Another day, another bus to another city.
I was on my way to Ipoh.
After a last look at the Petronas Towers, Ichecked out of the hostel, took a leisurely breakfast and wandered through the nearby shopping mall to the train station.
One thing I have really been struck by in Kuala Lumpur is the level of Public Health messaging – not only on coronavirus but on issues that affect people’s daily lives.
The mall I walked through holds a weekly afternoon where it ensures that the environment is more acceptable to people with autism. Lights are dimmed, the music volume is turned low and staff are reminded to be more patient… though to be fair, I have been very impressed by how friendly and kind people are in the city and working in the food outlets.
The approach advocated by this mall sounds like one that could make my shopping experiences far more pleasant – a reduction in competing noise and flashing advertising messages.
While travelling on public transport I’ve seen lots of health and wellbeing messages and examples of interventions being trialled. For example, a local games designer involved in some of the world’s most popular video games was filmed talking about the opportunities to ensure kids’ games highlight preferred social and civic behaviours.
How this gets woven into games like Grand Theft Auto, I am genuinely intrigued by.
A doctor talked about her work on an app to assist in the earlier diagnosis of head and neck cancers which are a key issue. Her final words: “Doing nothing is worse than a fear of failure”.
Morning train rides have been fascinating from a Public Health geeky point of view.
I had a twenty minute ride to Kuala Lumpur’s main bus station (TBS).
It is a huge building but checking in and getting my boarding pass were very straightforward.
I went to the nearest ticket counter, figuring if it was the wrong one, I’d be redirected. It wasn’t and I wasn’t.
I was still astounded by the lists of bus companies ploughing the same routes. Malaysia would give the 192 Stockport- Manchester City Centre route a run for its money.
Finding the boarding gate was a wee bit more challenging. There was no obvious logic to numbering…
…but I found it and settled down to wait for the bus, which arrived on time and I climbed on board, delighted to discover that once again I had a front and window seat.
It seemed a little pointless using the seatbelt – there was no way of adjusting it.
The young woman sitting next to me promptly fell asleep, as the bus marked ten minutes on the road.
The journey would take three hours from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh.
Malaysia’s cities are connected by a network of toll roads and after 20 minutes the bus had passed through the toll plaza.
On either side of the motorway (four lanes in each carriage) were residential districts, dotted with mosques and a lots of green space – parks, trees, market gardens.
In around 40 minutes, we were passing through the palm plantations again.
The woman asleep beside me wasn’t giving me a lot of room.
I wondered what the etiquette was. Should I just push her arm over? Should I wake her up? If her head landed on my shoulder I definitely would.
The forest became more diverse but only briefly before the palms returned. The scenery continued in this way for most of the next eighty miles.
After well over an hour’s driving, the bus began to climb the road higher into the hills. Halfway into the driving time, the bus pulled over at a roadside stop.
This looked a little more professional and permanent than the one we stopped at on the road from Singapore to Melaka… which I was a little disappointed by.
This is not me gripping about authenticity and objecting when countries no longer look like they did in the 1950s.
My complaint is far more basic.
As in Vietnam, I had again really developed a taste for the local coffee and when the international chains move in, not only does this cease to be available (flat whites, cappuccinos, no problem but they look at you oddly when you ask for a white coffee – you know, one where the milk hasn’t been steamed) but the prices rocket.
I had quickly become accustomed to paying 25p for a coffee and while £1.20 for a cappuccino is astonishly reasonable in the UK, it was daylight robbery over here.
I may have been channelling Mr How Fucking Much.
I was delighted when I spotted a stall selling curry puffs. I had tried these in Singapore on the Kampung Glam tour. Bus had explained that these were similar to samosas but less crispy.
I would describe these as a cross between a samosa and a pasty – the pinnacle of fusion cuisine.
We stopped for ten minutes and I gave myself a short but sharp scare when I turned around and couldn’t spot the bus.
Another one had moved in front.
Before the bus actually did depart, the driver carried out a headcount. So I probably wouldn’t have been left behind.
Back on the road we were soon passing signs for the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous region famous for tea plantations.
Don’t worry, I hadn’t completely sold my soul to coffee. This area was on my plan for exploring.
The woman asleep next to me – the rest stop had only briefly woken her – was now leaning into me. A fidget on my part stopped that.
With just over half an hour of the journey left, the bus headed along a road signposting the Tea Valley. This sounded like heaven.
We stopped in Gopeng, a small town which, like Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, showed the mix of population groups with a beautiful Chinese temple and mosque on the same side of the road. A number of passengers climbed off, surprised that the bus hadn’t stopped at the bus station.
I found it more surprising that this and my last trip HAD involved bus stations.
The bus was heading for the Amanjaya Bus Station on the Northern edge of Ipoh, which is surrounded by mountains.
As we skirted the city there were far fewer high rise buildings than in Kuala Lumpur but it was just as green.
On arrival at the bus terminal I climbed off and went in search of a local bus into town. Google Maps is a superb resource but it’s only as good as its updates.
The guys waiting in what looked like the bus stop were bemused by my question and wondered why I wasn’t getting a taxi.
I headed back into the bus station and was directed back to where I had come from.
After ten minutes a bus heading close enough to my hostel arrived and I climbed on board. I’d have time to work out how I would get BACK to the terminal in a few days time.