Malaysia to Singapore: Left by Bus in Johor Bahru

Trembling and shocked. That’s how I left Melaka for Singapore just two weeks into my Southeast Asia backpacking trip. I had just escaped a terrible and unexpected ordeal while waiting for my bus to Melaka Sentral on a morning in August 2015. Maybe I’ll be able to tell it one day. But for now, let me tell you how I got left on my Malaysia to Singapore bus in Johor.


Chapter 1: Melaka Sentral

malaysia to singapore bus

The 707 bus was late.

Or maybe that’s just how it always is and I was too early. I have never been good with waiting and this time was no different. I was antsy at hell, pacing to and fro the inside of the waiting area of Melaka Sentral.

When the yellow double-decker bus arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was so ready to get out of Melaka.

It was an uneventful bus ride right until the border. The scenery outside the window was nothing worth remembering. So I passed the time updating my journal of the recent events of my stay in Malaysia, while tears fell. I shuddered just thinking about how I escaped that situation. I certainly won’t be coming back to Melaka for a long time.

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Chapter 2: Johor Bahru

Soon enough, the bus stopped at the border in Johor Bahru. And from the little I had read about the border crossing, you have to be quick with the whole process. I went down the bus, bringing with me only my shoulder bag. Little did I know that you were supposed to bring all your stuff with you. Good thing the driver called me to tell me that I should bring all my things.

Rushing with the other passengers, I searched for the shortest line in the Immigration. Holding the slip of paper we filled up earlier, I was confident that this would be a quick one. My friend who works and lives in Singapore told me that as long as I have proof of onward travel, I’ll be okay.

Still, I was a bit nervous. Immigration counters always have that effect on me. Even though I know that I have nothing to be afraid of.

When my turn came, I smiled, greeted the officer good morning, and handed her my passport. She took my paper and asked about the address I wrote down. I told her I’d be staying with my friend while in Singapore.

Then the air changed. My gut sounded alarm bells in my mind. True enough, the next words that came out of her mouth made my eyes widen.

She said I would have to stay put to be escorted upstairs for a quick interview. Uh-oh. That didn’t sound good to me. I was never a fan of these kinds of interviews.

After what seemed like a long time, two Immigration police came and told me to come with them. The air was thick inside the elevator. Trying hard not to fidget, I inhaled and exhaled, making an effort to slow my heartbeats down.

They asked if I already had proof of onward travel so I showed them my flight back to Penang. Good thing it was only a short elevator ride. But still, that ride made me feel claustrophobic.

In their office, the waiting game ensued. It was a relief to see that I’m not the only one who was interviewed and from the looks of it, not the first Filipino too. It dawned on me that this was probably caused by my fellow countrymen who evaded laws just to get jobs in Singapore. Not that I blame them for it.

Realizing that this was my second misfortune of the day, I shuddered to think what could come next. It almost always comes in threes.

When my turn came, I was almost confident that this would go well. It was a good thing that the officer made me feel relaxed too. He asked the usual questions: what am I doing in Singapore?, How long was I traveling?, Why am I traveling alone? What is my job back home? What school and course did I go to? How much money did I have with me? What are my onward travel plans, and so on?

I answered everything as confidently as I could. When he was satisfied that I wouldn’t be overstaying to look for a job in Singapore, he finally let me go.

I breathed one huge sigh of relief.

Chapter 3: Malaysia to Singapore

Going down seemed like forever. I was itching to get some fresh air. As soon as the officer stamped my passport, I walked as fast as I could. Hoping and praying that my bus was still there.

Walking along the rows of buses parked, I doubled back down. My gut was right. The bus had already left.

“Come on Darlene, think”, I said to myself, willing my brain to think and consider my next move. Since I had no Singaporean dollars with me, I couldn’t use the pay phone or board the local bus. I also had no roaming signal on my phone.

As much as I didn’t want to, I approached another 707 bus and begged the driver for help. Begged being the operative word as the driver couldn’t understand English much.

Turns out, he was going to Sentosa and not Bugis, which was where my friend was waiting.

Teary-eyed, I walked away. But thankfully the wind changed and by some stroke of luck, the driver called me and took me to the other bus and talked to the driver. I was saved. After thanking both of them, I hurriedly boarded the bus. And as soon as we left the border, the rain fell along with my tears. The weather reflected what I was feeling at that moment. A mixture of relief, self-pity, and disbelief.

This is the “ugly” side of traveling. The ones that don’t show up on our travel photos that we upload on social media for everyone to see. These misadventures, how bad they may be didn’t diminish my whole traveling experience. It made me even more grateful. For we can’t always have the good side. And how can we appreciate the good without the bad and the ugly, right?


Do you have a similar experience while doing an overland border crossing? Share yours in the comments!

Darlene is currently on the road again and traveling full-time after being an expat/overseas Filipino worker in Qatar. She's rediscovering what it means to travel solo and in her 30s while working on her blogs.


  • I was also held for few minutes proving the immigration officers that I’ll be entering SG just for leisure. I arrive at the IO booth in Changi from Cebu around 10PM. It was my first ever trip outside of PH and was alone. The hullaballoos started when the IO asked how much money I do have. I brought 160SGD because my accoms were already booked as well as tours and USS day-pass. It got worst when they check my bag and found my DOST clearance (I was a DOST scholar and brought a photocopy of my clearance just in case the IOs question me abt my scholarship). What save me was my travel blog. When I mentioned about touring destinations in SG and promoting it on my travel website, they immediately ended the interregoration and the IO welcomed me to SG with all her smiles.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! Good thing we have our travel blog to rely upon. I imagine it would be harder for ordinary travelers!

  • That was quite an adventure. All is well that ends well! We had done Johor to Singapore once and had to wait in the immigration line for quite some time. My husband’s bag was checked that’s all. We were fortunate that there was no interview with officers upstairs. Since we were travelling in a local bus , we just took the next available, which dropped us at Jurong and not at Queens Road. Having been to Singapore before we knew the their MRT system well enough to travel by that to our hostel in Bugis.

    • You got lucky that there was no interview and you already had been in Singapore! πŸ™‚ It was my first time that time so I was in a panic. hehe. But yes, all’s well that ends well!

  • Too bad they stopped you just because of your country passport! Fortunately it seems you arrived to your final destination well so you will forget about this situation soon and will only keep those nice memories.

    • Hehe yeah. I’ll also remember these unfortunate events though. Keeps the balance. πŸ™‚

  • Teesh

    I have been fortunate enough to never have problems crossing borders but this was terrifying, especially because you didn’t have anyone with you. I wish you hassle-free travels moving forward, Darlene!

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    That’s a scary and chilling experience as a solo female traveler. I myself would cry a buckets if I would experience such a horrible mishap on the road. Lucky enough God have sent you Angels to guide you and help you along the way.

  • I also took the bus from KL to Singapore about 10 years ago. Your post brought me back many good memories. It was an easy ride and the bus was comfy as well.

  • Oh I am so sorry that you had to go through this situation. I cant even imagine the situation of being called for an immigration interview at the border and where the bus leaves you out of nowhere. That’s a very terrible situation. But I am glad that you came out of that situation and as they say every travel is a learning and its a preparation for the worst situations.

  • I would feel the same way if I were in your situation. It is inevitable. It is a strict country. I like that they check the documents of passengers thoroughly. It means that they just want everyone to be safe and aware.

  • Megan Jerrard

    Crap this was a bad day for you!! Sorry to hear that you encountered a traumatizing event in Melaka – I hope that you’re ok. I can’t even imagine the sick feeling you would get in your stomache if called in for an immigration interview at the border of a country – I would probably cry!! And then to have the bus leave you … at least the driver had made you take all your stuff! That would have been a lot worse :S! Glad you got there in the end though – I find that no matter how bad a day can get, we can always be lifted back up by the kindness of strangers. Here’s to better travels to come!

    • So true, Meg! Thank goodness there’s always a kind soul in every place.

  • Jennifer

    One thing I’ve learned about travel is that you often get wrenches in the plan. Learning to roll with the punches, stay calm and work through each hitch that presents itself is the only way to get through it. Getting worked up usually only makes the situation worse or makes it so it takes longer to resolve.

  • It can be really nerve-wracking when things don’t turn out the way we plan and hope. The interview ordeal would have really made you nervous, but finally all’s well that ends well…

    • It really did made me nervous. probably my most memorable immigration experience so far!

  • Gosh, what a scary situation, especially when you are travelling alone and can feel more vulnerable. And also to happen so soon after whatever happened to you in Melaka. Hope the rest of the trip was good.

    • Oh it certainly was! Thanks to the good samaritans I met along the way. πŸ™‚

  • This sounds scary!
    Don’t know what I would have done if the bus would have left without me.
    The only issue I had while crossing the border was that the border control staff was not too happy to hear that I haven’t decided exactly how long I wanted to stay in Singapore…

    • Hehe I imagine they wouldnt be keen to get an answer like that. They are very strict with the return ticket nowadays.

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