Right. So we landed in Singapore a full hour ahead of schedule this morning, and after clearing customs and locating the left-luggage drop off, we set out to see the city at about 6am.
I’m now writing this from my somewhat translucent window seat on our Berjaya Air flight to Pulau Redang, a resort island on the northeast coast of Malaysia where Tahina, the boat we sailed across the Pacific Ocean, is anchored. “Pulau” means “island” in Malyasian and Indonesian, so store that one in your memory banks for later, because I’m sure it will come up again in the next few weeks. We’ll be visiting Frank and Karen on Tahina until Friday, when we’ll make our way through a layover in Kuala Lumpur on our way to Kuching, in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
At 7am standing on the waterfront, we couldn’t help but notice it’s UNBELIEVABLY hot here. It had to be 85 degrees at least—a pretty substantial shock to the system coming out of midwinter in NZ.
We spent our morning wandering the colonial waterfront, along rows of restaurants, then through the marina district, and over into the (air conditioned!!) Marina Sands resort, a Vegas-style shopping mall, casino and hotel complex best known for its Sky Park—a giant ship-like structure perched atop three towers on the Singaporean skyline, topped with an infinity swimming pool and gardens, cafes and bar.
It turns out they don’t let you visit the Sky Park unless you’re a hotel guest or you fork out over $20 for a quick tour in which you’re granted access to an observation deck only. We decided to skip that and head to Gardens by the Bay across the road instead.
It was a strange place, somewhere between Avatar and a concrete jungle, carefully sculpted and manicured, full of tropical plants, but too manufactured for my own taste. We have since had a look at the official Singapore Botanical Gardens online, and would recommend a visit to that instead if you have a choice.
After the gardens, we wandered back toward the center of town and grabbed a bite to eat at Lau Pa Sat Festival market, a historic hawker market where all kinds of street food is available for relatively low prices (by Singaporean standards). I noted to Jason that it seemed startlingly empty for a city the size of Singapore (Ramadan?), but the dumplings and pork buns we ordered were delicious anyway. It cost about $10 for an order of each, which I assume will equate to a small fortune later on in this trip, but was significantly cheaper than lunch for two in Auckland.
We had read the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar (home of the original Singapore Sling) are must-sees in Singapore, so on our way back to the airport we jumped off the train at City Hall and popped in for a quick refreshment. We had heard drinking was costly in Singapore, and knew the sling would cost us upwards of $20, but being used to NZ cocktail prices, we didn’t feel too phased about this—it was a one-time deal.
The Raffles Hotel is a gem of colonial architecture, with courtyards and verandahs that hark back to the late 19th century. The Long Bar is a classic space, with carved wooden spiral staircase, mosaic tile floors and motorized fans waving to and fro on the ceiling. Each table is home to a leather box of roasted peanuts. As you eat them, you’re meant to throw the shells on the floor, creating a semi slippery/crunchy effect underfoot as you navigate your way through the restaurant.
Attempting to honor our commitment to sticking to a backpacker budget, we ordered one Singapore Sling to share, and at the waiter’s encouragement, ordered a local Tiger beer alongside it, assuming this would be the fiscally prudent way to go. We drank them down, and as we moved to leave, I left Jason with $50 SGD and headed to the ladies room. When I came back, I found him sitting at our table giggling. Come to find out, that Tiger Beer was $24! With the $26 sling plus tax, we owed over $50 for two measly drinks! Thankfully I had just enough spare change around to cover that and our train back to the airport. Lesson learned!
We return to Singapore for about a day and a half at the end our our trip, so we’ll aim to hit Geylang and Chinatown on the next go ’round.