|January 6, 2010
We had an early start this morning to get us to the airport but annoyingly the taxi company forgot they had a booking to collect us. When they finally arrived we were running a little late and with the traffic to the airport we were there just an hour before the flight was due to leave, barely enough time to check-in and drop our bags off. I have to admit, I like flying and all the stuff that goes with it but I hate getting to the airport. I’ve never missed a flight through a fault of my own and I’d like it to stay that way, please!
Anyway, we made it in time and just a couple of hours later we were out of Thailand and into Singapore. We really liked Thailand overall but the diving certainly made it for us. I’d have happily stayed longer if I could’ve dived more but budget restrictions mean that can’t happen everywhere and given we plan to still dive in Australia, Samoa and Hawai’i, I shouldn’t get too greedy!
Our first impressions of Singapore were good – the airport was large and clean, immigration easy, the tourist information centre equally so and the taxi driver understood us! It was looking good. At our hostel, the Mitraa Backpackers, we got checked in and up to our room. It was a tiny, pokey little room but for the price and location it was perfect for us.
We spent much of the afternoon reading through some stuff we picked up from the tourism office. We only have three full days here and want to make sure we do everything we want to.
Lunch was a Western affair, I’m afraid to say, with a tasty Pizza Hut pizza being the order of the day. Since Vietnam, we’d not had pizza as they had all been so poor in Asia but given how westernized Singapore was, we felt it was time for some!
In the evening, we headed out to the famous Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar. This bar is allegedly the home of the original Singapore Slings and we felt obliged to taste them! One of the unique things about the Long Bar is that despite being surrounded by a very, VERY posh hotel, it is the done thing here to eat your peanuts and chuck the shells on the floor. We of course helped carry on that tradition, too! The Slings were good if not a little over-sweet but the sour after taste in having to pay the bill was also over-powering! With the tax and service charge, the two drinks cost S$56.50. To put this in perspective, our hotel room is costing us S$60 per night. Even in Bermuda you didn’t pay that much for a drink! Oh well, it was something immensely touristy but something we’ll only ever do once!
For dinner we hit one of the shopping malls. The cheapest way to eat in Singapore is to visit the food courts. The one opposite the Raffles Hotel had just about every type of Asian food imaginable and both Elizabeth and I decided to have a curry, this time foregoing Thai for a Japanese one! The curry sauce was really good and reminded me of our very first night in Japan. Cost of dinner? Under S$17. Even our lunch had been under S$20. Cheap day if you ignore the Slings…!
January 7, 2010
Our first full day in Singapore and we hit the museums hard! We started off with our free breakfast at the hotel before heading to the nearby shopping mall to pick up some food for lunch.
Our first stop was the National Museum of Singapore. Here we bought a three day museum pass and paid extra to go and see the special exhibition here, which was about Egypt. The special exhibition was really good and really well laid out. The most interesting part for me was actually being able to recognize many of the names and statues of the gods and pharaohs just from the time we spent in Egypt and what we learnt on our couple of day trips. Our tour guide to Sakkara and Alexandria had taught us well!
The rest of the museum went through the history of Singapore, starting with a large gallery going through the entire history of the country. We had an audio-guide here which was really interesting at the start but just dragged on nearer the end. We spent over an hour in this one gallery alone but if we’d not skipped much of the audio we could easily have doubled that. It was interesting to hear the stuff about WWII though and the Japanese invasion and occupation, from another perspective. We’d seen displays in Japan about their aggressive attacks on South-East Asia and the Malay peninsula and so it was a good balance getting to hear the Singapore side of the story. To be fair to be the Japanese, they told a reasonably unbiased version although they did miss out the bit where they tortured a lot of males between the ages of 18 and 50 for information! It was also interesting that after the Japanese surrender and the return of the British colonial rule, many Singaporeans resented the British for the way they gave in so easily to the Japanese in the first place and allowed the locals to suffer so badly.
The remaining four galleries showed different parts of the local culture – cinema, food, fashion and photography. The cinema and fashion exhibits didn’t interest me much but the other two did. The food exhibit showed a number of local dishes and had videos showing them being made. I thought this was fascinating and it made us want to try many of the items – we’d already decided to hit a food court on another night and just buy 4 or 5 of the local specialities! The photography exhibit centred on the family portrait, highlighting the fact that in the past it was only the rich who could afford such luxuries and now, in the digital age, every man and his dog (and his wife and children, too, I suppose) can afford a snapshot. It was funny seeing some of the wedding pictures too with not a single person seemingly able to raise a smile. Even Elizabeth managed a small grin after she’d mistakenly agreed to spend the rest of her life with me!
Next up, after our on-the-go lunch, was the Singapore Art Museum. There was a large display here of art from the Philippines and whilst it was pretty interesting, there was not much explanation of why such a large display was here! There was an interesting representation of The Last Supper here which caught our eyes but other than that, the museum was good but not overly spectacular. Some of the galleries here were closed while displays were being changed and we were to find out at our next stop that this wasn’t the only place.
The 8Q Art Museum was next and this was a modern art gallery. In the entrance hall was a bright, shiny silver jeep which looked really cool. It was designed as a symbol of the way people get around in the Philippines, once again with no reference to the relevance of that country. There were two open galleries which were quite interesting but the remainder of the large building was under renovation. As we went to leave, the receptionist asked us if we would fill in a survey about the museum which we thought was a little pointless considering we only spent about 20 minutes actually inside there!
Our museum pass covered eight museums of which we wanted to do four. We’d done three of them already and decided to leave the fourth for another day. The pass was a good investment though; we’d already saved money by getting it.
Museum overload had set in and so we decided to change course. We headed to the Archipelago Brewery to try some locally brewed beers. We got two of the sampler sets and tried all six of the beers they had, from a light lager to a much darker ale. They all tasted great and surprisingly I preferred the lightest one, possibly as a result of the high temperatures and humidity here combined with the cooling effects of a nice, fizzy beer! We decided to stay for another quick glass while we built up our appetites and make the most of being able to sit down for a while. It wasn’t like most brew pubs we have been to as they had definitely tried to make it much more upmarket. However, it made tasty beers and wasn’t too pricey. We even decided to buy a souvenir glass at the end!
After a walk over to the river to see the Merlion (half lion, half fish, quite strange!), we headed to Hard Rock for dinner. Despite pathetic service, the food tasted good and satisfied my need for a burger (chicken) to compliment my earlier beers!
We got back to the hostel just after 8 and we were both knackered, having been out and about for 10 hours today – very much a change from most of the previous week where we sat on our backsides doing nothing!
January 8, 2010
We headed out this morning to another of the museums of our pass, this one being the Asian Civilizations Museum. The museum was out by the river and it was nice to have a wander along there while walking from the subway station.
The museum itself was really well laid out and was split into different galleries covering the different Asian regions. The first part about Singapore itself was really interesting and spoke of the trading port it grew up as and the city it now is, including the story of Raffles, the English gentleman who came here in the early 19th century and chose it as an ideal hub for British relations and shipping in the then Dutch dominated region. The other sections covered China, Western Asia (the Islamic gallery), Southern Asia (mostly India) South-East Asia, which interested us a lot after our time in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Seeing artifacts from around places like Angkor, My Son and Ayutthaya which we had visited, plus more background on them, was really cool and even the stuff from Malaysia and Indonesia was interesting. Again, the museum had a special exhibit on the Philippines which we didn’t really understand the significance of but seemed to totally skip anything about Japan.
After that we headed to a salad bar for lunch. The concept was really cool – you picked a “base” for your salad (lettuce, cous-cous or potatoes) and then added what you wanted. I’m used to most places having set salad dishes since we’ve been travelling so it was a nice change.
In the afternoon we took the long trek out to the zoo. It was about 20 minutes or so on the subway then another 45 minutes by bus. Once there though, we found a quite peaceful, really well designed and laid out zoo with some great areas for the animals. The zoo has a number of animals which are wild and roam pretty freely, including a group of small cotton-top tamarin monkeys right by the entrance, happily playing in the tree for all to observe and photograph.
We saw the usual suspects around the zoo but the best thing by far was the big cats. The enclosures for all of them were massive but we managed to see them all, including the rare white tiger, jaguars, pumas, lions, cheetahs and the elusive leopards. Well, just one leopard but I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d seen one given how good they are at hiding!
The weather in the morning was quite overcast but the clouds provided a nice respite from the blazing sunshine even if the temperature and humidity wasn’t getting any lower. However, we experienced a quick downpour in the afternoon (we were inside, checking out the huge constrictors in the snake house, thankfully!) and the temperature and humidity immediately became more bearable!
We headed back to Farrer Park after that, the subway station closest to our hotel and headed to the mall there and the food court. We had some more local specialties that we wanted to try before we left and thought we’d try some tonight. We started off with a roti prata. This is Indian style bread served with a curry dipping sauce. We got out roti with onions and it was great. Accompanying that, we had a fried carrot cake. This was not carrot at all but radish and came in two types: the white style meant it was savoury and black is sweet. The radish was fried with eggs and looked quite like an omelette. The taste of this was OK but the roti was better. Finally, we tried a laksa. This was a chicken dish in a spicy sauce with noodles and bean sprouts. I really liked this but Elizabeth wasn’t so keen, deciding instead to go and get some soy ice cream while I stuffed myself!
January 9, 2010
Today was one of those rare occasions where we had nothing much planned so we decided to have a wander around the botanic gardens. Sitting at breakfast on the terrace at the front of the hostel we could already feel the heat of the sun today and could tell it was going to be a hot one. Taking the subway to Orchard and walking along the main road, I was already getting hot and sweaty and was glad when we reached the gardens and there was plenty of shade around.
In fact, the gardens were lovely and quiet and the trees and plants surrounding the lake near the entrance we used were plentiful. The lake was full of carp and swans as well as the odd small turtle we noticed. Being a Saturday, the train had been quite busy and the mall at the exit equally so but the gardens provided the opposite of that. The site was large enough that we were able to avoid being stuck in crowds and enjoy our surroundings. A large central area here was dedicated to rain forest and it was almost refreshing to walk through the cool shade here. It was just a shame it didn’t last long and we were soon back in the sun. I don’t mind the sun or the heat but I know I burn pretty easily and the mixture of sun cream and sweat running down your face is neither pleasant nor attractive!
For lunch we headed back to the shopping mall by Orchard subway station in the hope of ticking off some more things off our list. Really, we only wanted to try one other thing and after visiting about 30 different food stalls we finally stumbled on one selling Hainanese chicken rice, just as we were about to give up – I was almost tasting the burger I’d decided to have as my alternative! Having found the food we wanted, we ordered the set meal for two which included the Hainanese chicken, rice flavoured with chicken and vegetables in oyster sauce. We also had a bowl of soup each which tasted just like chicken stock and was almost enough to cause chicken overload! However, the food was really tasty and went down really well, the combination of hunger and air-conditioning providing an excellent basis for stuffing ourselves! I still think I prefer the roti and probably the laksa over this but I would gladly get any of those three again. Not sure about the fried carrot cake!
After a bit more of a walk around the shopping malls, we headed back to the hostel and lazed around a bit, deciding to take a bit of time out having spent almost three days solid on our feet.
We are heading to Australia tomorrow and Singapore has been a great little stopover between the attempted Westernization used by the Thais in the south and the ACTUAL Westernization we’ll experience when we get to Perth. Perfect! Now, the only choice to make is more local food tonight or something different? Pasta it was, and just about reasonable it was too although the soy ice cream for dessert was cheaper and much better!