From the start I wasn’t confident in the reality of the bus booking I’d made for this leg. Once we had the actual tickets from the bus company I felt much better. Then the non-joys of buses began.
We were told to return to the ticket counter in the ceiling at 11 pm for the 11:30 bus to be told which platform to go to. Four people at the counter together served one person at a time while bus loads of people and anxiety accumulated in the queue. Eventually we were told platform 5, bus 444. Down we went from the ceiling to the basement. The entrance to the platform was clearly signed 5 but once down there, the next platform over was just as clearly signed 5. Our platform had no sign. Braving buses and uncertainty groups of us crossed over to the one signed 5, which had no stairs of its own.
The basement was steaming and full of buses idling diesel fumes and noise. Most of the buses didn’t appear to be loading or unloading passengers but gradually they and the people disappeared. Meanwhile, those of us on platform 5 began comparing tickets for reassurance. Now all the bus load of people needed was a bus.
About 12:30 am the loud woman from upstairs called out for one passenger and one passenger only to follow her. He disappeared, never to return. Soon after we were all herded over to platform 11 where it became clear that more than one bus load of people needed a bus. Five or ten more passengers were lead away to their fate.
There was lots of back and forth in Malay between a few people who all later turned out to be staff. Another passenger explained that our bus was stuck in traffic because of the holiday with the end of Ramadan. Suddenly all the passengers for Kuala Perlis were being told to follow the man in the blue t-shirt. We followed him up the down ramp for the buses to the road outside. It was pretty quiet for a traffic jam. But the air was cooler and fresher.
A few more lucky passengers were squeezed on another company’s bus. Man in blue had lots of frustrating phone conversations. At least he was trying. A magically empty bus appeared on the street in front of us about 1:30 am and we all clambered on before it vanished. And what a bus it was! Tasselled curtains, red carpet and very reclinable chairs that pinned down the person behind. We all slept, pinned in place. The bus found the traffic jam and followed it for hours.
The next morning we were told to get off the bus to be distributed between other buses continuing to Kuala Perlis. Someone hadn’t done a head count. Six of us didn’t fit. Our driver scrounged around to find us a bus. As we were giving up he waved us over to another bus. It was even swankier than the first. So we arrived in Kuala Perlis in business class.
There were possibly three options for getting to Satun. The most complete information we could find was about the ferry to Langkawi followed by another ferry to Satun. Who needs an excuse to go via a tropical island that’s on the way! The ferry terminal was just around the corner from the bus stop and we walked straight on to a departing ferry.
The ferry’s approach to Langkawi took us past islands and beaches as the morning sun came out from behind the clouds. We followed the path up from the jetty, to find ourselves in a shopping mall. Nothing new for Malaysia. Of course, the ticket counter for the ferries is in a different building. Across the road. Behind the KFC. Tickets to Satun in hand, and a few hours to spare, where else to go but a beach? Grey sand, hot sun, water, beach chairs and umbrellas.
The ferry to Satun was smaller and rustier. I was reassured by the calm water. Pretty much as soon as we left the jetty, something interesting was happening in the closed off space between the toilets and the back door. So interesting it seemed as if half the men on the boat must have been crammed into that space, though I expect they actually pushed out onto a back deck. There they were, puffing away on their smokes while I recalled the fire extinguishers behind all the bags. They were really keen about those smokes…
The Satun ferry terminal had a smaller shopping mall. The fellow who drove us into Satun had done the trip to Langkawi that day to get his favourite goat curry. He was keen to tell us every detail of the changes in his stomach movements during Ramadan, but he also said that the people of Satun speak softly. I tried to keep my voice down after that.
Satun’s night markets were interesting. Firstly because of how much they resembled some markets in Brisbane. Secondly because of how different they were from the markets of KL. A girl said hello and her friends laughed. I realised I was still in KL or big city mode – not really looking at the market people or their stalls. But no one here was trying to make us buy anything. I relaxed and exchanged smiles.