Kuala Lumpur and The First Impression of Couchsurfing: Part 1 – The Journey of Spending Little

Categories Travel

INTRODUCTION

Since I started doing my internship, it is undeniably true that the feeling of “having the money” is real. From that, I have the balls to go backpacking in Europe next month. However since I thought that I might have been too brave, I decided to have a “preparation” beforehand. I looked at the calendar, and I found 2 long weekends during my internship period. One was Good Friday and the other was Labour Day. Certainly I couldn’t go during Good Friday because I went to church twice, but Labour Day should be free.

Initially I planned to go to Malacca. It is not a big city and will be easily explored in 2 days. However when I decided that I would go, I started thinking of KL. KL, as a capital, is a massive city and comparable in terms of size with Singapore, Jakarta, and Bangkok so perhaps it might have been a good choice as well. Then I searched for Couchsurfing hosts and found several potential hosts. Eventually I got a host in KL and so… KL it is.

I should be able to find a lot of options to go from Singapore to KL. The fastest option is obviously by plane. It is fast, but you know, more expensive. KLIA is also very far from the city and the cheapest option is to take bus for RM10. I can take train at JB Sentral, but I couldn’t book it online. It is also slower than taking bus. I can take bus from Singapore, but the price is certainly higher than taking bus from JB. So at the end I decided to take bus from Larkin Terminal.

CROSSING THE STRAIT

I might have gone straightaway after office on Friday evening, however I thought that I needed some rest, so I decided to go on Saturday morning. Anyway actually I did not have any plan (just go there and YOLO), so I should not rush. So there you go, on Saturday morning I woke up, prepared myself and put the remaining items in my backpack and left at 8 AM to take MRT to Kranji MRT Station. I arrived there at 9.10 AM.

It all looked so normal until I went down to take bus… Okay it was crowded. Not as crowded as last Chinese New Year, though. Learning from mistakes, I felt it was worth it to pay RM 3 to take Causeway Link bus (I didn’t have to pay for SBS Transit because of monthly pass) as the queue was shorter and the bus always comes empty. It turned out to be the right decision, I didn’t queue that long there. However the road nearing to the checkpoint was quite jammed. And eventually I had to walk a bit to the checkpoint to save time. I started feeling something not so good.

I went inside the Woodlands Checkpoint and well, even the autogate machines were quite crowded. I found out that some counters did not open, so the queue was reasonable. After that, I went down to the bus bay and again the Causeway Link queue was far shorter than SBS so I thought I have made a right decision. Rightly so.

Johor - Singapore Causeway
Johor – Singapore Causeway

However that smart decision could not help me anymore at Malaysian Checkpoint. I entered the hall and got stunned. THE WHOLE HALL WAS FULL OF PEOPLE. LITERALLY FULL. Chinese New Year queue that time was not this bad!

Then I realized that it was not only me who was having a long weekend. Everyone did.

Okay then, with my experiences on crossing Singapore-Malaysia border I tried my theory. I found out that front-counter queue (1-2, 5-6, 9-10, …) are always slower than back-counter queue (3-4, 7-8, 11-12, …). The reason is simple: back counters only have one line for 2 counters (because they are behind front counters, hence the line is small in between front counters) while front counters have 2 lines for 2 counters. Most of the time, the length of the queue are all the same.

And my theory worked. Even though the sea of people was enormously huge, I managed to find the right queue and I only took 45 minutes for such a long queue. Upon passing the checkpoint, it was 11.10 AM. I initially thought I would be able to get 10.30 AM bus, so I was aiming to get 11.30 AM even though I haven’t eaten at all. I rushed to the bus bay to take me to Larkin Bus Terminal.

THE LARKIN GAMES

I reached Larkin at 11.35. I knew I was late, but I thought Malaysia is kinda like Indonesia with frequent delays, so I was hoping that I could get lucky seat. I asked a lot of counters asking for earliest departure, and most of them answered 2.30 PM while some answered 5 PM or even sold out already… Then when I asked a quite scary guy in front of a counter, he said he had 1 seat for “KL, sekarang” / “to KL, now”. Then he run with me to find his friend who was taking care of the bus, but we found out the seat had been taken. They then told me their next empty seat would be for 2.30 PM departure. Since I thought other bus companies could not offer earlier than that as well, I reluctantly bought the ticket even though that meant I had to wait for 3 hours.

Larkin Bus Terminal
Larkin Bus Terminal

As I was very hungry, I went to McDonald’s to grab a lunch. Upon finishing, I started thinking that I could have just gone back to City Square and kill time there comfortably. This Larkin terminal is a slightly bigger version of Indonesian normal bus terminals. Same crowd, same dirt level. But typical Malay youths there are like gangsters with tatoos and punk clothes, so perhaps I’d have been better spending time somewhere else.

Inside Larkin Terminal building
Inside Larkin Terminal building

Long story short, I went there and returned just in time. My ticket was actually printed with 3 PM timing, but the guy wrote 2.30 PM together with platform and bus number. I waited there since 2 PM, and the bus only came at 2.30 PM. Eventually we departed at 3 PM…. and in addition to that they still went to another small terminal to fill in remaining seats.

That Meridian Holidays bus
That Meridian Holidays bus

When we left, it started raining. And it got worse with lightning. As the bus started going though Lebuhraya (highway) in the middle of huge palm plantation, it started to feel dark even though it was far from sunset.

After around 1 hour, the bus went out of the highway and stop at a restaurant/res area/shopping center/whatever it was. In Indonesia, the rest area does not require you to exit the highway so I felt something fishy. I opened Google Maps and found out that I was at Yong Peng. Eventually I found out that most bus companies (if they have a stop) will stop at that place. However we stopped there for 45-60 minutes! When we continued our journey, there were also some new “passengers” who did not even get a seat but could sit on the stairs anyway.

It was still dark, and it remained dark until sunset. Due to seldom jams in the highway, at 8 PM the bus was still in Negeri Sembilan. I thought I would be arriving in KL in 45 minutes.

I was wrong.

The bus went out of the highway, and went to Seremban Bus Terminal, apparently the bus route actually had a stopover in Seremban but the guy in Larkin lied to me. Half of the passengers went out there, leaving me confused and frustrated. And yet the bus driver spent more than 30 minutes smoking outside!!

Throughout the rest of the trip, I was so frustrated. I even opened Skyscanner to see if I could find a cheap ticket back to Singapore on Monday. I might have preferred to pay $20 more rather than being stuck for 7 hours inside a bus like this. But well, ticket price for Sunday was cheap but freaking expensive for Monday.

Eventually I reached Terminal Bersepadu Selatan at 9.30 PM. 13,5 hours of trip from Singapore and 7 hours of going with an awful bus company. Well, at least TBS looked really huge and nice.

First Impression of Terminal Bersepadu Selatan
First Impression of Terminal Bersepadu Selatan

My host stayed in Taman Cuepacs, and he told me I could walk across TBS, KTM, LRT, and KLIA Express at Bandar Tasik Selatan to reach a bus stop in order to take a bus to his house. I did that, and I found more cabs than buses over that. Feeling so tired, I just took the cab and went peacefully to Cheras.

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SKY AND EARTH: RETURN TRIP TO SINGAPORE

It was such a horrible trip, that when I arrived at my host’s house he told me he frequently take that route by bus which only takes him 4-5 hours at most.

After spending one full day in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to buy the bus ticket online as I eventually took a cab from KLCC to Taman Cuepacs which did not pass through TBS. Actually I was reluctant because I had to pay in Singapore Dollar while I still had much Ringgit, but I was avoiding the possibility that I could not get afternoon departure even if I arrived at TBS early in the morning because it was the last day of long weekend and people will be back as well.

When I booked online the night before, the earliest bus I could get was 11.25 AM. Apparently I would have missed afternoon bus had I booked it on the spot. So I booked a ticket with normal fare – RM 35.15 – which meant the guy in Larkin made another lie to me when he charged me RM 55 because of public holiday.

Ah, Meridian Holidays. I wish your business would fail if you still continue such practice.

This time, I went with Kwee Ping Express.

So I arrived at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan at 9.30 AM. The terminal was so huge with centralized ticketing counters (Thank God! This would reduce the possibility of “ulat-ulat” like that guy at Larkin). Since I booked the ticket online, I asked information center on where should I go next and I was told I had to print the ticket at Customer Service (I only showed soft copy). So I went to the Customer Service which was located at the far end of ticketing counters, next to 7-Eleven. Over there I could print my ticket for free.

Customer Service
Customer Service
Counter B and C
Counter B and C

After that, I went to either counter B or C (as instructed by customer service) to exchange my ticket with a boarding pass. I went there, gave my ticket to the staff to be exchanged to boarding pass.

Boarding pass for the trip - feels like flying an airplane!
Boarding pass for the trip – feels like flying an airplane!

With 90 minutes to go before my departure, I decided to walk upstairs and find some food to eat. There are restaurants, fast food joints, and food court with cheap prices compared to normal Singapore price. I stayed there until I went to the departure gate 30 minutes before departure.

Departure Information
Departure Information

The gate had several chairs, perhaps not enough if the bus was full but it was not a problem since most passengers arrived nearing to the departure. It was still a good thing to have in a terminal, it felt like an airport.

Boarding gate 15
Boarding gate 15
Gate 15
Gate 15

The bus came at the departure time, hence our actual departure time was a bit late by 10 minutes. I forgot to take a picture of the bus, but the bus felt newer. And perhaps since I booked front seat, I felt my legroom was better as well. I did not know if the bus would go directly like what the ticket say or not, so I prepared anything: books, videos, songs.

But it happened to be much better. The road was empty (unless in Johor Bahru), and the bus did not stop at all! This was good because for a 3,5 trip, even a short stop was not necessary at all. I managed to arrive in Larkin at 3 PM, and after buying food I straightaway took a bus to the checkpoint. Too bad, people had filled the immigration hall again…

TLDR
– Taking bus from JB to KL is the cheapest way to go from Singapore to KL. Price can be 3x cheaper than taking direct bus.
– Go through checkpoint WAY EARLIER on long weekends. You don’t want to waste your precious time waiting.
– Buy bus ticket ONLINE. Avoid those ulats (that’s how Malaysians call the bad ticket seller).
– Check if your trip is direct, or has a (hidden) stopover.

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