It’s impossible for all travel experiences to be good. Bad experiences just comes with the travel territory. But once in a while, you have experiences that make you raise an eyebrow, cock your head to one side and ask yourself “why does this company/store/person still exist?” And this is how I feel about the S&S International Express, the bus company that took us from Melaka to Singapore.
Let’s start at the beginning. I booked a round-trip trip between Singapore and Melaka, Malaysia. The trip to Melaka was comfortable enough and the process of the bus was fairly straightforward. All the seats on the bus even where massage chairs. Granted, they more or less just vibrated and so didn’t give you that great of a massage, but hey, they tried.
But I want to focus on the ride from Melaka back to Singapore. I bought a ticket online and arrived at the bus terminal, Mekala Sentral, 30min before the bus departed, just like my confirmation email stated. I walked up to the counter and was promptly told to go to a different counter. Fine. I get to the other counter and it’s closed. I return to the original counter to find it, now, closed as well. I look around for signs and, according to those signs, the last bus to Singapore had left at 7pm. My confirmation email said 8pm. Had they really sold me a ticket to a bus that didn’t exist?
Now, with slightly boiling blood, I returned to the counter that I was told to go to and peered under the shutters. I saw two females moving around, so I knocked on the shutters. No answer. I knock again, this time calling out to them. No answer. I can see them moving around and chatting to each other, about 30cm away from me, and yet they are choosing to ignore me. I keep knocking on the shutters and calling out to them (and they continue to ignore me) for about 10min until someone came up to me to tell me the counter was closed. I explained what was going on and they said “oh,” turned around and ran away. I’m not using the term “ran away” as a figure of speech here. They literally moved away from me with a very quickened pace.
Turning my attention back to the shutters, I finally got a reply. They told me to come back tomorrow. With my next response, I think they could tell that I was just about furious. “No” I explained. Their website sold me a ticket to an 8pm bus to Singapore. Does that bus exist or not. What do you expect me to do. I saw them continue to shuffle their papers and not answer me.
I was just about ready to give up and turn to a different bus company to see if they had any spaces left, when a woman showed up by my side, thrust a ticket into my hand and said: “Here’s your ticket. There’s the bus,” and walked away. I don’t think I have ever had a more perplexed look on my face in a while. I looked down at the ticket to find that it was the ticket that I had purchased, with the assigned seats that I had chosen online and everything. They knew exactly who I was and has still chosen to ignore me. And they had closed their counter at least 30min before their last bus departed and had written off anyone who hadn’t checked in by then.
Finally seated on the bus, the women who were at the counter started collecting tickets. Although I had never seen their faces (the shutters never opened), I recognized their clothing as those that I had seen glimpses of. They kept glaring in my direction. They visibly hated me. It didn’t help that my seat was in the first row. After 10min of loudly yelling “Ticket! Ticket!” at everyone, including people that had already handed her their tickets, and also at one point the driver, and sometimes randomly breaking into song, the bus doors closed. They stayed on the bus and took a seat on the steps and talked very loudly for the next 30min. 30min later, we arrived at their house, where we dropped them off. Incredibly, a bus full of paying travelers had just gone 30min out of their way to drop some bus company employees off at their home. I was slightly comforted by the sounds of other passengers giving an audible “WTF.”
With the departure of these women, the bus finally quieted down from its chaos. It was truly a moment in which I was incredibly happy to be heading back to Singapore. And, I have to say, that I thought that our transportation troubles had come to an end. I mean really, what else could possibly go wrong? But the border had more in store for us.
Singapore and Malaysia aren’t exactly friends, and so the emigration/immigration process is a two-step one. You stop on the Malaysian side and get a stamp to indicate that you’re leaving, you get back on the bus, drive through a bit of no-mans land, and then go through Singaporean immigration. So, we got to the Singapore side and got off of the bus again to get stamped. Nothing too interesting happened here. We filled out our immigration form, went through immigration and security, and popped out on the other side. Except, when we got to the other side, the bus was gone. We asked the security guard and he assured us that we were in the right place. After we wandered around for about 5min and still couldn’t find the bus, he apologetically looked up from his book and said “the taxis are over there.” I’m so glad that we had to take all our bags with us for the security check. The bus had left without us.
To tell you the truth, at the end this was probably a good thing. It forced us to take a taxi, which took us home in 15min, and S$12. We would have been home much later if we had taken the bus to the end stop, and then had taken a taxi home from there. Obviously, this does not excuse the bus from leaving people that were sitting in the front two seats. It would have hard not to notice that we weren’t there. But I can’t express the absolute relief that I felt to be off that bus, and to never have to deal with that company again. I still felt like punching something though.
And so ended our weekend trip to Malaysia. It took me a while to get over what possibly was the worst transportation experience of my life so far, but I look back at the cute streets and amazing food, and decide to remember the good instead of the bad.