1 June 2012
I’m writing this while in the air somewhere between Singapore and Hanoi. I can see some land from my window, but I can’t recall what it must be and I don’t have an offline map.
There has been so much to see and do in Singapore that I haven’t had much time to write. And the time I have been online I’ve had to use to book travel and accommodation in Scandinavia.
Lesson for the day: you need more than two days in Singapore.
I’ve never been anywhere near Asia, so this was my introduction to the region. At times very Western and in places quite foreign, it was probably a good idea to start here.
I arrived about 10.30 and caught a taxi to the youth hostel. Very glad I’d booked a 2 bed room for myself – it was a room big enough for two bunks and not much else, and no secure storage in the room. It was, however, air conditioned. So much so that I actually had to grab the duvet off the other bunk to keep warm.
In the morning I was served a breakfast of toast and fruit and what was billed as a good coffee in Singapore, but I didn’t think much of it. Remembering your words of wisdom Hazel, I wasn’t expecting much. ;p To put on the toast there was a variety of spreads including Kaya – turns out it’s a coconut curd of sorts. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaya_(jam)#Malaysia_and_Singapore) The spread was pale green in colour and tasted like those tiny jelly beans with all the different flavours – the coconut one. There was also orange, watermelon, and dragonfruit (bright pink/purple rind, white flesh studded with tiny black pips. Juicy and sweet but with little actual taste. I’ve never been a big fruit person, but in this climate I totally understand the attraction!! Refreshing and just what you’re craving.
Sadly I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo before I ate it. So thanks to Google, here’s an image of the fruit.
Later my search for food took me to the MRT station nearby (Boon Keng). Yay for public transport! Makes me feel a bit stink for telling people $4 is justified for NBus when it costs less than $1.50 to travel in to the central stations on a world class, frequent, convenient, cheap, and well used service. One of the benefits of fitting the entire population of New Zealand onto one small island. (One of the obvious disbenefits being the cost of housing – the tour bus drove us past a couple of bungalows in one neighbourhood that were nothing special, but cost over NZD $5 million.)
As you might have guessed it was rather warm in Singapore. It was between 28c and 32c during the time I was there. It didn’t rain till this morning as I left, but the air was heavy with water vapour, which lent the views of buildings and monuments a pleasant light blue glow. Particularly picturesque against the bright blue and white sky. I hope this comes out in the photos. I wonder if it’s like that all year?
While initially a shock to the system, it was either cooler the second day or you adapt more quickly than I expected. It was quite balmy in the evenings, which lent a festive atmosphere to the streets, in my mind I guess I’m associating it with summer holidays. The ‘safari’ pants have already come in useful – when the legs are zipped off they make the perfect shorts. I can’t get past the feeling of being a stupid tourist, not helped by the beige pants and the white top combo – a short step away from Michael Palin’s never ending supply of identical white shirts and beige slacks. I draw the line at a bum bag.
Following Hazel’s advice I booked myself on the Duck tour that afternoon. To clarify, it’s a vehicle that is painted to look like a duck, not a tour of ducks. Though that could have been amusing too. Converted from an amphibious vehicle used by the Americans during the Vietnam war, I believe. It took us around some of the key sites in town, on the streets and on the river. They have some crazy buildings here.
|There will be restaurants at the top of these 'trees'.|
|The Marina Bay Sands. Giant hotel with a pool and garden on the top.|
Then I caught the hop on, hop off bus around town. I’ve always wanted to be on the top of a double decker bus. J The breeze generated through driving made the heat just tolerable. We went through the Indian quarter and the Chinese quarter and around the main civic centre. Apparently when Singapore was initially settled each ethnic group was given specific areas for living and the civic centre was carefully kept separate.
Being a fan of ferris wheels, that evening I went to the Singapore Flyer – Like the London Eye, but 5m taller I think the guide said. ;) Amazing views of the harbour and the nearby city, and I’m told the land we could see in the distance was Indonesia. Kiwi that I am, I still get a kick out of being able to see another country from the one you’re standing in.
On my way there I stopped at a food market and tried deep fried banana pieces dipped in a kaya sauce. Nom! I was also served a bright green and frothy apple and celery drink. Good combo.
The next afternoon, I headed off on another bus tour and got off in Little India. How different from the central city! They say they had a disagreement years ago over the purpose of the 5ft wide footpath – the Europeans wanted it for pedestrians and the Indians wanted it to display goods for sale. Well the Indians won. Which means people just walk on the road.
On one street I paused a second to check out a guy who was wearing a safari suit and hat. That gave him the opening to try and get me to come inside their restaurant. I’d already eaten lunch at a food market just down the road (kinda like our’s, but more people, more noise, more mess, and yummy food). So he suggested a drink. I thought what the heck, you deserve that for wearing that outfit. He opened the doors and it was dark inside. When my eyes adjusted I could see the whole place was kitted out like a jungle, complete with leaves on the walls and ceiling blowing in the air conditioning, and animals all around the room. So cheesy it’s good! It was after 2pm so the place was empty, except one local at the back sipping a beer. We had a bit of a laugh about the place, then I fumbled my way through a conversation about the NZ cricket team with the Indian waiter, finished my drink and left.
Back on the bus I stopped at Raffles Hotel. A grand old hotel from the colonial era. It was beautiful, and made me want to be a rich old biddy of the Empire swanning around a century ago. After taking a stupid number of photos of the white arches and staircases, I forked out the $30 for a Singapore Sling. I figured it was worth it for the right to sit there and enjoy the building. And it went down very easily. ;)
From there it was on to the Botanic Gardens. But without my noticing my camera battery had gone flat. So I jumped off the bus at Funan mall and went hunting. The mall is 5 or 6 stories high, and every shop sell techy stuff. Cameras, computers, accessories etc.
At the Botanics I was a bit disappointed that the rainforest remnant didn’t look that much different from NZ forests. I guess I expected giant palms and to feel dwarfed by huge flowers and trees. Ah well. The Orchid garden made up for that. I only had half an hour before it closed, but it was gorgeous – not so much for the orchids but the overall garden, and what I assume were squirrels that kept surprising me while I was taking photos of the plants.
A quick bus ride down Orchard Road and it was time for dinner. I headed to Clarke Quay, which was impressive. A huge number of eateries of all different cuisines, along the riverside, full of people! The main area was sheltered by these giant umbrella-like covers on poles with eyes on them. Odd. There were heaps of coloured lights, and what seemed to be some sort of caged soccer game going on in the middle. I ate and then headed to the river cruise. They told me I had to wait half an hour so I went to have a cocktail on the river’s edge. But instead I ended up with what was really just a shandy with fruit syrup in it, and they took so long to bring it to me I have to guzzle and run to catch the boat. No loss, I didn’t like it much.
The river cruise however, I liked very much. There were only about 10 people on board as it was the last sailing of the night. There were a bunch of 40-50yr old Australians on their way home from a 6 week holiday round Europe and the middle east. Good company. We went around the Clarke Quay area and the views were amazing! Gorgeous lights - beautifully lit classical buildings and the more in-your-face lights of the modern icons. It was my favourite tourist activity for Singapore.
They say Singapore is very safe. I’d agree, there’s so many people about and it’s so well lit at all times of the day, you’d have a hard time trying to find a dark alley to lead someone down. At least in the places I went.
The next morning was another first, first time I’ve ever hailed a taxi from the side of the road, and a pleasant journey to the airport.
One other odd thing about Singapore, not sure if it’s the places I was, or not, but they do seem to play a lot of 80’s pop on the radio. Some in English, some translated.
Singapore is an odd mix.