A few days travelling down the Malaysian peninsula to Singapore.
Monday 7 February 2011 - Thursday 10 February 2011
Monday 7 February - From Hat Yai I travelled to Kota Bharu via KL. I flew as there is still too much trouble in the southern provinces of Thailand to warrant a road journey. This is a city at the top north eastern corner of Malaysia. To be honest, there is not much there and it closes down in the evenings, although I did find a reasonable restaurant not too far from the hotel.
Tuesday 8 February – I spent the morning wandering around the town, the highlight being the finding of a second hand bookshop at a backpacker’s hostel next to the main bus station. There are also a couple of museums along with a handicraft village that was very new and not fully occupied.
The War Memorial in Kota Bharu.
A nice old building in Kota Bharu.
The Sultan Ismail Petra Arch Kota Bharu.
More interesting buildings near the Royal Palace.
More interesting buildings.
Hotel review – The Dynasty Inn is a budget hotel but is clean and tidy. You just have to watch out for the rooms that open onto the internal air shaft as they do not have any windows. I queried that and they moved me to another room that did have a window. It is always nice to have natural light coming in, especially in the mornings. The staff was friendly and arranged transport to the train station for the stupid hour of the next morning.
Wednesday 9 February – The next day was a long train trip from Wakaf Bharu to Singapore. Wakaf Bharu is the train station for Kota Bharu and is about 5 km away on the other side of the Kelantan River.
We left on time at 7:15 am. The trip was very scenic for the first half of the journey. As soon as you left Wakaf Bharu you entered the mountains with jungle on all sides, rivers (some quite sizeable), birds, water buffalo and even saw a monkey in a tree. The train serviced a large number of small towns and villages through the centre of the country. Each stop was a genuine old fashioned colonial style train station. Each one was painted a light yellow colour with blue trim (roof, window sills etc), pot plants, waiting rooms, food vendors and so on. Each station also had a station master, in his neat and tidy blue uniform with big brass buttons, shiny shoes (well, not all of them had shiny shoes) and rank badges on his shoulders. I suspect the station masters are people of some importance in the town.
The scenery slowly changed from mountains and jungle to more cultivated land, the main crop being palm oil. In some places it is just wall to wall palm oil trees. The towns also got larger (stations still yellow) and the train filled up with passengers, all heading south towards Johor Bharu and Singapore.
It got dark about 7:30 pm, leaving the last couple of hours barrelling along not being able to see much at all.
We were subject to Malaysian immigration at Johor Bharu station which was quick and painless. A few minutes after leaving JB we crossed the causeway and arrived in Singapore and the Woodlands check point. This was not quick and painless as the immigration official I got seemed a bit strange. He couldn’t get the scanner to work for my passport and then managed to use the wrong stamp on both the passport and the arrival card. Once he realised he had the wrong stamps he had to go through the whole process again, finally stamping things correctly. By this time I was the only person left in the immigration hall, the whole train load having been processed by then. I still had to get my bag examined by customs who took extra time to check everything as they wanted to check something they saw on the xray. Meanwhile, the train is waiting. Eventually the customs officials gave me the okay to leave and one of them ran ahead to warn the train staff that there was one person still coming, me. This is the sort of drama you do not need at 9:45 pm.
We finally arrived at Keppel Street station at about 10:30 pm, about half an hour late. After a fair bit of faffing around finding an ATM and then a taxi, I eventually got to my hotel about 11:30. Thankfully, all the food stalls next to the hotel were still open and I found a little Indian stand that had some mutton curry and rice left. Very good for $SGD4 (plus another $7 for the large Carlsberg).
Thursday 10 February – A day in Singapore. After a bit of thought I decided that I would try to get back on the Oasis Overland trip starting in Tunis. I had been booked on it but due to the troubles I had cancelled it a couple of weeks earlier and had made other arrangements, whilst still keeping the second half of the trip from Cairo to Istanbul. Oasis had said that they could get my Libyan visa so it was really only dependent on whether or not I could get flights. However, Emirates could not oblige. All the flights from Dubai to Tunis were full until Wednesday 16 February which is two days after the trip starts. Emirates do not fly every day and their schedule had also changed due to the disturbances in Tunisia. So, Plan B remains in effect.
Hotel review – The Hotel Fragrance Ruby is a budget hotel in Geylang, a very non touristy part of Singapore. In fact, the neighbouring lorong (lane) was wall to wall shops with red lights outside.
Budget report – So far I have managed to stay within budget of $NZ50 per day for food, beer, entertainment, taxis, buses, newspapers, internet and other sundry stuff. Pretty happy with this. However, more expensive countries are to come.