In Malaysia on arrival by boat the immigration authorities give us a 30 day Visa stamp in our passport when this expires you have to leave Malaysia for at least 14 days before returning. Cases of coronavirus in Malaysia were being reported at the time my visa was expiring so I agonised over whether to go to immigration and ask for an extension (not normally given) or just leave the country for 14 days as per the rules. In the end the matter was decided for me as it took the Volvo engineer two days longer to fix the engine than anticipated and I just ran out of time to make a plea to immigration. I had decided to go to Japan to see the cherry blossom which was due to bloom in March and booked a flight to Osaka in southern Japan.
At Langkawi airport Air Asia printed out my boarding passes for both legs first to KL and then to Osaka and I was on my way. While I was waiting for my Osaka flight in Kuala Lumpur I perused the latest news on the progress of coronavirus around the world. One of the articles reported a big cluster outbreak in Osaka that day and at that time the number of cases was spiralling in Japan albeit in Hokkaido in the north. I was concerned that I might not be able to return to Malaysia after spending 14 days there. Malaysia had already banned people coming from Hokkaido so I bought a ticket online to Singapore from the airport and went to the transfer desk to ask if they could cancel my Japan flight and transfer me to my just booked Singapore flight. The woman behind the counter refused on the grounds that my boarding pass had already been issued and that under international law you were not allowed to transfer unless it was onto a flight to your own country for emergency reasons. I had no choice therefore to but to continue with my flight to Osaka while fuming at the bureaucracy.
The seven hour flight to Osaka was uneventful and the Japanese guy sitting next to me slept throughout the entire flight. On arrival in Japan around 10 o’clock at night I booked in to a cabin hotel on the airport. These hotels offered little cubicles just large enough for a bed but very clean and surprisingly comfortable. I decided that it would be too dangerous to stay on in Japan with the additional risk of being barred from Malaysia. So I bought a flight that night out to Singapore first thing in the morning. However, the only flight I could get was one to Manila and then an onward flight from there to Singapore, I had spent 12 hours in Osaka and hoped it wouldn’t count against me in future destinations.
On arrival in Manila it was a simple matter to go to the transfer desk and be rerouted to my Singapore flight. Manila was in lockdown and it wasn’t possible to enter the country unless you were resident there. The four hour flight to Singapore passed off without incident, the plane was only one third full so we were well looked after by the lovely stewardesses.
In Singapore I had reserved a room at the 4* NuVe Heritage Hotel expecting to arrive from Kuala Lumpur but had explained my predicament by email to the hotel and told them to hold my booking.
The following morning I went to the splendid Gardens by the Bay which were very quiet. The city wasn’t in lockdown but citizens had been told to stay at home to avoid unnecessary travel and as a society they are very obedient.
The government has rules for everything and is very strict on law breakers.The next couple of days I spent in my hotel room as the situation escalated around the world, only going out for meals and a walk to get some exercise. The next morning a friend of mine in Rebak Marina in Malaysia messaged me to say that Malaysia was going into lockdown the following day and no foreigners would be allowed in thereafter. I decided not to try to fly in but to take the land crossing over the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia and travel by bus as the most lenient route to get back in. If I was refused entry I could get the bus back to my hotel but I didn’t relish having to rent an apartment for several months in expensive Singapore. I had only been out of the country for 5 days instead of the regulation 14 so immigration had a very good reason to refuse me entry. I also had a stamp in my passport from Japan and given Malaysia’s ban on visitors from Hokkaido I knew I was doubly at risk.
The bus only had 5 of us on it, normally it would be packed with Malaysian workers going to and fro to Singapore for work. I cleared out of Singapore immigration and got a second bus for a five minute ride across no mans land to take me to the Malaysian border. Here I scanned the immigration officers and picked a sweet young girl as being potentially the most lenient, these were tense moments.
She asked if I had been on holiday in Singapore, I said I had and she asked me if I had had a nice time to which I said “yes, it was lovely”. She asked me where I was staying in Malaysia and I explained my boat was in Langkawi and I needed to get back to it. She then asked how long I would like to stay in Malaysia to which I replied 3 months and she stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay.
I couldn’t believe it, I was back, I had been so sure they would refuse me entry, I skipped through the terminal, hired a cab to the airport and on my way booked my flights back home to the boat. The only flights I could get from Johor Bahru to Langkawi were via Subang and then Penang to Langkawi the following day. I booked into the Museum hotel in Penang. My first flight was cancelled so I rebooked with another airline for a flight 2 hours later. Fortunately this was still within the layover time at Subang. I got to Penang at 21.50 and took a taxi to the hotel and flopped into a big soft bed.
The following morning I wondered if I should just stay in Penang for my next hospital appointment in three days time for a checkup on my nose which had been operated on three weeks previously to remove a cancerous growth. I asked the hotel if I could extend my booking but they said they were closing down as I was the only guest. They also advised that all bars restaurants and non essential businesses would close the following day and most flights had been cancelled. So that decided my plans for me. That evening I thought this will be my last restaurant meal for a long while so I went to a Japanese restaurant and ordered Kobe steak and washed it down with Connors beer, truly wonderful. When I woke the next morning I had an email from the airline to say my flight to Langkawi was cancelled. I phoned the airport and asked if there were any other flights still flying, they said only one by Firefly at 12.20 which I then booked online before it sold out. It was then 10.10 so I packed quickly and got a Grab (Asian Uber) to the airport. Quickly cleared through security as there were few people there and went to the gate. Nearly every flight on the board had “cancelled” against it. Boarding time came and went and then an attendant came over to tell us the flight was cancelled because of a “technical problem”. I explained my need to get back to my boat and she went off to discuss plans. She came back to say they would put us (only 3 passengers) on the 5.30 flight, ten minutes later she came back again to say the flight would go anyway. Yippee! Nine airports in 5 days!
30 minutes later we were in Langkawi, I had made it back by the skin of my teeth but here I was. There was only one taxi waiting where normally there would have been twenty and I asked him to take me to the local supermarket to buy fresh fruit and veg. I was relieved to see the shelves were stocked as normal, no panic buying here! Then it was off to the Rebak ferry and the boat after quite an adventure. So here I stay initially in 14 day self isolation and then probably many months more until the movement control order is lifted. In comparison to others however we are so lucky to be based on this beautiful island for the lockdown period.
I have included some photographs of this little island paradise.