Coconut trees and kampung charms

If there’s a day trip out of Singapore that I’ve always raved about, it’s a cycling trip in Pengerang, Malaysia. You could also extend the trip all the way up to Desaru along the east coast, charging like a speed monster, or cruising languorously (i.e. with the spirit of a champion at the speed of a tortoise) like we did some time back with a stay over at Desaru and returning via another route. Even if you are not keen on a long ride, a short fun cycling trip to Sungai Renggit would satisfy all lusts for riding down a quiet road with coconut trees swaying to the caresses of sea breeze on one side, and enchanting kampung charms on the other.

Found this draft post on our last trip to Pengerang last October – how time flies! The jetty in Malaysia, Tanjung Pengelih, is just a short bumboat ride from Changi Village. However the boat ride seems to take just a bit longer each trip as the boat goes round the ever-expanding Pulau Tekong, the result of land reclaimation. Singapore’s Pulau Tekong was, at the time of my last trip, actually within sight from Malaysia’s Tanjung Pengelih, even for short-sighted me!

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Departing by boat from Changi Village which is not far from the airport.

Pengerang occupies a corner in Malayan WWII history, where the British troops readied their defences in preparation for a Japanese attack via Singapore. Eventually, that was all for nought since it’s now famously known that the Japanese surprised everyone by invading Malaya via the north of the Peninsula.

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Remnants of parts of the south-facing Pengerang battery.

A villager once told me that a massacre happened at a bridge near the old jetty during the Japanese occupation. The old jetty has been substituted by a new jetty which also houses the Malaysia Immigration checkpoint. Still, it doesn’t appear to see much traffic.

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The new Tanjung Pengelih jetty.

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From Tanjung Pengelih, we unloaded our bicycles and rode to Sungai Renggit, about 15km from the jetty. After lunch we returned the same way, sprinting into mini cycling races with children; young energy wins. Took detours into the small roads towards the seaside, at times surrounded by only lalangs taller than an adult, or flanked by coconut trees. Cycling in the spotted shadows of lanky coconut trees is inexplicably comforting. I encourage everyone to do it.

In the fishing villages lining the southern shore, modest wooden houses sit proud on well-manicured lawns with well-trimmed hibiscus shrubs. A chance conversation with a Pengerang resident the day before revealed that a lot of these land have been acquired by the government for an integrated petroleum complex and many villagers are just waiting to be relocated to newly built housing estates a few bays to the east. This trip took place one week after the Himpunan Hijau “green shirt” protest at Pengerang. Had I known I’d have been there a week earlier! If not for lofty ideals, then out of pure sentimentality for these coconut trees, languid villages and the makcik‘s stall and her delicious homemade kuih-muih. The shoreline seemed more eroded on each trip. With the industrial development that has been on-going for a while further east at Teluk Ramunia, the pollution to the sea was already evident with more and more dead fishes being washed ashore. Given the Malaysian government’s infamous efficiencies, I doubt the multi-billion ringgit petroleum complex will be up any time soon. Still I shudder to think what these developments would do to this idyllic area, its environment and its residents.

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Campaign flags were up in advance of the General Elections, which eventually only took place 7 months later.

I don’t know how many more cycling trips we can do in Pengerang. But perhaps it’s time to visit again. Soon. Maybe September. Anyone care to join me? Before my favourite day trip out of Singapore is no longer a possibility.

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