Even the best laid out plans can be laid to rest, especially when one has to cross international boundaries. Singapore has very strict laws about permitting private cars into the country and, I presume, do their bit to discourage it. The most restrictive part is the stipulation that many of the formalities have to be completed in Singapore prior to entering the country. Besides possessing the Carnet, vehicle registration certificate and the owner/driver’s license and passport I have to secure a car insurance, the international car permit and the AutoPass. One cannot join issues with such government requirements. But what I am unable to understand is why they cannot be made available at the border or on line so that one does not have to enter the country on multiple occasions – first time to secure the permits and then to bring the car in.
Yesterday evening when I started going through the process involved, primarily the need to park the car in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and the time I would be reaching the city – around 1 pm – I thought it better to stay in Johor Bahru overnight and complete the Singapore formalities the next day. Sreekanth Nair, who has been painstakingly facilitating the drive into Singapore, too thought it a better logistics plan. I located the Princeton Hotel in Johor Bahru, which on its website claimed to have a public transport terminal in close proximity that would take me to Singapore duly completing formalities at the borders of Malaysia and Singapore. So then, the final plan for the day was to stay in Johor Bahru instead of driving through to Singapore.
Since I would have the entire day in Johor Bahru I thought it better not to rush the drive to the city. Instead of taking the faster motorways I took the coastal route and the less popular internal roads with Google Maps assisting me in the venture. The alternative was also necessitated as I was short on cash with the HDFC card being declined at BGRC and having to pay for the room rent in cash. I had just enough to pay for the fuel and a tenner to meet any other expenses en route! So, paying toll was a no go. Anyway, the route through the non-tolled roads took me through vast fields of oil palms, old and new, absolutely pollution free countryside and with not much of traffic. The only downside was that it was a single carriageway that slowed me down when a freight truck got stuck in front of me. Anyway, I was not rushed for time. In the final analysis it did not cost me much to take the non-tolled roads; it was only 30 km longer that consumed, maybe, 20 minutes more. But it did save me the toll.
I reached the Princeton Hotel in Johor Bahru at a quarter to 1 pm. Revathi, a second generation Tamil from Ipoh, enabled a smooth check in. The room is small and the bathroom tiny; the possibility of stepping on one’s own toes not ruled out! However, the room and the hotel are neat and clean. For an overnight stay nothing more is required. In such places normally service trumps everything else. It is so at the Princeton. Revathi helped me to locate a money changer and finally get out of the impoverished status. When I walked to the money changer I appreciated the location of the hotel – there were many restaurants and shopping malls in the vicinity. And as promised on the website, the bus stand was just a short walk from the hotel. I was told by the owner of the hotel, a Chinese lady, that I could choose to go to Singapore either by private taxi that would cost me RM 280 or by bus that would charge RM 5! She also told me how to get to Legoland and recommended that I go to the Hello Kitty Town when I visit the Puteri Harbour Ferry Terminal to confirm about the ferry crossing to Batam, Indonesia.
But first it had to be lunch. Revathi suggested the Said Alawi restaurant and I took a short walk to the restaurant. Options were many from beef to mutton to chicken to fish and vegetables. There were curries and fried items. There was steamed rice and fried rice. After due consideration, I chose to have fish curry rice. The waiter loaded up the plate to the brim with rice and asked me to help myself with the curry. It took me a lot of effort to finish the huge meal that cost me RM 5.
Even though the meal made me soporific I decided to stay outdoors. The first visit was to Legoland which opened in 2012 in Nusajaya, a new township in Johor. The theme park is located in a sprawling complex that offers interactive rides and many other attractions for kids and adults. The Legoland Hotel is itself a huge complex, which is relatively new on the premises. I found a large number of visitors checking out with many kids in tow, which meant that the hotel and theme park were busy over the weekend. The entrance to the hotel and its lobby gives an idea of what to expect in the theme park. The many play areas and the souvenir shops were busy. I wished Eva, my granddaughter, was with me – she would have loved the place. The complex, I came to understand, has serviced apartments and residential units too.
When I was in BGRC I had read a report of a new ferry terminal in Johor Bahru that had services to Batam. It excited me for it was confirmed that there were no ferry services from Singapore that would ferry my car to Batam. The Puteri Harbour Ferry Terminal offered some hope that I could do so from there. However, there was no mention of the service on the website. I had to physically check it out. The ferry terminal looked like an airport with a waterfront. Everything had been planned down to the last detail, including the drains and sewage sumps. The world class terminal has been built with a focus on tourism, evidently, and it is considered as a flagship development of the new regional city of Nusajaya. The arrival and departure gates were separate with Customs and Immigration facilities. The lounge was commodious, airy and fitted out comfortably for people waiting on the premises. The friendly customer service guy at the front desk almost shot out of his chair with a laugh when I said I want to reserve for a car and self to Batam. He reconfirmed with me what I wanted and said that they offer only passenger services. So that is that, and it is now officially confirmed that I will not be able to ferry my car to Batam. It will have to stay in Singapore while I visit Ajo David in Batam.
The development of Nusajaya is in full swing. Residential and commercial complexes, parks, entertainment centres, educational institutions, convention centres are all being built here. What interested me is the integrated and planned development of a grand project being executed taking into consideration sewage, water supply, electricity, street lighting and other basic civic amenities. Despite the deployment of large machines and other construction equipment there wasn’t any air or noise pollution. Why are we not doing this in our country, is a question that surfaces spontaneously in my mind without, in any way, detracting from the huge strides seen in infrastructure building in India in recent years. What is missing, though, is the planning and hassle free development of new towns and cities.
I did not take time out to either visit the Little Red Cube quayside retail and entertainment complex or the Sanrio Hello Kitty Town, which is the first of its kind outside Japan, which are in close proximity to the Puteri Harbour. I wanted to get back to the hotel and check out the bus stand and the timings. When I got back to the hotel I parked in the only free slot available in front of the hotel. On the net I had read horror stories of cars being broken into in Johor Bahru. Revathi, however, assured me that the night guard would ensure safety of the car. I walked to the Aeon Mall from the hotel and noted the bus stand in front of the mall. Many taxis were parked there too and the drivers were animatedly talking in Tamil. I found out from them that the Johor-Singapore bus services ply almost every hour and even more frequently during the peak hours.
The Aeon Mall is a huge shopping cum entertainment complex. I walked around with nothing specific in mind when the smell of freshly baked bakery items made me look around for the source. I came to a small outlet selling hot buns and coffee. It was a Pappa Roti outlet. Despite a bun costing RM 3.40 I was tempted enough to try one. And my word, what an experience. The hot buns are placed in a paper bag and once the payment was done I was asked to pick up one. Before the first bite I wondered what is in it for so many to wait in queue to buy one. After the first bite I knew why. The fresh bun was an awesome delight. The coffee coated fluffy bun has a crackly caramelised exterior and a layer of melted butter inside. Is it a doughnut? No, it isn’t, it’s a baked bun. I guess the complexity of the bun is in how they get the butter inside it!
The Mall reunited me with the thirst quencher – beer. Anything remotely connected with alcohol is expensive in Malaysia. I picked up two brands I had not yet tried, Anchor and Skol. Two bottles set me back by about Rs 500. After getting through them in much less time than I anticipated I went in search of a restaurant that could offer me an alternative to rice. I located one opposite the Mall, run by Tamils. The restaurant seemed to be quite popular with tourists. A waiter told me to try out the biriyani. Instead, I ordered chappatis and spicy chicken curry. On the way back to the hotel I picked up an ice cream sundae to wind up the day.