at Kenyir lake where I saw elephant dung on the gravel shoulder, or the old federal route through Pahang’s southern coast that was hour after hour of sun, sand, scrubby brush and sea views.

Just me, the thrum of a motorcycle engine filtered through earplugs and a chill Spotify playlist playing through helmet speakers. The miles fade away in the background. I almost always ride solo so I can pull over wherever and whenever I want, without having fellow riders complaining about yet another beachside photo stop.

These moments are usually bookended by visits to random restaurants found with the help of Google Maps, whether just for snacks and coffee or a full meal. I look for reviews that show a place isn’t a total disaster guaranteed to give you an empty wallet and food poisoning. Other than that, I’m all for letting luck lead to a happy stomach. Here are some of my roadside discoveries over the past year of riding:

Kuala Rompin seafood

Going east out of the Klang Valley through the low foothills and rainforests in Negeri Sembilan, I crossed over to the Pahang coast just in time for an early lunch in Kuala Rompin. Freshly fried fish and prawns together with iced lime juice made for a light yet satisfying meal, followed by some splashing in the sea and then a very long ride home. Solo riding must be a mild and enjoyable form of insanity.

Roti canai after high rpm runs

I spent a night in Gua Musang after hooning through highland corners and woke up to a heavy and slightly odd breakfast of roti canai, slathered with dhal gravy and with two wobbly fried eggs slapped on top. Roti canai London, the locals called it, not quite the full English but still substantial enough to push lunch past its usual hour.

Fresh crab and instant noodles, an unlikely combination

Heading north through whatever’s left of pristine rainforest in Pahang and Kelantan – taking the long way around to the Terengganu coast – I was close to becoming delirious from the unrelenting afternoon sun. Wearing black biker gear might look cool and it could save your hide in a fall but it’s also a great way to get overheated.

Destination fever set in. Pressing on, I rode north and east, then making a turn to the south past Besut to head to the beach. I experienced some of the most serene riding then, just mile after mile of quiet coastal roads with barely any traffic. As luck would have it, a petrol station attendant pointed me to a packed local joint that was famous for mangrove crabs cooked with instant noodles. It was cheap by KL standards and the sweetness of the fresh crab contrasted well with the spicy noodle soup. Sometimes it pays to eat as the locals do.

Not all those who wander are lost, goes a line in a certain poem by Tolkien. Sometimes all you need to do is to pick a compass direction, and trust whatever you find at that journey’s end will be to your liking.

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