First things first. Woodlands CIQ = Woodlands Train Checkpoint ≠ Woodlands train station, which is on the MRT system in Singapore. If you realise this at Woodlands train station and it you have built enough leeway into your plans, you can still make the train to Malaysia. If you run.
The Singapore to Kuala Lumpur train departs 8:30 am. We got up at 6, dragged our stuff out of the dorm as quietly as we could, and headed for the train. We walked from the hostel through Little India, discovering the hostel was in a more dilapidated part. Locals padded softly down the dark streets and music spilled out of the few open restaurants. The we jumped on the train to Woodlands along with all the other sleepy people. Once there I was perplexed by the lack of signs for, well, whatever we were looking for. Another platform? Immigration? Ben checked the website he’d been looking at earlier about immigration and customs control at Woodlands. Further down the page it said to get off two stops further down at Kranji and catch a bus to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
We now had 45 minutes before the train left – 15 was extra added on for good luck, 30 was the recommended time to arrive before departure. We weren’t sure if we’d make it, but I said we had to give it the best shot we could. We raced over to top up our train tickets, ran back up the stairs to the platform and got on the next train. Luckily they’re rather more frequent than in Brisbane. I didn’t like our chances of finding the bus stop and the bus in time, so at the last moment we jumped off at the station in between, Marsiling, because it looked closer on the map – about 1km from Woodlands CIQ.
There were no taxis. There was a queue for the taxis. Lots of unavailable taxis were going past. It was 8:05 am. Google Maps said it’d take 20 minutes to walk. We got there in about 15, running as much as I could with my bags. At that point I really appreciated that I packed relatively lightly. Immigration and Customs were pretty quick, as indicated on the website Ben read earlier. There was still a queue for the Malaysian immigration counter at 8:25. This was reassuring because it meant we weren’t the last ones. It was worrying because we still weren’t sure we’d make it. We ended up sitting on the train with 2 minutes to spare. The train left 10 minutes late.
The train ride to KL was good. Every now and then I had a little laugh that we actually made the train. After a while I went for a little explore. I got as far as the joiny bit to the next carriage. There was a door open at the end of our carriage but I had to get past it to get to the toilet. You only use the toilet between towns… The bit where the carriages joined was a bit rough and uneven but there were lots of handles. Both doors at the start of the next carriage were open. I mean the ones to get on and off the train. As the train was going pretty fast by this point, and was wobbling about, I chickened out of going any further.
The palm oil plantations started an hour or two into the trip. On top of the forest clearing carried out to plant the plantations, I wondered whether it was really an efficient use of land. At least in Malaysia the government has committed to protecting a certain amount of the forests from being cleared.
The train line goes through or touches the edge of a few towns or cities. It’s hard to tell which from the train. Seeing all the houses and people waiting at the stations felt like a privileged glimpse into their lives. I wonder how much the view will change in the next few days.
The train arrived in KL a little before 4. We wandered around for a few hours, making for a Japanese style vegan restaurant on Jalan Bukit Bintang which I took to calling Bucket of Beer Street. The food was nice and it was easy knowing that whatever we ordered would be vegetarian. We’re now waiting for the bus to Kuala Perlis in the north west of Malaysia which is why I’ve had time to write this up.
The bus station was recently refurbished. It seems as if this was to make the ceilings even lower and to make it even harder for find the ticket counters hidden away in the dark at the top of the building. This gives the touts plenty of opportunities to sell you tickets on their buses before you get to the counters. Telling them you have booked tickets makes them loose interest in you very quickly, though if you’re lucky they’ll point their thumb in the direction you need to go. We got here about 2 hours early. Mostly because we’re both tired after another night of interrupted dorm sleeping, but also, ever so slightly, because we didn’t want to have to run to make the bus!
It’s already getting difficult to keep track of what day it is, what happened where and when, and what country I’ll be in tomorrow night.