We left Malacca, Malaysia on my birthday – August 2nd – for the quick trip to the small city-state of Singapore, situated at the southern end of the Malay Peninsula.
We knew Singapore would be expensive. Very expensive. But since it was my big day, we decided to take a break from backpacking for a little bit and live it up in this modern and glamorous Southeast Asian metropolis.
You might have heard of some of Singapore’s bizarre strict laws. For example, eating on a subway train or not flushing a public toilet can result in a large fine. As we were having our bags inspected at Customs and Immigration I realized we had a few packs of chewing gum in a backpack. Chewing gum is forbidden in Singapore, and faces a fine of up to S$10,000 (about $8,000 USD). Luckily, the agents didn’t seem to notice and instead asked a few questions about a can of soda they mistook as a can of beer. Phew!
We checked into the nice modern Ibis Hotel near Bugis Street, where the receptionist – upon checking my passport – noticed it was my birthday and upgraded us to a room on the top floor with awesome views over the city skyline.
That night, we headed to the 71st floor of the Swissotel, to enjoy a few drinks soaking in more of the cityscape at New Asia Bar.
Afterwards, we headed to the historic Boat Quay for dinner by the Singapore River.
The next day, we took some time to explore some of Singapore’s diverse neighborhoods. We started in nearby Little India, where we grabbed a few Indian snacks, browsed the colorful crafts, and walked through a big food market.
Next, we stopped by the Mustafa Centre shopping complex. This huge department store carries everything – and I mean everything – you could ever possibly need to buy. More than 75,000 products are sold here, and it’s open 24-hours a day. In addition, they run their own on-site hotel, travel agency, and foreign-exchange office.
We were really impressed by the food market, which features specialty imported foods from around the world. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before!
We continued on to the Orchard Road district, to check out some of the other shopping malls Singapore is famous for. The malls were large, glitzy, and full of all the same sorts of stores you can find anywhere else in the world. It was interesting, but not exactly our cup of tea.
Singapore is supposed to have one of the best zoo’s in the world, and even though we normally avoid these sorts of attractions, we decided to check out the unique “Night Safari” they run. This allows visitors to tour part of the park at night, checking out animals in dimly lit natural enclosures.
While the weather wasn’t 100% cooperative (it rained part of the time), we still had a great time on the Night Safari, and can understand why this zoo is one of the top in the world.
One of the items on every visitor’s checklist is a trip to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, where the “Singapore Sling” cocktail was born. We left wondering what the fuss is all about – the drinks were poured from a pre-mixed carafe, were overly sweet, and rang in at S$26 each (US $20 each).
Heather noticed an ad for a production of the musical “Into the Woods” playing at Singapore’s famous Esplanade theatre. The theatre itself is in a large, domed building covered with spiky points. Since it looks like the popular, stinky fruit, locals have nicknamed it “The Big Durian.”
Believe it or not, the show was excellent. Who would have thought – Broadway in Southeast Asia? Though, it was a little funny listening to some of the actors slightly-out-of-place Singlish accents.
For our last full day in Singapore, we started at the Singapore Flyer, which is the largest Ferris – or more properly Giant Observation – Wheel in the world.
The wheel rises 42 stories and takes capsules holding 28 passengers on a full rotation in approximately 40 minutes. The weather was perfect and the views were stunning.
Next, we walked to the new Sands Casino to marvel at the SkyPark connecting and topping the roofs of its three towers. It’s a little odd-looking, but carries an infinity swimming pool, bars, and restaurants.
Finally, we joined a walking tour through Singapore’s old Chinatown, learning about this clean and polished city’s seamy underside. Here, we walked past some of the older areas of the city, where opium dens, brothels, and gambling halls once supported a younger and rougher city which was packed full of immigrant workers. It was very eye-opening to uncover some of the hidden history of this city which seems so prim, proper, and obedient.
After four days living the good life in the Lion City, we were ready to move on to our next destination – the volcanic string of islands known as Indonesia.