Planes, Trains and a Customs Interrogation room! 18/2-3/3/2011

Posted: March 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

Did you know that my phone bill last month was well over £200? Of course you didn’t, I didn’t until I checked the old online banking. It doesn’t sound that much I know, but it should have been zero, and had it not been for Mr Lloyds TSB canceling my cards every second day for a couple of weeks it would have been. It went from mildly irritating to down right exasperating and although I am on first name terms with one call center lady, Michelle from Dorking (I’ve been included on her Christmas card list and am god father to her first born) I was getting slightly stressed by the situation. So a Maple top tip for all you budding overlanders: always check your card is working before putting a tank of fuel into a moped.

Rant over and we are back in the room. Phuket is where we decided to spend one of our weeks without the car and our last week in Thailand. Those in the know will turn their noses up at this and for those not in the know; the best way to describe Phuket is Bognor with hundreds of topless bars. It’s an Island in the south of Thailand and not where we would really have chosen to spend a week, but all the quieter islands required a lot of effort to get to and it was necessary to book weeks in advance. Seeing as we had no real idea of when exactly the car was going to be shipped we couldn’t book too far in advance, so last minute booking was required and Phuket is where we ended up!

To be fair it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I even enjoyed myself. I would have enjoyed myself more if Megan had let me go into ‘Jugs’, but she thought it was a tasteless choice for her birthday dinner. It wasn’t really her birthday, but how funny would that have been if it had been??  I think we can all agree,  ‘very’ would have been the answer.

We stayed out of the main town in a very nice apartment at Villareal Heights, and hired a moped to take us to the beach everyday. The beach was in a quiet cove and we spent the day snorkeling and sun bathing and the evening peeling great sheets of skin of my sun burnt back and of course, dreaming about ‘Jugs’.

Before we knew it our time was up and we caught a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. We decided to spend one night there before going on to Singapore to stay with some friends. The main reason was because a lot of our clothing by this point had given up the ghost. The hand washing, car cleaning and sweat stains had taken their toll and we had to say goodbye to some old friends. The other reason for buying some more t-shirts was that in a lot of the pictures up on the blog we seem to be wearing the same clothes again and again, and people were starting to talk. There is a massive shopping centre in KL called Times Square, which is simply huge. We spent a good three hours there re-stocking our wardrobes and only covered the first 3 floors of the 8 or 9 floors that the mall has.  Shopping done and the next morning we boarded the train to Singapore. I was looking forward to the train ride, as I thought it would be a seven hour picturesque ride through Malaysia. Instead all that filled our window for nine hours (yes, the train ran late) was dense jungle, and after the first hour of trees I gave up and spent the next eight hours looking at the pictures in Malaysia’s version of Top Gear magazine and asking Megan if she wanted to play eye spy. However, little did I know the excitement that lay just around the next station…

The train went all the way from KL to Singapore, so we had to do a border crossing. Having done a number of these by now we thought nothing of it as we got off the train and joined the queue to get our passports stamped and our bags x-rayed. The stamping side of things went well but as my bag was x-rayed I was asked to open it, and when they discovered I had a bottle of gin that we had bought for our hosts in Singapore I was marched to the interview room. Now, we had checked that we could bring in bottles of gin to Singapore and all the stuff we read on the internet and at the station stated that we were entitled to bring in a litre each, so I was somewhat perplexed when I was asked why I was trying to smuggle alcohol into the country! I explained that I thought that I was allowed one litre of spirits and was not trying to smuggle anything! (Apart from the funny white packages some nice man at the station had given me to pass on to his friend, Jose Sanchez in Singapore of course).

It turns out that if you fly into Singapore you can bring in what you like, but if you come by train you are not allowed to bring in anything.

“it’s in the small print”, my interrogator told me when I was protesting my innocence, explaining that I had read the leaflets available.

I was then marched to another office, passing a bemused Megan who I had left at the x-ray machine with all the bags, and here I was told that I would have to pay 15 times the duty of the gin, and possibly spend a few days in jail. I kid you not.

After once again explaining that it was a simple mistake and that I was not an international gin smuggler, (my passport stamps from Iran and Laos didn’t help matters) I was eventually let off with a small fine and an official warning in my passport. I did manage to keep the gin, but the train had left without us and we sat stranded at the border station waiting for the next train from KL. To be fair it only took three minutes for the next train to arrive.  Welcome to Singapore!

Our moods improved greatly once our chatty Chelsea supporting taxi driver dropped us off at Megan’s friend’s apartment, slap bang in the middle of Singapore. Annie and her boyfriend, Faz made us feel very welcome and we can’t thank them enough for the hospitality they showed us, family-esque is the best way to describe it. We had use of a free apartment, with pool, to explore this amazing city for a couple of days before getting a flight to Perth.

During our time there we explored the usual tourist hotspots; Chinatown, Raffles Hotel, Little India, Sentosa Island (via cable car no less), Orchard Road, and Singapore Zoo, which might make it into the top five zoos I have ever visited. I had been to Singapore many times before whilst working on cargo ships but the last visit must have been eight years ago, and man has it changed! All of the slightly seedy side has gone and it’s just mall after mall, I’m not sure I like it as much. Where once there were outside food stalls selling big bottles of Tiger, now there’s Starbucks. It’s a shame, but then that’s the price of progress. It’s still an interesting place to visit and live, as it’s still got that ‘east meets west’ thing going on.

We also met up with another friend of Megan’s (man is she popular), Rob and his wife Riza, who is from Singapore. Another very interesting day was spent with them, getting a local’s perspective of the place, which always helps with understanding local culture. Rob also kindly bought us G&Ts in Raffles, something that requires a second mortgage, so thanks Rob!

After four days it was time to say goodbye to Annie and Faz, (thanks again!) and finally catch a flight down under to Perth. The plan at the moment is to wait in Perth until the car arrives and then spend four or five months doing a loop, heading south before ending up back up in Perth. We’ll then possibly sell the car if we can and fly home. So those of you who were worried that the blog was nearly finished never fear, we’re only just over half way, huzzar!?!

  1. nicholas says:

    this is now my favourite blog entry.

  2. Mum "Maple" says:

    Hi this is your Dad I see you are taking after your mother with the gin. Great blog keep it coming Love Dad

  3. Paul says:

    Where do you now want the rest of the gin shipped to?

  4. Inigo Montoya says:

    Great blog mate – I’d kill to be on a trip like this… Looks like you’re having fun, I’m sure you’ll love Aus!

  5. robin welch says:

    Really enjoyed this blog entry, sounds like your have a great time (excl threat of prison), you could be the next lonely planet contributors. Glad you enjoyed Singapore, sounds like its changed since I was their (for the worse) I prefer the more oriental side.

    Hope your flight to Perth went well and onto your next big adventure.

    Best Wishes

  6. Paul and Cathy says:

    cough cough splutter splutter!.. sell the car!.. what !!… (I know its the obvious thing to do.. but!!!).

    Another great blog chaps.. really looking forwards to see how you get on with the 130 in Aus! And your travels around Australia!

    Keep up the the good work and the blog!! Very interesting and addictive!!

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