Friday, 6 March 2015

The travel "queues" of Malaysia

Selamat Datang!

Two weeks ago it was the famous TET, ie. Lunar New Year (ie. Chinese New Year, but it is celebrated in many South-East Asian countries so...), meaning a week off work. Me and my Portuguese friend Patricia decided to go to Malaysia. Why Malaysia? Why not Malaysia. It has twin towers, beaches, and is a new country I know nothing about. Except that the food is delicious.

The plan was I'd fly into KL (Kuala Lumpur, for future reference) (Patricia flew a few days earlier) on the Monday, and on Wednesday night we would take the night bus to Kuala Perlis, from where we'd take a ferry to the stunning island of Langkawi, where we'd stay until Monday morning when we'd fly to KL and back to HCMC.

A lot of travelling, and obviously all never goes to plan when in this part of the world... So this entry shall be about TRAVELLING IN MALAYSIA. (And as a warm-up act: I survived Malaysia Airlines. Three times. A very pleasant experience and I recommend it!) 


So, KL-Langkawi. We had bought tickets beforehand, so here was the plan:

11pm             be at bus station, find platform, get on bus.
11.30pm       bus leaves KL
6.30am        bus arrives at Kuala Perlis, the mainland town near Langkawi
7.00am        first ferry leaves Kuala Perlis to Langkawi with us on it
8.30am        probably be at guesthouse at this time, potentially have a morning nap, ready                             for a full afternoon's Langkawi adventure.

As you may guess, it wasn't as simple as that. And at least partly due to the fact our travel night fell on the actual night of the Lunar New Year...
Commencing the adventure...
We arrived at the bus station at 11pm, and realised we could not find what platform the bus was leaving from. Luckily something that Malaysia is not lacking in is staff (the amount of times I've sadly rudely ignored helpful Malaysian staff just by thinking they were sleazy random guys), and so we asked one of these dudes who probably was working there (they rarely wear anything in forms of identifying that they work there, they're in casual clothes usually) where our bus leaves.

“Where you go?”

“Langkawi.” We showed him our tickets.

The dude gestured to the large, long mass of people “queueing” in the middle of the otherwise pretty empty ticket area.

No, no, we already HAVE tickets, we explained. (When I say “we”, I usually mean Patricia, the super confident travel organiser of mine.)

Yes, yes, go and “queue”, instructed dude. We sighed – he clearly did not understand. But when the next dude, and the next, told us to join that same ocean of people, we started to think otherwise.

It turned out you had to pick up some kind of other ticket before boarding the bus, and this was the “Queue” for it. I guess it makes sense in a way – at an airport you have to pick up your boarding pass, you can't just walk into the plane with your online reservation -, but still, it seemed unnecessarily... annoying.
In the midst of the first "Queue" of many...
So, ended up in this “Queue”, vaguely heading towards these two ticket counters. Quite quickly we realised that although barging through a queue (in Asia, if you don't move forward as soon as the person in front of you does (or next to you, for that matter), that space is up for grabs by anyone) would take us way too long if we wanted to be on time for our bus, there were people around us still queueing up for a bus whose leaving time was at least half an hour before our's.

It took probably about an hour for me to get to the ticket counter, get handed two very quickly written, er, tickets, while Patricia watched our bags further off.

Platform 14. Coolios.

Surprisingly, it was easy enough to find.

Unsurprisingly, the bus – not so much. 

And even if we'd known immediately which bus, swimming through the sea of people waiting would not be the easiest of life achievements...

The “queue” on the platform went all the way up the stairs. Some people were squidging past the queue, and we decided to do likewise since our bus's official departure time had been and gone. The people mass kept on spilling off the edges onto platform 15, on the other side - a few times a bus arriving on platform 15 had to honk at some tourist with a back-bag too close.

There appeared to be two buses waiting at Platform 14, neither with their doors open. No one waiting seemed to know what was happening. Finally we found a vaguely official looking dude, looking very busy, who annoyedly pointed us to the second bus. This was not anything definite as it was very crowdy, and we had no idea if he actually heard our destination or not.

So we squeezed over to vaguely hang out in front of the second bus. Then, a dude near us, hearing our convo, told us the Kuala Perlis-bus was actually the FIRST bus (which made much more sense in all honesty, as our bus was meant to leave ages ago). So, squidging to the first bus. Where we were then told, by the actual driver, that we wanted to be on the SECOND bus. Which had meanwhile started boarding, and we had lost our prime place. Sigh, sneakily done, random dude in front of our bus, steering us to the wrong one so HE could get our prime place...

Surprisingly, we got seats next to each other. There was still constant confusion and something that became very near to a physical fight between the staff and customers (apparently the nonplussed staff dude was making fun of this foreign couple who were trying to find their assigned seat numbers... In all fairness, I didn't believe in assigned seat numbers until some of our new bus friends later on told us that they too had assigned seat numbers... which they obviously did not get.), but I was happy to be finally safe and sound curled in my window seat, finally sat down and not expected to get up for a long, long time.
And the bus trip was fine. Well, as fine as you could imagine in a packed no-bedded night bus. The people in front of us reclined their seats to the max, and Patricia had a temperamental Hungarian girl with very long legs behind her, so she couldn't recline her seat, but I napped on and off.

We had a very surreal brekkie at a service station packed with locals at 7am. It was quite a highlight actually. Supertired we walked round the food stalls selling numerous mystery meat sauces, but I settled for a lovely Iced Milo (the Nesquik equivalent here. One cute thing about Malaysia is how it is so the main drink to drink. Not water, not beer, not Coke, everyone just drinks Iced Milo.) and flat noodles. Believe it or not, it was one of the best meals of the holiday. (And not saying AT ALL that food quality was in any ways lacking!)

The view from brekkie place
A few hours later finally arrived at Kuala Perlis. It was 9.30 am as opposed to the eta 6.30am, but oh well. Next stop: Get ferry tickets, get on ferry, arrive in Langkawi.

Not so fast.

I'm pretty sure we vaguely queue-jumped. But since you can never be sure since the queues are more like herds, I dunno. I know that when Patricia was watching the bags and it was just me and our new (Tatar!!!) friend Liliya, and we attempted to move forwards in the queue, a Malaysian man frowned at us, and pointed to a line behind us, roughly the length of the Amazon. I swear, honestly, it hadn't been there five minutes ago when we joined the queue. Had we queue-jumped!?
I wasn't confident enough to blatantly potentially queue-jump, but luckily Patricia came back soon, and confidentally and experiencedly (is that a word? I don't think so) advanced in the queue not worrying about queue-jumping.

For the next hour, I sat next to, around and on our bags, ending up constantly nodding off on them.
The guardian of the bags
Finally Patricia came up to me. She'd got the tickets! Hurray! Only not for the next ferry as you would imagine, but for the next ferry with space, ie. the one at 3.45 pm.

Party at Kuala Perlis it is.

Except Kuala Perlis has nothing.

We avoided the KFC and went to sit in the only other eating hole we could find, a typical outdoory (well, it was inside but with no walls so it was open to the street, if you get what I mean) restauranty-caféey thing packed with people. My time to queue, so I stood in line for twenty minutes to order a coffee with no sugar or milk for Patricia, a roti canai for Patricia and a watermelon juice for me. Well, instead I got a coffee with sugar and milk for Patricia, no roti canai, and another coffee for me as the (stressed, understandably) girl refused to serve me watermelon juice. (That coffee ended up mostly on the table and my trousers after I knocked it accidentally, followed by a pathetic overtiredness cry.)

Next, we needed wifi so that Patricia could inform our guesthouse we'd be late. Wifi was given to her begrudgingly by a local motel, so we sat down in front of the hotel to wifi. Which gradually progressed to us sleeping in front of the said motel. (I had luckily packed my kiwi bag full of clothes so it served as an excellent pillow) On the streets, having people stare at us funny and a set of kids go constantly in and out of the hotel just to have sneaky peaks at us. I felt pathetically homeless and ridiculously hilarious at the same time.
Not our best moment 
One member of our audience
3pmish we tiredly trundled to the ferry station where flocks of other very bored people were hanging out – tourists and locals alike. Our ferry actually left only half an hour late, despite what looked like quite a hopeless situation whilst waiting amongst all the other people...

Waiting for the ferries
In the end we boarded our ferry – and, contrary to what I said earlier about seat numbers, we actually DID have seat numbers – and from then onwards it was, believe it or not, relatively plain-sailing. 

Hello Langkawi!

Got to our guesthouse only about 10 hours late, and even managed a very, very tired yet scrumptious dinner with fellow guesthousers, and slept a very long and good night. :)

And that was the end of our Biggest Malaysian Travel Adventure. Lesson of the day: Do not use night buses. And more importantly, do not travel on Chinese New Year...

More pleasant Malaysian adventures to be shared shortly... 




  1. Not queues but herds - a brilliant insight! Kertakaikkisen humoristinen ja uutta kulttuuria lempeästi tarkkaileva blogi. Kiitos!

  2. What a journey! You have some quite poetic turns of phrase... "the queues are more like herds..." "I felt pathetically homeless and ridiculously hilarious at the same time..." I'll do my best not to use a Night Bus on Chinese New Year.