Old and New in Delhi

The trip to India last year was definitely one of the highlights in 2011. My first visit to the South Asian country was not timed with the best weather. In fact, I arrived in the midst of Indian summer with soaring daytime temperature of 40-45°C. Thus, the incredibly cheap airfare, Kuala Lumpur-New Delhi by AirAsiaX (MYR266 = GBP55 = SGD100 return per person, booked about 9 months in advance). India is a country of great contrast. Like many other cities in India, Delhi boasts a wealth of spectacular monuments and buildings. On the other extreme, houses in dilapidated condition are evident, especially in the older part of the city. Visitors arrive by air are greeted by the modern Indira Gandhi International Airport connected by the sparkling new Airport Express line to the city. Travel options within the city can be an interesting mix of Delhi Metro, tuk-tuks and cycle rickshaws.

Delhi rickshaw
Cyclo rickshaw in Old Delhi (05/2011)

Delhi tuk-tuk
The iconic yellow and green tuk-tuk in Delhi (05/2011)

Delhi airport
Decorative sculpture in the Indira Gandhi International Airport terminal (05/2011)

Malayan Railway (KTM) Land in Singapore

I travelled by train between Malaysia and Singapore for the first time in May 2010 and got to experience firsthand the rather unconventional border crossings that have been properly summrised in Wikipedia as follows:

* Towards Singapore, Malaysian immigration officers carry out immigration clearance on board the train at Johor Bahru railway station. After clearing immigration, the train crosses the causeway and stops at WTCP, where all passengers must proceed to Singapore Customs and Immigration. Therefore, travellers entering Singapore by rail are following the correct order of immigration clearance, that is, exit granted by Malaysian Immigration in Johor and entry granted by Singapore Immigration in Woodlands. After clearing immigration at Woodlands, passengers may disembark or continue their journey to Tanjong Pagar by train.

* Towards Malaysia, passengers must board the train at Tanjong Pagar and clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration before boarding. The train travels about 30 minutes to WTCP and stops for another 30 minutes to allow sufficient time for passengers to clear Singapore Immigration. In this case, passengers are granted entry into Malaysia before clearing Singapore Immigration, which is contrary to international practice. To circumvent this problem, Malaysian immigration officers do not stamp on passengers' passports.

SIngapore Railway Station 1
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station is the current KTM terminal in Singapore (05/2010)

Singapore Railway Station 2
The station was opened in 1932 and nicely decorated with sculptures and murals (05/2010)

The reason behind the bizarre immigration procedure is that the Malayan Railway (Keretapi Tanah Melayu, KTM) land in Singapore was leased to the Federated Malay States by the Straits Settlement government then under a 1918 colonial ordinance for 999 years (The Star, Malaysian Insider) and the status of the KTM land has been subject of dispute after the separation of both countries. A breakthrough in the impasse was made recently with the signing of a historic agreement on 24 May 2010. The KTM Singapore terminal will be moved from the current one in Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands nearer to the border by 1 Jul 2011, hence, freeing up the KTM land for joint development by both countries in the future.

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Three Wheelers in South East Asia

Vientiane, Laos
Jumbo driver waits for passengers in the capital of Laos.

Jumbo in Laos

Hanoi, Vietnam
Taking a cyclo is a popular and convenient way of exploring Hanoi Old Quarter.

Cyclo in Vietnam

Melaka, Malaysia
Excessively decorated trishaws blasting loud music are impossible to miss in Melaka.

Trishaw in Malaysia

The Route to Samosir

Samosir (within Lake Toba) is an island within the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Most visitors to Samosir fly to Medan, the gateway to North Sumatra, which is only about 50 min from Kuala Lumpur, crossing the Strait of Malacca. Samosir is a great place to be for scenery and culture or simply to chill out. Here're some get-in and get-out tips, from my recent trip there, to share with anyone who is planning a trip there.

Going through the immigration at the Medan Polonia International Airport was a breeze for me. Arrival procedures are pretty standard. Two forms, namely Customs Declaration Form and Arrival/Departure Card, are to be filled and submitted on arrival. The Departure Card (detached from the arrival card) is to be retained in the passport and submitted to the Immigration Officer on departure.

Leaving the country can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the rules. Get your boarding pass at the Check-in Counter as usual but be sure to keep some Rupiahs for the airport tax (Rp75,000 for Polonia International Airport: international flights), paid at the Airport Tax Counter. Then submit the "fiscal form", which you collect at the check-in counter, to the Fiscal Counter. Foreign visitors are exempted from the fiscal that Indonesian citizens required to pay when exiting the country. Do not forget your Departure Card, which you have been keeping since arrival, as it will later be collected by the immigration officer.

PS: Although the access to the Polonia airport terminal is restricted to ticket holders, there are people, in plain clothes, within the terminal who offer assistance with the flight check-in, presumably with a fee. If in doubt, always hold on to your documents and do the check-in yourself!
Kuala Namu International Airport, currently under construction, is to replace the current airport in the near future.

Medan Polonia Airport
Medan Polonia International Airport

The journey from Medan to Prapat, the town by Lake Toba, takes about 4 hours by taxi and you get to experience the local traffic and driving ethic along the way. Some taxi companies pick you up directly from the airport and the trip to Prapat costs about Rp70,000 per person in a 8-seated Toyota Kijang.

Medan to Prapat
En route from Medan to Prapat

Prapat is served by regular ferry/boat service to Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island. Tuk Tuk is where most accommodation can be found. Some resorts in Tuk Tuk can pick you up from Tomok if you miss the last evening boat to Tuk Tuk, which leaves earlier than that to Tomok. Be sure to get enough cash at Parapat before crossing as there is no ATM machine on Samosir Island. There will be more on the lake, island and its people in the coming blogs.

Prapat to Tomok
Boat to Samosir from Prapat

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