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 out of 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 quite 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 wasn’t 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 🙂