This morrning we set off by car to Malacca (Melaka in the local Malay language) a city about half way between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. At the start of this journey we passed through the border checkpoints that mark the transition between the two countries. We had anticipated that the checkpoint buildings would be large but the reality exceeded our expectation. Two massive building complexes like super large shopping malls marked first the Singapore side and then the Malaysian side. We were also suprised to see that both complexes made extensive provisions for motorcycles, with dedicated lanes and dedicated checkpoint booths. Our driver explaiend this to us by noting that many people live in Malaysia and travel into Singapore every day for work (I guess that is how Singapore gets a supply of low cost labor) and that each morning approximately 40,000 mototcycles cross from Malaysia to Singapore and the same 40,000 reverse the trip in the afternoon.
The first town/city on the Malaysia side of the border is Johor Bahru and we had elected to stop in this town and visit a Hindu Glass Temple famous for its mirrored walls and ceiling. Getting to this temple turned out to be a little weird, as it was located behind a small strip mall, and down a very narrow access road into the bed of a small creek. We guessed the temple was originally outside the city but over time the city has grown to surround it. To our surprise the temple had statues of Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa. We could not work out the motivation for such.
Johor Bahru also confirmed our expectation that Malaysia would be a predominately, though not exclusively, a Muslim country and sure enough we saw mosques, minarets, star-and-crest symbols as well as lots of women both young and old wearing head coverings.
There is a good quality moden expressway traveling the entire length of Malaysia (from Singapore to Thailand) and once finished with the temple we found that road to speed our journey.
After a while we noticed signposts with pictures of an Umbrella, and puzzled over this for a while. Eventually we realized that these signs coincide with overpasses, and that under the overpass a small area had been paved and set aside for motorcyclists to get protection from the rain. Once we had worked this out we saw that these rain-protection areas were very common.
The next wierd roadside sign we noticed was a picture of a cow with the words Hati Hati Memandu. Our driver explained to us that this was not warning drivers about cows on the road but was admonishing driver to "drive carefully".
We noticed a number of concrete "block-house" like buildings periodically beside the road. Again the driver explained this unusual sight to us. The buildings are intended to attract and house birds, and encourage the birds to construct birds-nests inside the building. Why ? In order to harvest the birds nest for food. Yuk!!
Palm oil plantations. We drove for about 130 miles today along the freeway and palm oil plantations lined the freeway the entire distance.
In Melaka it turned out that we were staying at a hotel called Casa Del Rio that was built in an obvious Spanish style. At first I thought it was strange to find a Spanish style hotel in an Asian country until it dawned on me that in colonial days the Portugese were a powerful force in this region.