Our final week in Malaysia and a cheeky weekender in Singapore; big cities, big Buddhas and the most welcoming bed yet…107 days in.
We returned from the relaxed beaches of the Perhentian islands to the weary harbour of Kuala Besut with the plan to make our way to Kota Bahru just like all the other tourists, and don’t the taxi drivers know it! But we were steadfast, we knew there was a public bus, number 693, and it arrived, maybe 30 minutes late, but certainly not the two hours quoted by the “it’s up to you my friend” cabbies (yes, it is up to me and my walking past you was the indication that I do not require your services!). However, it’s arrival did coincide with Helen’s visit to the ladies. Not prepared to spend a further four hours being ridiculed by our attentive taxi man, we found some locals who had also fallen foul of the delayed bus by going to the shop for food just as it departed and shared a 30 year old Proton taxi held together with gaffer tape and hope.
Like a number of other towns, Kota Bahru is a typical stopping off venue, not worth an extended viewing. But a glimpse of the local tour attractions poster and wonderfully authentic dining at the local night market convinced us to stay an extra night. We were richly rewarded with great food – some for free (often the best part of being a foreigner in a place where few make the effort to stay), and a tour of the largest reclining Buddha in southeast Asia – the guide book never mentioned that!
The extended time in KB allowed us to plan our travel down to Singapore for the weekend; on the famous jungle railway! p.s. not the same as the infamous Thai-Burma death railway, just to clarify. Setting off five minutes ahead of schedule we chugged along at 50 km/h through the middle of Malaysia; up through it’s steamy rainforest, moutains to both sides of us clad in big storm clouds that periodically pounded the carriages as if demanding to be let in, and upon request the coach doors flailed open and in poured the clag.
A change of trains was required to continue our journey and a few hours were spent on Gua Musang platform watching the local football team come from behind to draw 3 v 3 with a 97th minute equaliser, cue celebrations and a moment to ponder how far corruption extends in 1MDB? We boarded the sleeper service at half midnight. It is a sleeper service in name only, we barely caught a wink. Knocked side to side, jolted up and down, I would not have been surprised to hear that the track, damaged only two years ago by an earthquake, had been reconstructed from vines and trees, after all there is one species they call iron wood! Then of course there was the inability of any of our fellow passengers to close the carriage door that we were next to, with the rush of air and steel wheels against steel tracks ringing around our heads. Finally dawn came and roused us from our zombie like state with the famous Asian alarm call – the guteral retching of a continent addicted to cheap tobacco. Still, we were there (nearly) having travelled the length of peninsular Malaysia in 21 hours we were in JB, a short hope to Singapore.
Our main quest in Singapore was to run the East Coast parkrun and clock up our first foreign taste of parkrun tourism. Even by 7:30 am it was hot and humid and we were now in a country where recreational running was taken a tad more seriously than the rest of SE Asia, with sub seventeen minutes the norm, so we had to settle with “respectable efforts”. However, with the park fitted out with free showers we could at least attended the post parkrun tea without looking too sodden in our own sweat. The rest of the day we shuffled between exuberant shopping malls and high rise hotels attempting to get to the top and looking completely out of place. Eleven years ago along with “The Big Swiss” Mike managed to bypass security and get to a rooftop pool overlooking the city; that skyscraper is now a dwarf alongside its newer younger brothers!
Of course, the most wonderful thing for us in Singapore was our accommodation. A number of years ago whilst Mike was living at 56, he became friends with JP, both sharing a love of hills. JP moved to Singapore, and despite not managing to climb Kinabalu together as they had joked about years ago, we did get the offer of a beautiful house and food, it was luxury! Crisp white sheets and chips, heaven!
A torrential storm rather dampened the final tour of Singapore as JP and Jacqui took us to the border and in a short time we were in the UNESCO city of Malaka. We have been to one of these before (Vigan) and it displayed all the same attractions: old cathedral, run down buildings, night-time fountain display set to music, rows of shops selling tat and hawkers driving their “traditional” vehicles touting for a fare, well done UNESCO, we really did feel it was 1594! Still, it did have its charms, a decent night market, good food and riverside promenade for night time strolls. Mike also discovered a stamp museum. Yes, stamps, postage stamps. Then again, there was also a museum on human self deformation!
The one thing we hadn’t managed so far was a visit inside a mosque, cue KL and a trip to the welcoming Central Mosque, a chance to dress up and ask what’s up with the starving yourselves all day (only through self discipline can you show Allah, peace be upon him, of your virtues and attain personal development and it’s good for the figure). And so Malaysia drew to a close. Two fantastic months of magnificent natural wonders, welcoming people and delicious food, but there’ll be a whole other blog on that! Terima kashi Malaysia, you’ve been great.