A Giant on the Causeway
Selamat Datang to my diary. That means welcome by the way, two of the only words I know in the Malaysian language. The others are Keluar (exit) and Restoran (restaurant). I still don’t know the word for toilet, which is probably unwise, considering I will probably need to know it quite urgently soon, judging by what they sell in some of the food stalls.
We’ve now been in Malaysia for a couple of days after leaving Singapore on tuesday. In case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t been holding it in for two days due to not knowing the word for toilet, I have in fact been looking at the pictures and following the one of the chap in the trousers.
On the evening before we checked out of the Inncrowd in Singapore, we realised that we had no real idea where we were going to go in Malaysia, so I dug out the Rough Guide and had a flick through. Listed in the highlights at the front, was a town called Melaka, about halfway between the border with Singapore and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur (KL). According to the book it was quite a historic town, full of a mish-mash of buildings indicating the colonial reigns of the Portugese, Dutch and British at different points in history, as well as the architecture of the Chinese population. Seemed like as good a place as any, so we started planning how to get there.
The cheapest way we found was to get a bus over the causeway (big bridge linking an island to mainland) between Singapore and Malaysia, and get a connecting bus to Melaka at the Malaysian border town of Johor Bahru (JB). There were buses directly from Singapore to Melaka, but these were apparently much more expensive.
We lugged our bags to Queen Street Bus Station in the oppressive humidity of Singapore and paid the necessary S$2.60 (about 75p) to get to JB. All was going well so far. We were given visa slips to fill out and after a 45 minute bus journey we stopped at Woodlands checkpoint on the Singapore side of the causeway. Off the bus we get, and carry our bags through to Customs to get our passports processed. After that, we had to get back on the bus and get taken across the causeway. Being the only two westerners in the checkpoint, and therefore the only two with heavy bags and odd passports, everyone else with either Malaysian or Singaporean passports soon left us for dust.
Having no crowd to follow and no idea where to get back on the bus, we followed the signs saying ‘To Johor Bahru’ with a picture of a bus beside it, until there were no more signs. The only ones similar said ‘To Johor Bahru’ and had a picture of a pedestrian beside it. Thinking we’d made a wrong turn, we approached a guard and asked where we could get back on the bus.
He got up, not unintentionally displaying the large gun on his belt, and the truncheon next to it, and said with a scowl ‘Where you come from?’
‘Singapore’ was our obvious response.
‘Where you go to?’
After telling him we had a bus ticket to JB, he pointed down the steps
‘You must walk!’
We tried to explain that we had a bus ticket, but to no avail, so we turned round and walked down the steps.
The heat and the humidity were sweltering when we got outside the checkpoint, and there were about 12 lanes of slow moving traffic on the causeway, all kicking out fumes and beeping their horns at each other. So we trudged about a mile to the other side of the causeway, being heavily weighed down by our backpacks.
When we reached the Malaysian side, we were gestured at by another official. It was an ambiguous sort of wave that I’ve seen quite a lot since arriving in Malaysia. It’s halfway between a dismissive ‘go away’ gesture and a beckoning ‘come here’ gesture. The closest thing I can describe it to is the Royal Wave the Queen does when visiting.
Me and the boy Dowell tossed a metaphorical coin and decided he must mean ‘come here’, so we walked over to him.
‘You are walking on wrong side of causway. Passport check over there’ He pointed past the twelve lanes of traffic passing through Customs. ‘You must go there for stamp’
Mildly frustrated, fairly achey from the bags, and very sweaty from the heat, we negotiate our way through cars, bikes, trucks and scooters and successfully get our passports stamped.
After finally getting into Malaysia we are immediately swarmed round by taxi touts. ‘Taxi boys! Taxi’ they shout, each one in turn as we muscle our way past them. After saying ‘no thanks’ to the first fifty of them you’d think they’d get the message.
We finally get a bit of time to think. Where is the bus station? Why did we have to walk across? How come the bus we got on and several like it have been going past laden with passengers? We come to no conclusions.
A taxi driver walks up to us ‘Guys, where you go today?’ We tell him that we need to get the bus to Melaka, and that we don’t know where the bus stop is.
He offers us ten Ringgits to get to the bus station. This seems like a pretty fair deal, being about one pound fifty. That is, until we reach the bus terminal, and find we can get a four hour journey for less than fifteen Ringitts.
The bus terminal was a chaotic place, sweaty, smelly, and crowded. Full of bus boys shouting the odds and trying to get you to choose their company above anyone elses. It was the kind of place I really didn’t want to be in at the time, but looking back am glad I was just for the experience.
We stayed two days in Melaka (at the Kancil guesthouse, after getting simultaneously dropped and ripped off by another taxi driver charging us about 2 quid), and visited a couple of museums, namely the Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Enduring Beauty. The Maritime Museum was a big boat full of Memorabilia from the 13th Century when the town was a major port in the trading of spices, silks and fabrics, and the Museum of Enduring Beauty was full of photos of cultural ideas of beauty, such as African Women wearing rings round their necks to stretch them, the lip plates, stretched earlobes and sharpened teeth. Oddly enough, the second floor of this Museum was full of Kites and miniature town planning models of Melaka, so it would really have been more aptly named ‘The Museum Of Enduring Kites, Town Planning and Beauty’
In between visiting museums, yesterday was spent quite shamefully eating comfort food. We fed the respective global beasts of Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds in one day. I know. It’s wrong. I’m sorry, but when you’ve scoured the stalls looking for something to eat other than Chicken Feet, Fried Curry Fish Heads or Intestine Soup (with accompanying glossy photos) and seen a deep fried duck, with beak still attached, hanging in front of you, you tend to crave the plasticky, western option occasionally. Better the devil you know and all that.
Anyway, we’re now sat in Melaka bus terminal, having missed a bus to Mersing by ten minutes, the next one didn’t go for six hours, hence the reason I’ve rambled on for such a time-killing duration.
We’re going to stay the night in Mersing, from where we’re catching a boat across to Pulau Tioman, a supposedly beautiful island off the East Coast. After that, we’re off to KL.
Cafe, Jonkers Walk, Melaka.
Andy and a bunch of Trishaws, Melaka.