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Bus to Melaka

The mist rose later this morning giving an ethereal feeling to Kuala Lumpu as its spires glittered dimly in the soft light. Almost like a shimmering, evanescent city in a tale of Sinbad.

During the day in Kuala Lumpur I had to take the taxi a few times, thereby learning the trick of taking rides in KL instead of being taken for one (or several).

Here it is: in most rail terminals there is a ticket booth for taxis. Tell them where you want to you, pay the fee they charge, give the receipt to the cab driver and repeat address. Simple. Alternatively, say “by the meter” – ie the ride is metered (as it should be), not a fixed price that they might suggest or you might (like me) ask.

I had to go to the Bengsam district (the nicest I found in KL, fewer high rises, more bohemian, nice looking restaurants and clubs); to get there from the station where I bought the bus tickets I asked “how much” and got answers from 35 ringgit to 15 ringgit. I took the 15 ringgit offer. When I was advised to say “by the meter” the ride back turned out to be 5 ringgit.

So now you know.

I wrapped up my last meeting in Kuala Lumpur in the early afternoon and jumped on board a bus bound for Melaka.

The bus terminal was fascinating – a true view of the real Malaysia, instead of the Petronas image. Here you see the various ethnies mixed up, because the people who take a bus to the various parts of the country must of necessity jumble up. Since the wealthy don’t travel this way, then you see where public/private money isn’t spent too.

The building has been repainted many times, and just as quickly is battered by the passing travelers and their bags. Just as in the Gulf states, elements of religion are always present, from the chapels (male and female) to the several dress styles.

The area is split into sections. Through the middle on the left side are the ticket counters for the coaches that go to most everywhere in Malaysia. Access to the coaches is through stairs that descend through the floor to the bus lanes below. These access ways run the length of the terminal

To the back of the ticket counters are stalls that sell everything from clothes to DVDs. Mixed in with them are left luggage stalls. In the spirit of true enterprise, each of these stalls employs a guy who recommends to every traveler that, even for a short period and a modest fee, it is infinitely preferable to deposit your bag with them rather than wander around the terminal overloaded. I was so proposed many times. Almost agreed too, but for the fact I was trying to jump on an earlier bus.

To the right are all the food stalls, offering fast local food at reasonable prices (for me at least). Not many people eating though. Running the length of the terminal’s frontage are all the other stalls – soft drinks, snacks, fruit, tobacco, etc.
And amongst it, all the noise, shouts, cries and murmurs of a station you would expect find anywhere else in the world (well, except Budapest, which is deathly quiet).

I managed to jump aboard an earlier coach. Fearing that the air conditioning would be as bad as the train (indeed so was I told), I came prepared with heavier shirt and sarong to hand. Fortunately it wasn’t so bad.

The trip out of KL was totally uneventful, the voyage taking about two and a half hours. The road to Melaka is a six-lane freeway of German style and standard. The roadsides are sculpted, edged and planted with thin trunked, large leaved trees. Haven’t a clue what they are. Either side, through the hills and plains, nothing but palm trees, just like I saw on the trip up from Singapore. I’m told these are plantations for palm oil, which would make sense. They appear to be planted in groves. Access to them, if difficult sometimes, is certainly possible. Below some trunks I saw what looks like white plastic containers. What they hold, I don’t know. Many of the palm trunks are wrapped in a furry coat of ferns, whose seeds must have germinated in the rough bark of the tree itself.

Through a toll plaza, in the darkening light the outskirts of Melaka begin to appear: modern, spacious, well lit and somewhere that could easily be a town in California or the Carolinas.

The coach pulled into a section of an absolutely massive shopping mall that evidently doubles as the main bus terminal for the city. Not a bad idea, that. From there jumped into a cab to take me to the hotel I had booked earlier, which is in the old part of town.

I am in Melaka, the old and legendary city of Malacca, once capital of the spice trade and imagined by the early European explorers to be a city of gold.

Let’s see what’s here …