One Night in Mersing - day 10

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Country House Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  , Johor,
Friday, April 16, 2010

We were the only foreigners on the six-hour coach trip from Kuala Lumpur, heading for the port town of Mersing (so that we could get a ferry to Pulau Tioman the following morning).  Perhaps it was for this reason that we appeared to be the only passengers phased by the attitude and skills of our driver, the man entrusted with our lives.  Overtaking on blind corners is bad enough, but using a coach with limited acceleration was less than our idea of fun, especially when several silly attempts were aborted by our driver at the last second.  We were crossing a part of the country which has given itself to the palm oil production industry and logging, and whilst it was pretty if repetitive scenery, getting stuck behind a succession of logging trucks was painful. 

We stopped around halfway at a roadside cafe.  Everybody disembarked and made their way, apart from us, to the shelter of the cafe and its food offerings.  A cursory glance at some of the highly populated fly papers left out near the food was enough to encourage us to make do with the provisions we had brought with us.  The outhouse was stinking in the midday heat, though without a toilet on board the coach we were left with no option but to gingerly pull back the dilapidated wooden door and answer the call of nature.  Nature was calling pretty loudly in there, with all manner of bugs and flies enjoying their feast. 

Our blood pressure was returning to normal as we arrived at Mersing.  The coach pulled up in the middle of a car park and we were told to get off.  Immediately, we were singled-out by a woman who clearly wanted our money.  This time we would humour the tout, as though we had done some advance planning in an Internet cafe the night before, we had not managed to reserve accommodation on Pulau Tioman (let alone Mersing).  We were swiftly ushered into her office next to the car park, pleasantly air-conditioned and looking pleasingly professional.

We liked this lady, in no small part because of her relatively good English, able to answer our questions with objective detail and qualification.  We also liked the fact that she cut to the chase; one of her opening gambits was to establish what our budget was and advise us accordingly, rather than the typical wastage of everyone's time by trying to sell the highest prizes.  We had figured that we might spend around two weeks on the island for a quiet, chill-out getaway to gather our thoughts.  With a deal and in compromise with our plan to just get over to the island and check-out some of the beaches in a few days before settling, we concluded on reserving through her an initial two nights on one beach (Ayer Batang) and then a further seven nights at the sole resort on Panuba beach, after which it would be up to us.  After a couple of failed attempts to pay by card, we paid cash and left on the hunt for our night's accommodation in Mersing.

Even on the map this place looked pretty small, and exhibited only a handful of options for accommodation.  We looked at the room in one place, seemingly run by a half-blind old-boy, and at a price of just less than a tenner for the cell being offered, we left.  After lugging our bags up and down this building, however, we lost the appetite to keep looking for a good deal, especially for just one night.  The place just across the road, the Country House Hotel, looked a good prospect therefore.  We saw the room and checked-in, the unshirted Chinese hard guy demanding the payment upfront of ten pounds for the night.  Upon closer inspection (once the air-con was switched on!), we realised that this place was a bit of a dive.  There was a door in the corner which led out to a balcony, however, the door was of the front-door of a house variety, loosely attached, and the balcony was no longer existent.  Remnants of previous visitors and dead insects littered the floor skirting. The bathroom seemed clean enough, though the sight of a lizard's skeleton stuck to the paintwork of the window frame spoke volumes of the owner's standards of upkeep!

We went out into town, sticking-out like sore thumbs.  What stuck-out to us was the lack of Westernisation, as well as the the open sewer canals lining the roads alongside the pavements.  After doing a circuit of the two main streets, we decided to eat.  The only place appeared to be an open-sided cafe which was patronsied by a couple of groups of local Chinese men, either talking in hushed tones or watching the soap opera on the TV as we approached.  All went quiet and eyes turned when we stepped over the threshold, literally like something out of a Western.  To our relief, the young girls acting as waitresses flashed smiles and guided us to a table.  The old lady running the place came over and helpfully took us through the menu, and we ate handsomely on claypot tofu.  During our meal, the surreality of Ross' name being called out several times in a place where no one knew him took a while to register; the travel agent from a few hours earlier approached the table, fortunately smiling.  She held out cash in her hand, and after our surprised hellos, explained that she had been searching for us around the town (perhaps being a couple of the few foreigners in town probably helped her cause) to return the overpayment we had made of the credit card surcharge when in fact the card had failed to work.  Despite our request for her to join us, with her kids waiting in the car outside she went as quickly as she had come, too quickly for us to fully give our appreciation for this rare display of honesty.

We headed back to the hotel, and for the first time felt the need to get out our travel sheets (like sleeping bags, but made of thin cotton sheets for warmer climates) to sleep on, rather than use the potentially bug-ridden sheets provided.  We killed off the remaining mosquitoes, and settled down for what proved to be a fitful few hours sleep.  The main interruption was us both being woken to the sploshing of a rat coming out of the toilet and jumping back in!

Weary, we set off in the morning for the ferry terminal.

For those of you in the UK, Ross equated Mersing to Folkestone; a small port town which was perhaps prosperous years ago, but is now a redundant and run-down backwater with half the shops empty and some going to dereliction.  What surprised us was the fact that this small town of two streets could be (is) the capital town of that state/province. 
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