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Published: April 27th 2011
Upon exiting the train station, we realize that we are in a quiet, tree lined neighborhood in Singapore. A neighborhood that doesn't have any access to public transportation!
It's only 150km or so to the equator, and even at 8am, the heat sure feels like it! Trung and I start using the rubber express (that's how you say you're using shoes, right?) and we naturally just walk towards the towers of downtown, a few km in the distance. Well dressed people are walking down the perfectly clean sidewalks also towards downtown. It's rush hour on a Monday morning.
Eventually we decide to set up camp at a coffee shop, load some maps on our computer and find the backpacker district so we can explore some hotel options. I find a Tom'n'toms, which is a Korean brand that my cousin Spencer introduced me to a couple of months ago. Great, strong coffee!
While we are in the shop, a ride-on floor cleaner similar to those you can see in a mall drives past, on the sidewalk, outside. He goes past a further 5 times. The sidewalk is bright and clean when he is done. In a country
where spitting chewing gum is a crime, they sure take their sidewalks seriously. The entire stay in Singapore, I found ONE empty chip bag on the sidewalk. That was all the garbage I found.
After we break camp and leave Tom-n-Toms, and I finish chatting with my parents for the first time in a couple of weeks, we head off in the direction of the nearest MRT station, Singapore's cleaner than clean subway. A few stops and $1 later we are at the Aljunied station. After a short walk and several unsuccessful attempts at a cheap room, we finally find a room at the Budget Inn, of all places (Should have tried there first!). It's still $48 Singapore dollars, $30CAD, but it's a steal compared to the other places around.
By now it's about noon, and we are hot, sweaty and dehydrated. After a brief stint showering and laying around watching news about the Japanese Earthquake, impending doom from nuclear meltdown, and the firestorm brewing in Libya, we head back to the MRT to travel our 5 stops back to downtown.
I'm super excited about Singapore, mostly because of the Marina Bay Sands, a 'flagship' building by
Moshe Safdie, quite possibly his defining work as a Canadian expat architect. He also designed Canada's National Art Gallery, which I had the privilege of working on last year before leaving my engineering job.
When we exit the City Hall MRT station we are once again greeted by shining sidewalks and extreme heat, but a cool breeze is coming off the ocean, which is never far away on the island of Singapore.
Our first stop is the beautiful Performing Arts Center, shaped like two gigantic durians. For those of you who don't know, a durian is a giant fruit, the size of your head, and it's spikey and has a very distinctive odour of rotting garbage and a taste that people love (I think it tastes like it smells...). Durians must be outlawed in Singapore because I haven't seen any. Lots of public places in Asia have a durian ban, because you can smell them a mile away. Anyways, the art centre is far from smelly... With their repetitive brushed stainless steel 'spikes' covering the building's glass enclosures, the sight is pretty amazing. Inside the center, there's a ticket counter and they're selling tickets for the Lion King,
it's only $60, which is about $45CAD, so we pick up tickets for tomorrow's show!
When we leave the arts center, we are greeted by the entire skyline of downtown Singapore, including the bay formed at the end of the Singapore river, and the Marina Bay opposite downtown. You really just have to look at the photos, the main structure is three 55 story towers with the worlds largest cantilevered pool extending from one end to the other, across the towers. A huge mall, science center, theatre, convention center and boardwalk make up the huge podium of the building. Wikipedia describes it thus: ' the resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 120,000 sq.m. convention-exhibition centre, The Shoppes mall, an Art & Science museum, two Sands Theatres, seven "celebrity chef" restaurants, two floating pavilions, a casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines. The complex is topped by a 340m-long SkyPark with a capacity of 3,900 people and a 150m infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67m.'
With so much amazingness on the other side of the bay, Trung and I hurredly start around on the
public boardwalk towards the building. To get across the mouth of the Singapore River, we need to pass through the helix bridge, a stainless steel double helix tube which acts as a pedestrian bride. The bridge itself is a feat of engineering, let alone the gigantic complex ahead of us!
We spent a few hours exploring the mall and hotels (with Andy's mouth open the entire time, rubbernecking) and then decided to wander downtown to explore the business district and it's gleaming skyscrapers. It's pretty devoid of life on the streets, but there are public spaces, such as Raffles Square that are teeming with people hanging out, shopping, or registering for the upcoming Singapore Marathon.
After downtown, we headed over to Little India to experience some of the large Indian influence in Singapore. During the colonialization of Singapore, a certain explorer by the name of Raffles discovered a small population of Malays living at the end of the Singapore River. Recognizing this was a crutial trading port for the rest of already booming colonial South East Asia, he quickly colonized the area for the British. At the time, the British colonial influence was already going strong in India,
and several thousand Indians moved to Singapore, most noticeably to be the huge bodyguards for the British officers of the colony, which you can see by the gigantic Indian men who live in the city today.
Aaaaanyways, so we went to the extremely colourful Little India, just off downtown, and explored the winding streets filled with extremely rainbow coloured houses. Eventually we settle at a place outside, they're playing a movie and there are about two dozen locals watching. Trung and I stick out like a sore thumb. We wander over to a food stall and order some Roti and Mutton, and the guy gets out a mall food court tray, slaps a peice of paper down, then about 3 cups of delish spiced rice, a giant portion of mutton, and several other side dishes that I can't name. The locals all construction looking men and are eating small plates of deep fried stuff, so again, Trung and I stick out with our two portions of food that could feed 10 and we get some glaring looks from people. More awkwardly, the movie that is playing is in black and white, and from what I can gather, it's about
a woman who loves a man, but then a British officer shows up in their village and the woman refuses to salute him. He beats her, then drives her and the other ladies out of town and forces them off a cliff. Then the Indian(?) man in the movie is pissed and goes hunting and kills the British officer. Lol, things are not looking up for me here! Well, it's a pleasant, cool evening, and everyone enjoys the movie, with me adding my own subtitles and Trung nagging about how annoying I am.
When we arrive back at our neighbourhood, we quickly realize again that we're in a seedy part of town with lots of people looking for business out on the street (again! seems like that's all we've been staying in since Thailand!). Needless to say, no exploring in our neighbourhood...
The following day is spent exploring the old colonial side of Singapore, we take a walking tour of the East side of the Singapore river, and walk past some very old hotels, government buildings, parlaiment house, an old fort and a few quays, which now double as the Singapore entertainment districts. As the river twists and
meanders through the city, the points of land created by the river were preserved and now create great pedestrian walks amongst the original colonial houses, filled with bars and shops and other amusements.
We head back to our hotel early to get ready for the Lion King! At about 5pm we head out for a quick bite to eat of street noodles (I've started calling them hizzles, Snoop Dog style, for some reason... local accent?) The theatre at Marina Sands is amazing, the foyer backs on to the mall, and once inside, a 5 storey curved wall of mirrors reflects everything and everyone waiting for the show. The interior of the theatre is nothing to write home about, but it's about the show, right? This is my second time seeing the Lion King, and it's just as good the second time. The costumes are intricate, the story is JUST like the movie, including the music, which is great, and it leaves me humming Hakkuna-Mattata all the way back to the hotel!
The next day is Friday and we decide to head to an island even farther South than the island of Singapore. It has been developed into a
playground for the city: a paramount amusement park, resorts, casinos, beaches, aquariums and extreme summer sports paradise. You can get to Sentosa by taking a monorail from the city, flying over the gigantic shipping yards that still ring the island.
Once there, we skip Paramount and head for the beach side of the island. Our first stop: street luge. 1970's style. So cool! For $10 we take the chair lift to the top of the lookout hill, then head down for 10 minutes of good old fashioned barely in control downhill concrete fun!
After the luge we head to one of the larger beaches and find the MOST SOUTHERLY POINT of mainland Asia. A pleasant surprise, although it only counts because Singapore is connected by a bridge to Malaysia, and the Most Southerly island is connected by a one-lane pedestrian only suspension bridge to Sentosa.
That evening we go out for some drinks with a friend-of-a-friend of Trung's, he's in town because of the Tokyo earthquake, he regularly lives in Tokyo but is on a working holiday until people can decide if the world is going to end in Japan or not.
The next day is
fairly calm, we meet Andy (our new Tokyo/Aussi friend) for brunch at the Raffles hotel, its an amazing brunch on a patio overlooking the river, in a grand old colonial hotel. Afterwards we head to the hotel to pack and head for the airport. Our flight is at 7pm.
Once we take the MRT to the airport and get to the check-in line, we take a deep breath. Then the nice man behind the counter insists that I need an onward ticket from Bali for my Visa requirements. Trung is fine with his Vietnamese visa. On the Canadian travel website I can't remember that requirement, but he won't give me my boarding pass without an onward ticket. So I run around the terminal for awhile looking for internet to book a ticket. A nice lady with an iPad who works for the airport helps me research ticket prices, and I book my ticket to Melbourne. We know we need to be there for the 20th to pick up the campervan, so I'm ok with booking the ticket now, however its about $100 more than the prices I'd previously researched, just what happens when buying a ticket at the airport,
I guess 😞
Once through check-in (the lady asked me if I had an onward ticket, but didn't actually check, so I didn't actually need to purchase the ticket..DAMN honesty 😉 we experience the Singaporean airport configuration. What we thought was the baggage check was a man half asleep at an x-ray machine on the side of the hallway to the departures lounge. We quickly figure out, after going through Passport Control, that the actual security check is set up at each gate, which is great. The only line up is the quick security check before boarding the plane. I can see how the costs would be way to high to have security checks at each gate in any other place, but it seems to work out here.
At 7:30 the flight is delayed, then quicly cancelled. Great. Nobody knows what is going on, the woman at the gate doesn't have a clue and keeps telling people to wait for further instruction. Eventually she herds us down the hall to a 'transfer station' where they pass around stickers and vouchers for $100 with Jetstar. They then herd us onto busses where we find out we're going to the
Carleton Hotel (not mistaken with the Ritz Carleton, but close). At the Carleton, Trung and I pretend to not know eachother, and we get separate suites. Its a 4 1/2 star hotel, so a hot shower followed by fuzzy bathrobe and king size bed is AMAZING! Follow that up with a $70 international buffet with our 100 new plane friends and the day is just great! They should seriously consider cancelling flights more often.
After some large flat-screen TV watching (National Geographic channel in HD), and a sweet sweet night in the big bed with extra-thick duvet and the AC set low, I wake up to another $70 international breakfast buffet. After a few weeks of street hizzles, Trung, the other backpackers on the plane and I are all in nirvana. I realized luckiliy that I hadn't picked up my fridge magnet from Singapore yet, so the morning is spent on a search for the magnet, surprisingly hard to find in Singapore, but easy to find everywhere else.
After another $70 lunch buffet complete with ice cream or slushy buffet with fresh fruit juice, I go hang out at the pool, have a great yoga session followed by
The wall on the left
It's made of thousands of mirrorred squares that move in the wind, it looks like the wall is made of water. From the interior it acts the same, looks like you're under water.
a sauna. Eventually, we all find out that a plane in the US had a little issue with explosive decompression. Our Boeing 737 was the same make as the one in the US, so they spent the evening and morning checking the rivets..apparently.
When we got to the airport, the 737 wasn't ready for us yet, so they gave us an $8 voucher at the food court where everything cost $10, and left us there for 5 hours while they 'pushed' a flight from Bali to come pick us up. An Airbus, being pushed, from Bali. Right.
After an uneventful flight from Singapore, which left at 11:30pm, we arrived in Denpessar, Bali at about 1:30am. At the airport we're greeted by Visa On Arrival, which only accepts Rupiahs, and the bank machine is on the other side of Passport control. It's all a big kerfuffle, I have to leave my passport with some guy half asleep at passport control, go and withdrawl 1,000,000 rupiahs, pay the 250,000 fee, then some guy took my bags and walked away, so I follow and he carries them 50 feet through customs, then asks for a tip. Great, so I gave him
10,000 which I have no idea how much it is at the time (it was $1) then he hassles me for more, but I'm not impressed at 2:00am so I tell him to find someone else to carry bags for 2 seconds.
Once all the 'Plane Friends' (of whom there are now about 8 good friends) get through security and the bag carrying show, we end up outside, in the pouring rain (it rains every night in Bali) and the cabbies want 200,000 to get to Kuta Beach, where we're staying. Kuta is only a 20,000 rupiah cab ride away in the daytime, so the ripoffs continue (I count the 250,000 visa fee and the 2 second bag show both ripoffs, for the record). Anyways, Trung and I get him down to 100,000 for four people with different dropoff points, so I think we're pretty alright regardless.
Luckily the guy at the hotel we booked is still awake and we check in and fall into bed and don't wake up for a looong time. The end!
p.s. Bali turned out to be great, just not at night when people tend to separate tourists from
their money more quickly than in the daytime.
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