Sunday, June 26, 2011

Backdoor to Malaysia

For this past weekend we planned a nice, relaxing getaway to a resort in Desaru in southern Malaysia. The area is very peaceful and as of now, not yet overrun with tourists. Desaru also has the advantage of being fairly close to Singapore. Apparently it was just a ferry ride away from the tip of Singapore.

However, on Friday night I called the resort to confirm the directions, and after being transferred three times to someone who could speak English, I discovered that the official ferry that operated between Changi Ferry Terminal in Singapore and the one in Malaysia had been discontinued (Note: do not blindly trust wiki-travel).

There was an alternative route, however - making the journey from Singapore to Malaysia on a "bumboat" of 12 passengers.

Only later did we learn that this was not an officially recognized manner of leaving the country. Oops.

The bumboat was a small motorized boat. Despite the signage above that clearly states "2 crew," the only crew in sight was the lone driver of the bumboat.

What made this journey seem even less legitimate was the following set of details. On this Saturday morning, there was a crowd of people waiting for the bumboats to Malaysia. The bumboats, true to their unofficial nature, do not have a set schedule for arrival and departure. The drivers simply wait for each boat to fill up with 12 passengers, collect each individuals $10 fare, and make the 1-hour crossing, then turn around and go back to Singapore for the next group.

As you can imagine, this is quite a slow process, and though we got to the terminal fairly early in the morning we were told we would have to wait at least two hours. We handed our passports to the guy behind the counter, who gathered them into bundles of 12 and arranged them in order. Our passports were in the fifth bundle, which meant we would have to wait for five more bumboats to return before boarding.

However, a tall, slightly sketchy man whose passport was also in our bundle whispered to us that our group would not have to wait for that long, because he knew the driver of a bumboat who would take us ahead of the line. The power of personal connections... therefore, we were able to board before our turn, and as I got into the bumboat I kept anticipating that the passengers of the fourth bundle of passports would come charging out to the dock, demanding their rightful turn.

The bumboat slowly left the dock and headed out into the choppy waves, rocking from side to side. Pretty soon, the shores of Singapore disappeared behind us. "I feel like an illegal immigrant being smuggled to another country," I whispered to my friend.

Fortunately, we arrived in Malaysia intact, and proceeded to have a fabulous weekend at the resort - which I will be sure to write about in the next post!

1 comment: