Talk about being a rookie, I'm one of the newest kid on the travel block. I didn't even know about hostels and backpacking. It was all about that sensation of the need to escape but I have no idea where to go, really. And yes, I'm alone. At least, I have the inclination to just do it though I have never been out of the country — ever. Well, I managed to get my new passport just in time so why not start low-cost and do some real backpacking in South East Asia?
First, I started to look for a cheap airline flying from budget terminals and a not-so-expensive hotel. Compared to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, your best shot to get the lowest flight deals would be from Clark International Airport (formerly known as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport DMIA) located in Pampanga, Philippines. Such budget terminals allow airline companies to offer the lowest flight deals as operating costs are reduced. You bet! The next day I'm already booked for a round-trip ticket to Singapore via Tiger Airways — really cheap!
My colleague introduced me to the world of hostels and the fact that hostels are a "must" for backpackers if not, ideal. She referred me to a cozy place called Bugis Backpackers Hostel. The name itself is quite a catch, don't you think? Well, at least for a first-timer like me. So I booked a bed in their mixed-type dormitory room — just the perfect spot for a newbie to meet travel junkies and learn more about backpacking.
And let's say for immigration formalities, I planned my so-called travel itinerary. I did some research about Singapore — the must-sees, downloaded some maps, gathered bits from those in-the-know, read forums on how to locate the Merlion and anything about Singapore. Finally, I packed all the essentials with a decent backpack and I'm good to go. Took a bus from Manila to Clark, Pampanga and headed to Clark International Airport. Paid travel taxes, checked in, lined up for the immigration interview (it was a brief one), boarded Flight TR 509 heading to Singapore and flew at 19:55 in the evening.
With roughly 3 and a half hour flight from the Philippines, I arrived at Changi International Airport at about 11:25 PM. One of the perks of being a Filipino is that we could enjoy a visa-free Singapore for at least 30 days. So dope. After passing through the immigration (queued up in a long line though), I'm on my own. I'm mindful to pick up oodles of tourist maps and guides to help me get around the city. Anyway, it's free. Then, I stepped out of Changi to see the riveting country — Singapore. I paused for a while and savored the moment. After a reality check, I finally convinced myself to call a taxi and headed to Bugis Village where Bugis Backpackers Hostel is located. Budget-wise, I paid only 11.10 EUR per night.
Of course, like any other first nights, I don't intend to spend my precious time snoozing so I decided to skip the hostel check-in and stepped out to experience the real McCoy. Needless to say, it's already past midnight and the hostel did not have a 24-hour reception service. And so, I decided to wander around the city.
According to my resource, one could discover Singapore by foot without wearing out your wallet and boots. I did just that and took a walk around the city all night long. I felt quite safe with all the cameras everywhere. No wonder, Singapore is noted for its strict rules (one of the countries with the lowest crime rate) and its impressively clean streets.
It's almost sunrise when I found myself along the riverfront enjoying the panoramic view of the city. Adjacent to One Fullerton hales the 8.6-meter icon of Singapore — the Merlion. The lion head with a fish body rests on a crest of wave and it spouts water throughout the day. Behind the majestic Merlion is the Merlion cub some 28 meters away.
Squinting into the glare of the morning sun, I took a few more walks up until I reached Esplanade — theatres on the bay! Esplanade boasts its distinctive twin shells and steel framing forming the cladding. It is perfectly located just by Marina Bay. There's nothing quite like walking just by yourself in an unfamiliar place with nothing to do but explore.
There's so much to see I almost forgot that I still need to check in to the hostel. I headed back to City Hall through an underpass which links four shopping centers - Raffles City, Marina Square, Suntec City and Millenia Walk. Finally, I made it to the hostel at around 10:00 in the morning.
For two days, I managed to see the beautiful places in Singapore - Sentosa Island, Chinatown, Little India, Orchard, Clarke Quay and a whole lot more. Most of the time, you could just see me walking around with my backpack and a grubby map. Talk about walking all day, it's just fitting to try the local food as a treat.
I tried a cheap local breakfast for just 2 SGD and a hot Yong Tau Foo Bee Hon soup. Now that was a real treat!
The Border Crossing
I felt like I still needed to see more. I was curious enough to consider crossing borders from Singapore to Malaysia — very eager to see the famous Petronas Twin Tower in Kuala Lumpur. I've got three options: by plane, train, or bus. Obviously, I took the bus as it was the cheapest option.
First, I took the MRT to the Kranji Station near the Singapore-Malaysia Border. From Kranji, I took the first bus heading to Johor Bahru (one could take either Bus #160 and #170). I had to get off on Singapore immigration checkpoint at Woodlands for immigration clearance and then took another bus for crossing the bridge. Passing the Singapore immigration checkpoint is a breeze so I was able to hop on the same bus. I had my ticket with me so I didn't have to pay again lest I take another bus.
With a view of palm oil trees, taking the bus was a perfect opportunity to see a bit of Malaysian countryside before arriving in the city of Kuala Lumpur.
Next stop, Malaysia Immigration checkpoint. Just like Singapore, Pinoys are entitled to stay in Malaysia for less than 30 days without a visa. It took me a bit longer to enter Malaysian immigration port though since I have to fill in some forms but after that, I got my border stamp up front. Finally, I rushed to the next bus heading to Johor Bahru — the last stop for SMRT buses arriving from Singapore. From Johor Bahru, I took my best pick from loads of buses, headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and flew by the seat of my pants.
I then found out that the knack of getting to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore is by bus (trying to be mr.know-it-all now). The trip took me approximately 5 hours to reach KL compared to a trip by train which will take you around 7 hours. Well, 5 hours is really long for a traveler with limited time. But, it's all worth it! Not to mention, everything was cheaper. It'll cost you almost half the price of anything in Malaysia compared to Singapore.
Later in the afternoon, I found myself right in front of the majestic Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia! I paused for a while and savored the moment.
I arrived back to Singapore at midnight and headed back to the hostel. The next day, I went to see the famous shopping hubs in Singapore such as Mustafa, Little India, Chinatown and the like for cheap souvenirs. Not a fan of shopping.
After all that's been said and done, it's time to go back home. I would say, this marked my first successful backpacking trip. The rest is history...