Jemaluang is a tiny little town about 20km south of Mersing. Most of us have heard of the latter. Not many of us would have heard of the former as it is a town that would never sound interesting to the tourism authority.
The town does not really allure when you look at it from the main road. Shops and buildings look old, tired and dull. The paint job on many buildings has faded. I do not think that it will matter to anybody. It is also a common sight to see shut doors and roller shutters that have been drawn down.
In the last few years, I have done several cycling trips to Mersing, a coastal town that I found charming.
On the way to the coast, I have done several pit stops at Jemaluang, a town that has a Chinese majority population. Those breaks were quick affairs and my mates and I would usually leave immediately after we have had our drinks and food. We did not really spend much longer to understand the town.
One pit stop a while ago, I told myself that I would, one day, like to stay a night in this tiny town, to experience how it would be like to be spending time in such a peaceful place, a community that people and time have forgotten. I told myself that I needed to experience it personally.
Sometime in late October 2017, I finally arrived here with a few mates after hours of cycling under a blistering hot sun. Like many of our friends around us, we complained. We procrastinated against the weather. We rewarded ourselves with multiple breaks along the way and we took hid in the shade. We had many knolls along the way. Those ‘little hills’ decorated many portions of the route towards Jemaluang and they did little to cheer a spirit already challenged by an intolerably hot day.
We finally cycled into the town in the evening, with a sweat drenched shirt that also had salt from our perspiration. This was a good time to arrive as it allowed us ample light to locate our roof for the night. We did not know where our homestay was but it was not difficult as we managed to get the information from a local. Finding our way was easy as the town was so tiny. It would be a joke for someone to lose his direction here!
The unmarked roads in the town were quiet. I saw no moving cars. I did see many, but they were all parked. They were heavily rusted. They did not seem to have moved for years as their wheels had been tied down by wild grass. We had a zephyr with us as we rode. The leaves rolled along. I heard a rustle. It was so quiet all around.
I heard something else. It was the whisper from my chain as it rolled smoothly from my front chain ring to my rear cog. I heard no more. When I left my house for the ride, my chain was screaming rudely to me. It was rubbing against the cogs on my rear cassette. It was not the sound that I liked as I preferred a quiet bicycle. The barking chain was tamed after I adjusted the tension screw to take away some of the slack in the shift cable. I rejoice to the fact that I am able to troubleshoot some of the more common problems that a cyclist will face from time to time. I have happiness that the knowledge has given me the independence and freedom I have so much wanted as a cyclist.
The lady who operated the homestay was not around when we arrived at the homestay but she did appear two minutes after I rang her. I was surprised to see such a clean homestay in such a small place. We slept two to a room. There were two very clean bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. It was very spacious and comfortable for me. There was a working kettle and complimentary coffee.
At the homestay, I did not have my bike in my room. Usually I would only sleep well if my bicycle was in the same room as I was. At this particular homestay, I felt safe to leave my unlocked bicycle in a common area outside our accommodation. I felt safe the moment I was in the vicinity hence I decided that I could give my bicycle a night’s off.
I felt peace and I felt safe being in this town.
After a shower, we walked the same quiet road that we had cycled on earlier to look for our dinner. I felt more relax after a wash and that allowed me to feel very comfortable during dinner. I enjoy sitting in a Chinese style coffee shop for zi-char dinner. Usually it would take several hours as we ate, talk and drank cold beer.
At Jemaluang there were not many options for zi-char dinner. In fact, there was only one and it had only two stirred dishes on its menu. No, there was no menu. It was not necessary for one. The young man who was waiting on us simply told us that they only had fried rice and fried noodles. That made decision making easy. Finding a seat was not difficult as it was primarily empty except for a few villagers who were drinking beer to idle their time away.
We did not see many young people. The young man was probably the only one we had seen for the entire duration we were in the town. The name of the restaurant suggested that it was also a good seafood outlet. Perhaps there was another one around? We did not see it if there was. Perhaps we were unlucky that day. Maybe we would have better luck next time? Maybe we should spend more time in the town to explore?
We chatted over dinner. It was quiet all around. We heard barking dogs. The dim light from the decades old wooden lampposts did not provide enough illumination for us to spot those dogs. It did not matter. We continued our dinner, a second round, at a burger stall across the road. The rain came as we ate. It was all so quiet except for our conversation that drifted in the air. Occasionally, a car sped down the highway, tearing up the tranquility of the town.
There was an old man at the coffee who was reading the newspaper. He was engrossed in his reading and I did not think that he knew how the world was spinning around him. He did not hear the barking dog.
We stayed for a night. I felt that it was the right amount of time. If I had a book, I could stay another day or two. I am not sure if this rustic old town would be the right place for you, a place where everyone knows everyone. I thought that this town would be good for someone who likes black and white photography.
Jemaluang is in a world of its own. There are many such places in Malaysia that I am keen to explore. Are you coming along?
+65 9800 0528
4 Nov 2017
Prices for a 2D1N package start at S$399 for 3 persons to go. Maximum 5 persons. Inclusive of (a)2way van transfers – same location pick-up & drop-off in Singapore, (b)a bike fitting session in Singapore, (c)bicycle & helmet rental, (d)1 piece waterproof made-in-Germany pannier rental and (e)accommodation.
Insurance & meals are not included. For personal budgeting – a plate of fried rice & a cola will cost ~RM8 in a coffee shop. Zi-char dishes cost more.