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Singapore to Melaka (Malacca), Malaysia by train

This article is Chapter 2 in the Three Continents Overland series.
Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

Diesel powered Malaysian train pulled in to Tampin station

Introduction

The is an account of my overland journey from Singapore to Melaka (Malacca) using local transport in March 2018. The journey starts in Singapore, crosses the famous Johor-Singapore causeway, before travelling through the Malay countryside by the old diesel powered trains. The journey took most of the day, and is far more involved than catching a private bus, but is enjoyable and comfortable. Happy reading!

Singapore to Melaka

Long day today. Commenced with an early start: a 5:30am alarm, breaking the serenity of the messy dormitory. Soon I was up and roughly packing my bag. I was out the door one hour later; with a breakfast of toast smeared with sweet, artificial jam in my belly; to power me through the day. First thing was making the 30km stretch between Chinatown on the south of Singapore, to the causeway on the north.

I got to the platform; but it was the wrong one! I quickly find the proper platform about one hundred metres away. A silly mistake. Luckily once I arrived the train was already sitting there, with doors wide open beckoning me onwards. Something was wrong; the train wasn't moving. I looked up at the screen and there was a message: "This train will stop here for a short while. We are sorry for the delay.". The famously punctual MRT was impolitely tardy. Just my luck. The train, supposed to take twenty minutes in total, was pausing for five minutes at every stop and apologising, and there were ten to fifteen stops left to go! A young family opposite me is arguing, blaming each other for the delay, for what was an event impossible to predict. Obviously they are at risk of missing their connection too.

An hour later the train reaches my stop, I am prepared, waiting by the impeccably clean doors of the Singaporean metro to open. They open and I burst through, rushing up the escalator to catch the next bus. I tap on and exhale a sigh of relief, its still possible to catch the scheduled train across the causeway towards Malaysia. Too late I realise that the bus is going in the wrong direction. Another mistake. In my haste I read only the bus number, and didn't pay attention to the direction of travel. Five minutes after boarding I press the stop button, depart from the bus, and cross to the other side of the road to catch the bus going in the correct direction. At the bus stop I scan the sign, it says that the bus I need to catch departs every ten to fifteen minutes. That is too slow! I will definitely miss my connecting train now, that's a shame, I have just lost $5 SGD. Not the end of the world, but I was looking forward to catching the famous shuttle train between the two nations.

Entrance to the Woodlands Checkpoint

Entrance to the Woodlands Checkpoint

The bus arrived at the checkpoint at 8:33am, my train departed three minutes ago. Such a shame. I walk through the checkpoint and go through customs. Filming part of the away, an immigration officer in plain clothes stops me and says I can't film and gets me to delete the files. Luckily I didn't get a fine. Soon I am through customs and board a bus crossing the causeway. I missed the train but luckily a bus leaves every few minutes. I tap on with my Singaporean metro pass for a final time, with just three dollars left of the card.

On the bus over the Johor-Singapore Causeway

On the bus over the Johor-Singapore Causeway

The causeway crossing is nice, very pristine; well looked after, like most of the Singaporean infrastructure. After just five minutes the bus unloads its passengers on to Malaysian soil. I tap off and the screen flashes at me, warning me that I have gone in to negative quota. I dare say I will owe the Singaporean government 30c for quite some time. They won't notice the difference. I follow the signs to Malaysian immigration, they stamp my passport, and let me through in to their country. Malaysia, unlike many countries in South East Asia, has a very friendly visa: three months of travel for free, with a visa on arrival. Ah, so good! If only every country was like this. They are serious about developing their tourism industry, it seems. Exhausted, I get a coffee while I wait for my next train to arrive: a five hour, local train from Johor Bahru Sentral to Tampin, the nearest train stop to Melaka, my final destination. It is now 9:10am and my next train is at 10:00am. I have some time to relax, enjoy my Kopi C, and write some notes in my journal.

The Malaysian countryside flashes past my window in a blur of lush green tropical forest and provincial townships. The view is beautiful from my seat on one of the last diesel-powered trains in the country, the rest having been upgraded and replaced with modern electric systems. I while I way the time writing; watching Indian Jones; and chatting to a Malay man who fought next to Australians on the Malaysian peninsular in WW2, a conflict which lead to the loss of Singapore to the Japanese and the subjugation for local populace for three years.

First meal in Malaysia - Roti Canai!

First meal in Malaysia - Roti Canai!

Five hours later and I am in Tampin, the last station on the line. Unfortunately there is no longer a connection to Melaka, the old line like was destroyed in the war and never rebuilt. So, I have to find local transport to the historic city. I ask a local and he describes the way to the bus stop, it's a twenty minute walk away. Walking through the town I get many curious stares, to which I smile and nod. Possibly I am the only traveller in the town. Soon I find the station concourse, and ask the local attendant when the next bus to Melaka is due. He says he doesn't know, but it'll probably be here a little after 4pm, it is now 3:40pm. I ask him if the shop across the road has good meals, he nods and says to watch out for a purple bus. My first proper meal since 6:00am, a roti canai and a teh terek for less than $1.5, and a great introduction to Malaysian eating, roti canai being one of the most famous Malay dishes.

The bus concourse in Tampin

The bus concourse in Tampin

The final bus of the day is a bright purple bus filled with locals. The women wearing their traditional muslim hijab, the men wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals. All are watching me intensely. I sit at the front of the bus on a seat with a sticky floor, completely caked with what appears to be ice cream. I pay it no mind, and watch the scenery as we drive through Malay streets and soon the Malay countryside. Eventually the bus sets me down at Melaka Sentral, unfortunately not so central being five kilometres from the historic town. Tired, I decide to pay a taxi driver to carry me the final stretch of my journey. In the front seat of the cab is a girl of five curled in the foetal position, her mother, the cab driver, pays her some attention throughout the trip. Soon the modern buildings of the Malay city make way for the historic colonial streets of the old town. Exhausted, I check in to the first backpackers that I see, and relax.

Conclusion

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Four Days in Melaka

Lanterns in a Melaka Chinese Temple

Lanterns in a Melaka Chinese Temple

In the next article I spend four days in the historic colonial city Melaka. Read about it here here.