Published: November 5th 2005October 30th 2005
View from our 12th floor room at YWCA
This travelogue is a documentation of our DIY trip to Singapore and Malacca (Malaysia) from October 30 (Sunday) to November 4 (Friday). It is a compilation of our actual experiences during the travel and other tips from my month-long research on the two countries before we left.
Our schedule was as follows:
Singapore - October 30 (Sunday) to November 2 (Wednesday)
Malacca - November 2 (Wednesday) to November 3 (Thursday) -- see Malacca blog
Singapore - November 3 (Thursday) to November 4 (Friday) -- see Singapore part 3 blog
This is my second time in Singapore (the first having been last June) and my first time in Malaysia. I traveled with my 53-year-old mom :)
1. We flew the first flight out of Singapore Airlines which left Manila at 8:15AM. I checked us in via internet the night before so getting in was a breeze - no need to line up to check-in. The counter for internet check-in is the same as those of flying Raffles Class and Krisflyer Gold members so we were the only customers in that counter :) All we had to do was check-in our luggages and pick-up our boarding
Our room at the YWCA Fort Canning Lodge
2. For some unfortunate reason, I always, always get to line up at the sloooowest Immigration counter. And there is a common denominator amongst these slow lanes - the Immigration officer would normally be an old person. So there’s a tip for you: when in Singapore, if you can manage to peek at the officer first, do line-up at counters manned by younger officers. They are sharper when it comes to scanning your information and faster at using the computers.
By the time we got out of Immigration, our bags were already out of the carousel and another airline was already using it. As in ganun katagal bago kami natapos.
3. There are various ways to get to the city from Changi: taxi, MRT, airport shuttle, airport bus. As using the MRT would be difficult for us since we both had luggages and handcarried bags, we went straight for the airport shuttle as planned. These are Mercedes Maxi-cabs which can seat 6 people and which can bring you to any hotel in the city. They cost $7 per person. There are scheduled runs which will leave regardless of the number of passengers but these are few
Fantastic view of the Fort Canning Country Club from our room at YWCA Fort Canning Lodge
and far in between. However, if there are 6 passengers, it can leave immediately.
Unfortunately, there were only 2 of us and the next scheduled run was an hour away. After waiting 15 minutes with no other passenger approaching, we decided to just get a taxi instead. It cost us more (we paid around $19) but it saved us time.
1. I booked and prepaid our hotel via internet (http://www.asiatravel.com) in early October. I chose YWCA Fort Canning Lodge because it was one of the cheapest being offered online and it had good reviews. I was glad to found out the reviews were true :)
YWCA Fort Canning sits facing Fort Canning Road, a quiet street across the Fort Canning Park. It is right beside Park Mall (which is quite useless because it’s a mall that specializes in high-end furniture and home stuff BUT which allows you a convenient pass-through going to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station which is right across) and a bus station right in front which services a good number of locations including those going to the Zoo, Night Safari and Jurong Birdpark.
Orchard Road is on the other side
View of the Marina Bay skyline from our hotel room at YWCA Fort Canning
of the Dhoby Ghaut station and this is where you see Plaza Singapura which has a Carrefour supermarket in the basement. This is also where I had my money exchanged (although I had some S$ with me already for the cab fare). Anyway, I realized that unlike in other countries, the money changers at the Changi Airport offer the same rates as those outside so you can have your money changed there prior to entering the city.
2. Again checking-in was a breeze. After being handed our electronic key cards and breakfast coupons, we hauled our stuff to our 12th floor room (I knew about this already based on the reviews and anyway, for S$90 which is cheap in Singapore, you cannot expect the same service as the one you get at the $400 Hilton or Raffles).
3. Our Standard room had two single beds, extra pillows, a TV, ref, IDD phone, hot & cold water both in the faucet and the enclosed shower, complimentary toiletries, coffee and tea-making facilities and best of all, a sweeping view of the Fort Canning park and its Country Club (beautiful!), the Marina Bay skyline and a beautiful Anglican church :) The
At the artsy Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (notice the blue & white mosaic tiles)
view at night is magnificent :)
The room was spacious and clean, with your own aircon. You would need an adaptor to be able to plug in your phone / camera chargers, etc. - you can borrow this free of charge from Housekeeping.
Local phone calls are 11 cents per minute + 10% tax. There are 2 internet kiosks at the ground floor - usage is at $2+++ per 15 minutes (mahal!)
4. Breakfast is complimentary at the ground floor coffee house. It’s not very good but it’s free and it’s the only thing you can have in the morning (malls open at 11am) so we stuck with the same food for 3 days.
The breakfast buffet includes: 2 kinds of cereals, 3 kinds of fruits, fried rice, noodles, sausages, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, baked beans, congee, bread with your choice of strawberry or orange jam and salted butter, 2 kinds of fruit juices, coffee and anemic tea.
5. They also have a storage room where you can leave your luggage in case you’re going someplace else (like us, when we left for Malacca) or if you’re checking-out early (like us also because our flight
Riding the very fast escalators at the MRT stations
back to Manila was at 5:10PM and check-out time is 12nn).
6. To go to and from YWCA via Park Mall: From the hotel’s main entrance, walk to the road (Fort Canning Road) then turn left. Right beside the hotel are parking ramps going to the Park Mall parking lot. You can go up the ramps or if you’re law-abiding, you may use the stairs at the farthest side of the exit ramp :) From the ramps, walk to your left and enter the glass sliding doors on your right. Use the elevator to reach the ground floor. Exit to your left.
From Park Mall’s main entrance along Penang Road (remember this because this is your station if you’re taking the bus), the bus stop is to your right and the Dhoby Ghaut station across the street. If you pass through to the other side of the station where Citibank is, that’s Orchard Road. To your left is Plaza Singapura and another mall.
OUR ITINERARY Sunday
After settling-in at the hotel, we proceeded to Plaza Singapura to have a late lunch (Yoshinoya - not good at all) and to have money changed. I needed to
At the entrance of the Singapore Zoo
buy both Singapore dollars and Malaysian ringgit. We then proceeded to the MRT station, topped-up my EZ-link card (from my previous trip) and bought a new one for my mom. You may top-up your cards from the machines located at the station. Minimum top-up value is $10. To buy new EZ-link cards, approach the manned counter. It will cost you $15 -- $5 non-refundable fee, $3 refundable free and $7 consumable credit. It’s very convenient as you can also use it in buses (otherwise, you pay exact change).
Having an MRT station map with you is extremely helpful as you are not likely to remember the names of the stations and the interconnections on your own. Each station would have different exit points going to different attractions nearby - the signages are complete and thus very helpful. Singapore Zoo
- we took a 46-minute MRT ride to Choa Chu Kang station. From the station, you will alight at a bus terminal. We got lost for a while looking for the terminal for Bus 927 which will take you to the Zoo until we just asked one of the people at the SMRT office hehe. From the escalator, make a
Our smelly friend at Singapore Zoo :)
U-turn to your left and walk to the farthest end. That’s where Bus 927 is :)
Bus 927 will take you directly to the Singapore Zoo - that’s its final stop. The ride took about 30 minutes or so. It was quite a long trip to the Zoo but it gave us the chance to see more areas.
Alternatively, you can alight at Ang Mo Kio station then board Bus 138 or take a cab from your hotel (from Orchard, about $16-20).
At the Zoo, I bought the Parkhopper’s Special at $30 each. This allows you entrance to the Zoo, Night Safari and Jurong BirdPark. Trams for the Zoo and Night Safari (which I recommend because the parks are huge - I nearly fainted from heat and fatigue when we tried to roam by foot last June) are at $4 each. In the Zoo, there are 4 tram stations where you can alight to explore the surrounding areas and board again to go to the next station. Remember to keep your tram tickets as you have to present this every time your board the tram. The ticket is only good for 1 complete ride around the park
More of our furry friends at the Zoo!
(they mark your stub at each station).
If you can, try to catch the shows to make it more worthwhile and entertaining. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at the Zoo an hour before it closed so there were no more shows for the day. The Zoo closes at 6PM. Night Safari
- The Night Safari is just to the left of the Zoo’s main entrance. It opens at 7:30PM so from the Zoo, you basically have an hour to kill. You can just rest at the al fresco tables near the Zoo, have expensive ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s (single scoop is $8!) or have a meal at KFC at the Zoo’s entrance or at the 2 other restos inside Night Safari.
The lines can get very long so we started queueing at 7PM. Note that there are 2 lines - one for those buying tickets and another for those with tickets already and are queueing for the entrance and tram ride. Singaporeans are very prompt and strict with time - the gates opened at exactly 7:30PM. We immediately boarded the tram for the 45-minute ride around the park. This is highly-recommended as you probably won’t
Elephant ride anyone?
see everything in the park if you just go around by yourself (besides, it is dark).
After the tram ride, we went straight to the ampitheatre for the Creatures of the Night Show. This is a highly-entertaining show and you should try to catch any of the 3 schedules (8/9/10PM) otherwise, your visit will not be complete :) Chinatown
- As we did not want to eat fast food at the park and there was nowhere near our hotel where we can eat a decent meal, we caught a taxi at the taxi station right outside the Night Safari (the bus station is to the right of the taxi station) and asked to be brought to Chinatown. The ride cost us about $13.
At Chinatown, we went straight to Smith Street (also called Food Street) where hawkers set up their stalls every night starting at 6PM. Here you can have your choice of cheap, hot, freshly-made meals: curry rice, dimsum and all kinds of noodles. My mom and I each had noodles at $3 and $4 respectively.
Chinatown at night is wonderful and more colorful than during the day. There are mini-shows in various corners (string
quartets, break dancers, etc.), the tivoli lights are on, the streets lined-up with souvenirs. It’s a picturesque sight and if at all possible, visit it both during the night and at day.
Going back to our hotel, we took the MRT from Chinatown station at the left end of Pagoda Street to Dhoby Ghaut station. Monday Bus tickets for Malaysia
- After breakfast, we went out to buy our tickets for Malacca. We took the MRT to Lavender station and since we did not know where the Lavender bus terminal is, we took a cab. Ang lapit lang pala - mas malayo pa yung inikot ng taxi kesa dun sa stretch papunta sa terminal hehe.
The taxi cost us $4.40. (More on how to get to the terminal by foot later at the Wednesday itinerary).
We bought our tickets for Malacca via Delima Express at $11 each. We’re leaving Wednesday, 8:30am trip. Mustafa Centre
- Walking from the Lavender / Kallang Bahru bus terminal back to Lavender station, we boarded the MRT again to visit the 24-hour mall Mustafa Centre. We alighted at Farrer Park station.
From the station, walk to your left
Cutie manatee! :)
until you see the main road. You will pass by tents housing the night bazaar (I mistakenly thought the bazaars were also open 24 hours so I was disappointed to see only garbage from last night’s bazaar littered in the vacant lots and street). Cross to get to Mustafa Centre.
I thought Mustafa Centre was a real mall - as it turned out, it’s just a 3-level department store with a few stores on its perimeter plus a 2-level supermarket in a separate building. The department store, while it is touted to have everything you could possibly need, is kinda cramped, much like the low-end department stores we have here (think Ever or Fairmart). Anyway, there wasn’t much to see and the ambiance does not really inspire shopping so we left after 15 minutes. Little India
- Back at the Farrer Park station, we took the trains again and alighted just one station away at Little India station. Having participated in a Little India walking tour before, I was quite familiar with the area. We made one sweep of the food stalls at Tekka Market, scouting for a possible place for lunch - I was told that in
My mom at the Polar Bear aquarium at Singapore Zoo
Singapore, when choosing where to eat, just follow the lines - where there is a long queue, then the food is good :) From past experience, I would recommend the famous Alauddin’s Briyani. Arriving at Little India a little before 11AM, there was already a long queue at the food stall.
We then crossed over to Tekka Mall because I wasn’t able to visit this place the last time I was there. The mall is nothing spectacular - the only noteworthy places are the Old Chang Kee kiosk at the ground floor and a bakery selling egg tarts, waffles and other pastries (like Breadtalk), also at the ground floor. Being the junkie that I am, I bought snacks from both stores :) The egg tarts were nothing great, not as sweet and creamy as the Portuguese egg tarts we have here but my mom said the Pork Floss was great. At Old Chang Kee, I especially love the Crab Balls and the Crispy Sotong :)
Walking to our right from Tekka Mall, we go to Little India Arcade to look for souvenirs. As luck would have it, it is the day before Deepavali, the Hindu festival of light
Our only proof of visit to the Night Safari (flash not allowed)
and goodness. Street decors were up as early as mid-October and there was a Deepavali bazaar at Campbell Lane (the street bounding the right side of the Arcade).
The Deepavali bazaar was one of the highlights of our trip. It was very colorful and while it seemed that Hindus of all colors and ages were doing last-minute shopping for their celebration, the ambiance was festive and relaxed. This bazaar was specifically for the different items Hindus need for their Deepavali rituals (firecrackets, incense, vegetarian snacks, etc.) with a number of souvenirs here and there.
Watching a documentary later that night, I learned that Deepavali is like our Christmas. In Hindu, it is the day when the god of light and goodness won over the ruling god of darkness. Celebrated by a number of rituals such as creating intricate patterns using colored rice at their doorsteps, cleansing the body with oil, making a certain pastry, visiting loved ones and bringing gifts and worshiping at temples, Deepavali is a time for recognizing evil and mistakes made and promising from thereon to do good and spread kindness instead. Citybuzz
- From the Little India Arcade, we waited for the Citybuzz
Food Street at Chinatown at night
at the bus terminal across the street near Tekka Market. The Citybuzz is a double-decker bus with 3 routes (Orchard route, Chinatown route and Little India route). It costs $1 per ride, $5 for a one-day pass. You can also use your EZ-link for single trips.
We bought the one-day passes from the driver and settled at the front seat at the upper deck for a full view of the different areas :) It’s a good way to see the touristy areas of the city. All bus routes end and start at the Esplanade. The only downside to this bus is that the waiting time takes sooo long. The brochures say the buses arrive at the designated stations every 10-15 minutes but more often than not, we wait for around 30 minutes.
The route going to Esplanade gave us a scenic view of the Marina bay area. We alighted at the Esplanade and waited for the Citybuzz Chinatown bus. The route going to Chinatown was also scenic, passing through the Merlion, the Civic District and the grand Fullerton Hotel. Chinese Medicine at Chinatown
- We alighted at the Sri Mariamman Temple bus station in Chinatown. A few
Chinatown street market at night
steps away is popular store Eu Yan Sang which sells Chinese herbs and medicines. The store is air-conditioned, almost everything have English translations and the staff helpful. There is even a traditional Chinese medicine clinic which is very popular with the locals because of its success rate in treating illnesses. I visited this store before during the Chinatown Singapore Walk and while I can’t remember how much the consultation fee is, I remember it was expensive so much as we wanted to try it, we had to forego and look for herbs that we can buy instead.
My mom was looking for something for high cholesterol and the staff asked us if we wanted capsules or tea. We bought Long Jing tea leaves for my mom for $20 and I bought some natural snacks to give away. Shopping at Chinatown
- From the Eu Yan Sang store, we proceeded to Sago Street and to the Chinatown Complex for shopping. In the nearby streets, we also shopped for a lot of souvenirs to take back home (mostly from the 3 for $10 stores) - Chinese bags, throw pillow covers, table runners and placemat / chopstick sets, accessories, bag charms
More beautifully-restored shophouses at Chinatown
and Chinese wind chimes. Of course, we had the requisite stop at the outlet store at the corner of Trengganu and Pagoda streets and bought GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic, J. Crew and Tommy Hilfiger shirts.
We also bought a lot of food stuff at Bee Cheng Hiang very near the Chinatown MRT station.
Because we were carrying tons of bags, we decided to take our stuff back to our hotel first before continuing with our Citybuzz “tour”. Suntec City
- From our hotel, we cross to Orchard to the Citybuzz station at Citibank. Again, we waited a loooong time for the bus. As it was dark already, we saw the city at night. Our destination: Suntec City. We alighted at the Pan Pacific Hotel and walked back for about 7 minutes to the Suntec Convention Center.
Suntec City Mall has the biggest fountain in the world called Fountain of Wealth. Feng shui-crazy Singapore considers the fountain to be the epitome of perfect Feng Shui. In fact, Feng Shui tours always end at the fountain, setting it as the best example. There is a ritual called Water-Touch session where you circle the smaller fountain clockwise three
Still at Chinatown
times with your hand in the water, make your wish and circle counter-clockwise once. There are schedules for the water-touching sessions and unfortunately for us, we missed the last session (because of the darned Citybuzz).
We were in time, however, for the 8PM light and laser show which is simple but amazing. For some reason, the show I attended last June showed much more complicated laser vista and lasted longer than the show we saw (barely 10 minutes). I think they cut it short to give way to the greetings from the public that they read aloud and display in laser. The fountain has its own music system, hosted by its own DJ. At the DJ booth inside the mall near the fountain area, there are 2 touch-screen panels where you can encode your requests for music and the greetings you want to be shown in laser. It’s very nice and it’s free :) The downside is that the music is so mixed-up, ranging from fast dance music to really cheesy old songs like Tears in Heaven - all of them requested by the greeters. Citybuzz at night
- Since we wanted to maximize our one-day passes, we
Little India dressed up for Deepavali
just rode through the entire Chinatown route (mainly because I wanted my mom to see the spectacular night-time skyline of Marina Bay including the Esplanade, the Merlion and the bridge). The Chinatown route has a station at the Convention Center so we just waited at the bus terminal at the main entrance. We completed the route and alighted at Pan Pacific Hotel to transfer to the Citybuzz Orchard route going to the hotel. It was 9:30PM and as the brochures claim that the last bus at Pan Pacific was at 10:34PM, we just waited. A couple of minutes past 10PM, the Citybuzz Orchard bus wheezes by with lights down, not stopping at the station! I was fuming mad because I was tired, it was late, and we wasted a lot of time waiting for the darned buses. It’s a good thing the Pan Pacific station serves buses going to Park Mall. One came in a few minutes and in 15 minutes, we were back in our hotel room. Tuesday
After breakfast, we went out of the hotel for our destinations for the day: Jurong BirdPark and Sentosa. It is Deepavali and greetings of Happy Deepavali sound out from
Deepavali Bazaar at Campbell Lane
the TV and radio and banners are plastered everywhere. Even the buses show the greetings in their route LCDs :) And as it is a holiday, parang lahat ng tao nasa labas - andaming bumbay at syempre pa, grabe ang amoy!
:) Jurong BirdPark
-Out of curiosity, we checked the bus stop in front of Park Mall if it can bring us to Jurong. Knowing that if we took the MRT, we are supposed to alight at Boon Lay, I looked and found a bus service for Boon Lay Interchange. I didn’t know where that was but as predictable and organized as Singapore is, the bus interchange would probably be connected to the MRT station. And I was not mistaken.
The bus ride took about an hour and it was very enlightening. Whereas during my previous tours of the city, I was secretly dismayed that all I see were tenement-like housing buildings, the bus ride going East showed the posh neighborhoods at the quiet residential end of Orchard and the fancy condominiums and house-and-lots (a rarity in Singapore as real estate there is very, very expensive) at Bukit Timah. We also saw a lot of schools at Eastern
Colorful garlands for the Deepavali celebrations
Arriving at the Boon Lay Interchange, we looked for the terminals for Bus 194 or 251 and found it easily. I also found the dirtiest public toilet in Singapore - to think, it was one of the few where you pay 20 cents to get in.
We chose Bus 194 as it’s an “express” bus to the BirdPark. Still not very comfortable with buses, I voted against Bus 251 because the BirdPark was only another stop along its route (I was scared we might miss it hehe).
Arriving at the BirdPark, I bought tickets for the Panorail at $6 each. We were just in time for the All Star Birdshow (11AM) so we went first to the Ampitheatre for the show before boarding the Panorail for a tour of the park. The show was cute and colorful but was difficult to photograph (the birds were fast). If you have lots of memory space, I recommend videoing it with your digicams.
The weather was scorching so the airconditioned Panorail was a relief. There are only 2 other stations aside from the main boarding station. As it was so hot, we only went down at the Waterfall
Beautiful lamps to celebrate the Festival of Light & Goodness (Deepavali)
Aviary station for a few photos at the world’s highest manmade waterfall then boarded the Panorail again and just opted to see the birds from the top.
From the BirdPark, we took the bus again going to the Boon Lay interchange and took the MRT going to Harbourfront station for Sentosa. Sentosa
- From the Harbourfront station, we crossed over the Harbourfront Mall to have lunch at its 4th floor food court and to have money changed. The Hainanese or Roasted Chicken Rice at the food court is particularly good. We then used the walkway again to cross to where we alighted to board the free Sentosa shuttles.
Upon arrival at Sentosa, I bought entrance tickets at $4 each. We proceeded directly to the Dolphin Lagoon for the 3:30PM show. As I have seen the Dolphin show and the Underwater World before (tickets are bought at $20 as a combo), I sent in my mom alone to watch the show.
After the Dolphin show, we joined the throngs of holidaying people going to the Underwater World. Again, my mom went alone. She emerged after less than 10 minutes sick with the smell because the aquarium was
The historic Raffles Hotel
packed wall to wall with people. (I can imagine.).
What should have been the highlight of her Sentosa trip turned out to be its most disgusting part. She was dizzy and nauseous from thereon. I, on the other hand, needed to find a toilet which I was not successful at. For a huge, huge park, Sentosa is lacking in toilets. Whatever few they have are tucked in hidden places and are far in between.
Again, we queued up for a loooong time for the bus going to the Orchid Garden and the Magical Fountain. Fortunately for my bladder, we found the toilets near the Orchid Garden. My mom enjoyed the gardens even if the orchids there were the ones we also see here. It’s just nice to see so many of it around a small pond with a small chapel tucked in. It’s pretty charming - in fact, there was a wedding ongoing when we were there.
From the Orchid Garden, we went to catch the 5:30PM Magical Fountain show. I did not enjoy it so much - maybe the evening shows are better because they have lights. The day shows only have dancing fountains. Bugis
Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City - the world's biggest fountain
As herds of people are in Sentosa that day, it took us a good 45 minutes just to ride the shuttle which will bring us to Harbourfront MRT. It felt like we spent forever queueing up for the buses in Sentosa and it was a relief to get out of there.
Arriving at the station with plans of going to Bugis for dinner and more shopping, we studied the bus map and found out that there was a bus from that station going to Bugis. We waited for the driver who was taking a break then boarded the bus for Bugis. Again, it was an educational ride, going through areas I have not seen before. We alighted right in front of the Bugis bazaar. There wasn’t much to shop though as the stuff were expensive when converted to peso. Remember, this is just a tiangge so the stuff were unbranded.
From the bazaar, we crossed over to Bugis Junction mall to have dinner at Seiyu food court. I’ve been here before and particularly like the selection of food. I had Wanton Mee (noodles with pork roast and wanton soup) and also tried Cheezy French Toast Kaya which was
Light & laser show at Suntec City
delightful! In fact, if I had room for more food, I would’ve tasted food from the other stalls also :)
From Bugis, we took the MRT back to our hotel. We packed our bags and prepared our overnight bags which are the only stuff we’re taking with us for our trip to Malacca the next morning. See Malacca blog and Singapore (part3) blog for continuation of this trip.
There are more photos below