Sunday 1 July 2001 – Melaka, Malaysia
My work being finished in Singapore, it was time to commence my biggest adventure, travels in Malaysia and Thailand. Having no particular agenda other than various places I wished to visit, an appointment next week with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, and my return travel date (unless I decide to try and get home in time to say goodbye to Julie Warn before she leaves), I packed my bags and set off for Malaysia.
Ryan offered to take me to Woodlands, but said he couldn’t cross into Malaysia, I imagine for internal security reasons. I said the bus would be easier as it went direct to Larkin bus station across the causeway and in the north of Jahore Bahru. Ryan said I should get a bus direct from Singapore to Melaka as it would ‘avoid the JB madness’, and dropped me at the Golden Mile shopping centre from where it was supposed to depart.
Unfortunately the first agent I spoke to said the only bus was at 8.30am (it was now 10.00) and the rest weren’t any more helpful. So I jumped in a taxi and headed to Queen Street to undertake my original plan of the public bus to Larkin. At the JB checkpoint there were huge queues and I thought for a while it would take half the day just to get through, until someone ushered me into the ‘foreigners’ queue, which was so short as to be almost invisible.
Waiting to re-board the bus on the other side I chatted to an Australian man who was travelling in Malaysia with his teenage son and daughter and were also headed to Larkin. At Larkin depot I booked a bus to Melaka and had two hours to kill before it left at 1.30pm. It was air-conditioned but pretty rickety. Will try another company next time, as it took 3½ hours to travel the 225km to Melaka.
On arrival I consulted the Lonely Planet map, eschewed taxis and lugged my backpack the 2km or so to the Hinly Hotel – basic but cheap – and checked in for two nights. Settled in, cooled off and set off to explore the small but historic city in the last of the daylight. The buildings in the nearby ‘historic’ quarter were all helpfully painted the same shade of madder red.
There was a fascinating game of spinning tops being played by a group of men in a large cage, about the size of a quarter of a tennis court – spinning tops as a contact sport. Dinner was some very tasty satays (but without beer – it was a Muslim hawker stall). Melaka functions without the benefit of footpaths or street lighting – a bit scary getting back to the hotel, but I’d bought a bottle of beer which I felt I’d earned by the time I got there. The Muslim restaurants and stalls won’t sell alcohol, but supermarkets and Chinese traders and restaurateurs will sell anything! Slept soundly. There may have been a storm during the night – I recall lightning but it didn’t wake me enough to be sure.