Our Australasia antics completed and we headed towards Asia. Our first stop was Singapore, which proved something of a surprise to both of us. A vibrant city full of interesting culture and not the clinical and sterile stereotypical description you could be forgiven for imagining.
Our journey to Singapore was with Jetstar. The flight was perfectly adequate with a good seat pitch, although we’d only just missed out on the last emergency exit seats. The 11 hours journey whisked by quickly giving me time to have a good old sort out of the travel technology, backing up and sorting photos and generally doing a bit of housekeeping. I even squeezed in a quick movie on the ipad.
We arrived in Singapore a little late due to air traffic congestion over Singapore so spent 30 minutes circling Singapore and Malaysia until the Singapore ATC deigned to let us land. Singapore immigration and customs was a breeze and 30 minutes later we had our backpacks on and went in search of the MRT station to get us into the city. Singapore Changi airport is a little bit confusing in that it has four terminals all connected by little sky trains which you need to hop on to get to the MRT train terminal which sits in between terminals 2 and 3.
Not the Right Window
We made it to the station and headed for a sign marked ticket office thinking that would be the place where we could buy a ticket. Sadly this was not to be. She told us sternly she only issues three day, weekly and monthly passes, not single trips. Out came her finger and pointed us to a machine opposite. Off we went with our new recently liberated $50 SGD note in hand to buy our tickets.
After a bit more confusion we found that the machine only gave a maximum of $10 in change so we went back to the ticket office in search of some smaller notes.
She was already poised with her finger and directed us this time to the passenger assistance window from where we could get change halfway down the concourse, off we trudged. We were not the only weary travellers suffering this tiresome parade, and it was a pretty poor first impression of Singapore. If there was a low point that was it, from there on in it was all uphill.
Finally with tickets in hand (or cards as they are, for which you have to return to the machines after you have used them and claim back your SGD £1 deposit) you enter the beautiful clean and efficient MRT system.
We managed to hit rush hour and John and I, our backpacks, and a few other thousand Singaporean shared the same carriage. A change of trains at Tanah Merah and about forty minutes later we were wandering out of our station on the edge of Chinatown making the short five minute walk to our hotel. It felt a lot longer than that on this humid night with our backpacks on.
The 45 minute journey cost us the sum total of SGD $2.10 (£1.10) and has to be one of the cheapest airport transfers in the world – well done Singapore now if you can only sort out that ticketing confusion at Changi airport you would have got maximum points.
Accommodation in Singapore is, as we later found, about the only thing that is really expensive. We paid around £60 a night for the hotel in what proved to be a great location just on the edge of the Chinatown in one of the Hotel 81 budget chain hotels. It was small, had wifi, a TV and a kettle and served us perfectly for our three night stay.
Exploring the City
As we had just arrived from New Zealand I found it interesting that Singapore and New Zealand have similar populations around 4-5 Million. What they don’t share is the population density levels. While Kiwis bask in the spacious 16 people per sq Km, Singapore manages to squeeze in about 7000. It certainly felt like that at times.
The transport system of buses and trains is frequent and very cheap to use. You can buy a day pass for about £4.00. They have a complex system of car taxes where you have to bid for the right to own a car and you then pay road tolls to enter parts of the city so all in all you have to be pretty wealthy to drive a car in Singapore. The good news that this manages to keep the city centre traffic to a reasonable level compared to any major city I’ve been in .
Singapore is a truly modern asian city, but they have a managed to preserve the culture and a lot of the historical building while doing so, unlike our experience of Kuala Lumpur . You will find the old colonial buildings nestling amongst the modern skyscrapers and developments.
One area that is completely new is the Esplanande and Marina Bay and is pretty by day but spectacular at night. It doesn’t really compare to the Hong Kong light show and skyline, but where does? Singapore by night is a surprisingly romantic place, as the local teenage lovers who line the bank will testify. It seems to be the place for locals to develop their relationships away from prying eyes.
It is not an expensive city unless you want to empty your wallets at the many fine dining establishments or the myriad of shopping malls across the city . The hawker food stalls will feed you for a few quid and in Chinatown a large beer will only set you back SGD $7 or about three quid.
Transport around the city is easy; either on one of the multitude of hop on hop off sightseeing tour buses (about £20 for two days with a river tour thrown in ) or with a daily transport bus and MRT pass for about £4 per day.
It’s a cultural marvel with probably the best Chinatown we have experienced anywhere. China, India with a hint of Malay make up the countries main population apart from the expats which include quite a few Europeans trying to keep the financial centre whirring and about 100,000 Indian migrant workers putting up the new skyscrapers for this expanding city.
Chinatown is big and you can eat at the cheaper hawker stalls feasting on dim sum and Char Sui buns or go upmarket and eat at one of the more expensive restaurants that are dotted throughout. There is also a beautiful temple at the end of Temple Street. The buildings here are all old colonial style and have been preserved very well, only on the outskirts do you see new Housing blocks and shopping malls.
From chinatown its a short hop north to Little India and another set of perfectly retained colonial buildings. You can get your fill of true vegetarian or meaty indian dishes here for a few pounds and that’s exactly what we did for our first lunch, delightful. We both felt we were in need of a haircut so found a very friendly Sri Lankan barber who trimmed us into shape for 2SGD.
As we were looking so trimmed and proper we thought we would do the must see Raffles Hotel. The nice thing about the place is they just let you wander in and take photos, so we took up their kind offer and did just that. We found the Long Bar, but it was not open so no Singapore Sling for us that afternoon :-(.
While not cultural, but de-rigeur for any tourist destination Singapore has its attractions. We did not bother, but if you want to there is the theme park, cable car and zoo with a special line in ‘Night Safaris’ staring at nocturnal animals.
We opted for the free Laser show at Suntec City Mall which was great fun and worth the wait, and there is a great dining hall where all the locals eat. We are now guaranteed wealth as John and I both walked round touching the fountain and made our wishes, this is the worlds largest fountain. Our free upgrade to business class on the flight to Bali proves without a doubt that the fountain works.
The Botanical gardens are free apart from entry to the Orchid Park which is well worth the $5 (£2.50) additional entrance fee and you should include this in your Singapore trip, no matter how much time you have in the city.
It is just too hot to walk about even slowly, within 5 minutes you are an overheated ball of sweat in search of some air conditioning. The good news is this is easy to avail, just wander into one of the many huge malls which are dotted all over the city.
Changi Airport knocks Hong Kong off my favourite airport – you get plush surroundings gardens in which to smoke with a bar provided, free wireless (after a slightly confusing passport check) free Lan plug in points and power.
charging station for laptops, mobiles and anything else you want to plug in. It was also the place we received our first upgrade to business class. But more of that later.
Posting this blog from a small Indonesian island was probably not a good idea. It has taken forever, but we love you so we persisted….