| Part 3: Mersing, Seribuat archipelago,
-> Johor Bahru -> Mersing
Hotel Embassy, Mersing. RM 55 for a
basic, but functional room. It has A/C, a small TV, two tables, bed,
mirror, clothes hanger, basic toilet with shower not much more else.
Very basic, but in a good location in the city centre and sufficient
for my needs. Finally an A/C whose thermostat works.
Weather: sunny, blue sky,
but quite hazy in Surabaya. Overcast to heavy rain in Johor Bahru, more
fresh. Sunny and warm in Mersing.
The AirAsia flight to Johor Bahru
surprisingly leaves 10 minutes early at 9:15am (scheduled departure
time is 9:25am) and lands early in Johor Bahru at 12:15pm local
time. Then it takes quite a long time to get through the new swine flu
check. Not sure if I chose the wrong queue or if people simply were
jumping queue, in any case I'm one of the last to pass this health
checkpoint but wasn't one of the last to leave the plane.
At the passport control the officer checks my passport and seeing many
Malaysian chops asks if I come and go to see my Malaysian girlfriends.
Well no I explain, I'm happily married with kids.
It's 1pm when I finally retrieve the luggage. Then I head towards the
exit and am stopped at the customs. Here they tell me to send my
suitcase through the X-ray scanner and then they tell me to open the
suitcase. I have to open the suitcase, pull out all my stuff, explain
what every item is. Dirty underwer and clothes, shower gel, slippers...
what are they looking for..?? I have been going in and out of Malaysia
every year multiple times since 1999 and this is the first time there
is this screening. Maybe it's because the route Surabaya-Johor Bahru is
a bit unconventional.
Never mind, I finally exit and stop at a restaurant for lunch. I check
if there is a WLAN network, yes there is, but you have to buy an access
code, sold somewhere in the airport.
After lunch I walk towards the exit. The airport is quite big, with
many shops which implies that it receives many passengers with good
purchasing power. Lots of other restaurants, one with free Internet
(should have had lunch there instead of taking the first restaurant
after the exit).
The bus station is quite far away. I get a ticket to JB (RM 8) for the
1:45pm bus. The bus leaves on time and arrives at the Larkin bus
station in JB at 2:20pm. There I'm erroneously told by the driver to
get out at the next bus station, and once there I have to take a taxi
(RM 10, 3km) to get back to the Larkin bus station. This is because the
bus to Mersing leaves from Larkin, and I want to check the departure
Larkin is a huge bus terminal, with buses to all Malaysian
destinations. Hot, smelly and dirty, although not as bad as the
Puduraya bus station.
After some effort I manage to find the counter for the buses to
Mersing. There are two daily buses, one at 11:30am and the other one at
7pm. Duration of the trip: 2:30 hours according to the staff. Right now
7pm is too late, is there any way to leave earlier? One of the guys in
the counter says, yes sir, a taxi is leaving at 3:30pm. Cost is RM 100.
Hmmm.... is it possible to leave at 5pm? Would like to visit JB for a
couple of hours first. Well no, this is a guy who is going back at
After that I call Omar Bakcpacker's Hostel in Mersing to check the
situation there. Are daytrips to the islands possible? To Endau Rompin?
According to the rough guide Omar organises such trips. The person I
talk to tells me, no, too few people are interested in such tours, I
would have to charter a boat, very expensive he says.
By the way, while I'm there talking on the mobile phone opposite the
ticket counter, one of the taxi drivers of the stand near the bus
counter is next to me and listens to my conversation. He has stopped on
purpose next to me to listen to what I am saying. I even wonder if I
should walk away to a more private spot. This driver has actually been
offering his services for a while, but I have just ignored him. A very
I think about the situation a bit, then decide to go to Mersing early
thereby skipping JB, and see what trips can be organised in Mersing. My
planning was based on the assumption that daytrips can be organised in
Mersing, but if this isn't possible, I don't know what to do over the
next few days.
I get back to the bus counter and ask for the guy with whom I spoke
before. After a while he arrives and brings me to the guy with the car.
While I'm about to board the car, one of the taxi drivers of the taxi
stand near the Mersing bus ticket counter shows up and asks where I am
going. Nowhere, thanks, I already have transportation. Again he asks
where I am going. None of your business.
What then happens over the next few minutes is disgusting. The taxi
driver starts shouting at my driver and apparently threatens him with
something. I tell the driver to just go, but the driver says that I
cannot go anymore with him and have to go with the taxi driver.
Incredible. I tell the taxi driver that I will not go
I go back to the bus ticket counter and tell the guy I spoke before
with that there are some problems. At this point the situation
degenerates. Three taxi drivers of that stand are there and shout at
the bus counter staff. They the glass window with their fists -
a miracle that it does not break. Open, very aggressive intimidation.
Have never experienced anything like this in Malaysia.
The situation looks dangerous and I decide to get away
from there as soon as possible. I walk away, even check if anybody is
following me, then walk to the other end of the bus station to another
taxi stand. There I negotiate with another taxi driver a trip to
Mersing for RM 150. This driver is a young guy, friendly and quiet.
We finally leave at 3:35pm.
We reach Mersing two hours later at 5:35pm. The drive was quite speedy,
the road while not being a motorway is quite good, not so much traffic.
In the meantime it has stopped raining and the sun is shining. In
Mersing we look for a while for the tourist office, but can't
find it because the road to it is closed for road works. So I just ask
the driver to drop me off in one of the hotels.
Mersing is a small, pleasant, laid back place at the mouth of the
Mersing river. Many hotels, most a bit old and run down, shops,
restaurants, many travel agencies, overall good tourist infrastructure.
Not so much traffic in the streets.
In the evening I check a bit the city. Almost all travel agencies are
closed, in one which is open the people tell me that chartering a boat
costs RM 350 for one day. Some agencies offer island hopping trips for
RM 900 (minimum 12 people). Will check tomorrow what trips are
In the evening after dinner I check my emails in an Internet cafe.
Cheapest Internet access so far at RM 1.50/hour.
archipelago -> Mersing
Hotel Embassy, Mersing.
Weather: sunny, very hot in
Mersing. Blue sky, but thin clouds layer which gets thicker in the
afternoon, then thinner again.
At 8am I get up and leave the room at 9am. To save time I skip the
breakfast and instead buy some food and drinks in a convenience store.
I walk to the tourist office and enquire about things to do and see in
and around Mersing.
The impression I get by talking with the lady working there is that
tourism in the area is not well developed and has in fact become less.
She mentions that it is possible to charter a boat (slow boat) for a
full day for RM 200. Boats however need to be booked one day in
advance. Trips to the Endau Rompin national park are best organised as
multiple day trips, because getting from Mersing to the park takes a
lot of time (last part of the road is a mud road).
Then I walk towards the jetty and stop at the travel agency with whom I
spoke yesterday. The price is still the same, RM 350, and I only get a
slow boat. Perhaps I should have shopped around a bit, but it's already
late (9:40am) so I just accept the offer.
While we wait for the boatsman to arrive I have a conversation with the
travel agent. He can do daytrips to the Endau Rompin national park for
RM 400 - quite expensive if you can't share the cost.
Finally at 10:15am the boatsman has arrived and I walk to the boat. The
boat is an oldish wooden boat with a diesel engine. Sitting is a bit
uncomfortable, especially if you have to sit a long time. I probably
won't take a boat like this again for a day trip.
So we proceed towards the islands. We reach the first one, Pulau
Hujong, at 11:30am. This island is covered with dense forest, has a
longish beach on its west side with some buildings on it, but no jetty.
We make a round around the island then proceed to the next island,
Pulau Tengah which we reach at 12pm. Pulau Tengah is very close to
Hujong and has nice beaches. There are some buildings on one beach and
I can spot some people on it, but no tourists. One beach seems to have
an abandoned resort. It's strange that there are no tourists, because
Tengah has good beaches.
Then we proceed to another island, Pulau Rawa, arriving there at
12:30pm. Pulau Rawa has a resort on it and one beautiful beach with
white coral sand, coconut trees and crystal clear water. The only
problem is that the resort consists of a large number of bungalows (and
I see that they are building new ones) and there is just this one
beach, which is not too long, perhaps 200m. The rest of Pulau Rawa is
inaccessible: dense rainforest, almost vertical walls of rock plunging
into the sea. The beach of Pulau Rawa is indeed beautiful but is the
only beach of the island and is quite short.
Pulau Rawa has a (private) jetty, where we dock. I get out and explore
a bit the island. All bungalows are air-conditioned. They look a bit
Around 1:10pm we leave Pulau Rawa for the next island, Pulau Gual. This
lies very close to Rawa, around 10 minutes by boat. It is uninhabited,
has no jetty, almost no trees and just one short beach. I briefly swim
to the beach (the boat can't go ashore) then swim back to the boat.
The next island in the program is Pulau Mensirip. We arrive there at
2:25pm. Also here I swim to the beach and investigate a bit the island.
Mensirip is densely forested and has just one beach, around 200m long.
No buildings, no accommodation.
The last island of today is Pulau Harimau. This is inhabited and has
just one beach. There are almost no trees on the island. On its highest
point there is an observation platform and a radio beacon accessible
via a staircase.
I spend some more time swimming in the sea, then at 3 something pm we
turn back to Mersing, arriving there at 5pm.
-> Johor Bahru -> Kuching
Hotel Telang Usun, Kuching (approx. a
20 minutes walk from the waterfront). Sort of a middle class hotel. RM
100 for a room with pleasant furniture, a bed which is not hard as
stone, small TV, phone, tea making equipment, A/C with no thermostat,
fridge, bathroom with shower. Breakfast included. Good shower. Free
WLAN internet access in the room through the deConneXion hotspot of
Weather: sunny, blue sky,
very hot in
Mersing. More fresh and heavy rain in Johor Bahru, which only stops in
the evening. Not hot in Kuching in the evening.
I get up at 8am, and get ready. I make several phone calls to Sarawak,
enquiring about travel to the Gunung Gading and Tanjung Datu national
parks. There is currently no blooming rafflesia in the Gunung Gading
national park. The Sematan Palm Beach resort in Sematan has rooms for
RM 153 (breakfast included). Getting from Sematan to Tanjung Datu with
the boat of the hotel is expensive (RM 700). The lady suggests that I
try with a fishermen boat. And their reception close in the evening at
10pm, so I can't check in after that. In Teluk Melano, a village near
the park, there are no hotels (you can only stay with private people,
sharing their food).
I'm still a bit sunburnt from yesterday, so I decide not to do again a
trip to the islands. I'll instead take the evening flight to Kuching
(20:15) and visit a bit Johor Bahru in the afternoon.
After that I pack my stuff and at 10:40am I leave the hotel. I walk a
bit around Mersing, briefly visiting the mosque on the hill. It is
brutally hot in Mersing and there is barely any wind. While walking
under the sun, my T-shirt gets wet of sweat.
At 11:50am I'm back in the hotel, check out and ask about a taxi to the
airport. I'm told that a taxi to Johor Bahru airport will cost RM 160.
I accept and at 12:10pm I'm in a taxi on the way to Johor Bahru airport.
We reach the airport at 2:20pm. There I buy a ticket to Kuching with
AirAsia at the AirAsia ticketing counter (could not make the booking
online because AirAsia does not accept bookings less than 24 hours
before the flight). I discover that Malaysian Airlines (MAS) offers
Bahru-Kuching for RM 99, but the MAS flight already left at 12:45pm.
After that I leave my bags in a locker at the airport (RM 10, tokens to
be purchased at the information counter). The Johor Bahru
airport is in Senai, a town 28km north of Johor Bahru. It is currently
being modernised, i.e. a new airport which will be opened in July 2009
is being built.
Then I head to the taxi counter. By 3pm I'm in a taxi (RM 40, coupon
system) on the way to Johor Bahru city. At 3:45pm we arrive at the
former royal palace, Istana Besar, which is now converted to a museum.
It is raining heavily.
For the next two hours I walk around Johor Bahru. It's not the terrible
city as described in the Rough Guide. In fact it has a few pretty
sights (Istana Besar, the Abu Bakar mosque etc.) and is otherwise
relatively clean and pleasant to explore. It's worth to spend a few
hours to visit it.
Shortly before 6pm I'm in a taxi back to the airport (RM 40, this
brings the total spent on taxis today to RM 240). The trip takes again
around 40 minutes.
At the airport I check in, then have a dinner in a restaurant offering
wireless Internet access for free. I check my emails, the proceed to
the gate. The flight takes off a few minutes early.
It looks like AirAsia is making an effort to improve their service.
Flights are now mostly on time, they assign a seat to you (previously
you received no reserved seat and had to rush to the plane to get a
good seat). At the same time, Malaysian Airlines is reducing its
prices, so the two airlines are now converging.
In Kuching I buy again a coupon for a taxi (RM 30). When I walk towards
the car with the driver, I realise that the Kuching airport does not
use a coupon system for the taxis. I bought the services of an
expensive taxi operator. Could have spent less simply walking outside
and fetching a taxi.
I'm in the hotel at 10pm and don't do much in the evening.