Singapore Sling Shot!

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hello Peeps,

So, where were we. Oh yes, we had made it onto the plane to Singapore...but only just! Check-in took a positively 'swift' 45 minutes at Jo'burg airport due to the slight problem that their computers said Annie's passport was expired. Contrary to the physical evidence, African data claimed the passport (renewed just before we left in March) had expired in Sept 2010 (which, given we were flying in August, was still in the future anyway!) whereas it actually expires in 2020. After much discussion between the check-in girl and the office, she was advised to try scanning the passport in again...and of course got the correct information! We were eventually allowed to proceed through security, which was bizarrely incident-free and painlessly quick. And then we were on the plane, racing towards Singapore.

After Africa, Singapore Air was a breath of fresh...well, air. The flight was exceptional, which was especially pleasing as it was my birthday when we were flying. It was a bit disappointing not to get an upgrade (and, yes, I did fish for one) but in hindsight economy was pretty damn good. Plenty of leg room, good movies, and free Singapore Slings and Tiger beer all the way made it one of the better journeys I've been on. The pleasant surprises continued when we arrived at Singapore airport. Both Annie and myself had heard of the reputation of the airport before getting there, but in the flesh it seems even better. Having been in Africa, we decided that we'd mill around after departing the aircraft to use the free internet for 30 minutes before heading to immigration and then collecting our luggage. We still fully expected to wait for a while before getting through and collecting our bags when we'd finished - so it came as a bit of a surprise when we walked through immigration in about 30 seconds and then arrived at baggage reclaim to find both our backpacks sitting on the floor next to the carousel and no-one else in sight. We could tell this place would be a bit of a culture shock after several months on the dark continent!

We had a bit of a wait at the airport (7 hours!) as my Mum was coming out to meet us for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, all the comfy seats, the internet, and the shops were the other side of customs at this point, so we found somewhere to sit and promptly fell asleep with each of our heads propped on an airport trolley. No sooner had we woken and headed to the terminal into which Mum's plane was due, the electronic board said that it had landed and about 15 minutes later she appeared with her luggage and we were off to the MRT (Singapore tube) to find our hotel.

The hotel was at the top end of Jalan Besar, about 2kms away from the colonial core of the city. A pretty good location to get at all of Singapore's attractions and sights. However, the first day was spent mostly recovering from jet lag...or in my case not sleeping on the plane and instead watching 4 movies back-to-back.

The next morning we awoke fresh and ready for exploring. Our first stop was the National Museum - it made sense to find out about the city before we started seeing the sights. It was really interesting, giving a view of both the political and cultural history of Singapore, as well as a few live galleries dedicated to fashion, film and the sort. They also had a free guided tour which gave a fascinating local insight to many of the exhibits. Without realizing it we spent about 4 hours wandering through the museum. Feet sore, we decided to have a quick sit and drink before walking around Fort Canning Park. On our way back to the hotel from the park, we happened to be in the vicinity of a certain hotel with a bit of historic significance. Apparently, Raffles Hotel is quite well known and, as we were in the area, we thought we may as well go for a drink there. So we celebrated our first night in style by having an original Singapore Sling.

The days came thick and fast, and as we were in Singapore for only a relatively short amount of time - 6 days - we crammed a lot in to every day; much to the protest of our feet. I could almost feel the sympathy of everyone for our poor selves! Our second day/night was spent exclusively at the famous Singapore Zoo and the adjoining Night Safari. Both were excellent. It was a fair trek to get to them, but well worth it. All of the animals at the zoo seemed very happy in their surroundings, and it's difficult to describe just how big the place is. We spent 6 hours there, and didn't see all there was to see. There were several highlights; the free ranging Orang Utan area was fantastic, feeding the Manatees and Giraffe was an experience, and watching the White Tigers being fed impressive. The Night Safari was also pretty cool. Taking walking trails and seeing various animals in the dead of night is something I would recommend.

One of the best things about Singapore, I felt, was the atmosphere of the place. People often seem to criticize the city as lacking soul, being too modern, and whilst that may be true about the centre it certainly is not of the other areas. The colonial core is packed with history - both in feel and in architecture, whilst both Little India and Chinatown are buzzing with life at day and night. And the thing that really stands out is the efficiency and cleanliness of the entire city. The locals joke about the rules and regulations, and sell tee-shirts in honour of them (there is a $500 fine for eating or drinking on the MRT) - but everything runs on time, pretty much to the second, and nothing is vandalized or broken. There is also fantastic food to be had anywhere in the city, even for those of us on the tighter budget. The little food halls that sold Malay, Chinese and Indian food were delicious; we were lucky having a 24 hour food hall directly opposite our hotel, with a meal costing about 2-3 pounds!

The place that I think everyone should visit, and that definitely puts life into perspective, is Changi Museum and Chapel. It is the museum about the PoWs held in Singapore during the Japanese occupation in WW2. We all found it incredible, even knowing previously the conditions they were subjected to, how badly the PoWs were treated and how some survived. It's impossible to describe, and I won't do it the disservice of attempting to - I'd just urge people to go and see it if they ever can.

On a slightly lighter note, we also managed to visit the Jurong Bird Park and saw the impressively titled 'tallest man-made waterfall' - although when we found out that this was only 'in an aviary' it didn't seem quite so impressive! And we also paid a visit to Tiger Balm Gardens - a really interesting park based upon Chinese mythology. Tiger Balm Gardens held a bit of personal interest/history for me as my Dad had visited the park as a child almost 50 years ago with his parents. It was especially interesting as I learned that I'll be visiting several levels of Chinese hell before being reborn as an animal! On our final day we took a trip out to Sentosa Island (a very commercial touristy area) and then back across to Mount Faber using the cable cars. The views from Mount Faber - Singapore's highest point - were fantastic. As were the views from the cable cars for that matter.

And then, feet having hardly touched the ground, it was time for us to leave Singapore and head to Malaysia. We had tickets for the morning train to Kuala Lumpur on 6th August. So having enjoyed our time in Singapore immensely, we jumped into a taxi and drove through the deserted morning streets towards the train station and a 7 hours ride into the heart of Malaysia.
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