Escape from Singapore: One long nightmare on the drive to Melaka
On a recent trip to Singapore, we decided to include a jaunt up the coast into Malaysia to visit Melaka; the venerable old sea-port that was usurped by the swampy village at the tip of the peninsula as the premier entrepot in South East Asia in the 1800s.
Having spoken to friends who said the journey would take less than three hours, we thought it a great idea. We’d heard the food was good, and it fitted in neatly with some reconnaissance I needed to do.
What a palavar the whole thing turned out to be!
It’s definitely worth making the trip, but do read the rest of this post to avoid the rookie mistakes we blundered into.
- Book your car as far in advance as possible, and tell them that you are going to Malaysia.
- Buy a NETS cash card and try and get hold of a Touch’n Go card for Malaysia
- Don’t get lost in Singapore.
- Make sure you have at least three-quarters of a tank of gas when leaving Singapore.
- Border Crossings
- Understanding Malaysian Drivers
There are extra charges for driving into Malaysia to cover insurance etc.
We left it until just five days before we wanted to make the trip and all the big agencies were booked out. We therefore had to use a small agency that was based downtown and wasn’t open on a Sunday. This meant that we had to faff about working out with them where and how we were going to leave the car, which involved buying parking tickets before we left and driving to the location we were going to dump the car so we’d know how to get there, and then having to factor in the time that we had to get back to Singapore so that we could make it to the airport and our flight back to HK.
A good one hour wasted here. Faff and nonsense.
If you drive a car in Singapore, then you have to have a NETS cash card. This is a stored value card that you swipe to get through all the highway toll booths. From what I can gather, it’s pretty much the same as an Octopus so you can use it for all sorts of transport and retail payments too. Buy at any 7-Eleven and you can top up at the same.
Whilst you don’t need a Touch’n Go card to travel in Malaysia, it is quite useful. It’s worth asking the car rental agency if they have one you can use just in case someone has left one in a car as it often happens. This means that instead of having to pay a person in a toll booth at each highway stop, you can just swipe your way through the fast way. You can top up the card at marked toll booths as well, which is useful. Again, this card can be used for other retail and transport purchases in Malaysia.
I think we spent around 70 Ringgit on tolls there and back.
If you don’t get the Touch’n Go card then you need Ringgit in Malaysia almost immediately, so do have cash on hand. Apparently you can pay in Singapore Dollars, but you’ll get the rapacious exchange rate of 1:1 (there are currently almost 2.5 Ringgit to the Sing Dollar.)
Sometimes even the most highly trained of intelligence personnel can be baffled and thwarted by mediocre consumer technology, and poor signposting.
I didn’t know how to use the Google Maps search function on my iPhone, and the GPS was about 50m out. Coupled with the stupidly late signposting of highway exits and junctions, we spent a ludicrous amount of time trying to get out of Singapore, which completely took the fun out of the journey to Melaka.
Faff and nonsense. Lost another hour on this.
Petrol is about half the price in Malaysia than it is in Sing. I’m not sure how strict the authorities are about this (apparently checks are random), but considering their policy on most rules and regs, we decided to avoid any chance of a SGD500 fine (approx. US$400), and fill up after wasting a good quarter of a tank getting lost in the city state.
You’d have thunk that there’d be a slew of petrol stations close to the border to capture all the business of cross-border traffic, but no. We lost at least another half an hour finding gas, and that was about 3km back down the highway. Do not go into the industrial parks looking, there is no gas there…
This is going to take time, at the very least half an hour each way. You can pick up immigration cards for Sing when you leave (ask the immigration guy for them in the booth), and you can pick up the Malaysian ones in a little office by the roadside when you’re queuing for immigration.
There are two types of drivers to particularly look out for. Crazed speed freaks who drive literally on your bumper even if you are currently overtaking a vehicle, and fast lane slow-coaches who stick to the speed limit with righteous indignation, impeding yours and others’ progress. Undertaking is not allowed, but is sometimes the only option. Look out for slow moving traffic as rarely are indicators or hazard warning lights used.
Traffic police often drive in unmarked cars, so if you’re unlucky you could be pulled for speeding.
Once out of Singapore we had just half an hour of light left, but the drive to Melaka wasn’t too fraught. We made decent time traveling at around 120kph. There were a lot of boy racers, trucks, buses and generally poor driving that meant you had to keep your wits about you, but the highway was good and we made Melaka in a couple of hours.
It took us an hour longer than that just to pick up the car and get out of Singapore…