But then again, when you’re perpetually travelling, the days of the week only serve as guides on when to catch your next plane/ bus/ train to wherever, so every day is a Happy Day!
At this point, I’d like to thank you all for being so supportive and enthusiastic about my last six blog posts. Thanks to you, I’ve had over 400 visitors and almost 1400 views on my blog – something that has never happened ever. And for someone like me, that’s HUGE. So, thank you thank you thank you! ❤
Moving on to today’s story, which takes place in a city not so far from home (home being Singapore). I know a lot of you were rather shocked by my Getting Robbed Story, but I’d just like to share this story to show that awful things do not only happen when you’re far from home (although that kinda complicates things somewhat). No, today’s story takes place in Ipoh, Malaysia, and it was right around this time four years ago that I decided to take a trip to Pulau Pangkor over the Chinese New Year long weekend.
Pulau Pangkor is a slightly inaccessible island, located off Malaysia’s west coast. Being on a budget, I chose the cheapest (and probably most troublesome) method of getting there – overnight bus from Singapore to Ipoh, bus from Ipoh to Lumut, ferry from Lumut to Pulau Pangkor. The journey from Singapore to Ipoh takes about 7 to 8 hours, so I figured I would take the bus at about 10pm to arrive in the morning, just in time to catch an early bus to Lumut and the ferry over to the island, to be all settled into my hostel by midday. Never one to make plans too far in advance, when I called the bus companies a few days before I was set to leave, the buses leaving at 10pm were fully booked, in part due CNY.
Luckily though, due to the high demand of the season, they had additional buses leaving at 8pm and since there were seats available, I immediately bought a ticket on the 8pm bus. I would be arriving in Ipoh at about 4am, but from my research online, there was a large bus terminal where I could wait until it was time for my bus to Lumut. Slightly more inconvenient, but no real difference to my original plan other than leaving 2 hours earlier and having to spend 2 hours in the bus terminal. I’d spent longer waiting for buses and trains to leave in Europe, sometimes not even at terminals (read: Italy, 2011), so I assured myself that I would be fine. Besides, the muggers and rapists tended to prefer the late hours of the night, not the wee hours of the morning.
On the day of my departure, I boarded the bus and the bus left promptly at 8pm as scheduled. It was a lovely bus, with new, roomy seats, air-conditioning and plenty of leg-room. I curled up in my seat and was soon fast asleep. I only woke up twice, once to go through immigration, which went smoothly as usual, and again at the rest stop to grab a bite to eat. Belly full, I fell asleep on the final leg of the journey, only to be woken up what seemed like a few minutes later – we had arrived in Ipoh!
I grabbed my stuff and disembarked, but something didn’t seem quite right. It was pitch black out – I checked my phone and it showed 3:45 am. We’d arrived slightly earlier than expected, but that wasn’t it. I looked around, blearily, rubbing sleep from my eyes and it slowly dawned on me that we weren’t at the main bus terminal in Ipoh. In fact, I had no idea where I was at all.
“Uhhh. Is there another stop? At the main bus terminal?”
“This bus no go to main bus terminal. Only here. You take taxi. Ten minute!”
It appeared that the bus I had taken did not terminate at the main bus terminal, but at a much smaller bus bay for a few private bus companies. Strange that my internet research had not mentioned it, but perhaps I hadn’t paid enough attention. No matter, a five minute taxi ride was nothing to complain about. Heading over to where a whole bunch of eager taxi drivers were waiting, I asked about the price to take me to the main bus terminal.
I don’t remember how much they quoted me, but it was something exorbitant, like $15. For a five minute ride! They were definitely trying to take advantage of the fact that a) I was a girl, b) alone, c) it was the middle of the night. It was absolutely ridiculous, and I was not prepared to pay that price, so I headed back to the bus ticket office to wait for the sun to rise before walking to the bus terminal. It was a ten minute taxi ride; it couldn’t be that far on foot.
Unfortunately for me, once most of the passengers who had alighted with me had left and only I was left, the lady at the counter informed me that I would have to leave as they were closing up for the next few hours till their next bus was scheduled to arrive. With no other choice, I asked her for directions to the main bus station and started to walk. The streets were brightly lit, and it was already about 5am by then, so I didn’t feel too unsafe walking by myself.
I was happily strolling along when I came to a traffic junction. As I stood waiting for the light to change so that I could cross, a motorcycle with two Indian men drove by slowly. As they passed, they called out to me and I obviously pretended not to hear them and ignored them. They passed, the light changed, and I carried on walking. Some distance down the next street, I heard the sound of the motorcycle and these two clowns were back again. This time, they were driving much slower and called out to me again insistently, asking if I needed help, or needed to be accompanied somewhere. Their words were kind, but their tone was far from it.
I tightened my grip on my purse and kept walking, trying to ignore them, but they were extremely persistent. Eventually, I responded, saying no I didn’t need any help and that someone was meeting me somewhere (a lie, but I figured they might leave me alone if they heard that someone was waiting for me). They did leave at that point, and I heaved a sigh of relief to be rid of these annoying men.
Not quite though. I’d just reached the end of that street when they drove up again, and stopped next to me. Thoroughly creeped out, I started walking even faster, almost to the point of running. They called out to me a couple of times and then started their bike again – they were driving toward me.
Thankfully, there was a pedestrian street to the right up head and I quickly turned down the street, hoping to throw them off. At that point, my only thought was to get to a well-lit area with lots of people, or preferably a shop or restaurant where I could ask for help and wait till they left. It was 5.30am by then, and I thought that some shops must be opening for business around then, but I’d totally forgotten that it was the first day of the Chinese New Year. The place was like a ghost town, with nobody in sight and not a single shop or restaurant open.
I heard the motorcycle in the distance and started freaking out, when I saw a bright light coming from around the corner. I turned the corner and relief flooded through me as I saw the brightly lit facade of a newspaper distribution point, with men walking about carrying large bundles of newspapers. I quickly walked in and approached the gentleman behind the counter. Slightly breathless, I explained that two men on a motorcycle were following me and that I was scared that they were going to attack me.
The man raised a skeptical eyebrow at me, but the look of fear on my face convinced him to let me behind the counter. He gestured to a corner and said I could wait there till I felt like leaving. It was evident he was not convinced, but I was just thankful for a place of safety. I’d just put my bag down behind the counter when the motorcycle with the two men on it drove by slowly. My eyes widened in fear as the gentleman watched suspiciously as the motorcycle drove by. As the rumble of the motorcycle engine died down, he turned to me.
“Girl, hide under the counter so nobody can see you. The men, they looked like they were looking for something.”
Absolutely terrified now, I nodded and crouched down behind the counter, hidden from view just as someone barged in, making quite a ruckus. It was the one of the motorcycle dudes.
“Uncle! One bottle of water!”, he demanded, banging his fists on the counter as he peered around, looking for something, or someone.
“Sorry boy, this is a newspaper distribution center. We don’t sell water.”
“But I just want some water!” he became more insistent, craning his neck to try to see behind the counter.
Safely hidden under the counter, I held my breath, afraid to alert him to my presence by the tiniest movement. The gentlemen politely and firmly insisted that he leave, and eventually, he left calling out to his motorcycle buddy who was apparently waiting for him “She’s not there!” A few seconds later, I heard the sound of the motorcycle engine start up, and then fade into the distance.
It was only then that the gentleman looked back down at me. His face was a mixture of worry, fear and shock.
“I think it’s better if you stay here. Just sit behind the counter, and later I’ll get one of my boys to drop you at the bus terminal. I think those guys are still going to be hanging around.”
Too traumatized to argue, I nodded, and sat quietly behind the counter, staying out of view. And it was a good things I did too, because I heard the sound of the motorcycle passing by twice after that, which the gentleman confirmed was the same two guys who had been following me.
Eventually, at about 7.30am, after spending almost two hours huddled behind a counter, the gentleman called me over and told me to get into a car. He had some errands to run he said, and would drop me off at the main bus station himself. I thanked him profusely, shaken from the experience. At the bus station, the bus to Lumut was about to leave so I quickly bought my bus ticket and boarded the bus, unwilling to spend any longer than I had to in Ipoh. Finally, after seeing that I’d safely boarded the bus, the gentleman left, but not before handing me his card and asking me to call him if I ever needed help in Ipoh again.
As the bus pulled out of the terminal, I thanked my lucky stars that I was still alive to tell the tale. It was honestly the most terrified I’d been in my life, and I dread to think what would have happened if I hadn’t come across the newspaper distribution center when I did. But then again, just as there are bad people in the world, I’d like to think for each one of them, there’s a hundred, thousand, million good people out there who are ready to help someone in need.