Stuck in Singapore

Colorful crowded streets of Chinatown in Singapore

Colorful crowded streets of Chinatown in Singapore

Arriving at the airport last Friday we were congratulating ourselves on our mastery of Singapore?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s bus and subway system, conquered over our 3 day stay. We were especially proud of the fact that we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d made it to the airport by the recommended 2 hours prior to takeoff for our flight to Mumbai, India. But our smugness soon turned into chagrin when we discovered that India requires a special entrance visa, something we had not thought we needed and something we were sorely without. A torturous bus trip to the India embassy, with a drop-off of our luggage at our guest house, saw us arrive 15 minutes after closing time. And to compound our dilemma, a seemingly knowledgeable person standing in the outer courtyard informed us that it would take 5 working days to process our passports. In an instant Goa had slipped off our map.

Stefanie lost in Mustafa mall

Stefanie lost in Mustafa mall

As travelers on the lean budget plan, it took us exactly 30 seconds to come to the conclusion that an additional week in Singapore was out of the question. Singapore is an infinitely interesting, cosmopolitan, multi-cultured and clean city with an endless supply of air conditioned malls. However, it is also infinitely challenging to stay within our means in such a high-end place. We needed to escape to a more reasonable economy, and soon. Plan B was in formation before we had left the embassy grounds and was on its way to completion by the time we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d walked the several blocks to Orchard Road for a cheap lunch of curry puffs and fish balls from one of the ubiquitous stands found there amidst the tony shopping centers. While eating our lunch on a bench in the shade of the tree-lined street, we decided upon an alternative destination. When traveling the world, there are plenty of options. Peninsular Malaysia called.

Fugian dancers in graceful pose

Fugian dancers in graceful pose

Back at our guesthouse, we were soon pouring over tourist information booklets on Malaysia and studying the train and bus routes north. Our hostess, April, gave us some tips on bus travel and information on guesthouses in the areas we were most interested in visiting. By late morning the next day we had connected with our travel agent stateside and had confirmed new flights out of Bangkok, to arrive in Istanbul March 8th as originally planned. With a good idea of where we wanted to go and how to get there, and no further reason to remain, we decided to seize the moment and be on our way since it was still early afternoon. We packed our bags once more, settled our bill, and set out hoping to make Malacca, Malaysia, south of Kuala Lumpur, by early evening in time to hunt down reasonable accommodations. Our plan was to catch a local bus to Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore, where we could connect with a bus northward to Malacca, a cheaper option than a direct route from Singapore.

Soft hues of lotus blossoms at streetside

Soft hues of lotus blossoms at streetside

Four buses (including a wrong one due to miscommunications) and 2 hours later, we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d made it just to the far side of the border, a distance no greater than 10 kilometers. Once through customs and headed to what we thought was our connecting bus, Dave was snagged by one of the many taxi guys just outside the building. Dripping with sweat from carrying our bags through the dense humidity and heat, off-loading from 2 buses required to get us through the border, we made a quick decision to go with the information our taxi guy was telling us. That it was 15 kilometers to the bus station and there weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t any buses going there. As we climbed into his car ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú a private one ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú the heavens opened and torrents of rain fell from the sky, obliterating our view of what supposedly was Johor Bahru. Welcome to Malaysia. Fifteen minutes later as we began to believe we were driving in circles, the bus station appeared. Unable to drive through the terminal gates to the entry because he was not licensed, our taxi guy stopped at a distant curb where we disembarked for a mad 30-yard dash to the safety of the bus shelter.

A bicycle rickshaw -- not one of our transportations

A bicycle rickshaw — not one of our transportations

Now soaked to the skin, we lugged our baggage into the terminal in search of an express bus going to Malacca. The next one was scheduled to depart in half an hour. But first we needed Malaysian ringgits in exchange for our Singapore dollars, which the money changers at the terminal were happy to oblige, along with changing a few US dollars when 2 different ATMs failed us. Back at the ticket counter we purchased our tickets, then hit the McDonald?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s (yes, McDonald?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s!) for a take-out sack of cheeseburgers, fries, and cokes, and finally made a quick pit stop at the restroom with a little time to spare before boarding our bus.

The dancing lions' message of good fortune

The dancing lions’ message of good fortune

In Malacca, we hit pay dirt when Dave phoned the guesthouse and found a vacancy. We caught the local #17 bus as instructed, only to be let out very prematurely in unknown territory. Happily, it was on a busy street with frequent cabs. We haled one and arrived safely a short time later at our guesthouse some 8 hours after our journey began. Six buses, 2 cab rides and one torrential downpour later, we had finally managed our exit from Singapore.

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