Journal,  Singapore

The Long Way Home: Singapore

We’ve now moved on from Bali to the urban metropolis of Singapore; the Lion City. Singapore is one of only three city-states in the world and is one place I’ve always wanted to visit thanks to Formula One.

Before arriving, I knew that Singapore would be amazing but I didn’t expect to find such a clean, orderly, technologically-advanced and green country. Even walking between towering skyscrapers was peaceful; I didn’t hear a siren once.

The Plan

I’d read a lot of blog posts about Singapore highlighting what to do with just 24 hours in the country. Normally seen as a stop-over when flying long distance but I believe that Singapore deserves so much more than 24 hours.

We decided to spend a few nights in an Airbnb followed by a once in a lifetime experience; a night in the Marina Bay Sands hotel. You’ll probably know which hotel I mean. It’s the one with THAT infinity pool overlooking the city.

To make it easier on the feet, we decided to split our exploring up into different areas of the city each day. We wanted to see as much as possible so that we could just relax by the time we got to the Marina Bay Sands. We didn’t have enough time to venture further out of the city although that’s something I’d love to do in the future.

Arriving

The flight from Bali only took an hour and a half and we landed just before midday. Changi Airport has consistently been ranked as the world’s number one airport. I’m not joking when I say this but it took fifteen minutes to get off the plane, through hand luggage scanners, through customs, pick up our bags and on to the bus to Terminal 2. What a way to make sure everyone has great first impressions!

During the five minute bus journey, I couldn’t help but notice the greenery outside. Trees and plants everywhere. Whenever we go on a city break, we like the adventure of trying to get from the airport to our accommodation on public transport. Singapore was in a different league altogether compared to the likes of Budapest.

We were to take the underground electronic tube (no drivers here) one stop before switching to the downtown line. About forty minutes later we’d be just a short walk from our Airbnb. The only downside of getting a ticket for the train was that they wanted everyone to buy a tourist transport pass.

You can buy a single ticket from a machine which accepts cash only but for tickets under S$6 (2 singles cost $5) you couldn’t use anything less than S$10. Straight off the plane we had no small notes and the two desks have huge signs saying no changing money. The queue for the tourist pass was huge and we didn’t need to pay S$30 each for three days. There’s just no need as, we found out, most of Singapore is doable on foot. We settled for a local transport card, like the Oyster card in London, which cost S$12 each but included S$7 worth of transport. The cost of a ticket worked out cheaper that way too.

Once we emerged from the air-conned underground, it was impossible not to notice the fact you’d literally walked into an oven. The heat was like nothing I’d experienced before. Even after nine months in Australia! It must have something to do with the humidity and the fact that Singapore is less than 100 miles from the equator. The temperature on our phones said 29 yet the real feel was almost 10 degrees hotter!

Try lugging 25kg full suitcases with a backpack full of camera and drone gear in that heat. By the time we arrived, I looked like I’d just stepped fully clothed out of the shower.

The Airbnb wasn’t quite like the photo.  We’d been placed into a different room altogether. It felt more like old student accommodation in a lovely house but we weren’t that bothered as we’d be out exploring! The only issue we had was someone trying to get in the outside door in the middle of the night each night!

Little India & Orchard Road

After a quick change of clothes for something drier, we headed back out to wander around Little India before checking out the shopping district of Orchard Road. It’s worth mentioning that Singapore was split up into distinct quarters for different ethnicities thanks to Sir Stamford Raffles. Wander around and you’ll see his name everywhere; from hospitals to the world-famous Raffles Hotel.

Anyway, Little India was exactly as I’d imagine India itself would be. Full of colour, extravagant Hindu temples and gleaming gold shops. The highlights were the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one brightly coloured house and the food!

 

Little India
The Gateway
Colourful Houses
Little India

You’ll spot the temple easily as you wander down Serangoon Road. The gateway to the temple is a large pyramid covered in intricate carvings. We’d arrived at prayer time but, after taking my shoes off and washing my feet, I wandered inside. I didn’t know what was going on but it was great to watch.

As we walked around, you couldn’t help but notice the smell of freshly cooked curry wafting out of the doorways of every restaurant. We settled on Komala Villas; authentic South Indian vegetarian food. Very different to what you might order from your local takeaway back in England; no chicken tikka massala here. The waiter recommend two different rice plates which came with different curries and dips. We also ordered onion bhajis which were really nice. Overall, we both really enjoyed the meals although they were a lot spicier than we were used to. The yoghurt came in handy.

Onion Bhajis
Rice Plate 1
Rice Plate 2

After food, we braved the heat again to walk along Orchard Road, Singapore’s shopping district. A 2km road filled with so many shopping malls! It would take more than a week for a proper shopaholic to do this place any justice. We only went in one mall for a look round and that was so big we got lost. By this point, we needed a sit down and a drink. It should be illegal for it to be so hot!

Ion Orchard Road

 

Chinatown

Our day exploring Chinatown started early and, by 10am, it was already over 30 degrees. The sweat was dripping off me. It’s easy to walk for miles and miles in Europe’s winter but here we were both struggling! Maybe that’s why so many people use the public transport. I don’t really like to head underground as you can miss so much even between a few stops.

The first stop was for Kaya toast, the national breakfast dish. Toast is filled with butter and kaya; a kind of sweet coconut jam. Alongside, two poached eggs are served apparently to enhance the flavour. We ate at the original Ya Kun Kaya Toast shop where the toast is still grilled over charcoal. I’d recommend trying it but it is very sweet and I had to eat the eggs separately.

Kaya Toast

We then wandered the streets exploring more temples, seeking out original Perankan houses and looking around the markets.

Chinatown
Chinatown
Thian Hock Keng Temple
Potato Head

A trip to Chinatown would not have been complete without checking out the hawker centre opposite the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Singapore is all about the food and you’ll quickly learn that hawker centres (like food courts for street food) are the beating heart of this country. This is where everyone comes to eat and to drink. The food is inexpensive here and the quality is out of this world. No wonder then that many stalls have been awarded Michelin Stars!

Hawker Centre

You may have heard that the cheapest Michelin Starred meal is available for just a few dollars in this same Chinatown hawker centre we were in. We were looking for it when a local stopped us for a chat. He explained all about ‘Hawker Chan’ and how it is only the tourists that eat there now. He said that investors had essentially bought his name and opened chain restaurants. Apparently, he was only awarded a Michelin Star because the food was the cheapest, not necessarily because it was the best.

We spoke to this local for about ten minutes and he pointed out his favourite stall which served up the same Hong Kong Style Soya Sauce Chicken. ‘Hawker Chan’ was the apprentice of the little old lady at this stall. He said that this is where the local’s ate and it was the best.

I don’t know how true his word was but we lined up in a queue ten deep for half a chicken and rice. The chicken is chopped up there and then with nothing wasted, sauce poured all over and served up on a plastic plate. We sat down, trying not to think about how grubby the whole centre was, and tucked in.

For S$7.50, there was enough to feed both of us and, honestly, it was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect but the flavours were so good! If you ever go to Singapore, you’d honestly be a fool not to eat in hawker centres. The cost of food is really low considering the high quality.

The Arab Quarter

From Chinatown, we thought it’d be a good idea to walk to the Arab Quarter on the other side of the city. The heavens opened and the rain poured down. I was however thankful as, for once, it was cool. I just wish it’d stayed like that for longer!

The route we walked took us past the Old Police Station, with it’s multicoloured windows, as well as the iconic Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented. It’s currently undergoing refurbishment and I’m sure will continue to welcome many celebrity guests in the future. Once the Long Bar re-opens, you can sip on a Singapore Sling for S$30 and toss empty nut cases on the floor!

The Old Police Station

The Arab Quarter is home to Haji Lane, a narrow laneway full of boutique shops and street art, as well as the Sultan Mosque, with it’s huge golden domed roof. The street leading up to the Mosque is full of palm trees which makes for a great photo. However, in between your shutter clicks, you’ll be pestered by touts trying to get you into their restaurant.

Sultan Mosque
Street Art
Sultan Mosque
Haji Lane

 

Gardens By The Bay

The gardens are one of Singapore’s top tourist attractions and cover 250 acres just south of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Even if you know nothing about Singapore, I’m sure you will have heard of (or seen) the Supertrees which rise up to 50 metres. These structures look a bit like trees but instead have vertical gardens growing skywards. They also harvest green energy to power the gardens.

Supertree Grove

Just walking below these huge trees is incredible. It gets better though. Each evening there’s two light and sound shows where the supertrees are transformed! The area was busy so we found a seating area filled with photographers. Just look at that view!

Supertree Grove

The gardens are also home to two domed conservatories. They look like gigantic greenhouses. One contains plants and flowers from across the world, which was okay, but the real show stopper is the Cloud Forest Dome. Inside, the plants and trees are from high up on mountains shrouded in mist. On the hour, the dome releases mist adding to the mystery. The dome also contains the world’s tallest indoor waterfall!

 

Tilt Shift
Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest

To keep you out of those pesky over-priced restaurants, there’s a hawker centre here too. Satay by the Bay has loads of stalls but it would be rude not to try the satay given the name. We settled on 15 satay sticks with a mix of chicken, beef and pork belly for S$10. Not only are the spices on the meat themselves really good, you get a satay dip and (if you ask nicely) a homemade pineapple salsa. Somehow it all went well together. I also had my first beer here. S$11. That my friends is cheap! I saw an advert for two small bottles of cider whilst in the city for S$28.

Satay by the Bay

Around the Marina

We spent a lot of time wandering around the Marina itself underneath the huge skyscrapers. From the city side of the Marina, we sat by the huge Merlion facing the Marina Bay Sands to watch the evening laser show. The Merlion was invented by the tourism board in the 80’s and has been lapped up by us tourists. Half lion, half mermaid, this statue spouts out water 24/7.

Marina Bay Sands

We also found an amazing food court in a shopping centre which had a robot wheeling round where you could put your empty trays in. I expected to only see things like that in Japan!

Singapore Marina
CBD
Merlion
Marina by Night

Marina Bay Sands

Last but not least, our time came to stay the night (just one, we’re not made of money) at the Marina Bay Sands. The hotel complex consists of the hotel itself, a convention centre, a shopping mall, museums and the world’s largest atrium casino. It only opened in 2010 and cost S$8billion to build.

Marina Bay Sands
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

The hotel is situated in each of the three towers and, on top, those towers are connected by a platform which houses a SkyPark and the best infinity pool ever. We both agreed before we booked flights to Singapore that we wanted to stay one night here. You can only gain access to the pool as a guest so that was a persuading factor. I know it’s expensive, I think we might have paid £400, but it was worth every single penny. I’ll be writing a post on what it’s really like to stay there soon.

Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool

I’ll save the detail for another post so I’ll keep it short and sweet. We arrived at 10:30am from our Airbnb and managed to drop our bags off. Check-in wasn’t until 3pm but we were given access to the pool which we took advantage of. The view is just insane and one that I could (well actually did) stare at all day/night. You can’t get bored of it!

Selfie

Our room wasn’t bad either even though it was technically the cheapest. We were on the 39th floor in Tower 3 overlooking the Gardens by the Bay.

View from Marina Bay Sands

To celebrate our time in Singapore, we splashed out on a drink in Club 55 which looked over the twinkling city lights. It literally cost about S$40 for a bottle of beer and a cocktail but it was the perfect way to end the trip.

We are definitely on a budget by the way and, overall, we spent about S$100 less than planned. Splashing out on such expensive drinks is not normal for us and is something we try to avoid. We spent far less on food than we thought we would so we had some surplus to treat ourselves.

The hotel was obviously expensive too but it was a once in a lifetime experience and it’s not as though we’re going to be able to travel long-term again. We’ve got a wedding to save up for as well as our first house!

Moving on…

I loved Singapore and would honestly recommend it to anyone. I always thought that cities in the West were ahead of the game but, when you come here, you’ll realise how far we are behind.

Next on our list is Thailand where we’ll be visiting Phuket (purely to relax) followed by Chiang Mai and Bangkok. This is our last country before heading back home to the ‘real world’.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the pictures. The majority of these are JPEGs from my camera with a tiny amount of editing (contrast, clarity and a vignette). You can read why I decided to shoot JPEG here.

ps. more pictures below.

 


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