After a whirlwind day 1, I managed to again wake up early and hit the streets. To be honest, the city itself was kind of boring and expensive. I had two goals, hit a quality hawker stall, and make it to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Food first. I had heard there was this amazing food hawker, Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. It was in Hong Lim Food Market, which, as far as I can tell wasn’t as popular as some of the others I saw. Plus I was a bit early. In any case, apparently it was Diwali which is kind of a big deal. So they were closed.
But I found another stall, Tai Wah Pork Noodle. Like I said, it was pretty empty in the morning, but this was the busiest stall. The thing I liked about Hong Lim Market was even though these are “hawker” stalls there was basically no hawking.
Another stall was selling pork buns and if you know me, you know I’ve never turned down a pork bun.
It was all delicious. I also met a Vietnamese guy who told me about all the cool stuff I should do but since I was only there for another 24 hours, it was kind of wasted :/
Now it was time to get to Sungei Buloh. Thanks to Google Fi (shameless plug!), I hit a subway map and headed for the far north. I took the North-South Line all the way to Kranji Station. It took about 45 minutes. What was absolutely shocking to me was the miles of 10-20 story residential buildings being built in clusters of 10 or more. It seemed like science fiction.
It’s really hard to describe the scale of this, but there are maybe 10 or 15 buildings in this complex. And I must have passed 20 complexes like this with numerous others under construction. It’s amazing.
So I get to Kranji station to get the bus to the park and it’s crowded.
I mean really really crowded. There are buses coming one after the other and huge lines wrapped around the station. I asked a shopkeeper and he said “everyone is going to Malaysia for Diwali”. Well, ok.
I couldn’t find the right bus so I grabbed a cab.
Sungei Buloh is a wetlands preserve and it feels a lot like the old Louisiana Nature and Science center with boardwalks going out into the wetlands. I saw alligators, monitor lizards, mudskippers, and a bunch of birds. Since I only brought a 20mm and a 35mm lens, I didn’t get any good animal pictures.
But the scenery was outstanding. There were only a dozen or so people I saw when I got there, and when I was walking around, I was mostly alone.
There are two main areas: a large circular path around a central lagoon and a trail that goes to the main visitors center. Both were wonderful walks.
The main loop has a tower with a wonderful view of Johur Bahru and the preserve. Also, fortunately it has a roof, because it started to rain. Some other tourists and I were trapped for 20 minutes while it poured.
I’m not sure what it was, but I took tons of pictures of Johor Bahru from the preserve. It seemed so strange that a big city in Malaysia was *right there*, just across a strait. It’s like it was calling…
I mean, really, look at that. Doesn’t that call? Anyway…
Some mushrooms I thought looked coolIt was humid (really really humid), but it was quite enjoyable walking around the preserve. It was so lush and alive, it felt like an entirely different world from Singapore.
Apparently, mudskippers are kind of their mascot so they had these cute statues at the end of the walk by the visitor’s center.
By the end of this, I got a little photo happy since I couldn’t get much close-up wildlife pictures. So I took a picture of this lizard.
Also, about 150 pictures of bees flying into flowers… Next….
After (eventually) finding the right bus to get back to Kranji station, the crowds had dissipated a bit. I wanted to get back to hit some more food hawkers. But Malaysia was *right there*. And the bus was so cheap…
The bus ride itself was about 25 minutes. Then immigration. There were so many people. So. Many. People. The arrivals hall was enormous with tens of lines. But sooooo many people. As I got closer, the guy in front of me asked what I was up to in Johor Bahru. I said, “I dunno, I just wanted to check it out.” He was like “me too! You wanna hang out?”
That was easy. He was from Bangladesh and had worked in Singapore for years doing air conditioning work. He was married with a kid. It was his day off because of the holiday so he was… going to Johor Bahru? Whatever, cool. We walked around the mall, saw a crazy stylist convention, looked at some furniture and tried to find something to do for a couple hours.
Johor Bahru was different from Singapore. For one, it was kind of dirty. For two, there were no white people. For three, it was cheap. Perfect.
My friend asked some Bangladeshi dudes,what I can only imagine was, “what’s hot on the streets?”. Apparently the zoo. I know, right? The zoo…
So we caught a cab to the zoo. It was seriously less than a dollar to get in. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was actually kind of cool. There was a large central pond with paddle boats and concessions. And all the large animals were in large concrete pits. I know that sounds super depressing, but it really wasn’t. The lions and tigers and bears were in pretty large pits, even for Western zoos. Especially the Amsterdam Zoo. Man, seriously, fuck that place. It’s a disgrace. Anyway…
My friend, Arman, seemed to really like taking pictures with the animals.
They also had camels.
It was a really cool place. I wouldn’t make a trip across the world to see it, but it was way more entertaining than I expected. We spent about an hour checking out the animals and taking pictures with them.
Towards the end of our time at the zoo, I heard my first call to prayer from a nearby mosque. It was really cool. Interestingly, even though the majority of the people seemed to be Muslim, I didn’t see a single person stop what they were doing. Which brings me to another thing that was great about Malaysia: everybody smiled at me. Singapore was so much more standoffish than even New York City or Moscow. But in Johor Bahru, I was so cheerful because everybody who saw me, gave me a big beaming smile. Maybe because I was the only white dude for miles and it was a little out of place, but everybody was crazy nice. So, another score for Malaysia.
After the zoo, I wanted to get a meal and head back to Singapore since I had a 6am flight. We walked around, looking for some restaurants when we came across a market. This market went on for blocks and had tons of food sellers. There were tables set up with people just chilling. It was great.
There were whole buffets of food set up. I’m ashamed to say, I chickened out. It wasn’t because I was nervous about the quality of the food, but rather there was just SO MUCH.
I mean, just look at it. I’m ashamed.
Man, how cool is that right? People just hanging out, eating.
I bought a bunch of satay.
I also had some stir fried noodles but I can’t find any pictures of them.
After (cheap) lunch, it was time for Arman and I to part. I walked across the bridge back to customs. It was much faster back into Singapore.
I was beat but I really wanted to hit up the famous Newton Food Centre. I looked it up on the maps and it was pretty easy to get to on the way back to the hostel. Soooo…. Yolo, right?
Newton Food Centre was really nicely set up and packed full of people. Unfortunately it was lousy with hawkers. Every stall had men constantly shoving menus in your face, coaxing you into their booth, not giving you a second of peace. It was really kind of frustrating after my experience in Johor Bahru and even Hong Lim. But, whatever.
I know, I know, I didn’t branch out much. But I love noodles!
I also had some chicken wings and clams that were awesome, but again, I ate those all up.
With an early flight, it was time to head back on the subway to Boat Quay and hit the sack.
Once I got back to Boat Quay, the party was jumping. There were people everywhere.
After a forgettable flight from SIN-NRT (and more mall wandering in Narita), it was on the Boeing 747-400. I hear they are retiring them in 2017 so I was super excited to fly in one for the first time. Unfortunately, I was stuck between a couple in a middle seat for the 10 hours of NRT-SEA… But that 747 is such a cool looking plane.
So… Was it worth it?
Hell yeah, it was worth it. No travel is bad travel as far as I’m concerned. To be honest, though, I didn’t really care for Singapore. I’m sure there were a bunch more things I could have done I would have enjoyed, but overall I was a bit underwhelmed. It was quite expensive and completely full of Westerners doing Western things. It was humid, hot, and unnaturally clean.
But Malaysia. Now there’s a place I’d love to return. The tourist description of Johor Bahru was pretty rough but I had a great time. Food was cheap and good, the people were friendly, and it actually felt foreign.
I hope you enjoyed travelling with me. With luck there will be more posts in the future!