Due to the fact that my travels have been temporarily suspended because of the debauchery of the experience described in my previous post, I have found myself having lots of time on my hands. Few things make you feel more productive than making a blog post. I have some other (more jovial) travel experiences to catch you up on. So please enjoy.
All of SE Asia has a unique culture to it. A little bit grungy, a little bit of “good Lord, did that really just happen?”, a little bit rough around the edges. However, there is one place in SE Asia emitting a curious mystique that seems to be downright backwards (or forwards, depending on how you look at it) from the the other countries that surround it. Singapore, in all of its glory, has been coined as “the model city”. After having been living in Vietnam for quite a while where garbage is part of the decor and where I often find myself tiptoeing around the sidewalks to avoid stepping on dead rats thrown out as I make my way down the street to buy an egg sandwich (part of the charm, right?), visiting a place in which merely chewing is illegal sounded rather refreshing.
From what you hear about the country (by the way, to folks from home: Singapore is a country and a city. The entire country is an island that sits itself on the the edge of peninsular Malaysia that is basically the entire city. It is TINY.), what you picture in your head is almost creepily perfect. You hear about the immaculately clean streets, the gleaming skyscrapers that can actually be seen top to bottom due to the complete absence of smog, the crosswalk lines all painted a blinding white, the ridiculously well-organized and efficient (and clean!) subway system. In a country where the GDP per capita is a mind-blowing $60,000, what more can you ask for? It almost seemed too perfect. It has been criticized as being “just like America” so there is no need to go there. However, I beg to differ. I was beyond curious as to how a country so “perfect” could have sprouted up from the organized-chaos surrounding it.
Because it is such a small country, it is very easy to squeeze in among your travels. You can see A LOT, in just two short days. Also, airline tickets (Tiger Airways) from Saigon to Singapore are so cheap (one way $15), you will never be able to stomach an airline ticket in America ever again. Singapore itself is rather pricey though. After endless searches on Agoda we had to settle for a rather dumpy, WIFI-less place for $30 a night (the absolute cheapest we could find), which could score you a 3 star hotel in Vietnam.
A warning about Singapore’s airport: Singapore was voted World’s Best International Airport recently. Due to the fact that airports are one of my favorite places in the world as I am the type of person who actually get excited when I have delays because that means I can spend hours on end in an overpriced Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf reading the $30 worth of magazines I just bought, I had high expectations of having “died and gone to heaven.” Well, hold your horses. Yes, Singapore has the world’s cheapest flights throughout SE Asia. Your punishment? Being sentenced to the “Budget Terminal”, which is exactly what it sounds like (they could have least named it something that didn’t make you shamefully embarrassed to ask directions to–“excuse me, what’s the fastest way to the budget terminal?” *cue judgmental looks*). This is where all the “budget airlines” fly in and out of, such as Tiger Airways, Air Asia, etc. Basically its a warehouse for poor people and the most exciting thing in it is the McDonald’s. If you actually wanted to get the the actual Singapore airport with all the glitz and glamour, they “conveniently” provide you with a free shuttle bus, that then takes you to the shuttle train that you have to ride around on. So in other words if you are transferring flights from a legit airline to a budget airline, you are 99% going to miss your flight.
Anywho, seeing as we actually were on a budget, we did everything we could to avoid taking taxis in Singapore, as they are known to have surcharges for EVERYTHING. Oh you want the hotel to call you a cab? That will be an extra $6. Oh you want to take a taxi between the hours of 8AM and 11AM or 4PM and 9PM, that will be an extra $3 per mile. Oh you want us to wake up early and drive you before the hours of 6AM so you can make your flight on time? We’ll have to slap on an extra $8. Luckily, the subway system thing called the MRT is ridiculously reliable and can pretty much take it anywhere you want to go, including straight from the actual airport (another reason why a budget terminal is the worst idea ever).
Our first stop (and topic of this post): Singapore’s Botanical Gardens. Conveniently located off of the MRT stop, this was an excellent place to unwind and get your thoughts in order when beginning a trip (it’s free too). It is absolutely gigantic. Upon entering, you are not super impressed, but keeping going and really take the time to walk around. It is well-worth the effort (the humidity certainly makes it an effort).
I would suggest going later in the afternoon though or early in the morning (preferably when no sun is out) because I have never felt such oppressive humidity in all of my life. Thankfully it was overcast the entire time we were there, but had there been sun, it would be brutal. The gardens have other gardens within the gardens. The National Orchid Center is found here, but we skipped out because you had to pay to go in. There are orchids everywhere anyways. One “garden within the garden” that I would highly recommend is the Evolution Garden, which basically takes you through different scenarios of Earth’s landscape over evolutionary time–purdy cool. Other fellow nature nerds would have a heyday. No pics though because my camera ran out of batteries.
Onwards to explore downtown. Another easy MRT ride to see all the renowned buildings that carve out Singapore skyline. The best way to knock out everything in one-fell swoop is to do a boat tour leaving from Clark Quay (pronounced KEE). You sail through the river and then out into Marina Bay, setting yourself up for all the necessary photo ops. Otherwise you would have to walk to everything or take the train to different stops.
The five buildings in the picture below on the left are all exactly the same height. For awhile, there was a height limit for skyscrapers in Singapore and these buildings were not going to let their neighbors outshine them.
Below is the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. On top is an infinity pool that looks over the entire city. Google pictures of it. Basically it looks unbelievably incredible. However, you cannot go to the top unless you are a guest. Let’s just say the guests staying at Marina Bay Sands probably don’t fly into the budget terminal. You technically can go to the top, but you have to pay like $25 and you can’t even go near the pool. You can try to sneak up to the top, but An and I were unsuccessful.
Yes, that is a Louis Vuitton store at the bottom.
This is the opera house…nicknamed “the durian” (to my family back at home whom i am sure don’t know what a durian is, it is a giant spiky fruit that smells rancid and most people despise but i am in love with).
After the cruise, we were famished. By far, the happening spot is all of the restaurants along the river. Although certainly not cheap eats by any means, it is at least fun to walk around and see all of the giant shellfish they are selling. A specialty of Singapore is the giant chili crab. We splurged. However, the way to do it is to bargain and bargain hard. Ask them how much a crab is per kilo, tell them the restaurant over there is selling it for like $20 less than what they quoted, try to walk away, and you are likely to hook them.
At night, there is a (free!) light show every night right in front of the Marina Bay. The city looks gorgeous all lit up. Make sure you do ask multiple people what time the light show starts. We were told a half hour later than it actually was and missed a lot of it (brick job), but it was still wonderful to see everything up in lights.
A wonderfully, perfect Day 1 in Singapore. I am not sure if we could have asked for anything to go more smoothly. Pats on the back for An and me.
Some travel tips for future Singapore-goers:
- In the airport, make sure to pick up a free map and stop by the info counter for a free map of the MRT subway/trains. Both are much more useful and readable than in the guidebooks.
- Make sure to book a hotel that is a close walk from an MRT station. Ours was about a 15 minute walk which isn’t too terrible, but there were times when we just wanted to get to and fro as quickly as humanly possible because I have never experienced a place so humid and opted to take a cab to the station.
- Bring a flipping outlet converter. Thanks to British colonization, they were not the same outlets as Vietnam or other SE Asian countries. Luckily our hotel had one, but they only had one and An and I were always very aware of of what was being charged at what time and for how long.