I’ve mentioned before that part of the adventure of our current trip to SE Asia is not flying between cities of interest, but taking a slower method of transport so we can see and experience the countryside around us. So, from time to time, I will share with you a little more about what it’s like to “travel like a local“.
We bought our bus tickets at the Puduraya bus terminal (now renamed Pudu Sentral), located in the city centre. This used to be Kuala Lumpur’s main bus station, but after a complete refurbishment it re-opened in April 2011, now serving north-bound buses.
There are about 50 ticket counters on the first floor of the bus station and as you walk by to try to find the counter selling tickets to where you want to go – you are approached by men and women who try to entice you to their counter, or alternatively, people at individual ticket counters shout to you to buy from them!
We spotted a sign for the Cameron Highlands and approached the lady at the ticket window to purchase our tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. She proudly showed us a photo of the “luxury coach“ in which we would travel, which immediately made me smile. “Erm … it looks very pretty“, remarked Michael, who later modified that to “well, when I say pretty – what I really meant to say was gaudy“! The seats in the photo she showed us were covered in brightly coloured thick fabric and there were silk tassled and draped curtains displayed along the length of the bus. The cost of the Super VIP tickets was £7 each for the four-hour journey to the Cameron Highlands, an area of tea plantations where the rolling green hills are occasionallly speckled with tea-pickers wading between the rows, snipping the tender, green tips.
Anyway, back to the Unititi Express bus experience …..
On the morning of our departure, we left the hotel, caught the monorail and arrived at Pudu Sentral bus station about twenty minutes before the bus was due to leave, so we could be sure to find the correct platform or perform any check-in procedure. The bus platforms are in the basement of the shiny, new bus station so we bought some drinks for the journey and got into the lift to go down to the basement. As soon as the lift doors opened we were overwhelmed by the smell of diesel fumes and the noise of bus engines running to keep the air conditioning working on the buses. We walked through the dimly-lit departure area, looking for Platform 14, and we were repeatedly approached by coach drivers (at least, I think they were coach drivers) who demanded to see our tickets and then shook their heads to inform us that “NO” – we wouldn’t be keeping each other company for the next few hours.
After waiting for another ten minutes, I began to feel a bit queasy with the smell of the diesel fumes, but by this time, a few other people were also looking for the Unititi Express, so we were able to comfort each other in the knowledge that we were not alone in our quest!
Our time of departure came and went and, after a further fifteen minutes, our bus finally arrived – complete with blue multi-coloured seats and silk tassled curtains. We all quickly stowed our luggage, back-packs etc in the luggage storage comparments underrneath and climbed the steps to settle onboard the “Gaudy Express”. To be fair, even though it wasn’t the newest of buses, the seats were extremely comfy, spacious and set our in a 2-1 formation, with a pair of seats on one side of the aisle and a single seat on the other. Each seat reclined and had a footrest but no seat belt, which made me feel strangely vulnerable.
After an assortment of passengers including several young children had climbed on board the air-conditioned bus, carrying food, water, plants and whatever else needed for the journey, we finally left the bus station twenty-five minutes late – which, by all accounts for this part of the world, is on time.
Around two hours later, we pulled off the Expressway into a service area for a twenty minute rest break and then we were off again through lush green countryside on our way north to the Cameron Highlands.