Singapore to Malaysia: The Crossing from Hell

Perhaps it was apt that my day started as a study of animal nature, since the nighttime provided an insight into the cruelty (and stupidity) of human nature. Following my visit to Singapore Zoo, my intention was to cross the border over to Malaysia, grabbing a bus to the nearby city of Johor Bahru from where I’d get a sleeper train to Kuala Lumpur. The border crossing is pretty easy. The yellow Causeway Link buses go from Queen’s Bus Terminal and can go to the Larkin bus terminal in JB or JB Sentral, the train station. I paid around S$3 and hopped aboard. The bus dropped me off at the exit point and immigration was quick and easy.

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Leaving the bright lights of Singapore behind.

The trouble is, you then just have to hop on any bus to get to the Malaysian entry point and then, once you pass through Malaysian immigration (another quick affair), you change buses again. Once I passed through immigration though, there were no buses around. I was waiting for ages before a yellow CW bus finally pulled up and, worried I was in danger of missing my train, I hopped aboard. However, it turned out this was going to the Larkin bus terminal, not the train station. And it also turned out the two were nowhere near each other.

So I missed my train – not a big deal. There were loads of buses heading to Kuala Lumpur and it would cost me around 40RM (£7) to hop on one straight away which I did. As is traditional on sleeper buses, I then fell asleep, but wasn’t woken up when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur (normally they make a big fuss and considering I was the only tourist on there and had said ‘KL’ to the bus driver, I was a bit miffed). When I woke up, we’d left KL and so my only option was to see where I ended up and then get a bus back.

By this point, I was groggy, annoyed and tired and so not at my best. The trouble with travelling solo is you have to be alert all the time, even at 3am in the morning. So when we pulled in at Ipoh bus station in central Malaysia, I rushed off the bus, not wanting to end up further away from KL, leaving my small camera bag with my beloved camera and passport on the bus. I realised about 10 minutes later but the bus had already gone. What followed was the least dramatic bus chase ever, as I found out it was going to Penang in the North of Malaysia and so hopped on the next bus to follow it and retrieve my bag. In one night, I pretty much covered the entire length of Singapore/Malaysia.

From a detective standpoint, things went quite well after that – I alighted at Butterworth (the bus/train station for the island of Penang), found the bus company office and was able to locate the bus I’d been travelling on at a nearby car wash. Like all good detective stories though, it wasn’t as simple as just getting back my bag as it wasn’t there anymore. The staff on the bus claimed never to have seen it and I had to endure a rant from the taxi driver about how stupid I was to have left my bag. Cheers mate. Next stop – the police station.

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Your passport is precious. Don’t lose it… like I did.

All I wanted was to be back in the zoo at this point, where my biggest problem was deciding whether to see the elephants or the penguins. The police at Butterworth bus station was unbelievably unhelpful, almost as if I’d ruined their morning of sitting there doing sod all to actually report something important. What they did have was CCTV, and what I had was an eye for spotting crime (it’s the lawyer in me) and so when I more or less forced the lazy buggers to play the CCTV footage of the bus arriving, I saw a man walking through the bus with what looked exactly like my camera bag.

I naively thought that was it! He must have got a boat over to the island. The police could bring in the helicopters, surround the island, cut off his only means of escape… instead I was told lots of bags look like that and it probably wasn’t mine. I’ve never been so frustrated in my life. I was literally yelling at them that I was sure it was my bag. They even cut off the CCTV footage before I could write down the time, though super sleuth Jack had already remembered it.

The ‘proper’ police in Butterworth were only marginally more helpful but hours of form-filling and answering pointless questions weren’t going to get my passport back. I was just another idiotic tourist who’d lost his passport. 3 years worth of stamps – gone. My only way out of the country – gone. All my Singapore pictures – gone. My arrival in Malaysia was looking very bleak indeed…

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Drowning my sorrows in Penang.
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