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Mon Apr 18 2016: Troubles at the Singapore Border

We are heading to Singapore today. Brand new country!

The ride from Malacca is non-descript - the urban landscape flashing past our visors as we cruise down the main highway into the island city state. As long as we keep moving, the stifling heat bothers us (well, Neda) less. It's only when we stop for traffic that the humidity starts to build up under our motorcycle clothes penetrating all the way to behind our eyeballs.

The southern-most Malaysian city before the Singaporean border is Johor Bahru. My dad warned me that while it's a much cheaper place to stay than Singapore, it's not that pretty-looking and the crime rate is fairly high. Thankfully, I have a cousin across the border and we are staying with him and his family for a few days.

As we near the border, the highway splits and we are given our own motorcycle-specific lanes. Nice! Compared to Malaysia, the Singaporeans are very organized! We whiz past a long lineup of stopped cars, relieved that we don't have to wait in line in the sweltering heat.

I think I'm going to like Singapore!

"Long Live the King"

We've heard that Singapore laws are very strict. No chewing gum or you'll face a harsh fine. No taking pictures at the border crossing either! While in line, a border official walked up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Did you just take a photograph?"

Uh oh? Am I in big trouble? Are we going to be denied entry even before we get in?

I froze and muttered a weak reply, "Uhhhhhh...."

My Point-and-Shoot camera was out of sight and safely tucked in my fannypack. But he did inspect my dash setup and pointed: "Were you using your GPS?"

"Uhhhhhh.... yes?"

His eyes narrowed suspiciously but he seemed satisfied that he had instilled the fear of Singaporean corporal punishment into me. Which he had.

I don't think I'm going to like Singapore...

Okay, so I did take a teeny tiny small picture at the border...

I humbly apologize to the Singapore Border Authority. You can now officially blacklist me from your country.

Just so you don't have to cross-reference the license plate number to look up my name: it's Boorman. Charley Boorman: B, Double O, One R, One Man against the System!

aaaand... the next hurdle

We successfully get ourselves stamped into Singapore with minimal hassle. Now we have to temporarily import our bikes into the country. We park the motorcycles and walk into the customs office.

I had done so much research on how to get our motorcycles into Malaysia from Thailand. I knew all the paperwork we had to have, all the forms that needed to be completed. But inexplicably, I had done absolutely no work into finding about the Malaysia->Singapore border crossing. Maybe it was because of our packed schedule, maybe laziness. But this lack of preparation was going to bite us in the ass.

The customs lady asked for our motorcycle registration papers. I brought out our Thai green books.

She looked at the squiggly Thai writing and shook her head, "I can't read this".

No problem, I presented her with the official Thai translated document in English. She nodded her head.

Then she asked for our International Circulation Permit. I was thankful we didn't blow past the Thai/Malay border like so many travelers do. I presented her with the proper paper. She nodded her head. We were doing very well so far.

And then she asked for a Carnet de Passage. uhhhhh, whut? We don't need one if we are a Thai vehicle? I challenged her, and she conferred with a colleague. Nope, I was correct. No CdP required for Thai vehicles, just like Malay-registered vehicles. It was just easier for their administration if we had one. *phew*

She asked for insurance. I brought out the Thai policy. She shook her head. Insufficient coverage. She asked for our Malaysian insurance. I brought that out as well. I was making it rain documentation. Everything she asked for I had. I felt like I was winning a video game, with all of our paperwork scattered over her desk an inch thick.

She studied the Malaysian insurance. Still insufficient coverage. We would have to buy Singaporean insurance. Ok, no problem. "How much?" I asked. $47 Singaporean. Each. For a minimum two week period. That's about $47 CDN. Wow, that's steep. That's like almost $4 a day to ride around Singapore! *IF* we stayed for two weeks, which we weren't planning to.

At this point, I really wanted to win this little game that we'd started. I just wanted to get in at any cost. We were soooo close.

"Do you take Visa?"
"No. Only cash."
"Ok. Malaysian Ringgit?"
"No. Only Singaporean dollars."
"US Dollars? Euros? Canadian?"
"No. Only Singaporean dollars."

ARGHHHH!!!! I had everything but that. Where were we going to get Singaporean dollars? We hadn't even entered the country. We were caught in a Catch-22.

I've read a lot of SE Asia motorcycle ride reports. Many riders have *come* from Singapore, but I have not heard of one single moto-traveler that has successfully *ENTERED* Singapore because of the stringent documentation requirements. We were so close! And now we were going to be denied entry despite having *ALL* the paperwork except for Singaporean currency.

So frustrating.

The customs lady had an idea. We could ask other travelers crossing the border to exchange our Malaysian currency for SGD. So Neda went out begging at the border. $95 is a lot of money and she had to ask two different motorists who were going in and out of the customs office, but thankfully we were barely able to scrape together the needed Singaporean cash.

YESSSSSS!!!! We are in!

Our ordeal wasn't over. Now that we were all officially in the country, us and our bikes, we were told that we had to purchase an electronic toll device that automatically deducted from an account that we had to set up with the road tax people. Okay, we set up an account and got a "credit card", now where do we buy or rent the device that mounts on our bike?

The customs lady told us because it was a weekend, the place that sold the toll transponders was closed.

Seriously? We just jumped through a million hoops and begged for SGD from passerbys to get into the country and now we're not allowed to drive on the roads? I couldn't believe it. This totally sucks.

There was a bit of a silver lining. The transponder store might be closed on weekends, but so were the gantries that communicated with the transponders. The roads were toll-free during non-business hours, so we could at least make it to my cousin's place this evening. However from tomorrow (Monday) morning on, we were forbidden to ride the roads until after rush hour.

We paid all that money for Singaporean insurance and we were only allowed to ride at night...


Racing through the toll-free Singaporean highway. Did we just pay $100 in insurance premiums for this one quick jaunt?

Since we were very delayed at the border, we had to rush to get to my cousin's place. No time to explore even though the toll gantries were turned off. I was happy that we had won the game of Get-Our-Bikes-Into-Singapore, but at what (literal) cost? :(

Singapore is tiny. About 50 kms from east to west and 25 kms from north to south. It was a quick ride to get to our destination. From what little we saw of the roads, they're very modern, clean and efficient. And not only compared to SE Asian countries, but they would rival any western country!

My cousin welcomed us into his house. We met his wife and his teenage son and once again, I couldn't help staring at a face that I only remember from over 35 years ago. After an evening of catching up, we retired to bed, exhausted but happy that we were able to ride into Singapore. The city awaits us tomorrow!

Because we weren't allow to ride our motorcycles during the weekends, my cousin's wife drove us into town the next morning

Walking down the main street, we felt a bit dejected. After all that effort and money getting our bikes into Singapore, we were basically backpackers in this country. Should we have left our bikes in Malaysia and took a taxi in? I don't know. it probably would have cost the same amount of money...

Too hot outside, we duck from one air-conditioned mall to another

Singapore is ritzy and expensive. On its sidewalks, citizens pace forward with an intense sense of purpose not seen in any other SE Asian country we've been to so far. Orchard Park is the street that many tourists visit. It is *THE* shopping mecca boasting fancy-brand stores selling super-expensive luxury products that we could never ever dream of purchasing.

We walked around for a couple of hours, watching the parade of Mercedes and BMWs file past us on the street and I got a sense of what the city state was all about. It seemed to be the perfect treadmill of commerce and consumerism, fueled by the desire for success and status. Nothing got in the way of this constant cycle. The city had a million rules and laws put in place to forbid littering, loitering, lounging... any kind of delinquency that would clog the forward motion of everyone's treadmill.

Strolling around the boardwalk along the Singapore river

We couldn't afford most of the restaurants in the downtown core, but ended up paying a princely sum for a couple of hamburgers. They were really good, but expensive...

"The River Merchants" a statue depicting the negotiations between European, Chinese and Malaysian traders
while indigenous workers toil in the background.

Some huge reflective globes outside one of Singapore's famous museums

More fun with shiny balls

We like learning about the local culture, so we dropped into the Asian Civilizations Museum. We learned of the rich history of trading and commerce in Singapore. On display were the remains of a 9th century merchant ship called the Tang Shipwreck that had been discovered off the SE coast. It was a treasure trove of merchandise being sent to SE Asia and the Middle East from China. I was looking for the "Made in China" label underneath all of the dishes and ceramic bowls on display. No joke though... even back then China had mastered the art of mass production and was exporting wares to all corners of the known world!

Many armed Hindu god Shiva

We took the subway back to my cousin's place. The afternoon heat is unbearable even when on bikes, more so when you're a pedestrian walking to and from the bus station.

We've been in Singapore for two days and there's a dissatisfied feeling when we stare at our bikes sitting unused in the garage. All that money for two weeks of insurance and we're leaving in a couple of days time. We have to get our money's worth somehow...

So late one evening, long after all the toll gantries had turned off, we stole out into the night

The cool air was refreshing as we zoomed down past the lights of Orchard Park, its stores closed for the night and the sidewalks and roads empty of fast-striding people and expensive German sedans. We only share Singapore's streets with taxis tonight.

Singapore flyer Ferris wheel lit up at night

Not just an ordinary ferris wheel, each car is capable of holding a large dinner table and you're served a fancy meal with champagne overlooking the lights of the city. Opulent and quite expensive, I'm sure.

We rode out to a spot so we could see the Singapore skyline

Gardens by the Bay - Bay East Garden. Beautiful parks by the riverside

Getting our money's worth

It's a shame we were only allowed to ride at night. I think we would have seen a lot more of Singapore if we had gotten our toll transponders

We rode up the twisting road to Mount Faber Park, the second highest point in Singapore. Great view from up there.

So was it worth all the effort bringing our bikes into the country? Singapore is not a motorcycle destination. It's entirely urban and crowded with not a lot of curvy roads to take your bike through. The minimum two weeks of insurance is expensive and overkill, I can't see spending more than one week in this tiny place.

We spent the last day with my cousin and family in town and in the evening we had another visitor call on us to take us out to dinner!

Debbie and Zhehong are local bikers

They took us out to the kind of food we like to eat: hawker food at the Newton Food Centre!

They are also fellow travelers who are planning a Round-The-World adventure of their own. We had lots to talk about over satay and they showed us a different side of Singapore than the one most tourists see. So nice meeting local riders! We wish them well on their future travels.

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