They say travel is about the journey, not the destination. But sometimes the journey is long, boring, and frustrating.
I spent the evening on a bus from Singapore that would take me to Kuantan, Malaysia. It was an uncomfortable ride; I've never understood why buses need to be as freezing cold as they always are.
In the middle of the night, the bus pulled up in front of a fancy hotel and told me to get off. After handing me my backpack, they drove off, leaving me confused and very angry. This most certainly was not the bus station I imagined. I was informed there was no room for me at the hotel, which was fine because I never would have been able to afford it anyways. The hotel guard gave me a chair and I sat down next to him at the gate, wondering what the heck I was supposed to do now.
Some time later, a van pulled up. "Let me ask my friend," the guard said. The van driver could take me to the bus station in Kuantan, the guard said, so that I could get a bus and meet my friend in Cherating on time (the story I told the guard instead of admitting I was on my own). After thinking about the situation for a minute (like I always do before getting into a vehicle with a stranger), I decided it should be okay and I got in.
The bus station was big. The gravel parking lot I was standing in was filled with big white tents and some red and yellow taxis. The station in front of me was a two-story building with blue- and white-tiled platforms underneath and the waiting area up above. It was still dark and the platforms were all empty. A sign that read "Kounter Tiket" directed me upstairs, where lots of people were waiting for their buses and sleeping on the wooden benches. It was cluttered, and it certainly wasn't clean. One wall was lined with ticket booths, but they were all closed. Besides that, I didn't see "Cherating" on any of the signs.
I found an empty spot on a bench and decided to settle in. A young man beside me said hello and we talked for a bit. When I told him where I was going, he told me to wait until 7 (then still over an hour away) before looking for tickets. I tried to make myself comfortable and prepare myself for the long wait.
I was half-asleep when a station worker called up from the platforms below. I imagined he was talking about the arrival of a bus, but of course I really had no idea. He came up to the waiting area and the young guy beside me exchanged a few words with him. He told me to follow the older man downstairs, so I grabbed my bag and headed off, excited I might be on my way soon.
But when I got downstairs, I was told that I was at the wrong bus station; this was the long-distance station and I needed to go to the local one. Of course, a taxi driver was more than happy to drive me there. Frustrated, I refused, instead wanting to walk myself there with the hopes that the walk would calm me down.
I got directions and started off. Right, then left, straight through the lights, then right again---simple enough, right? But before I even made my first turn I realized I shouldn't be doing this. 1) I suck at directions in general, 2) I couldn't see where the first turn was, 3) I'm alone, 4) I'm in Malaysia, and 5) it's still dark. I turned around and, with a sheepish look on my face, went back to the taxi driver.
He seemed irritated I didn't go with him the first time he offered. In fact, he told me so. While we drove, I noticed we weren't going the way he had told me to talk, so I asked him where we were going. He got angry and started yelling at me. "Why don't you trust me?" he said. "Why do you keep asking me? It's a one-way street so I have to go around!" I could see that this taxi ride would do nothing to cheer me up.
The local bus station turned out to be nothing more than a gravel square with two very old looking buses parked at one side. There was an open-air restaurant at the back of the station, the kind of restaurant with plastic chairs and tables and food in plastic bowls covered in saran-wrap. Two women were wiping down the tables and washing the dishes, getting ready for their day to begin. I wasn't hungry, so I spent my time watching mice scurry across the gravel as the sun started rising.
Finally my bus pulled up. I paid a couple ringgits to the driver and sat down. The bus, like the ones in the parking lot, was old; it's dark blue paint was weathered and the seats were grey and tattered. I had no idea when I was supposed to get off, but that didn't stop me from nodding off to sleep. The ride was long; we stopped at the side of the road to pick up more passengers dozens of times. When I got on the bus was almost empty, but soon most of the seats were taken. I tried to look at the landscapes we passed and watch the local scene outside my window, but I kept falling asleep.
Some time later, I realized I missed my stop, but, without knowing where I was or what I was doing, I just kept going. Eventually we passed under an archway across the road that read "Terengganu" so I thought we had driven all the way to the city of Kuala Terengganu. Really, we just crossed into the province, but I didn't learn this until we stopped at another big bus station and I started walking towards what I thought was the city centre. I was tired, sweaty, hungry, and completely lost.
I spotted a small hotel at the side of the highway and decided to ask for directions to a Terengganu hotel I read about in my guide book. As it turns out, I was in Kemaman, a much smaller city still a far distance from KT. They called me a taxi to take me to Cherating.
At 9.30am, I checked into a hotel in Cherating. After nearly twelve hours of buses, bus stations, taxis, and adventures on foot, I had finally arrived.