Monday, March 20, 2017

8th Edition of Cycle Cruise On Superstar Libra - 10 to 15 March 2017



Group pic on first day of ride in Balik Pulau 

Time really flies and this was to be our 8th edition of our cycle cruise since our maiden trip in October 2013.  This time our adventure took us to Penang, Krabi and Phuket.  In our previous trips, we visited Penang and Phuket at least twice and Krabi was our first.  This trip was scheduled on 10 March where we flew with Silkair to Penang, cycled for 2 days and then joined Superstar Libra which will take us to sunny Krabi and Phuket to continue our cycling adventure.

Beaten track with padi fields in between and mountains from a distance in Balik Pulau 

We were supposed to have 32 of us including me as the tour leader but one had suddenly taken ill, thus 31 of us at last count.  There were few familiar faces in this trip.  Michelle and Aaron who did twice with us, Philip and his wife who did thrice and this time, they brought their younger daughter, Amanda along, Ronald, his wife and daughter, Josslin joining second time too.  Regular outdoor kakis of mine, power couple Tan & Jane and dainty Fenny were on this trip to keep me company throughout.  Among the group, we had a group of 7 fun seeking men who are cycling buddies, 2 lovely sisters in Deirde & Deryne, a father & son team and 3 gregarious nurses.  There were also 5 bloggers who were arranged by Star Cruises to shout out through their social media platforms as much as possible.  Alas, Xuejing who had been doing the planning since our inception trip did not follow this time and the responsibility fell squarely on me 😓 😓😓.

For the first time, Penang cycling tour specialist from Mata Hari led by SJ mapped out the cycling routes and also provided ground support throughout the expedition.  Save for Michelle and Aaron who brought their own bikes, the rest of us just rented mountain bikes from Mata Hari.

Our flight to Penang touched down at about 1130 hrs and by the time, we cleared immigration and customs, it was near 1300 hrs.  SJ and his team were already there to meet us.  Soon, we were transported to Balik Pulau for our first ride in Penang.  Our previous rides in Penang were in the heart of busy George Town but this time, it was a completely different cycling experience.  Balik Pulau is located in the rustic southwestern region of Penang island.  It was an easy ride where we cycled past padi fields, streams, Malay kampungs and Chinese fishing village with the mountains in full sight.  Easy ride aside, this ride also enabled the support team to identify those who will need help in our subsequent rides which can be challenging.  We ended our half day ride in a goat farm before being transported to Equatorial Hotel for a good night rest 😄😄😄.  

Goat farm in Balik Pulau

Day two of our ride will take us to Mount Jerai in Kedah state, typically it will take some 1 and a half hour drive from Penang but our coach captain somehow took us on a longer ride  😒😒😒.  Mount Jerai stands at 1,217 metres high and from the foot of the mountain to the summit, the distance is some 11 km.  To ride all the way up to the summit, one has to be a heck of a hardcore cyclist.  SJ called this mountain, 'a beast' to psych us before our roll-off.  We did not start our ride from the foot of the mountain but started some 20 km away where we had a fairly nice ride before commencing our climb.  I knew at some point during the climb, I will sustain cramp due to lack of cycling mileage and I was right.  Admittedly, the weather was hot as we started our ride at near noon time.  Local cyclists would have started very early in the morning before sun rises.  Our support team made sure there were many stops for us to be hydrated.  There were few who were already struggling at the start and had to give up at some point.  Everyone was constantly reminded to keep hydrated throughout.  When we gathered at the foot of the mountain to commence our climb, we were briefed there was a break at every 3 km where we can decide to stop.  True to our Singaporeans' 'kiasu' spirit 😉, majority decided to give it a go.  It was one heck of a tough climb I must admit.  Many decided to stop after 3 km climb and rest of us including me stopped after 6 km.  After that, we took the van up to the summit to have our afternoon hi-tea.  The view at the summit was covered by cloud, otherwise it offers magnificent view of the padi fields and the town on any given day.  We then headed to George Town for a good rest.

Group picture before taking the climb at Mount Jerai

There was no ride on day three, Sunday as we were to board Superstar Libra in the afternoon.  Morning was spent roaming the town with Tan and Jane.  At about 1400 hrs, after checking out from Royal Bintang, we took a short walk to Sweetenham Pier to join the cruise.  By 1500 hrs, everyone was already on board Superstar Libra and own leisure program followed.  Jason, the journalist from a Chinese media and Lacey, one of Star Cruises' sales managers will join us for our ride in Thailand.

At the summit of Mt Jerai 

Day four - the ship arrived in Krabi at about 1000 hrs.  As disembarkation was by tender boat, our bikes had to be physically carried to the boat by our support team and ship crew first.  The boat ride to the terminal took some half an hour and I was already feeling the searing heat of the sun.  It will be one hot ride I thought to myself.  On arrival, we were met by the Thai support team from Eco Ride.  We rolled off at about 1100 hrs.  The route was fairly rolling with highest climb at 132 metres only.  It was a big loop covering some 45 km with lunch stop at the famous Ao Nang Beach.  Save for the hot weather, the ride was easy for everyone and traffic was light.  We rode past hills and some villages, an idyllic sight.  By 1600 hrs, we reached the jetty safely.  We bade farewell to our Thai support crew before returning to the tender boat for Superstar Libra  😊😊😊.  As a reward to all, we have had gala dinner at Four Season later in the evening.  

Huffed and puffed up the slope in Phuket

Day five - we arrived in Phuket at around noon time.  If Krabi was hot at 1000 hrs, it was even hotter in Phuket at noon time.  Just like Krabi, we had to take the tender boat to go shore but the ride was shorter, about 15 mins.  Again, bikes had to be loaded onto the tender boat before we could embark. We had cycled in Phuket on two previous occasions and everyone had been made aware that it was going to be rolling throughout.  Our ride will start in the popular Patong Beach.  Traffic was heavy at Patong Beach.  It was near noon time when we were ready to roll off.  This time there were 23 of us plus 5 support crew from Team Mata Hari.  Since we had the whole day till midnight, the rest preferred to spend the leisure time instead of cycling in Phuket.  Perhaps, the expected tough terrain did play a part too 😏😏😏.  The ride took us to Karon Beach on the east coast heading south.  We rode past Kata Bay which offered one of the best scenic spots but at the same time, we had to manage climb after climb with the steepest climb at 193 metres being the highest point.  Many had to push the bikes.  It was heartening to see Ronald's wife, Mrs Yeo who is a leisure cyclist puffed and huffed up the rolling terrain.  Philip's daughter, Amanda is another fighter.  Giving up was never her motto, she just pressed on slowly but surely.  SJ team did a marvellous job covering the front and back.  Even at every turn, there was a marshal to usher the cyclists through so that no one was left behind.  They even helped to push some cyclists on the climb.  I was impressed I must admit.  We stopped briefly at Rawa Beach and took a less steeper road back to Patong Beach.  We were a little concerned of returning after last light, given we were behind our planned scheduled.  Fortunately, when we arrived back, it was around 1930 hrs which was not completely dark.  We gave three loud cheers to Team Mata Hari before we dispersed.  It was a challenging ride, some 45 km but definitely a good one.

Group pic in Patong Beach before rolling off

Day six, while still on board Superstar Libra on way back to Penang, the Hotel Manager helped to present nice completion certificates to all the participants.  In one of our lighthearted moment while waiting to disembark, some of the guys were sharing their own personal encounters during the ride.  One of the guys from this group of 7 who is affectionately called  大 ('big brother') for his seniority finally confessed that he was 'conned' by his friends to join. He is not a regular cyclist, in fact he was not familiar with the gear system of the bicycle and had been struggling to keep pace throughout. He thought it was like another ride in East Coast Park but he soon realised too late, he was 'tricked' into it. He didn't have a proper shoes for cycling until his son reminded him. We certainly had a good laugh at his 'misery' but he took it in his own stride. Another in the same group of 7, Mark did confess he is a roadie and therefore, found it hard riding on mountain bike where pace was too slow for his 'liking'. He will always come to me and asked when are we going back to hotel which actually puzzled me, I must say.

View of Karon Beach from the top

When the ship came alongside the port at about noon time, we were transferred to Queensbay Mall to spend the afternoon lazing around before heading to the airport for flight home in the evening. On touching down at Changi Airport, someone I hoped to see at the airport was there to meet me.  Home sweet home!    

The four of us at the summit of Mount Jerai