Published: February 10th 2010February 7th 2010
Nellie, Monk, Floss and Flower arrived in Singapore on Wednesday on the Eastern and Oriental Express from Bangkok.
Monk's first impression of Singapore, the first time he came, was that it was like being in California. The road system, the well-kept verges, the public greenery, the massive shopping malls and the cleanliness all seem a bit foreign to south east Asia. There are so many shopping malls, particularly in Orchard Road, and one wonders just how much shopping can a Singaporean do.
Singapore has the moniker 'A Fine City'. There are so many opportunities to acquire a fine. For the visitor, crossing against a red pedestrian light is probably the biggest danger of getting a fine if you're unlucky enough to be caught. Don't drop chewing gum. It's not illegal to possess it, but, rightly, they don't want the streets polluted with it as in many UK towns. If you want to chew gum, you'd best bring your own supplies because the sale of it is banned. Don't even think about drugs - Changi prison is probably not a nice place to stay.
Floss and Flower were exhausted after the train so Monk
took himself off on the MRT to Boat Quay where he and Irene regularly used to end up in the early evening for a drink at Harry's Bar after a day's exploring. Boat Quay is on the Singapore River and the quayside is packed with restaurants and bars. It's a lovely setting in which to relax with a drink or to dine watching the boats go up and down the river or just people-watching. There's a lot of hustling from the restaurants as you run the gauntlet from one end of the quay to the other. Monk particularly likes the seafood restuarants where you can choose all manner of live fish and shellfish from tanks. The Singaporeans have a love of Sri Lankan crabs which are just about the largest crabs Monk has seen. Monk tried bamboo clams and scallops. Bamboo clams are like giant razor clams and are absoultely delicious.
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) is the Singapore metro/underground which really is a model of a well-run system. Like everything else in Singapore, it's very clean and is a cheap way to get around the city. For convenience, you can buy a $5 electronic card
and add credit to it instead of having to buy individual tickets each time. The buses are also very efficient and the card is valid for use on these as well. Considering just about everything else in Singapore is expensive, the taxis are very cheap compared with London. Of course, one of the best ways of seeing things is on foot and, fortunately, many of the sights are within easy walking distance of each other.
Singapore Airlines runs a very useful sightseeing bus that travels around the major areas of the city and runs every half hour. It costs $12, or $6 if you have a Singapore Airlines or Silk Air boarding card, and you can hop on and off any number of times during the day up to 7:30pm.
Floss had never visited Singapore before so Monk was keen to ensure that she saw as much as possible in the few days they had. On Thursday, they went to Singapore Zoo. It was a great afternoon. Nellie particularly wanted to watch the 'Elephants at Work and Play' display, where elephants perform all sorts of tricks such as spraying water over the crowd, picking up
logs, creating mischief with the mahouts and lots more. Monk feels that they seemed content in their environment and were certainly happy being fed bananas by Floss and Flower at the end of the show.
The zoo is very impressive and the equatorial climate and vegetation adds to the reality of the setting in which the animals are kept. Overall, for a zoo, the animals appeared to have a reasonable environment. One of the white tigers, however, was clearly disturbed and, for the 15 minutes during which Monk watched the tigers, it paced around in the same small circle.
Flower wanted to see Chinatown, so on Friday they all trooped off there and spent the afternoon wandering the backstreets of Chinatown soaking up the atmosphere. It must have worked, because, come evening time, both Floss and Flower decided they would like to stay in Chinatown for the evening and to eat from the food vendors in Smith Street aka Food Street. Now - if you've read the Bangkok entry in this blog, you'll realise how much of an event this really is. Both of them were adamant they would never eat street. Chinatown changed their minds
and they both agreed the food was very good. They were even more pleased and surprised next morning when they suffered no ill effects from their venture into street cuisine. Singapore street eating is a very organised and, like everything else in Singapore, a very controlled activity. Some years ago, the government moved the vendors off the street and set them up into 'Hawker Centres', which they are now rebranding as 'Food Centres'. The hawker centres are provided with tables and seating and are often in covered buildings a bit like a market hall. The food vendors then set up stalls, or have permanent premises in the hawker centre. You just wander up and down the vendors' stalls ordering what takes your fancy from any number of stalls and then take it, or have it delivered, to your table. Drinks vendors also have stalls and check every now and again to ensure that you are topped up. It works very well and is obvously much cheaper than a conventional restaurant. The kitchens are on display and just seeing the food being cooked is guaranteed to get your appetite going.
The Botanic Gardens are one of the
best value attractions in Singapore at a cost of precisely Sin$0, although there is a fee to enter the Orchid gardens. There's a rainforest walk with some amazing trees. The Ginger Garden has plants from the ginger family which includes some surprises. Monk didn't manage to see as much of the gardens as he'd have liked so he's got something to see next time he fetches up in Singapore. The Botanic Gardens makes a good half-day trip.
Nellie and the crowd felt that they just had to do the full tourist bit and visit Raffles Hotel to try their famous Singapore Sling in the Long Bar. It's all a bit of a disappointment really but it has to be done. At Sin$28 (£13), it's an expensive drink and tastes of nothing much more than sweet fruit juice. Monk had tried it when he was here last with Irene and this tiime decided a beer was a better option, but not that much cheaper. The Long Bar has peanuts on each table and the tradition is to throw the shells on the floor afterwards - the floor is covered in them. It's the only place in Singapore
where littering is allowed although, on reflection, perhaps the fine is actually built into the price of the Singapore Sling!
Monk had problems finding somewhere with reasonable wifi access. The Regent Hotel, where Monk and the girls were staying, charges a mercenary Sin$12 per hour (about £6) so Monk's frugality ruled that one out and he made sure he registered a complaint - all hotels should offer free Internet access these days, especially an upmarket one like the Regent. Monk tried Starbucks but the procedure to sign up was so complicated and involved having a password texted to a Singapore mobile which he doesn't have. Eventually, he found a coffee place which had free access and was relatively easy to log on to - Coffee Bean at the top of Orchard Road near Cuscaden Road. Monk thinks there is maybe some law about Internat access where the state wants to know everybody who is accessing the Internet. Even at the Coffee Bean, you have to enter your details such as your name and id card or passport number number the first time you use their system.
If you're at the airport, they have terminals which
give you a free 10 minutes or so before logging you off. There's no free wifi access though.
There are more photos below