My First Border Crossing

By Bryan | Published: 21st Apr, 2007

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.


The Noob

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...

  • jangelss
    crossing borders is always fun... as long as it's visa free!
  • Bryan
    I couldn't agree more Jake Angeles. I've always been an advocate of borderless travels.
  • Marjorie Russell
    I really like the gaming scene in Singapore, you are really lucky because you can cross it so easy!
  • Bryan
    Thanks. Singapore is such a nice modern country, at the same time, it has retained its traditional flavours.
  • Cat Nerizon
    I remember one of my great great friend told me 8 years ago, "Traveling alone sometimes help you discover yourself better, your unidentified strength. Learning of how yourself is both AT ONE WITH and SEPARATE FROM. Some Journeys in life can only be traveled alone"...
  • Bryan
    Well said. "Some journeys in life can only be traveled alone" - I'm trying to read between the lines, Cat Nerizon... It's sad but true. We always needed to be alone sometimes to feel that something we couldn't feel from being with someone. It helps us understand ourselves until we're ready to travel again... with someone. So, start traveling! :)
  • Alison Thomas
    I'm so jealous of you right now. I've always wanted to travel and experience the culture of another country, but I'm a chicken. I'm not sure I could do it all on my own. It's just such a daunting task. Did you have any misgivings going into the trips? Worries? If so, how did you overcome them?!
  • Bryan
    It was my first trip overseas and first ever experience on a plane (mind you) haha... I'd say — just do it, Alison! It feels great. Traveling alone teaches you to push yourself in every situation. Regardless how it goes, it's a new experience.
  • Patty Brown
    OMG Bryan you are so lucky, or would I saw bold and smart. I have always wanted to visit Singapore and especially see the Merlion. Indeed just like you said Bryan it is really awesome exploring a new place, there isn’t any feeling sweeter than that. I would definitely look into my budget so I can join in the backpacking travels as a pinoy, your post just increased my thirst for Singapore. I would surely visit Next Year.
  • Bryan
    Hey there, Patty! I would love to hear your own Singapore adventures next year then... Let's go!
  • James
    Bryan you really did a great job, reading your post just made it seem as if I was with you all through the backpacking travel journey, it was really detailed. Really thanks for your tips on travelling especially for a Pinoy traveler, it is really needed, I think I would consider hostels rather the high sounding hotels, that would save a whole lot that could be spent on transport and sightseeing in the backpacking travel.
  • Bryan
    Thanks, James. I hope it was useful in a way. This was my first overseas travel and I can still remember every detail of it. Scary at first and then suddenly, all just nicely fell into place. Go travel! And yes, hostels are cheap and fun!
  • Christopher Goldsmith
    Singapore and Malaysia, are nice country which i know from you, I will go there for travelling , Thanks bryan.
  • Bryan
    Yeah, I agree to that. I like Singapore better than Malaysia but just because I wasn't able to explore much in Kuala Lumpur. I would consider going back there though.
  • Alfie Chess
    Thank you man for sharing your experience in this blog post. It was worth reading. Singapore is a great place with beautiful infrastructures and just enough place to visit
  • Bryan
    Nice to know that someone is reading it haha.. Thanks buddy. Singapore is indeed nice and very clean. If given a chance, I think I would consider living there as well.
  • Jane
    How much did you pay in the border
  • Bryan
    Hi Jane. Interesting question. At the time, I didn't have to pay any. They only asked for my passport for the arrival stamping.

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