Travel South East Asia

Bumboat to Malaysia

This weekend we decided to see what it was like to get to Desaru by boat.

Desaru is on the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula. It’s a good two hour drive from Singapore under perfect conditions. But, you have to cross the Woodlands checkpoint (or the Tuas one) which has unpredictable traffic. And, the fruit trucks can really slow the drive down.

So, I started researching the boat route to Malaysia. This proved to be harder than you would think. There are many outdated websites out there and, after some amount of reading, I began to realize the conflicting information I was finding was because the routes and methods of travel have been changing. The changes, I’m guessing, are because this area has been gradually dying in popularity over the years. So, when there was once three different boat routes from Singapore to three different ports in Malaysia (one which even had a ferry that could take cars!), now there are two boats from two different ferry ports in Singapore going to just one port in Malaysia.

Once I figured out that there are boats that go over to Malaysia, I contemplated calling to find out ferry schedules. However, anyone who has lived in Singapore knows that a phone call to locals is very difficult to manage. The local language is “Singlish” – not English – and it’s nearly impossible to understand on the phone. I gave up the idea of calling knowing that the information I was seeking was going to lead me to the most local of local dialects and the call would only end in frustration.

So, I realized there was going to be a degree of uncertainty as we went into this excursion. I was able to determine WITH certainty that a bumboat leaves from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal whenever there are 12 passengers to fill it. I didn’t know how long it took to get 12 passengers but I figured, worse case scenario, if 12 didn’t show, we could buy out spots to fill the boat. I wasn’t sure where the boat would take us, how we’d get to the beach from the ferry port (probably taxi) or what the return schedule would be. These were the unknowns that we went into this with.

Our bum boat pictured here in Malaysia
Our bum boat pictured here in Malaysia

We arrived at Changi Point Ferry Terminal and before parking, I ran down to see if people were queuing up for the Ferry to Malaysia. They were. In droves! Dave parked and we got in the 3rd queue – there were already two boats full to take people. We handed over our passports and waited for a boat. This part is a bit of a mystery. Your passport is being held by some dude behind a counter and it’s really unclear what will happen next. We watched and eventually someone who looked like a bumboat driver came in and took a queue of passports. He wrote down the numbers on a piece of paper and magically those 12 people started to follow him. He never called out names or a queue number or anything. I think the people were watching their passport pile like hawks. I know I was watching ours! When our driver came and took the pile that held our passports (the only navy blue passports there), we jumped up and followed him. Once on the boat we received our passports back in exchange for the S$9 one way cost.

Paying our driver
Paying our driver

I was very impressed with Ben and Nicky’s prediction of a 45 minute bumboat ride. They said, “It’s going to be 45 minutes of URRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR” (jiggle body up and down for emphasis). They are exactly right. We didn’t bring any entertainment so they were left to entertain themselves the good old fashioned way.

The ride begins...
The ride begins...

...The ride goes on....
...The ride goes on....

...and ON!
...and ON!

Once we arrived, we were greeted immediately with two key answers to my wonderings: There is a ferry that runs from the this ferry terminal in Malaysia, The Tanjung Pengelih port, to a different ferry port in Singapore. We grabbed a printed schedule (on a 4 inch by 3 inch piece of paper and looks like it’s been typed with a typerwriter) and planned to return on this high speed ferry which is reputed to reach Singapore in 20 minutes! We were also greeted by a waiting taxi cab driver. She broke the bad news to us: 40 minute taxi ride to the beach!! I had hoped it was more like 15 minutes! So, we hopped in her cab and got on our way to Desaru.

This Malaysian ferry port is in the town of Tanjung Pengelih which is also referred to as Pengerang. We drove first east and then north around the tip of the Malaysian peninsula. Sure enough we reached Desaru and the Golden Beach Hotel (our dumpy Malaysian resort of choice for the day) in 40 minutes. We made arrangements for this taxi driver to come back and pick us up in time for us to make the last high speed ferry back to Singapore.

It was a beautiful day at the beach! We buy a day pass at this resort and this allows us use of the bathrooms, pool, restuarant and towels. All of this may sound glamorous and it even looks good in the pictures:

The Golden Beach Hotel pool
The Golden Beach Hotel pool

And here are the boys enjoying the pool:

The boys.
The boys.

The beach is the best part:

Quick picnic lunch on the beach at Desaru before swimming
Quick picnic lunch on the beach at Desaru before swimming

But the reality is that the tourism never amounted to much in this area and the resorts, once built with big dreams, sit with little up-keep. As much as we love this place, I would not spend a night here.

Golden Beach Resort, Desaru, Malaysia
Golden Beach Resort, Desaru, Malaysia

The best is yet to come…on the taxi (teksi in Malaysian!) ride back to the Pengerang Ferry Terminal, our driver took us to a seafood shop. We got to pick our own lobsters! Apparently lobsters are plentiful in the waters here. But, these lobsters are not like the ones I’m used to seeing – they have no claws!

Picking our lobsters in Sungei Rengit, Malaysia
Picking our lobsters in Sungei Rengit, Malaysia

Here’s a before and after:

Before!
Before!

After!
After!

So, in the end, transport time went like this:
20 minutes to Changi Point Ferry Terminal ($6 parking)
20 minute wait for Bumboat
60 minutes BumBoat ride from Changi Point to Pengerang Ferry Terminal ($9 per person one way boat ticket)
40 minute taxi ride from Ferry Terminal to Golden Beach Hotel (S$29)

Return:
40 minute taxi from hotel to ferry (S$29)
30 minute wait for ferry to go (need to check in early)
50 minute ferry ride from Pengerang to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in SG (S$21 per person one way)
15 minute cab ride from TMFT to Changi Point where we left our car (S$10)
20 minute car ride from Changi POint to home

Next time: buy RT tickets for ferry from TMFT (skip the bum boat.)
call beach resort in advance and arrange pick up by Van…cheaper than taxi.

It was all worth it for a delicious dinner! This is Arlene’s first time eating lobster.

Delicious Dinner!
Delicious Dinner!

PS Everyone was talking about the new highway that supposedly will turn the two hour drive from SG to Desaru into a 45 minute drive. I found a website that documents the progress of this highway:

http://www.e22.com.my/

You can be sure we’ll be checking it out when it’s complete!

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