A Travellerspoint blog

Singapore

Day Five: It doesn't just rain, it Singa-pours!

And other poorly executed puns...

rain 26 °C
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This was it, our last day in Singapore and we were all set for the beach on Sentosa Island. The sun was shining, we had eaten well and I was especially excited to try out the 'MegaZip' zipwire owned by a family friend.

Upon arrival at the cable car station, we had the option of riding away from Sentosa first to explore Mount Faber and marvel at the views over Singapore before heading down to the beach and we were in a spontaneous mood. The journey up did indeed offer amazing views... of the blackest of clouds approaching from the Singapore Strait. Within seconds the storm had pounced and once again we were treated to a Southeast Asian end-of-the-world intensity downpour. Unlike our first, this one came with a gale force wind and did not stop, and along with all visibility we lost our desire to visit the now invisible beach below. For the first time, I was actually cold.

After an hour of captivity inside the top cable car station we had a very tasty, discounted lunch (good old vouchers) and braving the drizzle we walked through the park to check out the Henderson Wave Bridge:

OK, one of us decided he wanted to surf the wave too

OK, one of us decided he wanted to surf the wave too

Then, keen to get make the most of his ticket to the aquarium (the man loves his fish), Zlatan headed us back to the cable car at pace and we took the aerial route over to the island. Sentosa is essentially a giant fun park, full of rides, pools, cinemas, an aquarium, and a big ol' zipwire. It's also the only place in Singapore that you can safely swim in the sea. As we arrived the clouds opened yet again and Z was forced into buying an outstanding yellow poncho for the walk. I was the only one not sensible enough to pack (or buy) any rainwear, but despite being wet through I convinced the others to follow me up the hill to investigate the price of the zipwire. In 5 minutes we had 3 complimentary zipwire tickets thanks to Mum's contacts back home, and thanks to the rain there was no queue which allowed us to do this:

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We landed on the beach and I was still desperate for a swim so after a quick change we stepped through the palm trees and jumped in (with a camera of course).

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I spent the rest of the day by myself, and the cooler weather gave me enough energy to walk to the Raffles Hotel to try and steal a souvenir for Mum. Sadly the bar was closed (sorry Mum!) but I took great pleasure in walking my sandy feet around the magnificent buildings past impeccably dressed porters and very fancy cars. The grounds were beautiful, and outside the immaculately tidy main entrance I spotted a lovely white flower on the pavement and named her Lucy. She kindly let me take her picture, one of my favourites of the day. Together we decided that we were too good for Raffles and continued up the road.

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I highly recommend the walk up the Esplanade, the views are breathtaking and I immediately found veggie food at the nearby Makansutra Glutton's Bay food court to enjoy with by the water. I was here to ride the Singapore Flyer a little further up the Bay, the 165m giant of an observation wheel that you'll have seen in the night sky photo from day 3. I timed my 'flight' to coincide with the sunset, and after being mistakenly bundled into a pod with a bewildered Indian family I watched the sky darken and the city come to life. I kindly volunteered (of course) to take the family's picture, and was very surprised when they asked to have a picture of me standing with them! I will never see the startled look on my face, but I'd like to think it'll end up on a Delhi mantlepiece.

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Back on the ground, at long last I found the now legendary water and light show that had started the drama of day 3, and I was treated to an awesome display over the Bay against the backdrop of the skyscrapers, surrounded by people of all cultures and still covered in sand and salt. For the first time since leaving home I rediscovered my reasons for travelling, and as Louis Armstrong provided the show's finale with "What a wonderful world", I had to agree.

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Tomorrow our 3-strong wolf pack will travel 220 miles North across the border into Malaysia, and as we have yet to agree on our accommodation there may be a gap in these blog updates! My next entry will be from Kuala Lumpur, see you there.

Posted by WorldWideWill 21:20 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Four: Lost & Loving It!

When exploring goes wonderfully wrong :)

sunny 34 °C
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This message made my day. Such a small thing, once again somewhere that not many people would notice it, yet it had a profound effect on my mood (possibly exacerbated by dehydration and post-illness malnutrition!).

Last night, in deep conversation with my new Bosnian friend Zlatan he recommended (and showed my a video of) a light and water show near to the impressive Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Our hostel receptionist told us it was a 30min walk. I got chatting to another new friend, Hijkje, a girl from the Netherlands, and we decided to go down to the show together leaving at 20:30 in plenty of time for the 21:30 start. At 9pm it was clear that (a) this was not a half hour walk, and (b) we had taken the wrong road. Long story short, we never found the show, got lost in a tropical public park, failed to sneak into the MBS Hotel to use the infinity pool, and ended up lost, overheated and hungry miles from the hostel.

At midnight we gave up and headed for the tube, only to be almost locked in after all the lights turned out - we had missed the last train. The buses had also stopped, and without enough cash for a taxi we started walking back through the ridiculous shopping mall (so ridiculous is has its own water channel to ferry people from one end to the other!). Of course the food courts across the city had also closed, and at the end of a long 4.5 hour trek we found ourselves - to my great shame - in the only place still open at 1am: McDonald's :(

All was not lost though, and in addition to the all the delirious laughing we enjoyed as we got more and more hopelessly lost, we snapped some really great pictures. Never would have seen this view without an unscheduled detour:

Singapore Skyline at Night

Singapore Skyline at Night

This morning we explored Little India in search of cheap flip flops for Hijkye, and finding the place rather dull we ended up at yet another huge 5 storey shopping mall for some food and air conditioning. Once again, the food stalls failed to produce a vegetarian option (how can you stock every meat and then be 'out of stock' of mushroom noodles?!) so I sat forlornly nibbling on a sultana biscuit watching H eat her salmon fried rice! Happily though we stumbled across a Dutch pancake house on the way back, and after pointing out the spelling mistakes on the menu I splashed out $11 on a 'veggie treat' omelette and some cinnamon crepes to share. This was heaven. Until a simple act of poor labelling ruined my day:

Curse you Heinz, CURSE YOOOOOUUU!!!

Curse you Heinz, CURSE YOOOOOUUU!!!

Fear not, I survived to blog another day. This evening Zlatan & I had tickets booked for a night safari at the Singapore Zoo (it seemed like a novel thing to do with a new friend and I had no illusions of how wonderful it would be, especially in comparison to the Dennis family night game drive in the Masai Mara!). We hadn't considered that the zoo might be AN HOUR out of town (or so they said at the reception...) and as we ran onto the MRT at 18:30 we were cutting it fine to be there for our 19:30 start. By 7pm we had only reached the shuttle bus, another 45min journey, and with the reflexes of a somewhat groggy cat we dodged a zoo transfer bus scam and bundled into a cab.

We were there in 20 mins, and then 'enjoyed' a zoo experience like no other. Starting with a tram ride through the zoo (which is all in a rainforest) we then walked miles of winding paths from enclosure to enclosure, sweating like... well you know. It was spectacular to see the animals so close, but having seen most of them in the wild it was heartbreaking to see the signs of captivity madness in them and they were clearly on mild sedatives for the purpose of the tour. We came away feeling a little depressed at having funded the cause, and after a fire show we took the long bus home.

I'll sum up the night's final moments quickly as I know I've rambled on - don't go to Clarke Quay. For the uninitiated, Clarke Quay is where cultural exploration goes to die. It is an area of Western restaurants, nightclubs, bars (including Hooters) and hundreds of TV screens playing Western sports and it is full of British people. It is a gaping wound in the middle of this lovely, clean and law-abiding city, and includes at its centre an infamous bridge on which sit hundreds of drunken, smoking, swearing and violent, bottle-smashing Brits. It's Hell on Earth.

In fabulous contrast, tomorrow we explore the beautiful Sentosa Island, swim in the sea and possibly even try out a giant zipwire...

Posted by WorldWideWill 00:38 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Three: Sickness in Singapore!

Time to appreciate the finer details...

rain 28 °C
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Perhaps it's the jetlag getting worse, or maybe it was the dubious 'vegetarian chicken' I ate down the street last night. Either way, today has not been a pleasant one!

Surprisingly, one of the hardest things for me in Singapore has been finding decent vegetarian food, and after an hour's searching last night I finally found a veggie food stall only to be met with a sign saying it was closed until Monday (when I leave). Desperate to avoid caving in and buying a McDonald's I splashed out instead on a bag of pistachios and a snickers from the local 7 eleven and prepared for an evening of comfort eating instead!

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On my way back I stumbled upon the Ci Yan Vegetarian Health Food Restaurant (above), which turned out to be about 50 yards down the road from the hostel! Before I could decide if it was worth a try I was ushered inside by a friendly old man (my first friend!), sat at a table that I could barely get my knees under and an order for the day's special (veggie chicken and rice) was shouted into the kitchen. It arrived within minutes, but the suspicions it raised in me were quickly replaced by hunger and under the watchful eye of the owner I started eating. It wasn't great. The advertised brown rice (see photo) was so organic that it came with bits of grain husk and required an awful lot of chewing, and the beancurd 'chicken' was sadly laced with a coriander based sauce, my food-based nemesis. I felt incredibly guilty scraping most of it into the bin as I cleared my table, and made a hasty exit after reluctantly paying the nice man $6.50 for his trouble.

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Today it rained. A LOT. Thankfully this made it mercifully cool outside (28C), but walking to buy water was still too much for my stomach and I retreated to reflect on the little details I've been noting here. A great man, and my one day grandfather-in-law taught me to read everything in a new place, and what great advice - I'm sure the subtle humour hidden around this hostel is lost on so many guests who don't read the safety notices (see above)! I extended this skill (of reading) to the Chinatown market earlier this afternoon where I came across a fridge magnet listing all of the weird and wonderful laws and penalties in Singapore. My personal highlights are: (1) Urinating in lifts - $500 fine; (2) Not flushing a public toilet - $150 fine; (3) Possession of firecrackers - the CANE! What a wonderful society, I now realise why everyone calls it "The Fine City".

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There are some examples of pure genius amongst the crazy though, the above being one of my favourites - giving pensioners a swipe card to allow them more time to cross the road: AMAZING! They also have a ridiculously cool mechanised car parking system (watch the videos on YouTube) and the girls match their umbrellas to their outfits.

Writing has given me energy to get outside again, I wonder what tonight's exploring will uncover?

Posted by WorldWideWill 17:45 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day Two: Explore Singapore

semi-overcast 35 °C
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I did myself a huge favour by not sleeping on the flight, and although the jetlag is still very obvious today I managed a few hours overnight and woke up at a 'normal' local time.

After a basic hostel breakfast I walked through Chinatown and past the local temples towards Marina Bay. I stopped in one of the immaculate little parks to take today's photo, already overcome by the 35C heat after less than an hour's walk! The city is an amazing contrast between streets of traditional style 2-3 storey houses or shops and huge skyscraper office blocks. And when I say huge, I mean GIANT. They always tell you to remember to look up in Manhattan, but trying to look to the tops of the buildings here does your neck damage! At 12 o'clock sharp, the doors of all of these glass monsters fly open to release hundreds and hundreds of businessmen and women as they flock to the food courts dotted around the city. Caught up in the rush, I became very aware of myself - not only does my 6ft 2", pasty-white frame stand a clear foot above most of the crowds here, but I was suddenly the least well-dressed person in a 2-mile radius and certainly the only one not wearing shoes (which raised some eyebrows when I casually sauntered into the Microsoft building to use their toilet)!

Following the crowds (when in Rome) I ended up at the Lau Pa Sat food court, home of around 60 individual food stalls selling everything from the standard chicken and rice combo to curried fish heads. I avoided both stalls and settled on a stall offering 'Tow Foo' dishes, assuming (1st error) that it was veggie tofu food and hoping (2nd error) that the stall owners would speak enough English to explain what was in it. I was met with awkward silence as I made creative gestures and said the words 'tofu', 'no meat?' and 'vegetarian' over and over until the older lady behind the counter simply pointed to the far wall of the food court (or gestured for me to leave, who knows?). I felt a little stupid upon seeing the stall with a giant 'V' on it, but promptly ordered the Bee Hoon, a great little dish of noodles, vegetables and tofu and I threw on a spring roll for good measure. SG$4.50 well spent. I have now learned that 'Tow Foo', or rather 'Yong Tow Foo' is indeed tofu, but it is stuffed with meat paste - a lucky escape!

The afternoon was spent weaving through air conditioned malls and taking frequent rest and water breaks until I reached a hazy view point of the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel (a cool $350 per night), took a quick photo and decided to retreat back to the hostel as the jetlag continued to sap my muscle energy and heat rash ravaged my legs! The sun has set once again and I am looking forward to a more restful night's sleep. My local climate research (which really should have been done in more detail before I left home) tells me that there is on average one degree of temperature change between day and night here, ONE DEGREE! Tonight is forecast to be 32C and I'm increasingly thankful for air conditioning! Time to find a quick local supper followed by an icy cold shower!

Posted by WorldWideWill 18:48 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day One: Arrival in Singapore

Oh so very hot...

sunny 32 °C
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Great flight from Helsinki, my longest to date (12hrs) so naturally I was hugely impressed, and grateful, to be welcomed to my seat by a pillow, blanket, headphones and my own touchscreen TV (with a remote control that doubles as a game controller!). Even more pleasing was the number of empty seats on the flight, so I immediately bagged 2 extra pillows and got ready to stretch out over 3 seats for some sleep. Except sleep never came, largely because the armrests between the seats didn't fully fold up, so I was 'forced' to watch The Hobbit, a couple of episodes of HIMYM and make the most of the unlimited free beverages for the remainder of the journey. Ah well!

Arrived at Changi Airport at 1640 yesterday and was immediately greeted by a warm, humid air hug. Instantly drenched with sweat (I was still dressed for Finland) I made a beeline for the baggage claim to grab flip flops and shorts out of my bag... which never came. The carousel stopped bringing bags and I was taken off to the desk no one wants to see and started filling out forms, completely beside myself - no warm weather clothing, no toiletries, no suncream... Only after completing the forms, digging out my travel insurance details and someone calling Helsinki airport did my poor bag suddenly appear, apparently having been sent to the wrong terminal or belt (I wasn't interested).

I decided to avoid any first day scam potential (unlikely in Singapore but you never know) and tried out the MRT instead of taking a taxi to Chinatown. The trains are beautifully air conditioned and clean, although I was thoroughly confused by the number of women who boarded and then stood facing me in my seat, and my inner gentleman was silenced by my aching shoulders and I decided that me and my heavy bag had just as much right to the seat as a woman carrying only a handbag. A sneaky photo taken on my phone shows that several stops later, a line of women had formed in the middle of the carriage, all facing me and my seat and I started wishing a pensioner would show up so I could legitimately give up the seat. One stop from Chinatown a woman boarded with a slightly pronounced belly, so, taking a gamble I leapt to my feet, offered her my seat and prepared to make a run for it - if she was pregnant I had just aced the social courtesy and had the respect of the whole carriage, if she wasn't she was happily surprised at my conduct and was now sat in front of a long line of pissed off Singaporean women!

Eventually arrived here at the Beary Nice! Hostel after an involuntary tour of Chinatown (took the wrong exit from the station), and it is rather nice! I have a top bunk above a small Chinese man who giggles to himself while watching anime cartoons, and there is a nice lounge with this computer and an illegal movie laden TV. Water is cheapest from the pharmacy next door, costing just 80c (40p) for a large bottle (compared to $3 in the 7 eleven supermarket) and the veggie food offering nearby seems hopeful. Time for a shower then bed.

Posted by WorldWideWill 23:11 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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