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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Singapore and back, and forth, and back, and forth...

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 26 August 2006.

Malaysia and Singapore, Countries 22-23, Diary entry 1st-21st July 2006, Total distance in Malaysia: 2294km, Total distance in Singapore: about 50km

I decided to head south. My friends Rex and Amanda had been living in Singapore for the last five years (and it was probably about that long since I'd seen them last) but with Rex about to move his job to Munich, Amanda was to leave with the kids in only a week's time. I decided to make a bee-line to catch them all before they left, knowing I could return to Malaysia afterwards to go back to what I missed.

On the way, though, I decided to stop a night at Melaka, the former Portuguese and then Dutch and even British trading port previously spelled Malacca. The road was motorway all the way, smooth except a couple of roadwork sections, so I arrived mid-afternoon and with the heat and humidity off the top of the scale again I treated myself to a room with a fan at a small guesthouse.

The Stadthuys (Town Hall) in MelakaThat evening was the fateful England v. Portugal match which marked the end of my obligation to like football for the next four years. I watched it in a small café full of locals who were mostly supporting England, but with Melaka's Portuguese heritage there were quite a few opposition supporters as well. Of course I felt a little hard-done-by at the result but I was subsequently cheered up when someone sent me the internet link www.ihateronaldo.com :)

I hadn't had much opportunity to see Melaka having arrived in the afternoon and spent time looking for somewhere to stay and then for somewhere to watch the football, so I dedicated the next morning to wandering around the sights of the town.

Christ Church, MelakaI started at Town Square which is obviously the focus of the sightseeing parts of the town. On one side is the Stadthuys (Town Hall) and adjacent is the old Christ Church, both solid reminders of Dutch presence with their obviously Dutch colonial style with substantial doors and louvred windows. But these sights, interesting as they were paled into insignificance compared to the lavishly decorated bicycle rickshaws waiting there to give city tours. Each one was festooned with flowers, flags and parasols and had a massive car battery under the passenger seats to power the blaringly loud audio system for which the preferred output was Latin American music, with Britney Spears a close second. These guys had put so much effort into pimping their rides I felt slightly ashamed when I elected to walk, but I really did fear for my eardrums. And my sanity.

Pimped rickshawFrom the Town Square I passed a delightfully cheesy mini windmill to cross the river and was immediately thrust into narrower streets lined with Chinese-roofed buildings. Like any trading port anywhere in the Far East (but especially Malaysia), the ever-industrious Chinese were there doing their business and this Chinatown is the result - packed with Chinese architecture in the houses (though still with the occasional sign of British or Dutch influence) and a number of gaudy temples. The noodle soup was good though, and after my little lunch break I walked out of Chinatown to Jalan Hang Jebat, whose previous name I much prefer and seems more appropriate: Junk Street. Cheesy. Edam?Lined with art and craft shops selling overpriced trinkets, it was not the kind of place I tend to hang around. I instead enjoyed more overly ornate temples dedicated to various assorted major and minor Buddhist gods and goddesses before completing the circuit of roads, but also of religions as I passed a huge mosque, arriving back at Town Square.

Detail on the roof of one of the temples in ChinatownFrom there I climbed St. Paul's Hill, passing by the incredibly dull sounding Democratic Government Museum (though later wondering whose government they were talking about since Malaysia is a kingdom), to the remains of St. Paul's Church. Built in 1521 as Our Lady of the Hill chapel by the Portuguese and subsequently renamed by the Dutch, its structure and its location on top of the hill with great views over the town are a great testament to Catholicism in Southeast Asia, and a great finale to a whistlestop tour of Melaka.

St. Paul's Church, MelakaI was getting itchy to get to Singapore to catch up with Rex and Amanda so I made some headway out of Melaka stopping only for a quick oil-change which was a few hundred km overdue and found yet another oil palm plantation for the night's camping. I decided that I'd made the right choice the night before - it was way too hot and humid for camping, and there was no breeze at all inside the tent because the mosquito nets were in place (essential). Fortunately it started raining heavily in the early hours which made things a lot cooler and I slept well after that, though it was unpleasant having to pack down in the morning with the rain still falling. Partially refreshed, I drove the rest of the way to Johor Bahru, the city on the southernmost tip of the Malaysian peninsula from where the main causeway crosses to Singapore. I parked in the railway station car park and walked to the border controls.

Singapore is a fine cityCrossing to Singapore on foot was very simple - walk through the controls on the Malaysian side, get on the bus to ride across the causeway, get off to pass through immigration into Singapore and then get back on the bus, or the next one. The same ticket was valid, which was rather lucky as there is no ATM at the checkpoint and I had no Singaporean money. Amanda's instructions on how to reach their apartment were very clear and difficult to make a mistake except one little thing - she told me to catch the 170 bus but actually there are two different 170 buses, one with white numbers on a red background and one with red numbers on a light blue background! I got on the wrong one and it took me only one stop before it terminated, but that was to an MRT station where I found an ATM and withdrew some cash just in time for the right bus to arrive so it all worked out for the best. I made my way into the city centre and met up with Rex for a quick chat over an orange juice before returning to their apartment to meet up with Amanda and their two very energetic boys James and Matthew. We had a fun afternoon of trying to have a conversation interrupted regularly by one or other of them, and we built model aeroplanes and "Uncle Martin" was a climbing frame at one point. Rex has been working late trying to tie up loose ends but eventually came home. He was rather tired so he volunteered to look after the kids while Amanda and I went out to find food, and to give Amanda the opportunity for the last little bits of gift shopping she wanted to do.

We looked around Little India for a short while. In true Indian style there was rubbish everywhere, which was unusual to see in the otherwise spotless Singapore where you can be fined S$500 for dropping litter. Nice to see them sticking to their roots, but presumably it would all be cleared up by the morning. Most of the stuff on sale was the standard things you'd expect - cooking utensils, saris, foodstuffs etc. but there were a lot of the flower garland makers around the place which added a pleasant side to the colours and smells.

We then headed for Chinatown for some food and this, I would say, needs more exploration. The main street seemed just a little bit touristy and artificial, though the food was excellent. The most important thing though was that finally we had a chance to catch up without any interruptions, so I got to hear all about their impending move, how life has been for them in Singapore, and swapping all the gossip about mutual friends at home. We had a pleasant evening but had to return to make sure everything was OK back at the fort and to see if Rex was still conscious. He was, barely, so we had one quick beer before retiring to bed.

The Raffles HotelThe next day I had to go to the Automobile Association office in the city centre to get the definitive answer on what we would need to import the cars into Singapore. Just to be awkward they have different rules and we can't just drive in waving our carnet like we've done in most other countries. I was hoping I'd have everything with me to sort it out but they actually need us to go in with our carnet de passage, UK registration document, driving licence, passport and details of the shipping agent for the cars to leave the country. Then in addition, if we intended to drive in Singapore we'd need to show the AA proof of third party insurance before they'd validate our carnets for our cars to be allowed in. I was quoted around 100 quid per car for two weeks' cover which made me gulp. We would also need the AA to issue us with an International Circulation Permit (ICP) for another few quid each, and finally on entering the country we would also need to purchase an "Autopass card" which is something for the automated toll system, but apparently for temporary visitors this is free for the first 5 days.

The alternative was to put the cars on transporters from border to port at about half that price.

The Esplanade, or DurianI must have had a look of shock on my face as the lady kindly whispered to me that we might be able to get insurance cheaper in Malaysia which would cover us in Singapore. I said thank you and walked out with lots of information on bits of paper of assorted sizes and went straight into the nearest 7-11 to try to cool my brain down a bit. There was no avoiding it though, I'd have to return to Singapore once more on foot before I'd be able to finally enter with the car - what a pain!

I had planned for a bit of sightseeing before returning to Malaysia but after a taxi driver and the woman in the AA had both told me how unsafe it was to leave a car in Johor Bahru my mind was too busy wondering whether mine would still be there on my return. I spent an hour and a half walking along the Singapore River, around the colonial district and seeing some of the main sights but in the end I decided I just wanted to check on the car, so I made my way back to the border and across. With buses arriving every few minutes and special lanes only for Singaporeans, not Malaysians, the "Other Passports" lanes had extremely long queues but they moved fairly quickly. It's a pain that I'll have to keep going back and forth though.

The car was fine, and in retrospect I wonder if there really is a big problem with car crime in JB or not. It was only on the Singapore side that anyone made any comment and due to the total absence of crime there, even some tiny little incidents on the Malaysia side would be blown out of all proportion. All the same, I'll be extra-careful where I leave my car. I decided to stay the night in JB so I could try looking for insurance the next day, and ended up at the Footloose Homestay, which seemed to be someone's house with a few dorm beds in one of the rooms. It had a conveniently flat driveway though and they were happy for me to camp but use their facilities for a nominal fee, which suited me perfectly. I spent the evening talking to the other guests, including an Austrian couple who had cycled through several of the countries we had passed through. I decided they were quite mad.

The next day looked like turning into a wild goose chase - one insurance company sent me to another, who sent me to another, but finally I found Uni-Asia who are apparently the only company who could issue a Malaysian policy for a foreign-registered car. It definitely covers Singapore, and also Brunei which might be useful if I should take a wrong turn! The cost was about ten quid for one month - big sighs of relief! All that remained was to finalise the details of the shipping of the car from Singapore to Indonesia and entry of the car through customs into Indonesia - everyone at Insight was rather concerned that without a customs agent on my side I'd have real trouble getting through and they didn't want me stuck unable to get the car out of the port, so I went to the Indonesian Embassy and spoke to the customs people there. No problem, they said taking a look at the carnet. It'd be the same as crossing any other border, they said. I was 90% convinced, but that was the best I was going to get so I had to go for it and find out!

At around the same time, I was trying to contact Alex and Maz to determine their plans when word came that they had found an alternative shipping route from the Malaysian peninsula to the Malaysian part of Borneo, and they would do that, drive into Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) and make their way through Indonesia from there. So from here on I'm on my own, but at least that means I only have one car's bureaucracy to worry about now!

The Merlion, strange symbol of SingaporeNext stop was back to the AA office where I showed them the insurance details and all the other stuff they needed and they validated my carnet to be able to import the car and issued me with an ICP - can't remember what it stands for but it sticks on the window like a UK tax disc and I needed it (and needed to pay for it too, but it was only a few dollars).

Finally, tired and unwell, I made my way back to JB, my mood not helped by the attitude of an arsehole immigration guard on the Malaysian side who refused to listen to my plea to stamp on a passport page with other stamps on and instead stamped right in the middle of one of my only three remaining blank pages. I left him (and anyone else in earshot) in no doubt what I thought of him and proceeded to my next argument with the taxi touts hanging around the exit.

Expecting a long bureaucratic day I got up early and drove towards the border. As mentioned before, the Malaysians don't allow their currency to be traded outside the country and even though I had seen some places that seem to flout this rule, I decided to save the hassle by putting my last ringgits into the fuel tank, this diversion meaning another complete loop around JB's one-way system before finally reaching the checkpoints to leave Malaysia and cross the causeway to Singapore by car.

Exiting Malaysia was as straightforward as any crossing so far - initial head-scratching when shown the carnet followed by someone who knew what it was taking over and applying liberal rubber stamps onto it.

Cavenagh BridgeThe model of Singaporean efficiency was shaken a bit by my arrival as the initial head-scratching turned into continued head-scratching and telephone calls so with choruses of "so sorry sir" ringing out all around I left the carnet with them and went to process the Autopass card. The Autopass card is required by every vehicle in Singapore whether local or foreign and is pre-charged with credit which is subsequently deducted by overhead gantries on toll roads and car park exits, but fortunately for short stays the transponder unit is not required... if a car is caught by the gantries without the transponder it is photographed and processed manually at $5 per day no matter how many toll roads used in that day. Simple enough. The card cost me $10 and a few photocopies and was fairly simple to get. While I was in the queue the customs chap came to me and handed me the carnet with their importation slip removed as it should be, but no stamps on my counterfoil, but that was quickly remedied and I was on my way driving into Singapore.

Despite having only poor maps of Singapore it was easy to find my way around and I parked up on a side street near Orchard Road for first task of the day - breakfast! In most countries you do what you like unless there's a sign telling you not to, but Singapore works the other way and you have to assume you're not allowed to do anything unless you're told you can. A bit like Germany. I really had no idea if I was allowed to park there or not but there was another car there so I decided to risk it. I found a passable attempt at a fry-up (the tea was good) and started the next task of finding somewhere reasonable to stay.

I was lucky to find the New 7th Storey Hotel right next to Bugis MRT station. Singapore is expensive, there's no getting around it, so I elected a dorm bed for a few nights. The good thing was that there was a little space outside the hotel just big enough for a Land Cruiser so I parked there and made my way around Singapore for the rest of my time there by public transport. The hotel were very pleased to have my car there as they thought it good publicity and asked to take some photos - I said of course in return for a donation! So they donated the equivalent of two nights' stay to Care International, took my photo and are putting it on their website. Thanks guys!

View from Insight's officeFinally after many emails and telephone calls I at long last met the guys from Insight who had so kindly organised the car shipping for me. There were some papers to be sorted out so I went to their office, on the 43rd floor of a tower block overlooking the container port so I had a great view of busy things going on while I waited 15 minutes while Captain Baharudin was unavoidably delayed. We sorted out the paperwork, I got to meet the boss of the company Nehemiah Neo who is the kind chap who offered me the help in the first place, and the captain then took me for lunch at a Korean barbecue restaurant in one of the malls out towards the airport. In the middle of each table is a bubbling soup in which you cook vegetables rather like the hot-pots we'd had in China but with an addition, a ring surrounding the soup for barbecuing the meat. It was great food and good fun to do, and all-you-can-eat which is always a bonus, but I was starting to get that unmistakeable feeling in my gut again, and it wasn't related to this meal but a previous one... something was going wrong in there and it was probably going to turn ugly!

Choosing your fantasy football team is a serious businessI returned to the hotel after lunch and dealt with some pressing matters - sorting out the car a bit for its journey and locking away all the valuables I wasn't going to carry by hand, doing laundry, stuff on the computer as usual etc. and arranged to catch up with Rex for a beer in the evening in an English pub called Penny Black (good name). By this time Amanda and the kids had caught their plane to Europe leaving Rex behind to finish off the last bits of work. When I arrived in the pub it was clear I'd walked into a business meeting! Ten or so guys sitting around some tables in their suits with pens and paper, one with a laptop... what was going on? The important task of auctioning players for their coming season's fantasy football league, that's what! For the next couple of hours I was pretending to be an Irish guy named Paul and bidding for players I'd never heard of (raised eyebrow signals from Rex helping me - so Paul if your team is rubbish then blame him!). I did manage to get him an Irish player apparently though so I hope it's ok.

This is a pub, not a meeting roomStill feeling the effects of whatever bad I'd eaten I went back to the hotel quite early but didn't let it stop me sightseeing the next day. To be blunt, if you're going to have the shits anywhere in the world, I cannot think of a better place to have them than Singapore. All the public toilets are spotless! I wandered down past the Raffles Hotel back to the Esplanade to the new theatre complex there - spiky dome shaped buildings that are now universally known as The Durians, a photo across the river mouth to the city's symbol the Merlion (mer as in mermaid but with a lion's head, and spewing water from its mouth - strange) and from there to the Asian Civilisations Museum.

This museum was interesting having different wings of the building covering different parts of Asia, and it brought it home to me just how much stuff I have seen on this expedition! There were exhibits from Iran, India, China, Thailand, Cambodia... and all of them looked familiar and recognisable to me. Sometimes it is difficult to step back from the day-to-day business and look back on the expedition as a whole, but it is important to do so from time to time and this museum really helped me to do that. I spent longer in the Iran and Cambodia sections as the style of the art and architecture in those countries had appealed to me most, but looked around the whole museum. I was in there a long time, but part of it was because it was air-conditioned and they had nice toilets.

Rex's leaving doThat night was Rex's leaving do. Hosted by Brewerks, a large brew-pub on Riverside Point, the beer was cold and very drinkable. There were maybe a hundred people there and it was interesting to meet Rex's colleagues and, now, friends and though I didn't know them it was obvious that he had made quite an impression on them all and though this is the ideal opportunity for a joke, I won't. They were sorry to see him leave. Rex made a speech, which lasted only about five minutes to everyone's surprise, and the important task of trying to drink the place dry then started. Hard to do in a brew-pub.

Breakdown truck recovering non-broken down CruiserThe next day was car-shipping day, for the first time on the whole trip! I had an appointment to meet James from Insight firstly at their office and we walked down to the Singapore Port Authority office to get me a security pass to enter the port. I had my passport, I had all the car and shipping documents, so foolishly I thought it would be straightforward, but of course not - more of the Singaporean "cannot, lah" and "so sorry sir"... Though I got a pass for myself easily enough, they refused to issue me a vehicle permit for my car because my car is not considered a vehicle but as cargo! The distinction escaped me but I was faced with the farcical situation of having to have the car towed from the entrance gate of the port to the quay, even though it was working perfectly fine, and after all that effort to avoid tow-trucks by getting Malaysian insurance.

A scary moment, luckily I wasn't there to see it!I went back to the hotel and made sure I had everything I needed from the car and a bit later James came to meet me and I followed him to the port. Thanks to James for organising the tow-truck for me, which was there waiting at the port entrance, even if at the time it was pretty obvious I thought it was a complete con. The car was towed to the quay and then, of course, the loading of the ship was running late and my car would not now be loaded until the next morning so could we leave the car over there out of the way please? Of course I had to ask how they were then going to move it back to the quay again because there was no vehicle permit, so nobody was allowed to drive it! This caused much discussion and had I been organising it myself I would have happily kicked up a real fuss and absolutely insisted on nobody driving it but James kindly offered to come back the next morning and supervise the loading. I gave him my spare key and asked him to ensure that "nobody" drive my car and do whatever it takes "except driving it" to get it onto the ship. So to this day I have no idea how the car got to the quay but I really hope "nobody" drove it :)

Safe and sound and very snugly packed!After waving goodbye to the car, the home and most of my worldly possessions in the port, James drove me back to the hotel and promised to send me some photos of the loading, which he subsequently did, so credit to him for the photos included on this page. I would like to say a very big THANK YOU to all at Insight, particularly Nehemiah, Capt. Baharudin and James, for organising the shipping for me.

Deciding that the situation with the digestive system was getting ridiculous I went to the hospital and try to get some antibiotics to get rid of whatever bacterial infection I'd picked up. It wasn't just a standard case of Delhi belly, I'm an expert on that now and this had been going on too long and just felt different. The Raffles Hospital was smooth and efficient. Walk in, take a ticket, wait for the number to be called (I had to wait for about 20 minutes) and then a doctor could see me, who then prodded my stomach and listened to the resulting near-volcanic activity. He prescribed me Ciprofloxin which I could pick up at the in-house pharmacy and I was promised that all would be right again in about 3 days. Let's hope so, I can't imagine Indonesia will have such clean toilets everywhere.

My last night in Singapore and without great reserves of energy, I decided to spend my last remaining $10 on Keira Knightley and went to the pictures to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. Good swashbuckling stuff, recommended as long as you switch your brain off, and then back to the hotel for possibly my last night not interrupted by a mosque for a long while!

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Comment from Ant
Rex only talk for 5 minutes?! Especially when he actually IS the centre of attention... He must be getting old! (but looking good, chap!)

Maybe the intestinal volcano is karma trying to slim you down a bit! ;-)
31 Aug 2006 @ 14:37:32

Comment from Amanda
Glad you got to Indonesia safely we are back online in Germany as of today and looking forward to following the rest of your adventure!
06 Sep 2006 @ 19:04:28