Over the years we’ve learned from many transit days, and in particular border crossings, that anything can happen.
On the day we transited by bus from Singapore into Malaysia we really needed to have our wits about us. It was one of those times where our radars had to be on full alert and assume anything could happen.
Arriving at the Golden Tower coach depot way ahead of our departure time, as usual, meant an uncomfortably long wait in the bus company’s “customer service lounge”.
They did offer some level of Wi-Fi, plus the room was air- conditioned so there were no complaints from our end.
Tip: make sure you tell the taxi driver exactly which depot you want – not just “bus terminal” because there are many bus terminals and we actually needed to go to the “coach terminal”.
Checking with the ladies at the ticketing office we were given a slip of paper with some numbers they had penned in.
The attendant told us that one of the numbers was for the Singapore departing bus and the other number was for the bus we’d have to change to after we crossed Malaysia Immigration. This was all done in broken English, sign language and what we just figured out for ourselves.
The bus seemed to be late and Dave was becoming concerned so he went back to the office to check on the timing. The attendant took the slip of paper from Dave and changed the number of our Malaysia change-to bus.
Almost at the same time as Dave walked out of the office our bus appeared through the maze of maniacal traffic, and then we all hopped on and settled in for the ride. “We all” being Dave & I and one other couple, young Brits.
Following a slow drive through heavy traffic the bus pulled over and the driver made grunting noises that sounded like we should get off the bus, and so we did. It turned out to be the Singapore departure gate, which we breezed through, somewhat ignorantly.
Our bus had moved from where we were dropped off and we had to go looking for it in the midst of hundreds of buses barging through a mammoth bus car park.
That old saying that “they all look alike” applies to buses in a pack. We noticed the Brit couple wandering aimlessly about the tarmac (we foreigners stand out) and then between us we finally recognised our bus across the way with familiar window bunting and on closer inspection we found it was our bus number.
No matter where we are in the world, it is always comforting to find “our own place”, believing that all will be good. And having faith because sometimes there isn’t much else to hang on to.
Then off we ventured over the causeway and soon enough we came to Malaysia Immigration and Customs, and that’s where it almost turned pear shaped.
We’d bought some booze coming in to Singapore, a nice bottle of gin for Errol and a fine whiskey for us. The border guards didn’t like the opened bottle of whiskey in my bag, though they let Dave through with the gin without question.
In the shabby little shed a guard pulled me aside and made me open my bag and bring out the bottle. A bunch of guards materialised and stood around looking at me, the bottle and mumbling to each other, repeatedly, for several minutes. Dave was on the other side of the barrier waiting for me to come through.
The Malaysian laws do allow up to 1 litre per person but I felt like these guys really wanted to rattle me and make a bit of graft on the side. A guard evaluated the amount of whiskey in the bottle and made up the value in Ringgits and then calculated some kind of tax payment owing. He then told me I could either leave the whisky behind with them, or pay the “tax”. By this stage Dave had joined me and was challenging them but I just wanted to get it over with and move on.
We didn’t have Ringgits so the guard did a conversion into Singapore dollars that came to around $35. He could see that Dave had a $50 note and wanted to take that but Dave offered them $25, which they accepted. Then they wanted us to wait around for some kind of made up receipt.
There was no way Dave was going to leave that whiskey with the guards, nor was he going to hand over the $50 note. He was there ready to argue but it all ended calmly enough.
Anyway that turned out to be a very expensive bottle of whiskey which Dave and Errol enjoyed together over the next few evenings.
Thank goodness Dave got that new bus number because by the time we got out of the hot Customs shed we then had to go and find our new bus. And there it was with our friendly Brit couple looking out for us. The driver impatiently bustled us in and took off straight away.
The funny thing was that the other couple were sitting in the exact location in this new bus and we did the same, sitting right behind the driver. Isn’t it interesting how that happens.
The driver was really something else. Crazy zipping through breaks in the heavy traffic and then next thing I could see in the window reflection that he was playing a game on his phone! He saw me watching him and that I was angry so he stopped and then kept his eye on me for the rest of the trip, glancing at his phone from time to time. I guess I could have taken a photo of him and made a complaint to the bus company but to be honest I didn’t really expect anything would be done.
After a while we made a comfort stop at a siding along the road, along with around 50 other buses with passengers. We went hungry and thirsty because we didn’t have the Malaysian currency, and as is the case everywhere in the world, the queue for the Ladies was a mile long. The facilities were likely to be dodgy all the way out in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t bother.
We made this same bus journey a few years ago and we don’t recall such an abundance of high-rise development on the mainland. Last time we marveled at the number of solar farms we passed and on this trip we were dismayed at the prolific palm plantations seeming to be taking over.
Despite some moments of chaos, the bus trip really was very comfortable and enjoyable. Errol and Lemuel were waiting at Melaka bus depot to greet us and whisk us away into the beginning of our Malaysia immersion beginning, of course, with food. And I’ll write about the joyous Malaysian food soon.