Diary - Malyasia

Wednesday 17th July 2002 - DAY 168

Starting point: Songkhla, Thailand
Ending point: Penang, Malaysia
Distanced travelled: 169 miles

Leaving Thailand and entering Malaysia was a very straightforward and quick process. The presence of headscarves and moustaches was a reminder that we are now back in a muslim country. We stopped to buy some insurance (Paul and Pia advised us that they had been refused entry to Singapore for not having any) and were then pointed in the direction of the Travel Permit office which is apparently required for all foreign cars - the exchange rate at the border is terrible 2.4 ringits to the dollar as opposed to 4. The 3-lane motorway that leads from north to south is excellent, although there are tolls and the drivers specialise in 'undertaking'. The journey south was fast and we were soon crossing the 3rd longest bridge in the world to the island of Penang - although the weather was so hot and hazy that we couldn't actually see the 8km to the other side. We found our way to the centre of Georgetown and to a hostel in Little India. Our first impressions of Malaysia were that it's hot, hectic and expensive but in the evening as things cooled and quietened down the place started to grow on us and we were able to appreciate the charm of its Chinese/Indian culture and remaining colonial buildings.

Thursday 18th July 2002 - DAY 169

Starting point: Penang
Ending point: Cameron 'lowlands' near Tapah
Distanced travelled: 145 miles

We continue our journey south towards Singapore and our milometer tells us that we've now crossed the 20,000 mile mark and that we're nearing the end of our journey. We think about heading up to the Cameron Highlands but it's a 2 hour drive from the motorway through winding hills so we opt to stay at a nearby beauty spot instead. There are a few curious locals around, but no-one disturbs us and we were able to set up camp in peace. Robin is eager to clean out the car before arriving in Singapore and spends the afternoon working hard while Nic tests out the hammock and confirms after several hours that it is in fact 'very comfortable'.


Friday 19th July 2002 - DAY 170

Starting point: Cameron 'lowlands'
Ending point: Kuala Lumpar
Distanced travelled: 114 miles

Driving into Kuala Lumpar is much like driving into any other unknown city - lots of traffic and confusing roads; but everything flows well enough and we arrive in the centre without too many difficulties. Finding a 24 hour car park is more tricky and when we finally do we feel slightly uncomfortable about the security issues, but we're tired and hungry and resolve to come and check regularly. We find a cheap-ish hotel just round the corner that isn't charged by the hour and is conveniently situated next door to McDonalds. One Big Mac meal later we're feeling revived and head back to the room to enjoy the thunderstorm looming overhead. The famous night market is just opposite our hotel so later on we wander about and regret our McDonalds at the sight of the tasty looking food stalls.

Saturday 20th July 2002 - DAY 171

Petronas towers, looking slightly distorted

Starting point: KL
Ending point: Melaka
Distanced travelled: 103 miles

We decide to do some 'sightseeing' by taking the light rail system to the Petronas Towers. There are a limited number of tickets available and typically enough the people in front of us in the queue get the last ones. However, we look suitably disappointed and explain that we're leaving town that afternoon and they agree to squeeze us in. The tour only takes you to the bridge half way up on the 48th floor, but it still gives a great view of the city. We have a brief look round the shopping mall which is full of every designer you can think of and head back to find the car - safe and sound. Driving to Melaka takes just 1 1/2 hours and we find a very friendly hostel called 'Robin's Nest'. The owner is very helpful and endeavours to help us try to find out about car ferries to Indonesia.

According to information on the internet and the experience of other overlanders, it would seem that a car ferry used to exist but now you have to put your car in a container and freight it. In which case we will ship straight to Australia and travel down with our backpacks, but we've not given up searching yet.

We also found a book on driving in Singapore. The very fact that there is such a book illustrates just what a nightmare taking a foreign vehicle into Singapore is. Suffice to say that it is a very small, very rich and VERY beauraucratic country. The full lowdown can be found in the Notes and Tips section.

Sunday 21st to Thursday 25th July 2002 - DAYS 172-176

So, what to do now we have neared the end of the road? The options are both numerous and limited. Surprising though it may be, there are simply no vehicle ferries to either Australia (as we knew) or Indonesia (as we discovered) from anywhere in SE Asia. So, one decision is well and truly made for us: we need a container. But then, should we send it to Indonesia or Australia? - the former is tempting, very tempting, but we decide against it on the basis of cost as we will need another container from Bali to Oz if we do that. Nevertheless, we decide as a compromise that we will head down through Indonesia on foot after shipping our trusty car. Where to ship from? Well, Port Klang in Malaysia is both far more accessable and almost certainly cheaper than Singapore, but then again, Singapore was our original target for the Asia Overland section of this trip. In the end we decide that we're damned if the mountain of beauraucracy is going to stop us reaching the very tip of SE Asia; so Singapore it is then.

Our next job is to sort out shipping. Seeing as Malaysia is cheaper than Singapore, it makes sense to try and organise a container and ship whilst staying in Melaka. The search is slow, but fruitful. After many hours searching all the papers, phone books and internet sites, we find an extremely helpful agent, Mac-Nels. (For anyone else facing this challenge, we found by far the most productive avenue to be the shipping pages from the local papers - see Shipping.) A couple more days pass by before our agent has unscrambled all of the regulations for import and export of a vehicle in Singapore.

Melaka may not be the most exciting place on Earth to spend six days arranging shipping, but our guesthouse was a real hive of social activity, and we seemed to be staying up ridiculously late for no apparent reason. After a few days of getting far less sleep than we probably should have (especially having to jump out of bed at 8:00 every morning to put money in the parking meter) we're just thinking of getting a good early night and staying off the special brew, when who should arrive but Tony From Preston (who we chanced across in Tibet, doing the same route as us on foot) with his friend Simon. Ah well! As things turn out, everybody seems to be running out of road, because in the next 24 hours we also meet Karoline from Tibet and Jo and Damien from Ko Pha Ngan. Despite the absence of any kind of nightlife in Melaka, we somehow all end up in a Karaoke bar our last night there (or maybe I shouldn't admit to that?) where Tony and Simon excel themselves.