A civilised departure time but regular readers will know that I am cautious about allowing p-l-e-n-t-y of time to get to railway stations or bus departure points.
I say departure points because most of my bus travel in Vietnam and now, leaving Singapore, involved going to a cafe or an office.
In this case I was heading for the Golden Mile Tower, considerably further along Beach Road than Raffles.
After breakfast with Naz, at the hostel, which gave me some advice on visiting Malacca – the original capital of Malay – I strolled off to the Chinatown metro.
There I met the French girl who had dashed out of the hostel minutes before me, heading for an earlier bus in the same direction.
It’s a good thing I allow plenty of time.
The ticket machines weren’t accepting notes (my tourist pass having expired the day before) and when I tried to buy our tickets on plastic, the card readers weren’t working.
She eventually got change and bought tickets for both of us. Phew.
She hurried off again.
Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the bus company office… all very leisurely. It became even more laid back when the staff told me that my 8.30am bus had been rescheduled to 9am.
As I left the office, a doorman took up position for the obligatory temperature check. At 37.7°C, I was cleared for boarding and given a little red sticker to prove it.
I wandered out on to the steps in front of the building to wait for the bus to Melaka ot Malacca – with two spellings commonly used, I’ve had a couple of moments where I’ve had to double check that I would end up where I was planning to.
I think Malacca is the original spelling of the ancient capital while Melaka is more modern.
One arrived and I wondered how to tell if it was mine as there was no destination marked at the front of the bus. Simple…it was the registration plate I needed to look for.
My coach arrived and the legend inscribed down the side of the vehicle was ‘Massage Coach’. What is a massage coach?
There were no obvious masseuse standing in the aisle when I boarded. It was all on the controls of the huge seat.
I think this would beat National Express back home if the controls worked. Actually, it still beats National Express for the size of the chair and the legroom.
The road gave me one last look at the Supertrees standing like alien towers in the Gardens By the Bay, and then the bus was on its way briefly by the harbour where the tankers were moored.
Away from the busy and vast docks, the motorways through Singapore are tree lined and I was, again, struck by how green the city is. This was on a boat with what I had seen in Beijing though the sky is far more blue in Singapore and the air quality much better.
We passed social housing blocks – walkways greened with climbing plants and on balconies, hanging baskets.
On the road, the traffic was a mix of lorries, minivans, trucks carrying labourers to and from their jobs, private cars and a few motorbikes – nothing like the numbers I had seen in Vietnam.
After 40 minutes, as the road took us through an industrial estate, the bus was approaching the Tuas Checkpoint where passports would be checked before entry, across a vast bridge, to Malaysia.
Signs advising drivers to fill up the fuel tanks to at least 3/4 full appeared. The Singapore dollar goes a long way in Malaysia and the authorities are clamping down on people driving across the straits to fill up with petrol only to return again.
At the checkpoint there were at least four or five buses ahead of us and passengers were disembarking to go through passport control.
The process was extremely straightforward – electronic scanning of the passports, leave a thumb print and off you go.
Thomas from Switzerland, sitting across the aisle from me was very disappointed that our passports weren’t stamped… though of course, as we realised, that was only the exit from Singapore.
The Straits of Malacca were bright blue and the Forest City across the Straits on the Malaysia shore looked like a smaller version of Singapore.
Once across the bridge, it was into the Malaysian checkpoint with our luggage for scanning. No thumbprint required and a stamp on the passport for our ‘trouble’.
Back on the bus, and this time we were name-checked back on board (after a rather cavalier ‘let’s see who makes it back’) the driver was keen for us to know that this was the last rest stop until Melaka.
“It’s a beautiful restroom,” he said.
I almost felt I should go and have a look but l thought three hours was ok.
Thomas had already travelled through Malaysia and Melaka and told me a little about what to expect.
The Malaysian government has cut down much of the rainforest on the way to Melaka – selling off the teak and mahogany – and replacing the forest with palm oil plantations.
He was right, after twenty minutes driving past forest, we started passing mile upon mile of palm plantation. In places they were screened from view by different trees.
They stretched as far as the eye could see.
Thomas was the second other traveller that I’ve met trying to avoid flying as much as possible. (The other one being my friend who spent September to December cycling through Southeast Asia).
The scenery, all the way to Melaka, was incredible. Mountains stretched off in the distance on either side of the road. The plantations occasionally gave way to copses of rainforest.
The bus passed the occasional town and crossed bridges over snaking muddy rivers.
We also passed areas where the land had been cleared – whether this was the palm oil plantations or rainforest, I’m not sure.
The towns I saw were mostly filled with two storey houses with white walls and long sloping red grooves.
After over two hours on the road, Thomas and I agreed that the air conditioning was a little too cold. The driver turned the heat up… we’d been cruising along at 17°C which is a perfectly comfortable sunny day in the UK but a little chilly after 31°C.
So much for no stops before Melaka… we pulled into a roadside rest area lined with stalls.
One coffee and a pau cheese later, we were off. Pau are like bao buns. They look like giant marshmallows which is utterly off putting to me but are actually steamed bread buns filled with all types of fillings.
The coffee was great.
It was like being in Vietnam again.
Within fifteen minutes of the stop we were driving through the outskirts of Melaka – brightly painted houses, one or two storeys high with slanted red tiled it corrugated metal rooves.
At the Central Bus Station, Thomas and I were joined by Rafique from France and we caught the bus (2MYR about 40p) into the Old Town.
We were getting off at Dutch Square. I wonder why it might be called that…
We set off walking for our respective hostels and parted ways as we entered the main part of the Old Town.
It wasn’t long before I reached my hostel and discovered this…
That didn’t look like it was open for business to me. Hmmm.