It was with a certain sense of relief that I was leaving Singapore. With this my second visit, I had been able to perceive that it being such a small state I had already seen the major attractions such as the Battle Box, Fort Silosi and Changi Gaol/Memorial already. There was little to detain me after a couple of walks around the central district to refresh myself of the skyscraper architecture, juxtaposed against the colonial and parliament buildings and the statue of Raffles by the riverside, dubbed Clarke Quay. Certainly another consideration had been money, Singapore had to be the most expensive place of my trip to date, even with happy hour prices it was more expensive than back home to drink at the riverside for example and so it didnt encourage loitering. To cap it all off, the Prince of Wales where I had been staying turned out to be a sad indictment. Left in the hands of young upstarts whilst the owner was away, at least one of them was inexplicably turning people away whilst my 6 bed dorm was empty bar myself. Simply too much trouble and a distraction from priority number one, getting all the backpacker chicks into "his" nightclub and probably into his bed too given half a chance. No less than 3 of them were staying for free in return for work, a loosely applied term. I dont know why I cared but I did. I had had to turn one tired hopeful away personally at midnight as the guilty party was busy behind the bar and I felt for the guy. Fortunately I had also had the chance of spilling the beans to a couple of regulars who were friendly with the owner, most interestingly a retired US Marine Corps colonel who had done 3 tours in Vietnam.
And so I jumped on the express bus to Johor Bahru, just JB for short, clearing immigration easily both sides and remounting successive buses until at JB terminal. Along with a very young English couple I was rather looking after, we got duped by the touts into buying a ticket for a bus to Mersing, only to discover a while later whilst killing time that there had been a much earlier departure. We lost our money but had to be grateful that we managed to catch the earlier bus at all at the last moment. Arriving in central Mersing on the East coast of Malaya in a daze, it was only too late that I realised we were being stitched up again by the bus operators. Though the service terminated at the jetty right where we wanted to be, we were coaxed off the bus prematurely, conveniently right outside a travel agent in on the scam. They would get first crack at trying to sell us a ferry ticket and accommodation package at a suitably inflated price. I recalled just in time that the guidebook had warned of such fun and games and so just walked away, gesturing for the young Febs to follow. The office babe tried to cajole us by saying she didnt want to cause any trouble, I firmly retorted that she just bloody well had. And so we got a walk in the sun with our bags for nothing, finding the jetty just to be hit on again by ferry ticket touts who managed to somewhat screw us over again. Though the official price of the ticket was 35 Ringit, we bagged ourselves tickets for 30, only to later surmise that probably 25 was doable, and we had to watch another earlier boat from a rival operator depart without us. It had to be said that economically developed Malaysia wasnt the sort of place you expected such a lark.
All this was in order to reach Tioman Island, listed as one of the worlds 10 most beautiful and renowned for its diving and snorkeling. Skating over blue water with the sun shining, minor islets studded across the sea set the scene and it was a stunning introduction when Tioman appeared as a giant clump of rainforest cast adrift. With very little road on the island you had to select your destination in advance since there was no transport between the settlements except for pricey water taxis. There were still surprises to be had then as we jumped off at Air Batang to find the beach disappointingly narrow and rock strewn, offset by most unexpectedly of all, a complete lack of touts or any other welcoming committee for that matter. We were simply left to walk the one narrow promenade along the beach and choose for ourselves a likely looking chalet at a good price. Very refreshing. We ended up plumping for different resorts but my bargain basement hut had a friendly neighbourhood Scotsman thrown in for free, Tony from Portobello was the first fellow countryman I had met in a long time.