As part of my efforts to answer once and for all which was the more convenient and better way to get to and from Singapore, as you know, I treated myself to an overly-luxurious business class flight with Oman Air down. In theory though, the airport in KL is so remote and airports generally are something of a major pain in the ass, that I reckoned travelling by road may work out roughly the same time – while the service suggested by at least one operator on the route, Aeroline, may also have a leg up over flying (full disclosure; their bus also stops within short walking distance of my apartment in KL).
I made my way to the harbourfront terminal in Singapore, from where they depart. Needless to say, as always happens to me in Singapore, I left more than adequate time for the journey to the terminal and ended up with about an hour to just sit around staring at the cruise terminal and profile the waiting passengers. The Aeroline office is located one floor up, there’s free WiFi but otherwise it’s not really I suppose somewhere you’d choose to just needlessly hang around.
Outside, the bus was waiting when I arrived. I won’t lie to you – things got off to a bad start. As you can clearly see from my ticket above, it very obviously says the boarding time. They even very kindly stamped it in red. In spite of that, a large family refused to board on the dot of 6pm because someone from their party was still missing in action in the shopping centre. Apparently (I could hear them from my seat), he’d be ‘5 more minutes’…at 6pm. I realise that this, more than anything, highlights my eccentricities and I also know this puts the bus company in a very awkward spot, but it’s a long journey and I really, really wish they’d have just said no, forget it and unload the luggage. The rest of us – and I do mean the rest of us as nobody else joined after the guy who went MIA – were all sitting ready to go as we were told to, and to decide to go off shopping is absolutely the height of rudeness. I actually willed the bus to just start moving and leave them on the side of the road.
Finally we got going and I will say the bus was very nicely appointed. Legroom was perfect, the seat had some serious recline to it and the whole thing was helped, not unlike my flight down, by being only about half full as well. The family who had caused our lateness further ingratiated themselves to us all by then eating some fast food they’d brought with them – I was now thoroughly determined to be first off the bus ahead of them at the destination regardless of the fact they were closer to the stairs. We sped along towards the immigration checkpoint but then disaster, and the defining memory of the trip; a one hour tailback just to enter the Singaporean immigration facility. No joke; it was literally just bus after bus all queued up. I got talking with a few other passengers, two of whom were Singaporeans based in KL during the week and sadly, despite all other niceties of the bus, this immigration delay was enough to make both swear off taking the bus ever again.
When we finally reached the checkpoint, it was (as you’d expect) packed to the rafters with completely clueless, queue-hopping tourists with unfortunately very few officers stationed around the hall to guide them to get in a queue and just stand still. In short, and something I never thought I’d experience, but the Singaporean immigration was an absolute nightmare. When we finally got back on the bus and made it to the Malaysian side, there was nothing of the sort; the queue-jumpers had somehow been funnelled into a different ‘building’ let’s charitably call it, to everyone else and we were all through and I was waving at them out the window as we rolled away within minutes.
Overall though, it took us the first 2 or more hours of the journey just to get through immigration, and most of that was purely on the Singapore side. I’m not sure what was going on, but it definitely scored points for flying for me.
The bus however, in fairness, did clearly try to make it as upscale a ‘bus journey’ as you could expect. Once we got sailing on the Malaysian side – home, sweet home – headphones were distributed, followed by some kind of packaged food (OK, it wasn’t great at all; in fact I’ve still no idea what it was to be honest) and a drink which had to be being hand-made per order, as I asked for a black coffee with no milk or sugar knowing that this is frequently a challenge in a country where coffee is often pre-mixed. But to my absolute astonishment, I actually got it. I was so surprised, I even lashed the lid off to be sure I wasn’t imagining things.
The rest of the journey was uneventful; I noticed there’s a lounge downstairs if you want to hang around or have some kind of board meeting on the go, as well as a toilet, though I used neither and ended up grabbing the provided blanket and trying to nap. We didn’t stop once – which also suited me fine as the rest stop other bus companies use along the way is one of the most deplorable places I’ve ever been in my life – and were able instead to make up a fair bit of time, arriving more or less just after 6 hours of travelling.
So what do we learn from this experience? Well, I really, really wanted the bus to be the way forward and I know that going business class by air down to Singapore isn’t entirely a fair comparison; but being honest, the consistency of how annoying air travel is such as security, immigration, customs, then immigration again in this case just massively beats the total inconsistency of will there be a monstrous jam or y’know…an immigration service completely ill-equipped to handle the volumes it’s experiencing so it’ll be air for me for the foreseeable future despite the bus’ best efforts. But, for the record, I was off ahead of the family – in fact I was already nearly standing in the stairwell as the bus pulled in…