Looks just like Germany....or not.

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Betel Box Hostel Singapore
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where'd those four hours go? I love, love, love Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. Passing four hours between flights will feel like five minutes. If you can at all be distracted by shopping opportunities that is. I’m a sucker for that. Still. It’s an impeccably well designed, large airport (the best I’ve seen anyways and I daresay I’ve seen a good share) with beautiful shops to stress your credit cards. You can find any luxury goods your heart desires here. Lost a camera accessory? Craving a magnum bottle of Veuve to stock up your wine fridge with? How about some hand-sewn silk or cotton designer clothes? A five-pack of your favourite mascara? (Who ever buys mascaras in bulk? I’ve always wondered that.) Haven’t had sushi in a while? Or want to squeeze in one last Thai massage? Maybe buy a real Tissot to cure your eyesores caused by the fakes you couldn’t get away from? Or an outrageously expensive Kiehl’s eye cream you’d like to indulge your temple-stressed peepers in? The only thing I want and can afford to buy (for budget, space and luggage weight reasons) is a pin of the Thai flag. Nowhere else in Thailand was I able to find one for Manu’s and my collection. Airports are always a safe bet for them. Not here though. There is a sensual overload of duty-free goods. But no simple little pin flag. I’m disappointed.

Just a few more minutes to boarding my flight to Singapore. I am a little nervous, knowing that I am moving towards the less backpacker-friendly cost-bracket of SEA. Probably a smooth way of easing into pricy Oceania.

My flight is smooth and timely except for some turbulences that don’t bother me. I’ve had a bit of flight fear on some of the flights I’ve taken lately. Not sure where it came from. After many hours on buses and overnight buses, I guess I am now grateful again to be flying. Or maybe it’s my newfound addiction to the TV series 'Lost’ (which I bought MP4s of in Cambodia and keeps me up to silly wee hours every night: http://bit.ly/GwPgU). Somehow watching a bunch of plane-crashed people struggling for survival on a cursed island put me back at ease about flying. Or maybe it is that I’ve covered my top three destinations I’ve always wanted to see now (though I have added more than I took off the list as well). In any case, I feel the same I did on that nerve-wrecking flight from Rome (http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/henniterness/1/1287616365/tpod.html): If this was to be my last flight, I will go at the most fulfilled and happy time in my life to date. Things could be worse I’d say.

I only have 3 days here but manage to cover a good chunk of what I wanted to see in one day by bicycle. Here are some thoughts and impressions I had about Singapore:

-          My first Singapore impression on the airport bus to Joo Chiat / Katong area where my hostel is located, is that it looks like Germany. The clean, wide streets with impeccably drawn traffic lines on them, manicured public gardening, organized traffic. Is this still South East Asia? Really? Soon, the Chinese influences become obvious and the Teutonic look softens a little. Then on the 7-minute walk from the bus station, I pass more obvious Asian looking places, including some clearly Malay-influenced (read Muslim) store fronts and faces. Though it remains untypically clean and non-chaotic.

-          Katong / Joo Chiat  area where my hostel is in. I spend my first afternoon in my hood and decide that THIS is the land of smiles, not Thailand. Social campaigns in the past here included promotions of smiles and friendliness towards tourists. You can tell Singaporeans know and appreciate the value of tourism. Lovely! What it leaves me wondering is if all the government campaigns to train people to behave in certain ways is good or bad. I.e. past campaigns included messaging like don’t litter – smile – speak good English - or maintain your Mandarin – flush the toilet – be a good dad and spend time with your kids - don’t have more than 2 kids - then go ahead multiply like rabbits, when that backfired – and so forth. What does it say about a people if they are that pliable? It leaves me in a very pleasant place to visit. Does it leave its people in a dangerous spot of risking being fooled by their government? Some Germans studying here that I had a brief chat with back in Saigon mentioned that Singaporeans have an extreme need of security and would never travel like we do. One ad I saw on several taxis read "Low crime does not mean no crime". That to me seems like a sad result of this type of government involvement, resulting in people being held back. This topic would make for a whole essay or blog entry in itself. Interesting stuff…..Curious to hear what you all think if you care to share….

-          Loved Kompong Glam, the Malay Historic district and hub of the Muslim community. Great foods bringing back memories of the Middle East. Turkish lunch of Saksuka, a dish someone even wrote a song about once. Enjoying the vibe of Arab worlds minus the hassling. Clearly, the Islamic faith is much more liberal towards other behavioural standards here than elsewhere in the Muslim world. No one looks at me funny or offended for wearing shorts and a tank. I wonder how attire rules of full body coverage can be enforced in countries like this where it’s hot and humid. Seems like an act of cruelty and torture to me to have to wear any more than absolutely necessary.

-          Little India: I was considering to skip a Hindu temple. Glad I didn’t as I ran into some sort of ceremony or mass that was very goose-bumpy to watch. Plus some Halloween-like religious architecture and sculptures of Hindu gods and stories. Very cool :)

-          Orchard Road: This is supposed to be the local Times Square equivalent. I didn’t quite get that same vibe. I did enjoy the well designed street and traffic flow, despite my challenges of biking on the mostly one-way streets and in left-hand traffic. One thing I found gross was the chill I got from riding past the stores here. They are so over-air conditioned that I feel a meat-cooler blast just passing by on the road, even though I am at least 10-15 meters away from the store entrances. Where is the ‘green and clean’ campaign here? Seems like a massive waste of energy to me.

-          Chinatown: I just wanted to peek into a couple of temples (yes, I am surprised too that I still have capacity for those). Nothing worth writing about on those, but I got stuck in Chinatown for a couple of hours due to the rain. Every day around dawn, there is a torrential downpour here. So I was forced to stop for early dinner. Fish head soup. Disappointing.

-          Marina and Raffles Quay: Nice ride along the water checking out the modern buildings' architecture at night and challenging the local traffic order as I go against traffic on one-way streets and on the wrong side of the road, trying to find my ways.

-          Thanks to facebook I realized that Clement, a friend/salsa mate from years ago lives here. Thanks to his work schedule (one that I am all too familiar with myself, I have not forgotten), we never manage to meet.

-          Singapore conclusions: I very much enjoy it here. It is clean, friendly, organized, there are plenty of photographic opportunities, it is easy to get around. It feels like a metropolis, yet I can easily cover large parts of it by bike. Food choices are amazing. There appears to be a nice art and music scene. Different cultures live peacefully side-by-side. The climate is warm (make that hot, hot and humid). It is close to dozens of other countries easily reachable with cheap flights. My kind of place.
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Mark F on

Fish-head soup? Eww. I'm an east coaster, but even I would have to consider carefully before eating that.

henniterness on

It was supposed to be quite tasty according to the guide books. And I am generally pretty adventurous on the culinary side. Sadly, I found it very disappointing.

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