A stop-over in super-slique Singapore

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mid-morning on Thursday 11 August, as our flight from Bangkok to Singapore took off, we said a final goodbye to Thailand - I must confess I was rather emotional. We had really enjoyed what little we saw of this amazing country... though we had spent nearly three weeks there in total, it was nowhere near enough. Its people, above all else, are Thailand's greatest asset. They remain themselves - friendly and welcoming - despite the massive onslaught of foreigners. I guess the reality is that they have achieved a fine balance, managing tourism to best advantage without compromising their own culture. Perhaps sometime in the future, its neighbours and Vietnam will head in that direction too.

And so we touched down in another place that has made its own unique fortune - Singapore. Though we had expected it, the ultra-first-world sophisication that greeted us when we stepped off the plane made our jaws drop. It's way beyond the West, positively futuristic. The whole metro system looks like the newest part of London's Jubilee line; there's not a jot of litter, flaking paint or neglect to be seen in the streets, everything runs like clockwork. And yet, despite this efficiency to the point of sterility, it's a wonderfully buzzing, multi-cultural society... Chinese, Indians, Malays and assorted expats all live alongside one another in this tightly packed city-state. And needless to say, with such a mix of cultures, it's a foodies' heaven. The variety on offer is mouthwatering.

Our flight was quite delayed, so it was already mid-afternoon by the time we arrived in the neighbourhood of Little India, just north of the city centre. We'd chosen to stay here because it sounded pretty interesting, and so it was: amid the look-alike high-rise apartment blocks, this vibrant little enclave of quaint, colourfully painted, shuttered buildings is alive with street markets, the smell of spices and the twang of Indian music.

After checking into our very basic hotel (accommodation is really pricey in Singapore), we took a stroll around the neighbourhood and settled into a canteen-style eatery (where locals ate with their hands) for the most fabulous curry ever... served on a banana leaf, with generous dollops of rice and vegetable side dishes doled out freely by the roving waiters (they just didn't understand 'No, thank you'). We were absolutely stuffed by the time we rolled back to our room!

On Friday, after a slow start, we took a hop-on bus for a look around the city. Another chance to gawp at the fascinating mix of colonial and ultra-modern architecture, and the superlative cleanliness and efficiency of the place. We ended up spending much of the afternoon in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a perfectly manicured pad where, clearly, no expense has been spared... the facilities would have my ex-colleagues at Edinburgh Botanics turning green with envy! We wandered for over an hour through the lovely Orchid Garden, then explored the 6ha patch of native rainforest.

We ended the day with some retail therapy on Orchard Road... ended up buying a new digital camera with marine housing. We'd been thinking about getting a new camera, but our minds were nowhere near made up when we popped into a camera shop just to check out prices. The very clever salesman managed to convince us of the good deal he could offer... he also managed to talk us into buying two extra lenses (wide angle and telephoto) we never knew we needed!!! We have to confess we got fleeced... even though the prices for the Sony Cyber-Shot camera and its marine housing were good, the two extra (overkill!) lenses bumped up the total to way more than we were planning to spend. But now that we have the lenses we are determined to use them... watch this space for photos taken with our new kit!!!!
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