Escapade To Cameron Highlands Part 1

I’m a person who loves travelling. Admittedly, budget and time constraints mean that my trips are to nearby places. This time, I decided to travel to the Cameron Highlands – by driving up to it from Kuala Lumpur.

But being on a shoestring budget, I wanted to save every cent and when I realised I could save $20 by flying to KL from Johor Bahru instead of Singapore, I decided that this was the chance to try out the Johor Airport. Calculating for a 6pm arrival at Cameron Highlands, I knew I had to catch a 10am flight from JB.

Which meant crossing the Johor-Singapore Causeway on public transport during the morning rush hour. It’s reputation as the region’s busiest road, coupled with the fact that  during every family trip it took at least an hour to cross, got me worried. But I decided to try.

So I had to walk out of my university campus at 5.20am to catch the first bus from the main road. Eventually I reached Kranji MRT, where there were a selection of bus services available. You can read the full list here. I was initially waiting for the Causeway Link bus, but 15 minutes later it still hadn’t arrived. So I decided to forget the RM1 fare and boarded 170X instead, paying $1+.

It’s an express service that goes on to Larkin terminal near JB town, but I was getting off at the Malaysian CIQ. I crossed my fingers as we approached the causeway. There was a steady stream of motorbikes, busses and Malaysian cars pouring out from the checkpoint. Lo and behold, the traffic in the direction TO Johor Bahru was nonexistent. I had cleared both countries customs in a dizzying 12 minutes- on public transport!

Anyway, I made my way down to the bus terminal to catch the airport shuttle, operated by Causeway Link. The fare was RM8, and the hourly bus departed on schedule at 8am, but arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 8.30am.

Mind you, JB’s Senai Airport is small. And if you were catching a domestic flight, the queues at that hour were non-existent. You did have to go through a metal detector and a patdown, but the security personnel did not feel my diaper nor ask me to open my bag. This left me with 2 whole hours to do my work, before my flight. Having finally passed the security checks, I could finally pee.

Had a window seat to myself 🙂

We landed at KLIA2 – the budget carriers terminal, and once I had changed out of my soaked diaper, I made a terrible discovery – the car I had reserved was at the main terminal. I ran for the connecting KLIA Ekspress train, but discovered that I had missed it by 1 minute and had to wait half an hour for the next.

Anyway, I managed to get to the car, after a lot of walking. The signage in the main terminal was misleading – it pointed to an area in the carpark that said ‘car rental’ but that area was barren. After talking to a security warden who was unsure of the directions himself, I found the dingy dungeon where the car rental companies were operating.

It’s a far cry from what the operators in KLIA2 enjoy. Anyway, I picked up my car from Paradise Cars. After witnessing a Lebanese couple plead to the owner that they did not scratch the car they were returning, I was shown my car, and I was off.

You may wonder why was I so confident of driving off in a foreign land just like that. I had come prepared, with the Waze app preloaded and a phone holder and car-charger which I quickly installed. With my data-plan sim card that I had bought in JB, I as confident that I could make it anywhere without getting lost.

I had initially planned to drive into the KL City Centre for lunch and a spot of shopping. But the 45-minute delay meant that I had to skip that, in order to reach Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands before sunset. That meant an impromptu stopover. I recognised a Tesco on the map 8km away, and immediately set Waze to reach it.

But I should have known that the Malaysian roads were twisty and turny, and I drove for 15km, to reach it. To eat lunch at a KFC. At least it was stuff that I recognised, at a place that is decently clean.

Despite running late, I decided to take a peek in the Tesco supermarket above. I realised that the only Adult Diapers in this place were Tena Values. But the baby diaper aisle was full of some amazing-looking brands I had never seen. Alas a couple there prevented me from taking a picture. I stocked up on essentials such as water and some small munchies for the journey, before setting off.

The third leg of the day was the 150km drive up the North-South Highway – the region’s most famous road. Stopping just before the Tapah exit, I refuelled, conscious that I had made a severe miscalculation (I’ll get to this in a bit). Wearily, I pumped air in my tires, something I should have done before I set off, for it would have improved my mileage. The petrol kiosk attendant watched me struggle with amusement. On the last 10km or so, the front wheel started to rattle and it scared the wits out of me. Luckily I was wearing a diaper.

Anyway, I soon exited the highway and hit the mountainous road, just as it started to pour. I was really terrified and began to question what the hell was I doing? I knew that cars honked at each other at bends, but I’m sure many honked at me.

IMG_1230w

It was raining on the drive up.

I nearly got into an accident on the way up. I was distracted that the GPS and radio was not functioning and was prodding the radio while on the move, but on that curvy road, I quickly strayed onto the opposing lane. Visibility was bad due to the rain, and I must thank my lucky stars that the other car stopped in time. It could have been the fatigue, but it was not an excuse at all.

Once I reached the first town – Ringlet – I reset my GPS and kept on driving. Left, right, left, right. That was the sequence. Perhaps a little more rights, but it was the sheer monotony of the drive that was beginning to unnerve me. Thankfully, I arrived in Tanah Rata soon enough. I did have to guess and drive around a little to find my hotel, but thankfully there was a parking lot available. It was 6.30, and I had made it before the sun set.

Once I got my room key, I turned my attention to the aforementioned miscalculation. I had left a RM100 note at home, meaning that I was severely short of cash – that was mainly to be used to pay for petrol and meals. I reckoned that I could survive on the 3 chocolate barsI’d bought earlier, but what would I do to return to KL? I had to catch that flight, I had school on friday afternoon!

So I activated my overseas atm withdrawal feature via iBanking (it’s something you have to do with Singapore cards), and began to try every single ATM in Tanah Rata. CIMB, RHB, Maybank, Agrobank, Western Union. But my OCBC Mastercard and POSB ATM card did not yield. I was trying their Cirrus and Maestro functions, things I never really paid attention to in the past. But now I was praying that they would send the money in my way. No such luck.

Having eaten a modest dinner costing RM5, I trudged over to the other side of the road to take a walk. There were a number of eateries and souvenir shops along the main Tanah Ratah shopping stretch, and after enquiring about some tour packages, I decided to head back to my hotel room to sulk and get some sleep.

Then I spotted a HSBC branch. It did the trick, using Maestro. To which, I’m true grateful to them. It took a global banking giant to serve this customer, when all the star-studded Malaysian banks couldn’t.

I returned to my room at my inn, washed up, and I hit the haystack early. It wasn’t a comfortable night, as there was neither a fan nor an aircon. The bedsheets were rough but at least they were clean. Either way, I was too tired to care and I sed into a deep slumber quickly.

Part 2 coming up in a bit.

– Selv

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