Published: August 18th 2008August 11th 2008
I anticipated a very taxing few days ahead of me on the road. The light rail connection to Porto airport was good as was the airport itself. The flight to Pisa was also trouble free. Can’t stand that horribly cheesy Ryan air ‘music’ blaring through the speakers before take off accompanied by the cheap spruking but what can you do? Nerdy guy sitting next to me kept extending his elbow while he was reading a tabloid sports paper. Apart from that it was a faultless flight. Located the railway platform in Pisa which was at one end of the small terminal. The ticket was only six Euro although the marked price was five-sixty. Was the ticket seller scooping a bit off the top for herself? Well it is Italy. Double checked that I was on the train bound for Florence. It moved so slow that backwards would have been faster. I soon discovered that it was just a shuttle between Pisa and the next main station where you changed for Florence. The driver of the shuttle told me that I needed to go to platform five. As I was waiting on the platform a woman made an announcement over the PA.
She spoke clearly in English and seemed to say that the Florence train was arriving on platform two. Now doubt entered my mind but I stuck to my guns and waited at platform five. My platform loyalty was soon rewarded as my train arrived. The trip there took much longer than I had expected. I arrived in Florence just after 09:00. It was already dark and although I’d been there before the place looked unfamiliar. I followed the directions that the B&B had provided via the online booking site, Hotelsworld with wavering confidence. People in the street who I asked directions off gave conflicting answers re the location of the B&B. Of course no one had ever heard of this place.
I gave up on finding this joint after an hour of getting nowhere. Several people gave me the same direction for the street it was supposedly in but when I got there it looked like private apartments with no B&B in sight. I walked into a hotel nearby and asked a doorman if he knew where it was. He started raving about the railway station and how I should return there and walk around the roundabout. Maybe he
was a loony who’d escaped from Porto? Ended up Paying double the rate for a room in a hotel I passed by while conducting my futile search for the mystery B&B. I chose it because the bottom half of the large illuminated HOTEL sign was blacked out. Maybe this was an indication it was on the cheap side I thought. It was cheaper than the first place I went to that wanted sixty-five Euro which was almost immediately reduced to sixty as they sensed me walking out. The room was nice, too nice for a hardened backpacker like me. Luxury really wasted on me in effect. Seeing it was my last night in Europe I didn’t mind that much. I was just annoyed at myself for not finding the booked B&B. Had a feeling it was going to be a tough time exiting Europe. The drizzly wet. weather in that northern Portuguese city was an ominous Portent if ever there was one. Got up at around 06:45 after a sleepless night. Handed my keys to the snooty guy behind reception and wandered out to take a few pics before returning for 07:30 breakfast. Didn’t have enough time to reach the
picturesque river. Made a bit of a mockery of my trip there. Should have set aside at least two nights in Florence, even though that would have impinged on my ‘party time’ in Porto. Also would have given me a respite from travel fatigue. You live and learn. Consumed the free breakfast with fellow hotel guests from Europe and Asia. It was a decent spread although the cappuccino was so light it was almost not there.
Dropped my keys off at reception as I checked out. The snooty guy there gave me an ingenuous farewell, saying come again. At least they didn’t have bell boys. Took the five minute walk to the station and asked a cop there smoking a cigarette which platform my train left from. He said there was no platform allocation for it at this stage. He did tell me it was the one bound for Napoli. (the Soprano Express) I waited with a middle aged American couple for info on our respective platform allocations. There was two boards, one electronic which I could see and an older style mechanical one that was too small for me to make out (Type they used to have in
airports). I commented to the quiet American that it was stressful having to wait for up to the last five minutes for this vital information. He just shrugged saying that’s Italy for you. A sentiment repeated several times in my short stay there. Then it happened, my platform allocation on the older style departure board. If it wasn’t for the Yank standing next to me I would have been totally ignorant of this fact. There was still no indication of the platform on the newer board. Work that out? I thanked him for his help wished him luck with his train. Boarded the sleek Euro star train and found my seat. There was guy with who I presumed was his kid sitting across from me. A stocky middle aged woman had the window seat next to me. She was reading a newspaper and flopping the pages over to my side from time to time. The nerd on the Porto flight must have alerted her that I would be there. On the other side of the carriage was a woman and her child with dummy in its mouth. A dummy that was about to be spat with maximum effect. She seemed
to be a well behaved quiet kid until…the whining started. First it was just a low level of discontent that soon blossomed into a full on hissy fit. The mother constantly soothed her which only quelled the beast momentarily. The moaning resurfaced with equal venom. I could feel my nerve endings splinter as my stress level meter went off the scale. There’s few sounds that churns the guts so effectively. It was obvious to me that this would be a no go zone for some time to come during this one and a half hour trip so I retreated to the end of the carriage. I stood in between the carriages which wasn’t as comfortable as being in my seat but far preferable to being barraged by that cacophony of misery.
We pulled into Termini pretty well on time. It was a buzz of activity. Far busier than when I arrived here in May. Backpackers everywhere buying tickets, waiting for trains, looking lost and confused. I was to join the latter category soon as I searched for a place to purchase an airport shuttle express ticket. Approached an information desk. They immediately fobbed me off onto the English speaking
staff. The girl behind the podium told me I could buy a ticket from the machine or from a ticket seller out front. Took me a while to find the ticket office which was totally packed out. As I looked upon the mini Long March I concluded this could take forever. I checked out the machines but they made no sense so I returned to the queue. I wasn’t even sure I was in the right line so I returned to the help person. The ultimate in travel confusion. The guy who was then there told me I could buy my ticket at the news stand. Question. Why didn’t the girl tell me that? One help staff member who was anything but helpful. Thorough product knowledge is a pretty important prerequisite to being a help person I would have thought. But I’m not Italian am I? The journey out to the airport was pretty uninspiring. For a city with such a rich history it looks pretty tired and run down to me. Rome airport is poorly run. The check in took much longer than with the budget airlines. It was an Alitalia/Malaysian Air code share flight. The Italian check in
guy didn’t even ask me where I wanted to sit. There seemed to be hardly anyone checking in when I got there. I headed to what I thought was a mish mass of a queue waiting to get through to the departure gates. After five minutes I realised it was people waiting for a tour operator. I veered of to the left and found the entrance to the gates.
Went through all the usual security rigmarole. Boy was it all becoming so tedious for me. At least they came up with something different to irritate me there. When the metal detector alarm rang they took me aside. Was this retribution for putting the proverbial on that witty cruise line skit? I looked at the official’s hands and noticed they were wearing clear plastic gloves. I freaked for a second thinking I was in for a body cavity search. Luckily they were more concerned with my feet or more specifically my shoes. I had to put each foot up on a stand as they checked the shoes out one by one. After surviving that absurdity I was confronted by the ineptitude of the passport check line. The line I was
in didn’t move for twenty minutes because the official kept interrogating a passenger at their counter. All the lines around us moved through at pace while we were left there languishing. Eventually it got so beyond a joke we broke ranks. First the guy in front of me cut into another line and then me. All the Asian passengers behind me also rebelled and swamped the lines next to us. The people behind us waiting in their lines didn’t look too pleased. All hell could have easily broken loose simply due to the organisational ineptitude of the people at Rome airport. To top things off the flight out of Rome was delayed over an hour destroying my change of me making my Air Asia connection. Wasn’t my day but of course worse was to come.
Get to KL after experiencing my first long haul flight in middle row. The seat next to me was vacant so it wasn’t too bad. Once I got into the body of the Kuala Lumpur airport I searched for Air Asia. Wanted to know if the flight had been delayed. Of course it hadn’t been. It was bang on time meaning I had no
chance of making my connection. Fairly predictable, really. What wasn’t on time was the bus. I’d decided to catch one into KL to connect with one of the intercity buses that goes to Singapore. A few of us were getting quite toey when the bus hadn’t arrived by 10:30 as advertised. I could see myself missing yet another connection. It finally did arrive and dropped us off a block from the bus station. Would have been a bit better if it had actually stopped at the terminal. Got a ticket for the intercity bus which was cheap. Got on board up the front of a double decker and waited. It wasn’t going straight away as the ticket tout had said. It wasn’t leaving until it was full. Luckily that didn’t take long and we got on the road at 12:30. The ride was pretty good especially considering the price. The Malaysian guy sitting next to me paid five ringot more so it appears there’s no specific targeting of travellers for rip-offs..
It was all going so well, too well. We were almost in Singapore at about 16:30 which was an hour and a half early. Something had to give
and it did in the guise Malaysian and Singaporean immigration. We all had to get off the bus twice and reboard after going through both countries immigration checks. A real drag as I hadn’t expected the same scrutiny as you get in an airport. Naïve of me I know. We needed every second of those last scheduled one and a half hours to complete all the bureaucracy. I’ve had it up to here with these checks after all my travel in so few days. And I still had a flight to go! Got off the bus and searched for an ATM in central Singapore. They’re not on every corner not in that part of town anyway. Finally found one and got some cash. Then the really hard part began, finding an MRT station. Again you would think that would be easy but there aren’t as many of them as you’d think. Good thing I had some time to burn. The Singaporean heat was taking its toll while I lugged my big back pack. I found the Lavender station as a quarter of my body was drenched in sweat. It was pretty straight forward finding the airport on the map. Squeezed
into the peak hour train with all my gear and got off at the transfer station just before the airport. An airport train arrived and everybody got on board but I hesitated as the electronic sign vacillated between Airport and do not board - not taking passengers. A railway official waved me into the carriage reassuring me there was nothing to worry about. In other words don’t believe any messages that the MRT displays.
Two stops later and I was there in Changi Airport in terminal two. My flight was leaving from terminal one but I stayed in two long enough to sample some Burger King delights. The combo meal hit the spot as I took the airport shuttle to terminal one. The departure board had no check in counter allocated for my flight. At least I could see the departure board. Blindy friendly Changi. Much better design than at most airports. Went to the loo and had my ears blasted by someone playing excremental Indian pop music on their mobile. You’d think you’d be safe from this sort of intrusion while sitting on the can. This noise masquerading as music was accompanied by another guy clearing his throat
in the most disgusting way possible. I escaped the discordant lav and waited and waited and waited for my check in to be announced. It was the train leaving from Florence all again. It was getting close to an hour before departure before the check in finally opened. Usually it’s two hours. I only just got to the departure lounge fifteen minutes before scheduled boarding. As it was there was a delay and boarding didn’t take place for at least a further fifteen minutes. There was a free internet terminal in the departure lounge so I could at least log on for fifteen minutes. Good for basic stuff like checking email. When we finally got to board we passed by a woman who seemed like a professional Jetstar greeter. She cracked gags and bantered with people. Not me though. It was just a perfunctory, ‘how are you’ and shove off affair. Maybe I looked mean after so little sleep and so much airport bureaucracy over the past few days? Discovered that no one was sitting next to me when I got on board. There was a group of loud women sitting nearby and a couple of young backpackers two seats
down. We took off half an hour late which was fine by me as our original landing time was 04:00. Not my favorite time of the day. An hour or so into the flight the lights were dimmed and the raucous women questioned down. The backpackers alternated in using the spare seat next to me to lie down. I tried to get some shut eye but it was futile. Jetstar seats don’t recline much so I just tried to relax.
We landed around 4:30. I got through the passport check fairly quickly. I was out in the terminal fifteen to twenty minutes later. Needed some money and found a teller machine. It was an ANZ which meant I wouldn’t have to pay any fees to withdraw cash. Another reason I wouldn’t have to pay any fees is because the ATM was on the blink. I asked the guy at the café nearby if there was another ATM. There was but it was upstairs meaning I’d have to go through a security check into the terminal again. Café guy told me that the teller machine had been working perfectly well for a month, not missing a beat. I was beginning
to think I was cursed. The airport shuttle bus was about to leave shortly and I was desperately trying to find other ways of paying the eleven dollar fare. Changing money was prohibitively expensive fee wise. I couldn’t pay for the bus on credit card as the minimum transaction was twenty dollars. They just didn’t want to make things easy for travellers here. I decided to get out my laptop and do some writing until the sun rose or the teller machine was back online. Eventually two Mayne Nicholas guys showed up and serviced the machine. As it turned out it was simply out of cash. Quarter of an hour later it was working again and I had local currency in my hands. I waited outside as light illuminated the sky. There was no sign of the shuttle bus. A guy in overalls told me that there may not be another one until 11:30 that morning. Seeing it was only about 07:30 I decided that wasn’t a viable option. So as soon as I get the cash there are no more buses. Talk about Murphy’s Law. I bit the bullet and got a taxi. Looking on the bright side I
figured it was better being at the airport in the early hours than waiting outside at the hostel. The driver was pretty good and only charged me twenty-five bucks. He was originally from Scotland and had been there since the mid sixties. He bemoaned how Darwin had lost a lot of its character over the time.
I got dropped off at Banyon View lodge and was greeted by a less than welcoming woman behind the reception counter. She confirmed my booking and let me leave my main luggage in the storage room. I asked if I could use the toilet facilities before getting my room at between twelve and one. She replied ‘not really’. I couldn’t believe it. Nowhere in my travels had I been met with such meaness. Things have obviously changed radically at Banyon View lodge since my last visit and not for the better. I asked her if she knew where Centrelink was located in town. She had no idea. I thanked her for her help and generosity of spirit and walked toward the not so big smoke. The place hadn’t changed that much although there was a tall apartment complex in construction phase on the
corner of Mitchell street and the Stuart highway. The strip joints looked the same as did the pubs and the fools gold class cinema. I wandered the streets at my leisure as I wasn’t exactly in a big hurry. I found an employment agency across town but not Centrelink. A few doors down from that corner and found it. It was 08:01 exactly one minute past the hour when business commenced Talk about great timing. I only had to wait five minutes to be served by the guy on reception. He issued me with all the paperwork I required in a pleasant and professional manner. Talk about role reversal. He works for the government and the troll at Banyon View Lodge works in the hospitality industry. Is it any wonder Australian tourism is currently in the doldrums. I headed back to the hostel to share some more quality time with the troll. I asked if she’d received any mail in my name. She had but only one letter not two as I was expecting. I double checked but she insisted there was only one letter with my name on it.
I headed off back into town and popped into
the National Australia bank branch. The enthusiastic teller there (or listeners as the wanky sign above them proclaims) said I’d have to see their transaction specialist re my query about bank fees. I waited outside as the SPECIALIST chatted to a customer. Once that customer left there was another customer before me with a query. The teller told me I should approach the SPECALIST once she’d stopped chatting with them. Dah, I think I know the protocol in that regard. Another fifteen to twenty minutes passed and I finally got to approach the transaction guru. A tingle of anticipation danced down my spine. It’s not often you get to converse with such an exalted member of a banking team. From the word go this woman was condescending, treating me like a little kid. As far as she was concerned it was my fault I was overseas at the time that her wonderful bank decided to levy account service fees. I told her I couldn’t very well read the letters when I was out of the country or provide ID that would avoid these fees while I was away. None of this mattered to her. The bank had sent letters and
that’s all they needed to do. I decided then and there to sever any ties with NAB. I could see how this bank had lost billions recently. A totally inept organisation. She then cancelled my card that had been lost after grilling me about whether it had really been lost. It wasn’t good enough for me to say the place I’m staying at hadn’t received it. I had to repeat myself for effect. Don’t you just love bank Nazis. We concluded our business. I gave her a perfunctory thank you and she gave me short shrift in return. Well at least I had a relationship with my transaction guru, even though it was toxic. She invited a regular aboriginal customer over to sit down with her. Probably someone she has better control over than me which I’m sure makes her feel much more comfortable and superior.
I then went to the chemist to get some prescriptions filled. It was good I had a few things to do as I couldn’t get into my room for several hours. Had no problem getting more medication which was a big relief. I was worried that having my Medicare card stolen with everything
else would be a hassle. I needn’t have worried. I then went to Medicare where a burnt out woman behind the counter ordered a new card for me after checking my ID. Funny how many jaded people I‘d come across in Darwin in such a short time that morning. I got back to the hostel at about 11:00 and sat on one of the park benches near reception. Watched a procession of horny backpackers walk by making enquiries, checking in, checking out etc etc. The downtown area was backpacked to the rafters and I can see why. It’s the height of the tourist season here according to the taxi driver. So I waited until 12:00 before enquiring about my room. It was still being cleaned according to the troll. She said she’d tell me when it would be ready. I told her how exhausted I was which seemed to amuse her. My eyes were virtually falling out of their sockets I was so stuffed. I was just struggling to stay seated. Twenty minutes later the troll put me out of my misery and handed me the room keys. She wasn’t 100% sure it had been cleaned. Like I gave a
rats arse at that stage. It was on the top level which was the best position to be in. The room was basic but served my purposes. Before grabbing some shut eye I logged onto the net to transfer some money out of my NAB account. I was determined to clean that account out now before cancelling it formally back in Oz. After I got that task completed I put my head down on the pillow and hit the sack for approximately four hours. I woke not feeling fully rested but in a much better condition than when I sitting on that park bench. I went down to the supermarket and bough rolls, Swiss cheese slices and sliced hot salami as well as lamingtons. How Oz is that? I also picked up a couple of bottles of beer for good measure.
Scoffed down a fair proportion of the food while washing it down with Tasman Bitter which is quite bitter indeed. Did a bit of writing after that but was too tired to do too much. I was getting really drowsy a little after 22:00 so I prepared for bed. Turned out the lights and hit the sack. There
was a family group downstairs with a kid. They were making a bit of noise but I was able to get some sleep. Then at around 23:30 a group of middle aged guests entered the BBQ area. They were ridiculously noisy and sounded like drunken banshees. There was singing, there was cackling the way old witches do in B grade pantos. It was awful! I tried to block the noise out but it was impossible given the design of this place. Two thirds of the room faced the rec are in the back with louvers you can’t close totally. The last third next to the bed had no louvers at all and was open to the rear area. So there was nothing to muffle the inane bantering that was taking place downstairs. I had to endure that crap until 02:30 when the main offender went to bed or hopped on her broom stick Selfish people abound. Most people want to sleep that hour and shouldn’t have to suffer because of a vocal minority. I found it hard to get to sleep after the noise stopped. I must have got some sleep later because I woke at 08:00 much more refreshed
than the previous night. Only downside was that I had a sore back caused by tossing and turning.
I got up and showered. The first cubicle I tried didn’t have any water pressure but the other ones were okay. There’s nothing like hot water soaking your face after you’ve suffered a bout of sleep deprivation. Very refreshing. After having a shave I felt even better. Was time to make some coffee. Walked into the toilet/shower opposite and was about to fill the electric jug when I saw the sign. The place where I’d showered was designated a women’s only area. I was meant to go downstairs. Luckily there was no one else there when I entered the shower cubicle. They need not have worried anyway as I’m a blind man and can’t see anything anyway. Don’t know if that would have cut it though. Fought for a spot on the internet terminal. Seemed as if it was much more popular today. After that went down to reception and asked if I could have more milk for my coffee. There was a much nicer new girl on that day who had the sort of demeanor you’d expect in a customer
service role. I got a sachet of laundry detergent off her. Went downstairs with my washing and was assisted in working the machine by a German backpacker employed in Darwin. She said there were more Germans than Aussies staying there and most of who were female. A young guy would have a ball there. Popped down to Woolworths in town to buy some snags and a steak for the BBQ. May as well use the facilities at the hostel I rationalised. I also bought a half loaf of multi grain bread at Bakers Delight. It was like being back in Melbourne. Went back and did some web surfing, Gave a German backpacker chick my Euro loose change. She thought I wanted to exchange it. I told her I wasn’t going to be back there in ages and besides you can’t easily exchange coin.
Went to reception and asked about the extra milk. She said she had it on her list and hadn’t forgotten about it. I apoligised for hassling her. Tried to sort out the loose ends of my trip. In this case my return to Oz in seven+ weeks. Went to the City of Darwin booth in the
Smith street mall. The guy there couldn’t help me with info on the Ghan railway or give me any information on cheap lodgings n Darwin. Made me wonder what he did do. He didn’t look particularly stressed out as he gave me directions to a tourism place where they do actually provide assistance. His directions weren’t that good as I had to back track to find the tourism office. Maybe they could remove that part of his job description as well? The Tour Information place had a large desk with four people manning it. The guy I saw gave me some basic information on the Ghan but didn’t do bookings. He also had very basic information on accommodation. Maybe they should think about a one stop shop in this city instead of half arsed offices where they just refer you on somewhere else? What am I thinking, that could be efficient! I headed up the other end of Smith street and found the building where you book Ghan tickets. I had no idea which shop front was responsible though. I asked a couple of office workers there who weren’t sure either. One guy rang the place on the brochure using
his mobile to clarify it for me. He got no answer but I really appreciated him helping me out like that. As it turned out it was the Automobile Association of NT who handled Ghan bookings. Makes sense that a motoring organisation would promote rail travel. Next they’ll be lobbying the government to susbsidise more rolling stock rather than funding highways. The Ghan had a special ticket offer on which I could have booked there. I preferred to look into my flight and accommodation portions before taking the plunge however. I tried logging onto the Ghan site but got an error message when checking the fare options. I returned to the supermarket and picked up a six pack of Bitburger lemon beer. It was being sold for the ridiculous price of six dollars so I thought why not.
Did some more writing when I returned to my room. Got a call from a friend n my mobile. Was nice to hear a familiar voice after so long. Mind you it will be easy for me to stay in touch like that once I have the broadband connection in my Chiang Mai room in two days. He pointed out there
wasn’t a Swans V Melbourne AFL game on TV that Friday night which I saw advertised outside a pub. Told me it was Collingwood V Port Adelaide. A game I have no interest in. So I decided to go downstairs and cook my steak and snags. The BBQ was monstrous in size and easy to use. While I was cooking a young boy was trying to smash a coconut or something on to the pavement. Luckily he didn’t come too close to me. A fellow guest dragging on a cigarette walked up with a substantial meat tray in hand. When I collected my cooked food I told him he was welcome to the remaining three snags on the hot plate. He seemed a bit surprised but not moved enough to thank me. I was touched by that. I sat myself down at a nearby table and devoured my BBQd food. It was a battle between me and the flies as to which of us would get the food first. I won the battle by a nose. Retired to my room and drank copious amounts of lemon flavored beer while catching up on this diary. The beer isn’t one I’d choose
again although it wasn’t totally repulsive to the palate. The alcohol content wasn’t exactly high at 2.5 alcohol by volume. The watch showed it was 23;30 and still no sign of that milk. The middle aged dickheads were talking utter crap downstairs which they’re good at.
I just couldn’t get to sleep that night and I couldn’t blame the party animals downstairs. They retired to their burrows a little after midnight. I couldn’t blame the weather which was milder than the previous night. I could however blame myself though for worrying continually about making my connections on the way back to Chiang Mai. It’s not like I could do anything about it. The bookings had been made, the die had been cast. I was but a myopic puppet to fate on the very off Broadway stage that is life. Didn’t stop me obsessing about my itinerary though. It was one of those nights when you nod off to sleep just several hours before you are due to wake up. Better than no sleep but only marginally. I woke at 08:30 which gave me one and a half hours to vacate the room. That’s another thing that sucks about Oz.
The 10:00 AM check out. OS it is 12:00-14:00. A much more civilized regime in my eyes. So had to get my bodily waste together quickly. Showered down on the ground floor. For some reason the first floor bathroom facilities looked like the Taliban had waged an offensive there. Doors off hinges and broken mirrors. No problem for the seasoned traveller; I was ready to go with fifteen minutes to spare. Took my last look at the tropical vista surrounding the pool I’d never swimmed in downstairs and headed off to reception. I joined the queue waiting to check out. I handed the blonde chick behind the desk my keys and headed off down Mitchell street. Stopped off at a pub on the corner of Mitchell and Stuart highway. Ordered a schooner of XXXX Gold. It was passable, better than the crappy 70’s music blasting through the speakers. Felt like I was back at the Somerhole Hotel at uni. Not a comforting thought.
I walked down the street in an attempt to find a place that had heard of a post millennium play list. Stopped off at the pub that I’d frequented on my last two visits to the
top end. Was dismayed to discover that they didn’t have Guinness on tap anymore. So had a schooner of the NT brew. Better than the XXXX Gold but not a patch on Guinness. Ended up at Shenanigans, one of those chains of Irish pubs that I try to avoid. Discovered that the barman was dating a Thai girl. Had a brief chat about my impending journey to Asia with him. A couple was watching the Melbourne V West Coast Aussie rules match on the plasma screen. The plasma to the left had a distorted picture which had always been like that according to the couple. They were both from down south originally and had settled in Darwin. They left and I paid for a half pint using my remaining change. Headed back to Banyan Park lodge. The airport shuttle arrived early which was good as the Guinness had grabbed the attention of my bladder. Twenty minutes later we were back at the not so bustling Darwin International Airport. The free internet signal upstairs in the departure lounge was excellent so did a little bit of web surfing while waiting to board the plane. We got off on time. (not like
there’s a lot of traffic in Darwin) As usual I had a couple of extra seats to myself. Got a taxi from Changi airport to Golden Mile Complex. Driver seemed like a nice guy and was quite chatty in broken English. The fare was nineteen Singapore dollars which was one less than the Jetstar fight service guy had estimated. Not bad going. The grandly named Golden Mile Complex was nothing more than a row of bus company shop fronts plying their trade. The heat was still oppressive at 22:00. There was a food hall out the back. My luck, everyone of the outlets exclusively sold Thai food. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted something with more of a Malaysian influence.
Wandered around the uninspiring area until the bus arrived at 23:00. A succession of girls in slutty attire headed to the down-market disco out the back as I counted the minutes before I began the next leg of my marathon journey. The lady in the Transtar travel office asked me in to fill out an immigration form for entering Malaysia. Travel wouldn’t be the same without all this petty bureaucracy. She told me the designated number of the bus.
I told her I was short sighted. Instead of just shrugging that off she ran outside and pointed the bus out to me. Good customer service there. When I got in the bus I was impressed by the size of the seats. They were like huge lounge chairs with a video screen in the back. I was also given a complimentary pack of peanut cream biscuits and a bottle of mineral water. The luxury bus was only half full so this was looking like a reasonably relaxed journey to KL. The only downside to the seats is that they didn’t recline. Half an hour later we pulled into the Singaporean border check. It was 23:30. The cavernous immigration check in room was deserted. Row upon row of metal barriers sat idle forlornly corralling no one. I walked straight up to the only person on duty and had my passport stamped. Much simpler than during peak periods. Got back on the bus and back off the bus five minutes later with all my luggage. Time to go through Malaysian immigration. As hassle free a task as the Singaporean side. I was back on the bus within a minute and waiting for
the other passengers to return. I got through so fast I was wondering if I’d skipped one of the checks. If I had no one noticed or cared as our bus headed off up the highway toward KL.
The tranquiliser I’d popped thirty minutes before started to kick in and I went off into Noddy land for the next few hours. When I awoke we weren’t far off our destination, Puduraya bus station. We arrived near the bus station just as light was breaking. As soon as I got off the bus I was approached by an Indian taxi driver. I must have been half asleep because I thought it was the bus driver. I told him no thanks, I was heading to the bus station. He insisted that the buses to the airport didn’t run until much later that morning. If I’d been awake I suspect that I wouldn’t have fallen for such a bullshit line but unfortunately I was out of it. That coupled with my paranoia about missing my flight connection lead me to a moment of supreme misjudgment. I stupidly got in the taxi leaving my fate in his shaky hands. He quoted
me a ridiculously high taxi fare. I should have just got out then and there. I told him I didn’t have that much cash which was the truth. He drove like a mad man along the highway to the airport. When we got close to the main airport I told him I was flying Air Asia. There seemed some confusion as to which terminal this flight was leaving from in the taxi driver’s mind He claimed that was much further and wanted more money. He pulled the car over to the side of the road as we began arguing about money. I reminded him that I had told him how much cash I had on me when I got into the cab. Why does this crap have to happen to me, I thought. He could see I was getting angry and backed off. We resumed our reckless journey to the budget Air Asia terminal. I took money out from an ATM and paid him the balance. He smiled like a ravenous wolf. I was so angry at myself for being taken in like that.
Walked into the less than salubrious surrounds of KL’s budget terminal. Have seen both sides
of Malaysian aviation from a passenger’s perspective and can safely say that this was the down market way to fly. Crowded and cramped with dirty toilets to round out the down trodden feel. Dickens would have been proud. No doubt he would have found plenty of source material if he’d flown with no frills carriers. A Tale of Two Terminals perhaps? I remember reading a letter from a local Malaysian who commented how crazy it was that they had a beautiful new airport that was a ghost town. If they’d allowed Air Asia to fly there it may inject some life and justify the new airport’s existence. The flight itself was the same old same old. In spite of that I still get a buzz looking out the window at the tiny world below. Not enough to enthrall me for the whole two hours of the flight but enough to momentarily break the boredom. The main thing was I was returning to my home away from home where the streets were familiar and the people were friendly, on the surface at least. I also had a televised footy match to watch at the pub with an expat Aussie mate I’d
befriended on my previous visits. As we crossed the Malaysian Thai border in the sky the pilot informed us that we were ahead of schedule. I could almost smell the sticky rice.
There are more photos below