De Tour of Detours in Malaysia! Bangkok to Bali Overland
The original plan was to take the train from Bangkok all the way to Singapore and then on to Bali which you can do with two connections one in Butterworth in the top third of Malaysia and the 2nd connection at Kuala Lumpur. In theory it works fine in practice after being on the road for a couple of days you are more reluctant to have a long wait for the night trains as every stop costs you a day it seems. The 2nd option is to detour off the trains and jump on the Malaysia Buses and run them from Butterworth straight to Singapore bypassing Kuala Lumpur. If you have been in KL before or the “Petronas Towers” are not high up on your list then this is a good compromise to go straight through to Singapore.
You need to wait around 6 hours in Butterworth and then you can get a choice of buss classes to chose from VIP 1st class or local. For the layover after you sort your bus ticket which should be your first chore. You have a few options, if you want there is a real cruddy hotel that asks some pretty stupid money for the dive that it is which is unwilling to bend and create a short term rate, there is another hotel nicer, also unwilling to bend and create a day rate, which if you chose for the money burnt you could have flown instead. A 3rd option that is way outside the box is the restaurant that is near the freeway off ramp called the “Restoran Pak Samad”. The manager is a very agreeable guy with good English from Indonesia. Work a deal with him to eat and shower and he will most likely suggest you use his sun chair for a nap in front of the TV. Finding internet near the bus station seemed to be a chore hopefully with the new bus terminal someone will put a connection in and contract out with the Japanese for the design on some capsule hotel rooms like they have near the “Ikebukuro” train station in Tokyo.
For this trip if your budget is not real tight do the VIP where the seats are much larger, recline further, and there are less seats with more creature comforts like pillows and blankets. You will pay nearly twice as much but it is worth it if you are trading night travel for hotel nights. If you are on a really tight budget then do the first class busses which have around 32 to 35 seats and are sort of almost comfortable unless you are tall.
The trip From Butterworth to Singapore is easy there is one rest stop that it seems every bus that is traveling in Malaysia stops at. The bathrooms have areas that could be improved like all the areas! The food in the restaurant is basic and presented on picnic tables with cutlery from a bin. You find a very limited assortment of drinks and no real western junk food available. I went with the $1 hockey puck grease burger which was quite tasty and the brown sauce gives a pleasant jolt, you might consider ordering 2 or 3 if you wanted to self induce a food comma till the mornings early light.
Early in the morning there will be a stop where they play mix and match adjusting the loads for those that are going to Singapore or “Kota Kinabalu”, this was a classic place to lose things like books or loose stuff as the stop is on unannounced and unexpected, and you are told to get on another bus right now, basically at the crack of dawn. Afterwards on the new bus you have somebody new to sit next to and you do not have a confirmed seat or blanket or pillow and no idea on when to expect on when you will get to “the Causeway” which connects Singapore to Malaysia and is another place where confusion is the order of the moment. The directions the bus staff was giving were vague and in not the best English. I was very worried that I was going to be stuck there as the Singaporean customs was very full and the lines for the foreigners were significantly longer that the locals or the E-Passport visa lines so I was one of the last to be coming out of customs.
After clearing Singapore customs the bus goes into Singapore I asked the driver if he could let me off at or near a train station he said that the bus did not go near a train station and I should get a taxi. Being able to read a map I knew that anywhere inside Singapore would be cheaper to get to a train than a taxi from the frontier, so I rode the bus to the end of the line which was closer to the train that it was to anything else. When I asked the driver about this he shrugged and basically said How was I suppose to know that where I park the bus that I drive everyday and park in the same spot everyday, and where I go to the bathroom everyday, after I stop the bus that I drive every day, and park every day in the same spot everyday, which is a train station, how was I suppose to know that you when you asked me as part of my job as a bus driver to be let off at a Singapore train station where a train station was. An Asian travel tip is that sometimes you get convenient answers which are easy to give rather that answers that actually require a smidgen of thought. Their rational I would assume is that they will never see you again and they make no profit from your question, so why bother.
Next The S in Cities.