Spooked in Malaysia
On a scale of vanilla to hardcore, I’d probably just sit somewhere above average. Lizzy’s shameless love of One Direction places her comfortably below the line, but to the distressed Singaporean taxi driver, we were crazy white girls. “Daredevils”, he called us.
As we drove to the bus station to embark on our middle-of-the-night “dangerous” journey into Malaysia, our new friend told us his uncle was shot in the face across from the hotel we had booked. When we explained we were just getting another taxi straight to the hotel from the border crossing, he informed us a girl had recently worn gold bracelets near that border crossing and, as a result, had her whole hand chopped off. He also threw in some tales of Australian tourists getting raped, robbed and beaten to death.
“Think the police will help you? Police will not help you, farang. My advice? Don’t look scared.”
We joined the back of a long line of exhausted workers who travel into the city each day, waiting to squeeze onto the last buses of the night. Lizzy’s huge, frizzy-blonde hair overtly suggested that we weren’t exactly locals. After an hour of standing in the aisle next to a man watching a gruesome film on his phone about a woman being brutally killed, we arrived at the border crossing and lined up for immigration. A young Thai guy ahead of us held up the line, and was soon dragged away by a uniformed man with a gun. Something didn’t feel right and I couldn’t tell whether it was a warning sign from the universe, or my mild-to-moderate diarrhoea.
We rushed through to the other side of the border, only to find our bus driving off in the distance. With no other choice, we got on the only bus left heading to Larkin Terminal in the city of Johor Bahru with one other passenger: a small Malaysian man with greasy hair, skinny jeans and twitchy, bloodshot eyes. In broken English, he asked us where we were going. We explained we were getting a taxi to our hotel down the road from the terminal, and leaving for Borneo in the morning.
“Oh no lady. You get taxi here, you die,” he warned as he raised his hand to his neck and sharply sliced the air in front of his throat. “You follow me. I take you to your hotel.”
We got off the bus feeling edgy, alert as animals hiding from predators. My skin was tingling and my hands were shaking. The bus driver and our new escort were making suspicious eye contact and I didn’t know whether my mind was jumping to conclusions or there was a real threat in the air. We pulled up to a dark and seedy bus stop where a group of men were waiting for us to get in their taxis and end our lives once and for all. Our new escort pushed them away and led us through a building with flickering lights to the metered taxis around the corner. “These taxi are safer, get in and I will make sure you get to your hotel.” With no other choice we piled in with our backpacks.
We pulled up outside our hotel. Our escort refused to let me pay, and said he needed to come up to our room and charge his phone. I felt nauseous from panic. We jumped out quickly, before he could follow, and ran inside the cheap, dirty hotel that would hopefully be our refuge. The taxi lingered at the entrance to the building as we checked-in; the desk clerk seemed to be oblivious to our fidgeting hands and watchful eyes. He handed us a key and pointed in the direction of a damp hallway leading to our room.
The room was on the ground floor with a single window for ventilation. We locked the window, resolving that a hot, stuffy room would be better than a visit from any of the evening’s shady companions. It was two in the morning and we lay on our beds sweating, not sure whether to laugh or cry, but too awake to fall asleep. We left the bright, florescent lights on and with each noise from outside, horrific images formed in our minds.
Dawn slowly crept through the stained curtains, and with it came a sense of ease. We felt more positive, yet overtired. Our metered taxi came to take us to Senai airport. Upon checking in for our flight to Borneo, we noticed we were the only women and the only tourists at the boarding gate. We joined the free WiFi, and as we scrolled through our phones, we came across warnings directed at tourists travelling to the east coast of Borneo. There had been many recent cases of kidnapping, and there was a high terrorism risk on an island just off Sipadan, where we had planned to stay.
That was it. The universe was sending us a clear message to retreat. We made a split-second decision not to board the plane.
As the rest of the passengers poured onto the plane, we began to search Sky Scanner for cheap flights out of Malaysia. Although we lost a few hundred dollars and wasted some time, for us, it wasn’t worth the risk. Sometimes while travelling, you need to listen to your inner voice, follow your intuition and read the signs. Sometimes, there’s a fine line between saving some dollars and potentially putting yourself in danger. Sometimes it’s worth thinking of your friends and family at home and considering the seemingly paranoid taxi drivers advice.
Cover by Teck Wee