Malacca: A Perfect Short Break from Singapore

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In my quest to explore Malaysia on short breaks this year, Malacca (also spelt Melaka) was our next destination. A popular place for weekenders from Singapore and also a favourite haunt for backpackers, we were curious to learn more about Malacca’s long and fascinating history, and see how it compared to our previous colonial history-rich trip to Penang.

Wanting an easy journey, we booked bus tickets online and took a Singapore–Malacca luxury bus. It called itself a massage coach, which sounded great…well actually it sounded a bit dodgy. It turned out to have massage chairs for seats, but we couldn’t make the massage function work. They were pretty comfy though, and the journey was very smooth.

Our Massage Coach

Our Massage Coach

Crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia was exciting for us, because we are so used to flying every time we travel internationally. From our previous home in Java, Indonesia, you can’t drive to another country.

Apparently the causeway between the two countries is over one kilometre long. We had to disembark on the Singapore side with our passports, and then we watched the sea on both sides as we sped across no man’s land before disembarking again on the Malaysia side, this time with our luggage as well.

No Man's Land - the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia

No Man’s Land – the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia

Safely stamped into Malaysia, we were back on the bus, watching acres and acres of oil palm plantations whizz by. Malaysia has wonderfully smooth roads compared to Indonesia, and the journey only took four hours including stops.

We arrived at Malacca Sentral, the main bus terminal, and found a local bus (called a domestic bus in Malaysia, which is arranged in states, like the US). We took bus 17 to Stadhuys, known as Bangunan Merah (the Red Building), which is a central point in Malacca’s old city, for just RM 1.30 each. From there it was a short walk to our guesthouse, Roof Top Guesthouse and Hostel.

South Sulawesi: Transport Prices and Durations

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These journey times and costs are accurate from my June-July 2012 trip. At this time the Makassar-Toraja road was being renovated and resurfaced. This made the journey slower, but once the roadworks are complete, the smooth, wide road should speed everything up.

Makassar streetFor the Makassar-Toraja and Toraja-Makassar legs of my trip, I took air-conditioned executive buses, which were very comfortable. Litha & Co has buses departing throughout the day, with the last departure at 10pm; you should arrive at the terminal in plenty of time to ensure you get a ticket because the buses do get full. Bintang Prima’s buses were slightly more luxurious than Litha & Co, but both buses had powerful air-con, reclining seats and adjustable footrests. Both stopped for lunch and a few other times along the journey.

If you want to travel from Tana Toraja all the way to Pantai Bira in one day, you can either hire a car for the whole journey, for which I was quoted prices over a million rupiahs, or you can do as I did and rent your car from Makassar. My rental car with driver met me at the bus terminal on my arrival in Makassar and we arrived at Pantai Bira later that night. If you don’t want to fork out for car rental you’ll have to break your journey with a night in Makassar.

Travelling anywhere by public car, expect to squeeze into half a seat as they normally take ten passengers. From Pantai Bira to Makassar, ask your hotel to book seats in a public car a day before you want to leave.

Journey Duration Cost
Makassar airport to city centre  Under 1 hour Rp. 100,000 fixed price to Zone 1 destinations
Bus Makassar to Tana Toraja (Litha & Co) 9 hours including stops Rp. 90,000
Public car Makale to Rantepao Under 1 hour Rp. 5,000 (shorter journeys cost less)
Bus Tana Toraja to Makassar (Bintang Prima) 9 hours including stops Rp. 100,000
Private car hire Makassar to Pantai Bira 6 hours including stops Rp. 600,000
Public car (kijang) Pantai Bira to Makassar 6 hours including stops Rp. 50,000
Taxi Mallengkeri bus terminal to central Makassar - Rp. 36,000
Taxi central Makassar to airport Under 1 hour Rp. 80,000

 

Sulawesi Travel: A Brief Guide

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Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh largest island, sprawls across the sea in its unique “K” shape. Part of the Indonesian archipelago, much of the island remains off the mainstream tourist trail, but visitors are attracted to its coasts and islands for diving and snorkelling and these elements have made Sulawesi travel increasingly popular.

Pantai Bira, soft white sandWith a land mass of 174,600 square kilometres, undeveloped in parts and with narrow roads in poor condition, it would take a long time to explore all of Sulawesi. I travelled to South Sulawesi and visited three areas over ten days: Makassar, Tana Toraja and Pantai Bira. It would have been easy to spend longer exploring each area, and equally, there are many regions between my destinations that I only saw through a bus window.

Getting Around in Sulawesi

There are no trains on the island so all travel is by road, sea or air. The roads are in poor condition in many places, so prepare yourself for some long journeys. Air-conditioned buses are available on certain routes, such as Makassar to Tana Toraja, but for other journeys public cars and minibuses can be the only way to go.

Traditional Torajan housesI travelled from Pantai Bira to Makassar by public car (also called “kijang” from the make of car often used) and I was one of eleven people squeezed in – three in front, four in the middle and four in the back. It felt like a very long few hours. In Tana Toraja on a shorter journey I was one of twelve people in a car, the formation as above but with one person in the boot, lying on his side.

Hiring a motorbike is a great way to travel around within an area, but with the roads often in disrepair, it can be tiring. Automatic motorcycles won’t make it up very steep hills with broken asphalt, especially with two people, and less experienced riders should avoid some areas.

Cycle rickshaws are a fun way to tour around and in some areas motorcycle rickshaws called sitor can take you on longer, hillier journeys.

Sitor motorcycle rickshaws line the street in RantepaoTravelling a long distance? It may work out more sensible to fly between destinations that are further afield, rather than spending days on a bus, especially if your time is limited. Boats can take you to the small islands around Sulawesi, and even between different parts of the main island.

Explore Sulawesi

As well as being a haven for divers, Sulawesi offers fascinating cultural tourism in Tana Toraja and stunning white sand beaches for sun-lovers. National parks and lakes provide opportunities for trekking. Regional culinary delights await visitors, in particular delicious fish and seafood. Sulawesi is waiting to be explored, with many areas completely off the beaten track, but familiar tourist comforts available at places dotted across the island.