Saturday, July 5, 2008

Singapore-Kuching-Day 6 - Shopping and Travel

(By Jim)

After the busy day yesterday, we could have been forgiven for indulging ourselves in the Singapore café scene the next day before beginning our travel to Johor Bahru and Kuching in Borneo. Instead, we went shopping.

First, though, we took breakfast again at the hotel, then packed up and checked out, leaving our bags stored with the hotel. Barbara had read about a funky, cool shopping area on Bugis Street, and read that it was 24 hours, so we started out to go there. Our taxi driver dissuaded us, telling us it wasn’t open 24 hours, and if we wanted to go shopping, let’s go to the Mustafa Center first which was open 24 hours, then we could take another taxi over to Bugis Street later in the morning.

Mustafa Center was impressive. 4 stories, and a city block long. Anything you need, you can find here. Groceries, jewelry, clothes, souveniers, or electronics. We ended up getting a shot glass for my brother here.

We stopped at a café for coffee and water. At 11 AM, we decided it was time for Bugis Street. We got there and half of the shops were still closed, and the ones that were open didn’t offer anything that we needed, that were funky and/or cheap.

We were pretty disappointed with the shopping. I know now that this area doesn’t get cranking until 4 in the afternoon. Next time I’ll ask the more than friendly clerks at the Hotel 1929 before I go out shopping. Another café, another hot coffee for me and iced coffee for Barbara.

We had checked with the hotel desk about how long it would take to get to the airport in Johor Bahru. For a 5 PM flight, best leave Singapore by 12 or 1 PM, he said. We decided to go ahead and begin our new adventure at 11:30, figuring we couldn’t find anything else we wanted to do in Singapore for 30 minutes. We caught a cab back to the hotel, got our bags, then headed for the Queen Street Bus Station, where you can get long-distance taxis (S$40) to take you across the causeway to Johor and the Bus Station there. You can also take a bus that is much cheaper, but with the taxis you don’t have to unload and reload your luggage at immigration and I thought we would enjoy the less-stressful option.

[Singapore taxis are almost all Toyota Crowns. They remind me of Checker Taxis in the way they are high-roofed, bench-seated, and comfortable carrying large amounts of luggage. Singapore is one of those compact cities that you don’t break the bank by taking taxis everywhere.]

Either we got lucky with the causeway or immigration, or the expected rush of school holiday-makers had yet to materialize, but we zipped across the causeway, stepped out of the car to get fingerprinted by Singapore immigration, and were in Johor in an hour. Another cab, this one from the bus station to Sultan Ismaili, or “Senai” Aiprort
[Note that AirAsia, the low cost carrier, never calls it this on their website, instead calling it Johor Bahru, but none of the locals ever refer to it by anything other than Senai.]

We had lunch there, and watched a 747 from Singapore Airlines do touch-and-gos .It’s an impressive airport, with a pretty modern fountain outside.

Also, there is a large fountain/waterfall in the men’s room for the urinal. I didn’t take any pictures of this, but fortunately there’s a video on Youtube.

And there is a water feature in the ladies room as well.
AirAsia flies from JB to everywhere, and it’s a lot cheaper than flying Malaysia or Singapore Air out of Singapore. AirAsia is the Southwest Airlines of Southeast Asia. I think our tickets were US$120 for both of us from JB to Kuching, and $125 from Kuching to KL. From Singapore to Kuching, it was $220 each on Malaysia. AirAsia is strict about its luggage weight charges. I think we got hit with RM75 ($25) at JB, and RM180 ($56) coming back from Kuching, but even then it was much cheaper for us to fly them. The flight from JB to Kuching was full, but I had paid extra for Express Boarding so we could be sure to sit together. Downside is the time to get across the Causeway.

Our flight to Kuching was uneventful. When arriving in Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia, you have to clear immigration again, but it is usually only a formality. Our bags came out quickly. At Kuching Airport, you buy a coupon inside and give it to the taxi drivers, rather than haggling with them for the price. Traffic was a bugger, but we finally got into the city and to our accommodations.

Singghasana Lodge was not what we expected. We had to walk up one floor (with our bags). I knew we had to take off our shoes, but Barbara didn’t and hated that after the travel. Our room was on an alley that motorcycles kept running through. And the room was dusty smelling and the air conditioning was struggling to keep up. On the other hand, it was cheap at less than US$40 a night. But it was more hostel than hotel.
Our bed, note bamboo mat and concrete floor below.
Curtain covers window looking out on alley.

Toilet/shower combination

We went out to get some dinner, and stopped at this place on the corner showing American movies on a big screen. Strike 1, they didn’t serve beer! Strike 2, the waiter was hovering over us which didn’t help Barbara’s mood. We ate there anyway, then headed across the street where I could get a beer.

We decided to tough it out for one night, then look at things in the morning. I checked a couple of places online and by phone, including the Harbour View Hotel, the Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Hilton. (Thank goodness for our cellphones and our Digi SIM card.) Xanax and beer made sleep possible, and the next day we moved on.

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