Johor Bahru, Malaysia – 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 by my Malaysia to Singapore bus in Johor.
Chapter 1: Melaka Sentral
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 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.
Chapter 2: Johor Bahru
Soon enough, the bust stopped at the border in Johor Bahru. And from 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’ll 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 definitely didn’t sound good to me. I was never a fan of these kind of interviews.
After what seemed 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 have 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 for the day, I shuddered to think what could come next. It almost always come 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. And when he was satisfied that I won’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 on my passport, I walked as fast as I could. Hoping and praying that my bus was still there.
Walking along the rows of bus 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 payphone 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 reflecting 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 it 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!