Number Five is Alive!
Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
117Trip End Ongoing
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Some times it pays to leave things to the last minute. Half an hour before catching the bus on Friday night I thought that it would be a good idea to sort some accommodation out for Singapore. There are not many hostels, and hotels are expensive but I happened upon the website for The Betel Box Hostel and booked two nights in a dorm.
After travelling all night and eventually finding the right bus in to Singapore, the taxi dropped my off at the address but there was no sign for the hostel. Fearing I had been ripped off - I had reserved a bed with my credit card - I was mightily relieved to be welcomed into a spotless, brand spanking new hostel. They had only been open four days, and I was guest Number Five. It's owned and run by Mark (Dutch) and Tony (Singaporean) who used to work in the London ratrace but decided to chuck it all in to open the Betel Box. Respect.
Now for a bit of geography and history. Singapore is an island, city and country only 42km long and 23km wide (and growing through land reclamation), and is only 137km north of the equator. It's location at the tip of the Malayan Peninsula made it an important trading centre between China and India, and so in 1819 Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles signed a couple of treaties with the Malayans and claimed the island for the British East India trading company. Raffles only spent ten months in Singapore, but it was long enough for him to set up the legal system, oversee the development of the port, and laid out the design of the town. Apart from a couple of years on Japanese occupation during World War II, Singapore remained British until 1965.
Today Singapore is one of the most modern countries in the world. I spent the afternoon wandering around the streets, down the shopper's paradise of Orchard Road (home of such upscale stores such as Gucci, Versace, and Marks & Spencers), then over to Fort Canning Park, before heading down to the river and the numerous restaurants and bars. Down in the Colonial District I knocked on the door of the Singapore Cricket Club but it's members only, don't you know.
The evening was spent with guests Three and Four from Holland, with Tony from the hostel taking us around the neighbourhood sampling lots of local food. Because Singapore is so ethnically mixed (primarily Chinese, but also Malayans, Indian and Indonesian) the variety of food on offer at the street markets is astonishing. Tony ordered, we ate. Rice dumplings, something called rojak, satay and God knows what else. We finished with an iced Kachang, an unholy mix of ice, sweetcorn, fruit, various syrups, lychees and much more besides. It sounds bad and tastes even worse, but you have to try it.
Sunday December 7th
Rained today so decided to watch Matrix Revolutions in the IMAX theatre. The size of the screen and the sound was unbelievable, even making me dizzy at times, and seeing Laurence Fishburn's pock-marked boatrace in such alarming detail was a small price to pay.
Afterwards I went down to the river and had a beer at Harry's Bar, the favourite watering hole of rogue trader and Barings Bank destroyer Nick Leeson. I'm not saying beer in Singapore is expensive, but for one beer here I could have had 15 in Vietnam and a pint-and-a-half in London!
Now you can't come to Singapore without stopping at the opulent Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. Or can you? Up I went to the Long Bar where the drink was invented in 1915, only to see loads of tourists sipping on the pink fruity cocktail and having their picture taken. There was a production line of staff making the drink and ferrying them over to the sweaty westerners. I know that going to Raffles and not having a Singapore Sling is like going to the Louvre and not seeing the Mona Lisa (or going to Kebabies and not having the large shish with extra chilli sauce hmmm kebabs) but the thought of me sitting there with a pink, overpriced, sickly sweet drink with a flower in it just came across as being too tacky, even for Stupid Tourist Man. Instead, Experienced Travel Dude bought an overpriced beer and, as this is the only place on the island where you can throw something on the ground without getting fined and having your hands chopped off, threw some peanut shells on the floor. I did nick a bar mat, though.
Monday December 8th
Unfortunatley, I have to leave today. I wasn't expecting too much from Singapore, but I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it. So that's it for the Southeast Asia part of Big Trip, now it's to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks hanging out with elephants and (Tamil) tigers. Oh, and to watch England play cricket. As such, American viewers but be bored and confused over the next two weeks, but you can click here to for my review of the cricket world cup last February and learn a little bit about cricket, but not much.
For those in England watching the second and third Tests on Sky, be sure to look out for this:
Kandy here I come!
Where I stayed