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Published: April 6th 2013
It seems that there are 3 types of buses in Malaysia, 1st
class. Your choice of bus is probably decided by how much money you have, but should probably be decided by what you are willing to endure. 1st
class buses are generally clean and new and have the basic agenda of getting you to where you scheduled to go on time. You can sleep or look out the window from the second deck and enjoy the air conditioning and movies or game console that is provided.
class buses have air conditioning but no bathroom and will definitely get you to where you are going eventually, although you may or may not arrive on the same bus as you left on. They are much cheaper than 1st
class, and there is a reason for that.
class buses are best effort and should probably be avoided. They don’t look safe (and probably aren’t). I don’t know much about these as I have never had the experience of riding on one; only the most intrepid backpackers have attempted these. They are the ones going very slow in the far lane with lots of black smoke billowing
when you pass them going up a hill on the freeway. They usually have things tied to the roof.
You probably decide based on money and you really shouldn’t, although, of course, we did. Buses are all inexpensive so go with the good one. We know this and wish we had of followed our own advice.
We left Penang a half hour after we were scheduled to leave, not bad. The agent made a big deal out of seat selection in the station explaining the best side to sit on and where we would be most comfortable. We got on the bus and found our seats full of people who all had tickets for that seat. They were graceful and nicely gave up the seat for us. We assumed that they would talk to the driver to get reassigned, but they left the bus and we never saw them again.
We began our journey, scheduled for 4 stops and conveniently bypassing Kuala Lumpur. We quickly stopped in Butterfield across the Malacca Straits from Penang although it was not scheduled. I think the bus wasn’t full enough to make a profit, so the driver decided to see if
he could find a few more passengers for the ride. We waited about an hour and the bus indeed was nearly full when we left.
Our ride began uneventfully and we enjoyed the beautiful limestone mountains as we passed through the town of Ipoh a couple of hours from Penang. The Malaysian countryside is covered with palm trees which supply 60% of the world’s palm oil. We made ourselves comfortable on the bus and seemed to be making good time towards our destination. We enjoyed listening to the conversations in Malay of the ladies sitting around us. We made our first pit stop to use bathrooms at a roadside rest stop. The rest stop was beautiful, the bathrooms not so much. Advice for travelers in Malaysia, just find a convenient bush. Braving the snakes is better than braving the smell. Anyway, back on the bus except for about half the passengers who apparently bought tickets for Kuala Lumpur even though it clearly said on the front of the bus that it was not a scheduled stop. They went across the lot and left us on a different bus.
We noticed a curtained area opposite the driver when we
Malaysia Muscle Man
Statue on Jonker Street
entered the bus. The driver seemed to be having a running argument with whoever was behind the curtain (we nicknamed him the Wizard of Oz, or the Troll Behind the Curtain). We couldn’t understand what was being said, but we knew the Troll wasn’t happy about something.
At our next bus stop some of the people apparently did not get back on the bus quick enough and we left them in the shopping center where we stopped. Their friends notified the driver after a few minutes. The driver woke the Troll and told him we had to go back and apparently this was not the right thing to do. For the first time on our trip (we were about 4 hours in) the Troll came out from behind the curtain and he wasn’t happy. He was short and thick and had a crew cut and a white tee shirt and appeared to have steam coming from his ears. We would have to make a series of tricky turns back through the neighborhoods to get back to the pit stop and this delayed the bus for a good hour. The Troll was now chain smoking, despite the warnings posted 3
feet in front of him that it wasn’t allowed on THIS bus. We finally got back to the stop and the Troll left the bus to collect the passengers and it wasn’t a very nice scene. After the young men got on the bus, it was clearly explained by the Troll that they were not very smart and had caused a serious delay and worst of all had interrupted his much needed nap. Apparently the teenager made a mistake and used the Malaysian word for “Whatever, Dude” to the Troll. Bad choice because the Troll came back to the back and grabbed the guy out of his seat and proceeded to slap him in the face The guy quickly realized that he had picked the wrong guy to mess with and began apologizing profusely. He never made eye contact with anyone on the bus the rest of the ride.
We arrived in Melaka about 3 hours behind schedule and while exhausted and hungry, we found a McDonald’s at the bus station and feasted on a couple of Big Macs each and all was well. The nice lady who rented us the house picked us up and we made our
way through the dark streets of Melaka to our new home for two weeks.
Our house is quite nice. I say house, but as we found out after a couple of nice French ladies walked in while we were unpacking, apparently we had just rented a room IN the house. At first we were a little disappointed, as the common areas are used by not only the French ladies and the nice older lady landlord, but also her 2 sons who have an office next door, and honestly just about any of the neighbors who stop over to meet their new neighbors at all times of the day. The only time it was strange was when I made a midnight run to the bathroom and found a 14 year old girl standing outside the bathroom waiting for her turn. I thought I was seeing ghosts at first, but after regaining my cool, I guess it is just another thing to get used to in our travels.
Melaka is a nice enough city that has an interesting Old Town area, although not any real tourist things to do. Melaka was founded by the Chinese, taken over by the Portuguese
who were chased out by the Dutch, who gave it to the British, who gave it back to the Dutch, who eventually gave it back to the British before Malaysia became a country in 1957.
Each group built buildings reflecting the styles of their own countries so Old Town has quite a mix of styles, sometimes mixed on each block. The town is split by a small river with Chinatown on one side and the remaining restored Dutch buildings on the other. Many Malaysian tourists from Kuala Lumpur visit on the weekends along with many people from Singapore which is just a few hours away. Lots of Europeans, Chinese and Japanese also visit. The big attraction seems to be the Jonker Street night market that takes place on the weekends. They block the streets and there are many vendors selling touristy trinkets along the way. The cafes and bars move tables into the street also and serve food to the visiting crowds.
Brightly decorated trishaws, each covered with flowers, brilliant light displays and all equipped with huge sound systems playing the greatest hits from the 70’s and 80’s at full volumegive passengers rides across the river from Chinatown
to Dutch Square. The big event for most tourists seem to be stopping in front of the Hard Rock Café to take a picture in front of the giant guitar or standing next to the huge, brightly lit replica display of a Chinese junk that apparently belonged to the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho that dominates the Chinatown side of the bridge and seems to float over the heads of the tourists who congregate there.
A man was playing the theme from Godfather on his trumpet in front of the ship and mixed in with the sounds of Donna Summers and the Bee Gees blaring from the trishaws and the blinking lights from the cafes and bars mixed with the flashing lights of the trishaws made for a sight to behold, certainly different from anything we have witnessed in a while.
We have decided to forego any attempt to cook in our house for a while. There are several Indian, Malaysian and Chinese restaurants near our house as well a decent bakery, all selling things for quite cheap so for the time being we are keeping busy learning our way around town and trying to stay out of
the heat and occasional rain that are attempting to keep us in our new house filled with strangers.
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