Busing it over the border

Land borders are still a bit of a novelty to me – despite my extensive travels, I’ve only crossed one other land border (other than in Europe), and that was many years ago between China and Mongolia. This time, I caught a bus from Singapore to Malacca. I ended up choosing Luxury Bus for a couple of reasons: they pickup from the Concorde Hotel, which its downtown Singapore (as opposed to the main bus station, which is our if the way), I was able to book online, and they dropped off at the Casa Hotel in Malacca – only 5 minutes from my hotel, and significantly closer than the main bus station.  The bus itself was very nice – only 3 seats per row, with personal TV’s in each (I managed to watch Yogi Bear and Shrek on my trip). About 30 minutes from the city centre, we hit the border and went through immigration and customs. At immigration everyone jumped off the bus (leaving luggage behind) and had their passports stamps (make sure you don’t lose your departure card when you first arrive into Singapore – I thought I had, which caused problems for a moment). The bus then took us to customs, where we took all of our luggage, had our passports stamped again and declared anything if necessary. Very quick procedure, with everyone very insistent that you double check your visa yourself – apparently there have been issues with people smuggling and the such, so you need to check you for a stamp, and it has the correct date on it.

At this stage we had a tour guide join us on the bus, who proceeded to let us know a little of the history of the area, and pointed out important landmarks as we passed them. There was a quick stop an hour later for every one to stretch their legs and go to the toilet. Plenty of food and drinks for sale – be aware that there was no atm nor money changer here (I don’t know if all the buses headed for Malacca stop at this particular rest stop, but it certainly looked like it). They do accept Singapore dollars, S$1 = RM 2 (ie not a great rate!). In Singapore I bought a $50 M1 SIM card because it would work in Singapore and Malaysia – in hindsight I should have gotten a cheaper SIM in Singapore, and just bought a local SIM here (I didn’t look too closely, but there was definitely someone selling DIGI sims).

After our quick stop it was full steam to Malacca – all in all we left Singapore at 8am and arrived in Malacca at about 1:30pm.  We were dropped at Casa Hotel, however the tour guide gave me directions to Hotel Puri, so off I went. The historic area of Malacca is wire small and easy to navigate, so I found the gorgeous hotel quite quickly.

Malacca is a gorgeous area and I wish I had of had more time there. I managed to see most things, wandering around on my own, and also jumped on a river cruise. Everywhere I went there were rickshaws decorated Hello Kitty style (there is a Hello Kitty World not far from here), belting out Ganham Style, I even saw a weeding couple posing for photos in one!

I’m my short stay, I also managed to try some of the local foods – chicken rice (yum!), satay chicken (yum!), pineapple tarts (yum!) and durian cendol (ummm…). The durian wasn’t really to my tastes, but I can now say I’ve tried it!

I’m now on the bus from Malacca to KL – these busses leave from Malacca Sentral regularly, and I think it should take about 2 hours. This time I went with KKKL – the bus it’s similar to the Luxury one, however no personal tv’s… then again this bus did cost RM 12.2, significantly cheaper than the Singapore – Malacca one!

Singaporean Birthday

Arrival in Singapore Airport was a surprise – I’d been told that Changi airport is one of the world’s best, but I was still impressed with the appearance of the airport. With only 2 nights and a day in Singapore, I quickly grabbed some some cash from an ATM (ANZ interestingly!) and a local sim card (I went with M1 on the belief it would also work in Malaysia). Unfortunately there were only $50 cards available at the airport – I want sure if I would be able to get one of the cheaper ones in town, so I bought it regardless. Then I hung around for the airport shuttle which dropped me direct to my hotel, rather than trying to navigate the MRT.

When I first researched accommodation in Singapore, I was horrified by how expensive it was. I looked at the various hostels available, but when I realised how much they would cost, I decided I may as well go upmarket. I chose the Swissotel, letting them know it would be my birthday whilst I was there. On check-in, I was delighted to find that they had upgraded my room to an executive room, complete with free happy hour, fancy breakfast and free internet! A quick stroll from the hotel and I was in Clarke Quay, surrounded by stacks of bars and restaurants.

I ended up at Cuba Bar, which had a Monday night special running – 1 for 1 drinks, meaning every time I ordered a drink, 2 came. There was a great local band playing, and when they realised it was the bartenders and my birthdays, they sung us happy birthday.

The next morning I was up early for my super quick Singapore city tour. The tour took its too the main sites, including the Mer-lion overlooking the bay, Thian Hock Keng (a Chinese temple), a gem workshop, the national orchid garden, Little India, finishing at the Singapore flyer. My favorite was easily the germ workshop – although it was primarily geared as a sales destination, and the actual stones for sale were kind of rubbish, they had some carving machines running and beautiful examples of gem murals.

At the Singapore flyer we were left to our own devices, and so up I went. On the way to the platform however, I spied a massage parlour, and as it was my birthday I decided to treat myself.  I was greeted by not only a masseuse, but also a tank full of hungry fish – DR FISH foot massage!

A quick trip up in the Singapore flyer proved to be interesting – it certainly gives you a fantastic view of the skyline.

After the flyer I grabbed some lunch at the Singapore “food trail”, a collection of hawker food stands at the bottom of the flyer. I managed to try two things off my list – fried oysters and chicken rice, both of which were delicious. As the heavens opened up, I headed back to my hotel to freshen up before my night tour.

When I got back to my room at the Swissotel, there was a note asking me to call reception. When I called, they bought me up a beautiful chocolate cake, complete with a birthday card. Awww.

My night tour got off to a rocky start – despite being in the lobby and waiting, the guide failed to pick me up. They were disinterested in solving this, however thanks to the fantastic service of the concierge, I made it to the Night Safari regardless. If I do this again in the future, I’ll organise it myself – there is a very cheap pickup service offered by the park itself, which goes to many of the hotels in Singapore.  The Night Safari itself was amazing, highly recommended.  This place is a zoo only open at night, featuring mainly Asian nocturnal animals. The enclosures are very cleverly done, so that the animals feel very close, particularly on the guided tram rides. Due to the stuff-up of the tour company, I only had 2.5 hours there, which was a bit short, I definitely could have used another hour or so. Highlights were the tram ride, and the bat house (no matter what you do, make sure you get to the fruit bat area!).

All in all, not a bad birthday (I even managed to slug down a Singapore Slinger at the Night Safari!) spent in Singapore. Up early tomorrow for my bus to Malaysia :-)

Returning Home

Whilst I was at my hostel in Tokyo, someone asked me why I had returned to Japan so many times. I was bumbling around trying to explain myself, when I hit upon it – whilst I love traveling (particularly Asia), Japan is different. To me, coming back to Japan feels just like coming home.

And so this past week I’ve been kicking back, living it up in Kurume.  My first day was spent tripping around – we managed to pass through 4 prefectures, stopping in Tara for a delicious kani chanpon (crab noodles) lunch. Our final destination was Unzen Dake, the volcano overlooking Shimabara. To return home, we took the car ferry back to… . But it was the car trip back to Kurume when everything got interesting…

A car ran up the back of us. No need to get freaked – it was only a minor accident, we were stopped at the time, the car behind us thought that the light had changed. The result was a dinged up (brand new) car, a 3 hour police investigation and a hospital visit! The procedure was interesting – for just a small accident, the police outlined the road with chalk and all of our details were taken (and by all, I mean all, including the name of the university I graduated from!). After the investigation, we were sent to the hospital, where we were xrayed, cleared and sent home. Wheww, what a day!

The rest of my week was spent catching up with friends, and eating. Kurume ramen, udon, nabe, yakitori and more – yum! I managed to catch up with nearly everyone, including my new Japanese niece!

Before my flight out to Taipei, I crashed in Osaka for the night, at the First Cabin Hotel. Highly recommended – a hostel/capsule hotel/business hotel – see my separate review for more info.

A Simple Place (Taipei, Taiwan)

This new budget hotel is conveniently located and a fun place to stay.  Rooms are large and spacious (although mine was upgraded), mine had a small comfy couch, large (comfy) bed, a flat screen tv and a small desk (with free water and snacks). Attached bathroom had a shower and a toilet, both rooms were very clean.

Every second floor has a shared fridge, with a free washer/dryer on the top floor. Tea making facilities and a (free) computer with internet are also available in the top floor. Free WiFi on each floor. Hotel has been decorated in a very fun way, and staff are very friendly and helpful. Location is very convenient (perhaps a 5 minute walk to the main Ximending area). Loved my stay here.

No breakfast included – but use this as an opportunity to explore the local eateries – fantastic Taiwanese omelette place around the corner.

Details
Prices: $2080 NTD (standard double room, with private ensuite)
Features: Room with TV, air conditioning/heating and ensuite, free wifi on all floors with a free internet available on computer upstairs, free laundry facilities, shared fridges
Website: www.booking.com/hotel/tw/a-simple-place-ximending-taipei.en.html
Address: No.215 Xining South Rd. Wanhua District, Wanhua, 10846 Taipei
Directions: The nearest station is 'Ximen' on the Bannan (blue) line. Take exit 1, and turn left. Continue along this street ("costume street") until you reach the end. Turn right around the corner, and the hotel will be on the right hand side, to the left of an egg tart shop.

SweetMe Hotspring Resort (Beitou, Taiwan)

I spent some time searching for somewhere to stay in Beitou, and although this place was a little higher than what I normally spend on accommodation, I went with it for two reasons: it was ready to book (I just booked through one of the booking engines, many other hotels in the area only had phone numbers, with no way to book online) and they boasted hot springs in their rooms.

This was the first non budget hotel I stayed at on this trip, and so the nice big, clean, pretty room was a shock to me (other reviews I read suggested they were a little run down, I certainly didn’t experience that). My room had a large very comfortable king bed (actually it was two singles pushed together) with a mini fridge, flat screen tv (with star movies etc) and plenty of space. The bathroom had a large mirror, a small (Japanese style) shower area and (the highlight off the room) a large stone bath, fed by spring waters.

Included with the room is entry to the hotels public (ie naked) hotsprings – I was too caught up in my personal one that I didn’t try them out I’m afraid – next time! Breakfast was also included, which was decent. Location is good, not far from the train station, and opposite the main park (ie near the hot spring museum etc).

Details
Prices: $157 AUD (standard double room)
Features: Breakfast included (mix of western and Asian dishes), onsen bath in room
Website: www.sweetme.com.tw/English/home/home.php
Address: No 224, Guangming Rd., Beitou Chiu, Taipei
Directions: Walk out of Xin Beitou station and turn right. You will see the big park (Beitou park) kitty-corner to the station. Walk to the next set of traffic lights, with Watsons on the corner. Turn left into Guangming Road, which runs alongside the park. The hotel will be on the right (all up about a 3 minute walk from the station).
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