World Borders: Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (Malaysia – Singapore train)

World Borders: Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (Malaysia – Singapore train)

Knowing we had made it to the correct terminal in Kuala Lumpur Sentral was such a relief. I had already swapped a few Malaysian Ringitts in Taouyan Airport rather than aimlessly spend my final few Taiwan Dollars on junk at the airport. This barely gave us time to buy anything for the train. Natalja managed to buy a Dunkin Donuts meal (of all things! – the cafe was just by the train entrance). While I stood nervously and patiently (for once) by “Departure Gate B” (the smallest A4 sign of all time) with very tiny writing revealing that this was indeed the Ekspres Rakyat service, a second class/economy train from Kuala Lumpur (which had come from Bangkok) all the way to Singapore Central (The Tanjong Pagar/Keppell Road station). After all that rushing to get there, the train was slightly delayed. Incidentally this article, could be the first of many on crossing borders around the world.

Silver in outer colour, unclean and raw, this was our 8 hour train journey to Singapore just beginning. As we hauled our bags on board Coach D and squeezed past the locals, we found our two seats quite easily. There was a tight squeeze in the overhead locker for our two heaped bags and it was almost time to relax. I actually really felt like a cold beer. The sweat was dripping down me. Once the train left the station, it was time for me to go into the toilet room and get changed and freshen up –  the eye cream, the deodorant, the aftershave (though I didn’t shave) and the moisturiser. And as we tracked it out of the Malaysian Capital, I savoured the final shots of the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur before deciding food and drink was up next.
The “bar/restaurant” was in the very next carriage. A dodgy swaying step over got me there, where a half-mended sliding door, air you cough up and hard plastic seats made this one of the least glamorous restaurants of all time. Not that I cared. We were on an excellent train journey all the way to Singapore. At the “bar” they had no alcohol available and just a choice of 3 drinks – water, orange juice and mango juice. They had some bread and sandwiches from the small booth, where two Malaysian gents were working. The staff there were great, very friendly despite the lack of variety for food and drink. In the end I bought us a water each, a fruit juice each and 2 “rolls.” The rolls had the writing on it “Muslim Product”, which I had a giggle at. I couldn’t imagine buying a samij in Northern Ireland and it bearing the writing “Protestant Product” on the wrapper. Its just not politically correct! None the less, I bought 2 “Muslim Products”, they were known as Red Bean Buns. Which was basically crushed brown stuff in a soft bread. They weren’t hot. They weren’t too dear. I took them back to our seats (5A and 5B).
I’ve learnt in life to be unpicky and tolerant of all food types. When I’m hungry, I’ll eat anything edible except mushrooms basically. Mushrooms are my main hate, I cringe at the sight of them and even once did a full presentation at work on how much I hate mushrooms. So this food, for me anyway went down a treat. The water was made by Besta. I made a few videos on this train, as the journey itself was amazing – the longest single train journey I’ve been on in my life – almost 9 hours in the end, and I only slept for 40 minutes or so. Natalja sleeps a lot more, and was out for the count most of the time. I took that time to listen to countless Oasis, Ash and even Classical albums, also trying to read the NME and Four Four Two Magazine. It was one train to Singapore, but with many stops, of which I started to make a list of them, after the first proper stop – Gemas station. Before this the train had stopped at Kajang, Bangi, Seremban (the biggest city) and possibly Tampin. At Gemas an announcement was made in Malay, English and another language that we had time to get off walk around as we waited to move on. Natalja stayed put. I got out and wanted to see a wee bit of the town, which at the time I didn’t have a clue what the town was.
I think they told us we had 11 minutes at this station, though it seemed longer, as I attempted badly to “see some sights” of this random Malaysian town/city. There were some busy shops there, a main road, lots of locals and well a train station. That was the shortest sightseeing trip ever. At the time I didn’t even know the name of the town, so while making a video at the station, I randomly asked a guy, in English and he understood me. It was Gemas station and I had to be back on the train in a few minutes for departure. It was 5.09 pm, the sun was still shining and we were about a third of the way to our last stop. Further down the line, after more ear inspiration from Noel Gallagher, we were alongside at Segamat station. Quite a big station, lots of people changed trains here, there were still hardly any free seats however as almost the same amount of people got on. This stop was at 17.42. There was a slight worry from me at Segamat, because lots of people had changed I thought there may have been a train change. The train then started going back the way we came, the opposite way. I quickly asked someone just to check, as it was the only train to Singapore at that time, and we couldn’t afford to miss (neither for time, money nor heart beats). Luckily we were OK. The train had simply moved back to change tracks and allow a freight train to zoom past. When I saw that happen, I was relieved and turned to my water again.
It took a full hour through unrecognisable countryside before we stopped again. The next stop was Paloh, at 18.42. Hardly anyone got on here. Train journeys are immense. You cannot beat them. I thought all the time about my favourite train journeys in life. There was the Bangor – Londonderry train I used to get back in the year 2000 to visit my mate Chris Ragg, who lived and worked in Eglinton at the time. That was some journey, and for me, being still young and unworldly thats as good as it looked it would ever get for me. I also couldn’t forget the “original party train” where I met Owen Millar between Berlin and Warsaw in our “across the iron curtain 16 years later” train. I did manys a train journey round Europe on my travels and to watch Northern Ireland play football. The Belarussian train I took in 2007 was probably the most obscure train ride I’ll ever do. I also have very fond memories of a wonderfully hot Hungarian train which took Noemi and I from Budapest to Debrecen through some delightful countryside. Here, this Malaysia to Singapore train was sure to be another one for the list. Already my Northern Irish eyes were feasted on jungle, marsh land, mud huts, forest and contented villages living their everyday life. You do sometimes feel guilty as a non-working tourist in these places. That’s why I respect everyone in their jobs there. Especially those in customer service who don’t smile. I can sympathise with their lack of smile. It’s hard to be false sometimes…
After Paloh (where hardly nobody got on), we stopped for much longer in the city of Kelaung. This was our second big stop, and marked two thirds of the journey to Singapore. It was obvious we would be late, as the time was 19.02, and estimated arrival into Singapore was to be 21.30. There wasn’t a chance. the sky was now getting dark, and the carriage quiet. The restaurant was also closed, which meant the hunger was kicking in – apart from water and crisps we had no consumable entities with us. I didn’t even get off the train in Kelaung, despite having 20 odd minutes there. I think the darkness put me off, and I was comfortable in my recliner seat. Our seats faced backwards on this journey, and out our left hand window a sign showing “SINGAPURA
It was now totally dark, as the train spent 5 minutes in another unknown city, Kulai. It was 20.16. Next up, at 20.47 in Southern Malaysia we had now reached Kempas Baru. I love the town names in Singapore and it would have been nice to get 2 hours at each one on route to see the sights. But that would involve spending a month or so in Malaysia as a traveller, and staying in numerous different places. This was a fast train. In the twilight of JOHOR BARU (the city at the bottom of Malaysia’s mainland) I saw the sign “Welcome to Danga City Mall”, and on turning round the local Passport Officers were on board signing us OUT of Malaysia, but not with a stamp. They simply removed our white immigration card, checked the Malaysian entrance stamp (in purple) and wrote in Red Biro our departure date next to the stamp. Johor Baru was the city in Malaysia which faces Singapore. Only a stretch of water separates them, and prevents them being the same piece of land or country. It was a total fluke and ironic that as soon as Passport had gone, I put my iPod on random play and got REM again. It didn’t seem that bizarre or freaky at first, until I realised the song and its significance. The song was “Departure” from 1996 album “New Adventures In Hi-Fi”, and we were on a departure from Malaysia. As we crossed the bridge to Singapore, no joking but the line came up “Just arrived in Singapore 24 hour trip.” I was in shock as if life had dealt another hand of fate. There’s something big out there. Of all the songs, of all the lines, this one came up as we entered Singapore.
Once I’d finished being freaked out my the REM song, we arrived in our first station on the island of Singapore, Woodlands Checkpoint. Having already been given authority, permission and confirmation of our departure from Malaysia, we now had to hand in our Singapore Immigration cards and hope that we could get into Singapore, even though we were already in it! The most annoying part was not the form filling or the passport queues (they were long), but actually the fact we had to take ALL our possessions off the train with us. This meant carrying our heavy bags again, off the train, through the scanners and back on, to the same seats again. The lady gave us a very faded purple rectangular stamp with Singapore Immigration Regulations on it. Natalja and I looked round for Caucasian people. We counted about 4 in a crowd of 100 or so. There were all races and religions here, from Indians to Africans to locals to overdressed tourists and businessman. It was hot and humid, my Rangers shirt had seen less sweaty days and we got back on the train at Woodlands Checkpoint (you couldn’t take any photos there, though I tried from the train, and made a video). It was just a 30 minute train journey from Woodlands to Singapore Central, The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on Keppel Road. This was because of some delay, normally it was quicker.
On exit at Singapore it was almost 22.30 and so the train ride had taken an extra hour than stated. We weren’t too bothered, but decided we would eat something at Tanjong Pagar station in the wee carryout place. From there to our hostel was quite a trek – we didn’t fancy the walk, and we could have done it on the MRT Tanjong Pagar to Kallang on the green line. But for once we decided to chill out, eat our food and then get a taxi back to the hostel which I’d booked. The excellent “City Backpackers” on Jalan Ayer, a 10-15 minute drive away. For food we fancied something greasy and appetising. The wee cafe there was great. A grill on one side where the lady took orders and grilled the meat, the gentleman on the right took the money and made the salad and extras. There were two free seats, and we also got some drinks there. Water and carrot Juice. I had never looked properly at the exchange rate in Singapore, but estimated about 2 Singapore Dollars to 1 British Pound. We were told Singapore would be dearer than Malaysia and Taiwan (naturally), but that night it didn’t seem too bad. My Burger, Egg and Chips “meal deal” cost 5 Singapore Dollars. As did Natalja’s Chicken, Egg and Chips. I scoffed mine very quickly with the carrot juice and water. It was greasy, different and needed. I took a few minutes to walk around the nice station. Its basically just one room, but looks great. I seem to remember Michael Palin being here once in a documentary. High white walls, with rectangluar murals up to an arching roof made it artistic. Old, plastic seats made it look out-dated. Mixed people gave it international appeal. Unclean floor gave it raw-ness. Its a nice wee station. In the cafe we ate at, I noticed the menu said “Dinosaur” on it, next to the Burgers and Chips, I wondered what that was, assuming it would just be a kids meal or something. It was nice to see it written in English though.
I checked out passport and immigration system and also checked the departures list for our Sleeper Train, and also posed for a photo with the old Rangers tap next to the Peeler Station in the train terminal. My camera wasn’t working well this day though, and many of the photos didn’t come out well or serve the memory justice. We had both now finished our meals and without even asking for a taxi, a guy popped out of his “Espace” type car and offered us a taxi to the hostel for 10 Singapore Dollars. Of course we said yes, that was a great price at this time of night, may even have cost the same on trains. So I forgave myself to resorting to a taxi on this occasion. The taxi driver was local and was called Chris. He seemed to know a bit about football, and his English was amazing. He had heard of David Healy, and on the way gave us a mini guided night time tour of Singapore, highlighting the main buildings, throwing in some facts and detailing the new Casino which is being built and will rival Las Vegas. We arrived back at the hostel just after 11 pm, tired and weary, but happily in Singapore, and just made it, as the reception closes before midnight in that hostel! It had been a long day (24 hours) and a fantastic train journey and now we were here…to explore SINGAPORE!
With the Northern Irish dream gone, the English dream history, the Taiwan dream over, the Malaysian train ride finished, our faded purple stamps proved that the Singapore dream had begun. Let’s check out this city, this island, this metropolis, this country.
People – Jonny, Natalja and loads of train travelers
Transport Used – KLIA Express, KL – Singapore Train (Ekspres Rakyat), Singapore Taxi
Key Song – REM – Departure
Nationalities Met – Singaporean, Malaysian
Drink – Water, Carrot Juice, Mango Juice
Food – Red Bean Bun, Donuts, Crisps, Burger, Egg and Chips (as unhealthy as you can get)
Rough route –
14:00 – Kuala Lumpur Sentral
14:50 – Kajang
15:06 – Seremban
16:58 – Gemas (20 minute stop)
17:42 – Segamat
18:42 – Paloh
19:02 – Kelaung (20 minute stop and track change)
19:20 – ??
20:16 – Kulai (5 minute stop)
20:47 – Kempas Baru
21.00 – Johor Baru (Malaysian Passport Control: on board the train)
21.40 – Woodlands, Singapore (Singaporean Passport Control: off the train)
22.30 – Tanjong Pagar Station, Singapore Central at Keppel RoadREM – DEPARTURE:




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