Now that Indonesia has been stuck off the travel list for this trip, there is only one practical alternative left for our next adventure: Malaysia.
Last evening we made plans and with the help of Reception were lucky to secure a place on a bus trip, but it leaves very early in the morning so we kick ourselves out of bed bright and early (ok, perhaps a little less of the bright…) take a shuttle bus from the Rasa Sentosa to the Casino on the other side of Sentosa Island, change to a larger shuttle bus and then to our tour bus, one of several parked in the carpark of the Singapore Flyer.
We sort out our tickets, climb aboard a large air-conditioned coach and a short while later are heading north.
Sentosa island is fairly well at the central southerly point of the island State of Singapore and the place we are headed towards first is pretty well right at the central top of the island of Singapore.
On the Singapore side of the Johor Strait is Woodlands, on Malaysian side is the city of Johor Bahru, which is usually abbreviated by the populations on both sides to “JB”.
Our Singaporean friend “Velvetine’ is not only a mine of local knowledge but also an excellent travel companion and friend. We met in person some six years ago for the first time after meeting several years previous to that via the cooking website “Recipezaar”(now called “Food.com”) so have known each other since about 2003 or 2004.
We are living proof that total strangers on different sides of the world of the kind who were often first dubbed as “oh, one of your imaginary internet friends?” can turn into a fabulous and lasting friendship that apparently only gets better with time.
Her internet nickname has always been “Velvetine” and mine naturally enough is “Kiwidutch” and we discovered that we share a passion for not just cooking and all things Foodie, but also for travel, photography and to Himself’s astonished delight, for the small remote Pacific island nations, namely Kiribati.
Velvetine is the biggest reason that our Singapore stopovers have grown over the years from 12 or 18 hours to five days, and the time always flies by too quickly and there are always sniffles and handkerchiefs at the airport when we say goodbye.
Today however we are going on adventures together… and this starts with the leaving of Singapore.
Unlike a bus trip I did as a teenager from France to the uk, where a stack of Passports were collected by the driver, handed to a customs agent who came on board to check that the faces matched the names and we never left our seats, this is completely different.
We are required to not only exit the bus but also to join throngs of people streaming into the border crossing building, and on crutches I’m struggling to keep up.
We also have to take a slightly different route to find the lifts and avoid the stairs and to be honest on the Malaysian side it’s not intuitive or brilliantly marked.
We’ve been warned that if we don’t find the bus at the other end it will leave without us because they have a schedule to keep and Velvetine is worth her weight in gold at this moment because she has done this crossing many times before and has a good idea where we could find the lifts and how to get back the the main route again once we had negotiated border control.
Even so we are rushing like lunatics, quicker people in a hurry are weaving around us in droves. Himself is herding the kids like little sheep so that they don’t get lost or bowled over, Velvetine is helping us both and even my now strong arms from a year on crutches are aching and feeling like jelly.
All in all it’s an awful of lot of bus hopping and walking through the checkpoints of both countries and seems like a lot of hassle, but clearly I’m spoilt by the ease with which we can cross borders within Europe.
Velvetine warns that it’s probably not a good idea to try and take photos inside the customs areas as they may take a dim view for security reasons, so I have no photos of the route inside, but eventually we end up in a basement area where our bus is now waiting in a queue of some twenty others and on the Malaysian side we negotiate the final obstacles which consist of massive curbs and no ramps down to get to the bus.
Luckily Himself is on hand to help me negotiate these. How a wheelchair user would negotiate this terrain and experience I have no idea, except to say ”with great difficulty”.
If there was an easier way to do all this, certainly no one offered to show us how, nor were there obvious signs that would help us, so my first impression of Malaysia ended up being that people with disabilities or mobility impaired are not made to feel particularly welcome.
For an exceptionally new building on the Malaysian side it seems unreasonably complicated to negotiate your way though, is this yet another case of the designer getting a brief for a building but having no contact with the people or experience needed to take place inside it? Who knows? Either way it’s the most tiring, exhausting, rushed and frustrating way I’ve ever had experience to enter a foreign country.
We all flop into our seats on the bus and grab our water bottles out of our backpacks… we’ve successfully crossed the border, let the adventures begin.