After the lazy days that we enjoyed flitting between islands and washing elephants in Thailand, it comes as no surprise that Singapore flipped that coin for us.
Our frigid bus ride from KL was met by 31-degree heat and 100% humidity in Singapore… we had to remind ourselves that the sun had set two hours earlier. But the principal change was certainly that the rice paddies and banana plantations were suddenly replaced by towering apartment blocks and multilane highways.
Singapore, on the face of it, is pretty similar to any major European city – apart from the glaringly obvious difference that instead of Armani clad euro-businessmen and women, there are Armani clad, iPhone toting, Asian businessmen and women. Much of a muchness really! Singers definitely has one thing going for it that Phuket, BKK and KL didn’t and that is that the city is spotless and, in fact, quite stunningly beautiful. The hulking great glass and concrete skyscrapers are softened by the greatest amount of greenery I have ever seen in a city. This isn’t confined to the ground level either, oh no, even the buildings themselves have natural (and indigenous mind you) rooftop gardens, internal green lungs and water features keeping the pollution at bay and ‘natural air-conditioning’ a top priority. Take the School of the Arts building (pictured below) for example, it’s got a bloody great tree that’s practically inside it! Also a good spot for a nap.
Also, if you are in town, Orchard Central shopping centre (on Orchard Road) has it’s own 13th floor rooftop garden. It has an outstanding view of the city and you don’t have to spend a cent to get up there… unless your window shopping results in erroneous expenditure of course.
Karen and Ronan, our mates from the Cape, generously put us up in the spare bedroom of their great apartment on the Upper East Coast and we soon managed to turn the room into our usual campsite complete with washing line and our trusty First Ascent sleep sacks (product placement right there). They also gave us some interesting advice re: exchange rates… if it’s an expense pretend the rate is S$1= ZAR5.5 and if it’s revenue, then S$1= ZAR5.5! Makes you fell better anyway!
On Thursday we were left up to our own devices because K & R had to go to work, so we made a trip into town to Orchard Road
, the city’s most famous shopping district. Although we couldn’t actually afford any of it, it was great to wander the streets and peek into the shiny buildings and even pop into one or two of them when the heat was too much to bear. I remember New York in January 2009 when we walked from shop to shop to get some heat into our frozen fingers and noses and this was the complete opposite where an air-conditioned escape is always on your mind.
Completely window-shopped out we made the short walk down Bencoolen Street to Sim Lim centre, a place that the techno geek would closely compare to their version of paradise. It is 8 floors of pure technology, ranging from every digital camera available to flat screen TVs, mobile phones (AND ACCESSORIES) and washing machines… and all at prices that would make the average South African weep! We spent about two hours (I know, geek alert) wandering from shop to shop ogling the latest gadgets, playing with iPads, ridiculously expensive camera equipment, and made a solemn promise to spend some dosh there before we left.
A great tip for visiting Singapore on a budget is to eat local. The city has loads of eating houses called Hawker Centres that can be limited to a couple of stalls or even whole centres dedicated to noodles, seafood and the odd fried stingray. We visited two of the larger centres, the first at East Coast Park and the second in the inner city called Lau Pa Sat. The former is right on the beach about 10 minutes walk from The Bayshore where we were staying. Dinner costs anything from $4 to $10 and the best thing… beers are only $5.50 compared with $10 and upwards in the rest of the city. The latter, Lau Pa Sat, is a great old single storey building in a city of 80-plus storey skyscrapers. It sells the same mouth-watering hawker food that the locals love and has a fantastic old world atmosphere, definitely worth a visit.
Singapore also has some fantastic rooftop bars to visit for a quick drink on your way home on Friday night, or any other night if you’re on holiday there. The most well known are 1-Altitude (282m above sea level) located in the top two floor of the UOB building at 1 Raffles Place and The Screening Room that is much lower down but no less spectacular with great views towards the city and a really vibey atmosphere. There is a dress code to adhere to though, one that I didn’t manage to meet the requirements for in my shorts and t-shirt, so unfortunately we didn’t make it up to 1-Altitude but Screening Room was a good alternative. 1-Altitude also has an entrance charge of S$18 but it includes your first drink, win!
Being proud Saffers, Kars and Ronan organised a braai for all the ex pat South Africans in the condos, what champs! So on Saturday evening we settled down next to the pool and enjoyed an evening full of beer, vleis and good old SA company. We couldn’t have been happier!
Saturday saw us heading off on a small boat transfer to the island of Pulau Ubin to the North of Singapore in the Johor Straits. It was a fun afternoon cycling around the island in the heat and despite some moaning I think even Dom was happy to be out doing some exercise and being in the bush (as it were).
The island is surrounded by rocky mangroves and apart from hiring a bike tourists can also go on kayak tours and see the island from the water. It looked great fun and was probably far cooler than riding up and down some of those hills! Nevertheless, we laughed our way back to the jetty and headed back for some well deserved ice creams!
If you’re travelling in South East Asia, Singers is definitely worth a visit, but I reckon only spend two or three days. For us, visiting friends was our main reason and we could have stayed for another week but (cue sarcastic voice) alas the world awaits and we had a plane to catch to Melbourne, oh yeah!
Before I forget, on a day trip into the city we took a walk along Marina Bay that is definitely worth a visit, a look at the Singapore GP circuit has to be on any racing fan’s itinerary. The bay is also completely picturesque with the architecturally stunning Marina Bay Sands hotel and the ArtScience Museum is certainly something to behold!
So it was farewell to Singapore on Monday and hello to Australia, looking forward to continuing on!