Off on Malaysian buses again today and back down the ‘highway’ off the mountains heading for Georgetown on Penang… a ride from the sky to the sea.
I arrived at Tanah-Rata’s bus station to find it all in darkness.
I’d be lying if I said this hadn’t gave me pause for thought and I’d also be telling shoppers if I claimed that I in no way immediately started catastrophising.
I also rapidly worked out back up plans for the several worst case scenarios I had imagined.
There’s also a taxi rank at the station and one of the drivers asked what I was looking for.
“Oh, the bus ticket office opens at about 7.30am,” he said.
It did too, well one of them did.
My ticket, saved to my phone, was checked and ten minutes later, the coach arrived… twenty minutes early.
How would I know where to sit? I didn’t have a boarding pass. The lady in the office took my name, checked her list and told me my seat number.
I climbed on board, pleased that I didn’t have a hangover when I saw the interior.
Thank goodness I had a front seat by the window so I wouldn’t have to look at the migraine-inducing upholstery for too long.
Unlike on the other buses I had ridden, the lady from the ticket counter came on to the bus and took a register, checking the names of all the passengers in each seat.
It took me back to being on school trips as a kid.
What a difference an early Monday morning makes… the roads were clear of traffic and the views out across the misty mountains were stunning, though the sun rapidly burned away the moisture.
After an hour and a half, I was back in Ipoh, the half way point and returning to Amanjaya Bus Startion, again. I was beginning to feel like a rgeular. Some of the passengers disembarked here.
There was a ten minute stop for snacks and/or the toilet for the rest of us but sadly I couldn’t spot any pau buns or curry puffs.
And nobody was selling coffee either.
Back on the bus, we continued on our way to Georgetown…for approximately five minutes before pulling up on the side if the dual carriageway.
The driver got off the bus.
Several minutes later he climbed back in board and the mystery of what was going on was soon cleared up as we pulled up next to a tyre shop.
After thirty minutes we were on our way, again.
We were heading North our of Ipoh along the same road that I was driven along to go to Taiping and the Orangutan Island Sanctuary.
The scenery was again mostly palm plantations though occasionally we passed small farms growing a variety of crops.
As we drew closer to Penang, the land around us became more built up with factories, offices and apartment buildings.
Perai on the peninsula facing the island is a bustling city and port.
The bus stopped at the Butterworthworth Ferry and Rail Station before continuing on its way to the island itself across the Penang Bridge.
We arrived at a bus station, naturally at the opposite end of town to where I needed to be and I walked across the road to the bus stop, where three people were already waiting… somewhat impatiently.
Clearly, there would be the same bus issues as in Ipoh but as I couldn’t check in for another hour or so, I wasn’t in a rush.
Everyone was waiting for a bus to the airport so I went back into the bus station. I really should have just started there rather than trusting Google preparation, again…though Google was right about the bus numbers a d the destination names
Not that anything was happening here either. To be fair.
I wasn’t the only traveller from the Tanah Rata bus looking puzzled either.
There was no office or ticket counter just an information poster and the only staff around were taxi drivers – mostly unlikely to give bus information when it could rob them of a fare.
The people from the bus stop came in too.
I began to think prayers and incense burning might be a good idea.
A couple from the Tanah Rata bus joined me – sharing my bemusement. The platform in the station filled with more people waiting for a bus into Georgetown.
The bus arrived.
The couple climbed on board and when it was my turn the driver peered behind me at the other two people from the Tanah-Rata trip. He gestured and asked: “One ticket.”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “I don’t know them.”
The guy had tunelessly half-whistled through his teeth all the way here. Call me petty.
As Tenzing once memorably related in the tale of someone who wouldn’t shut up: “If he doesn’t talk, he thinks he’s invisible.”
About twenty minutes later, an old lady boarded the bus. She was tiny, bent double on walking sticks but she refused offers of seats, shuffled purposefully down the bus and switched on a Doris Day recording, singing along to it all the way into town.
It was magic.
She had to be Chinese – in the places I’ve been, only the Chinese are so joyously unselfconscious.
The twenty-somethings around me looked on in horror.
I was disappointed when she stood half way through the second song. I thought she was getting off the bus…
…but no. She marched to the front of the bus and took the front seat where she could chat with the driver between choruses.