Day 86: Bintulu & Miri, Malaysian Borneo. Another early start, for another Grab ride, to another bus station, for another bus, to another town. And the beat goes on, as they say. Thankfully, we love this particular beat.
As we were leaving the guesthouse, the lovely lady behind the desk (who we now know is called Imah) apologised and said she hadn’t been able to get Lil’s cap back from the bus driver. As he wanted some cash to return it, he would only hand over the cap in person, and he was never in the town long enough for her son to go over on his motor bike to collect it (which was all part of the major cap retrieval plan). So the cap ain’t coming home. It’s a big shame, but in the scheme of things, it’s really not that big a deal. Though Lil says her white Foodpanda cap has to go, as it’s way too dorky for words. Jim is still working on unpicking the embroidered letters on his.
Our Grab driver was a lovely guy. We couldn’t quite understand what his main day job is (he does Grab driving part time), but it was something to do with working for the government and managing mosques. He’s lived in Bintulu all his life, and was really interested to know what we liked about the place, and how other Malaysian towns rate in comparison.
We arrived at Bintulu Bus Terminal an hour before our bus was scheduled to depart for Miri. We checked in at the ticket office (a bit of a grandiose name for a small counter with iron railings), and sat in the waiting area. Where, of course, lots of people stared at us.
Our bus was late leaving, because it was late arriving. When we climbed on board we realised it was exactly the same model as one we travelled on a few days ago, but older. Considerably older.
Outside, the driver ran around wheeling boxes to and from the bus (the bus company also carries packages on board), then climbed into his driver seat and started the engine.
As we lurched out onto the motorway at speed, we both instinctively reached for our seat belts. Except Lil discovered she didn’t have one, as it seemed to have broken off. We also wondered why the driver seemed to be jumping around in his seat so much, until Jim spotted that his seat was held up by a piece of wood – presumably he was just getting balanced.
One of the selling points of the bus company we were travelling with is ‘no squeaks’ – we giggled when we read that statement online. No idea if advertising standards is a thing in this country or not, but the amount of squeaking we had to endure throughout the journey was excruciating – it sounded like there was an entire family of mice living inside the bus.
There was also a makeshift divider between the compartment to the left of the driver, and our front row seats. It was roughly constructed from a piece of plywood with a chunk missing, and lots of string. We were curious to know why there was a pile of small kids’ plastic stools behind the plywood. The stools were making us a bit nervy, as every time the bus went over a bump, they lifted into the air and crashed back down again in front of us.
We soon discovered what the stools were for, when the driver stopped to pick people up along the busy motorway. The bus was full, so their only option was to perch on the small kids’ stools in the aisle of the bus. A family of seven climbed on at one point, including two babies, and seemed pretty happy with the arrangement.
We stopped for a 15 minute break half way through the journey. There was a huge undercover market at the stop-off point – mostly fruit and vegetables but with a few fish thrown in for good measure.
A guy on the pavement outside the main market area was selling two large fish wrapped in cling film, which presumably had been sitting in the sun for some time. He did his best to convince Lil to buy one, however she pointed out that the other passengers on the bus mightn’t be too happy. He chuckled and said “no problem”.
We arrived at Miri bus terminal which is about 5km outside town, and caught a Grab to our guesthouse. There was a bit of confusion about which room we’d booked, but after lots of running up and down stairs and swapping keys and air conditioning remote controls, we finally got settled in.
We headed out to take a quick look around Miri, had a wander along the waterfront, and grabbed a cold beer at a place called Beer O’Clock – another self-service place where you choose what beers you want from the fridges, then pay and take the drinks to one of the tables. It was also a good chance for Lil to catch up on the local news.
Then we had dinner at an eatery on the way back to the guest house – Lil had Pork Wan Tan noodles, Jim had a duck noodles dish. As always, the food was fabulous.
Tomorrow evening is the start of Hari Raya Haji, the Malaysian name for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha (or Festival of the Sacrifice), which finishes on Monday evening. We’ll have to see if there are any activities taking place in the town. We might also visit the Petroleum Museum, which Jim says sounds like a heart stopping activity.