Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Singapore and beyond

We decided on Singapore for Golden week, mostly because we had a reasonable amount of time - just over a week - and it was the cheapest place we hadn't been yet.

Cheapness has its drawbacks, though, and one of them in travel is the preponderance of funky, badly timed redeye flights on the bargain end of the spectrum. This particular gem's itinerary was kept a secret from us until a few days before takeoff - it was then revealed that we would arrive in the wee hours of the morning, effectively rendering a good part of the next day useless in our exhausted state.

We decided to suck it up and skip sleep, opting instead to hop on the first bus to the Malaysian fishing village of Mersing at 630 a.m. After cabbing into Singapore, it was 3 a.m., and we spent a few hours wandering around the pristine empty streets with their neat rows of shops and absence of detritus. How unlike Hong Kong, Taipei, or even Tokyo it was. Our bus was to depart from the Golden Mile bus depot and food hawker center, which was adjacent to the Arab Quarter and Little India. A few bars were open, with a few lonesome revelers occasionally wandering out of the doors, but mostly it was quiet. Finally, exhausted, we stumbled into a Hotel 81, an inexpensive-ish efficiency hotel chain, and took their transit rate (a fraction of the regular rate) for a few hours' sleep. Hot and sweaty outside at 3am, freezing inside with no windows and no way to turn off the a/c.

Finally grabbed the bus to Mersing, the Malaysian fishing village that offers a ferry to Palau Tioman, location Bali Hai of South Pacific and tropical island extraordinaire. We alit at the village called Air Batang, also known as ABC beach, and chose the simple and ridiculously inexpensive beach "chalets" at Mawar Beach. Beautiful beach, friendly stray cats, simple cheap dinner at the open-air restaurant. Sleep! under mosquito netting and buffered additionally from the bugs by the fan.

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