Singapore, the start of our Asia adventure

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Monday, January 3, 2011

The alarm buzzed at seven in the morning, we had little more than five hours of sleep as we had to finish 1001 little things before we could close our suitcases and label them as packed. Our flight is at eleven, but we have to get to the airport early as we have to send a package of Beyblades back to Holland. My boys have given me a list of models that cannot be found in Holland, so Linda and I roamed the streets of Wan Chai and Shum Shui Po to find the much wanted spinning tolls. We discovered that the manufacturer (Tamaka Tomy) has different names for the ones released in Europe under the Hasbro brand, so it was quite a puzzle to find the correct ones and some more. Our scavenger hunt resulted in a box full of collector item blades that are now on their way back to Holland.

Our flight today is with Jetstar, a budget airline from Quantas I believe. We managed to get cheap tickets and 'upgraded' them to the front row seats. When we arrived at the airport Terminal 2 there was no one at the counter for JetStar, so we first went to the post office in Terminal 1 to mail our package. When we came back they were just about to start the check in procedure. All went smooth as a banana, and a few minutes later we headed back to Terminal 1 to find our gate. It is a bit odd to do the check-in in Terminal 2, and then have to go back to Terminal 1 for the flight, but it is all not too far apart.

After customs we had some breakfast at the food court before heading out to our flight. The little extra money that we payed for our front row seats was worth it, and the roughly three hours flight went smooth. At the airport we finally managed to find a copy of Timothy Ferris' new book, 'The Four Hour Body' so during the flight I had something to read. The guy is a human science project, trying all kinds of controversial techniques to hack his body. Good fun to read, and maybe of some use for some experiments of my own, we will see.

We arrived in Singapore right on time, this JetStar experience has lived right up to the expectations. No fuzz, cheap and on time, as air travel should be. Within 30 minutes we were outside where it was rainy, warm and humid. But despite the little rain, the warm air felt soothing. We hopped on a taxi and were on our way to our home for the coming days, the wonderful Singapore Fairmont Hotel. We got a very nice room on the 18th floor with an awesome view of Singapore. In the distance I see the big ferris wheel and a little to the right the iconic Sands Marina Bay casino. The room is as it should be, roomy, spotless and very comfortable. We quickly settled in and hunger won from sleepiness, so we headed out to find an authentic Hainan Chicken Rice meal a few streets down from the hotel.

The place we went to is featured in Linda's guide book as one of the oldest Hainan Chicken Rice restaurants in Singapore and is supposed to be very good. When we arrived the people in the restaurant looked not to pleased with our visit. The staff was having their rest and was not too eager to serve us. Not quite what we expected from 'friendly' Singapore. But we were hungry and determined so we ignored their grumpiness and enjoyed a rather good meal. For me it is still not better than the ones that Linda made at home, but it came close. A bit later we saw another couple entering the restaurant, holding the exact same Chinese guide book, also provided with color coded tabs to mark the places of interest. Funny how these books influence people where to go. We finished our chicken rice and felt like it was time for some wake-up juice. A bit down the street we found a little coffee shop where we found some kopi-c, or better kopi-chino, coffee with milk.

Fulfilled we headed back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours. Despite the coffee our early awakening had gotten to us so we needed a 'power-nap'. Around eight we were picked up by Cho, a friend of Linda. He had promised us an awesome seafood dinner. And he did deliver, he called around to find the best crab in town, and we ended up somewhere in the back streets of Singapore at a restaurant called No Sign seafood in the Geyland area. Here we were challenged with a 2kg crab, prepared in the classic 'white pepper style'. Normally I don't care too much for crab, just too much work to get to too little meat. But this beast was different, there was plenty of meat under the shell, and the taste of the white pepper had penetrated perfectly. We accompanied our feast with some nice coconuts, and enjoyed a side of fresh shrimp, fish and vegetables. After dinner we headed out to catch up at a wine bar in the Emerald Hill district. Here all the houses are preserved in the old style. They stand proud between the concrete and glass towers surrounding them. The old houses are two stories high and have nicely decorated facade. Now its a place for the richer people, as these antiques come with quite a price tag. The wine bar was a dark but cozy place, and they had a decent selection of grapes. We settled on a Spanish variant which tasted just fine.

The next day the morning came late as we slept in a bit. Our fist point of attention today is to obtain tickets for the train to Malacca, or better Tampin, the closest train station to Malacca. We took a taxi to the Malaysian train station in Singapore. The station is already a different world, it looks old and run down, and does not really fit in the pristine world of concrete and glass that is called Singapore. But despite the appearance the place has a good feel to it. The high walls are decorated with paintings of Malaysia, and the smell of food floating in the heated air. We queue for about fifteen minutes before it is our turn. We were a bit concerned about the availability of tickets, as our inquires via email were ignored, and the concierge of the hotel could not get hold of the station to inquire about availability. So we decided to just to go there and see what is available. Luckily our first choice, train 12, leaving at 13:00 on Thursday the 6th has availability, so we score two tickets and our trip to Malacca is secured.

We did not have any breakfast yet, and the smell of food is pulling us towards the station eatery. We pick a number of odd things and have a little snack on the platform. This platform looks more like a restaurant terrace as it is filled with plastic chairs and tables where the travelers enjoy their food. The Chinese travel book showed us that we were close to a famous Bak Kut Teh eatery, so for our second breakfast we decide to go there. It was a short walk along the busy main road before we reached the gate of the container terminal. The eatery was right next door to this. We sat down at a table and enjoyed the most local version of Bak Kut Teh. Legend says that, back in the day, this pork rib soup made with Chinese medicine was made to provide more energy to the workers. To me this sounds a bit like a performance enhancing drug, and it might just be that the Singaporean officials have not caught on to this one yet. Done with our second breakfast and filled with energy, we took a taxi to the Merlion. This is the landmark of Singapore, and basically is a water spitting crossover between a mermaid and a lion. It is really not that impressive, but as good tourist we take the necessary photographs. It is quite warm outside so we find some refreshment and a cup of coffee at the coffee shop overlooking the park and the statue.

Later that day, we are supposed to meet up with two friends from Bermuda, Terry and Stevo. We met Stevo in Beijing and Hong Kong as well, and as he is traveling through Malaysia and Singapore for his honeymoon, we planned to meet up for a dinner here in Singapore. But the poor guy caught some kind of rash which according to the doctors might be contagious, so he canceled on us. Our other friend, Terry, was waiting for us at the city hall subway station. Terry moved to Singapore not more than a couple of months ago, so he is as much a stranger to the city as us. We head out to the famous satay street for some grilled meat sticks. Arriving at the satay complex we are jumped by three or four different vendors trying to get us to sit down at their stall. We pick one and order some Tiger and an assortment of skewers. Although the food and drinks are touristically priced, or better over priced, the quality is good and we enjoy the food in good company. We are even persuaded to try some grilled ray, which tasted ok.

We say goodbye to Terry at the subway station, as he has to get back to his new job early in the morning. But we make our way to City Space in the Equinox complex, a bar next door of our hotel. Well next door and about 50 stories higher. The bar is located on the 70th floor of the Swiss Hotel, located next to the Fairmont. The view of Singapore is fantastic, and we enjoy some nice drinks and fabulous crisps.

Around eleven thirty the next morning, Cho, our Singaporean friend, picked us up for something that he described as the best Chicken Rice in the world. He brings us to the outskirts of Singapore, close to his home. Here we find a restaurant called the Big Bird. It looks like your average restaurant, a big square space dining hall with a counter in the back. At the counter there is a glass box where the roast port, bbq pork and of course chicken is showcased hanging on a hook. We order a table full of food, and dig in. The rice is perfectly soaked in chicken broth, and the chicken is close to perfect, as smooth as silk. This version of chicken rice can compete with the one that my hon makes, and it will be a close call to decide which one is best. We eat like pigs and leave the tray of meat empty. Back at the car, Cho is ready for more, so we head out to another hidden gem. A small ice cream shop, where they sell handmade flavors. We are going for the bucket of ice cream that is held separate from all others, because of its infamous smell. We all take a scoop of delicious durian ice cream. The flavor is perfect, and goes surprisingly well with the chocolate dipped cone. The only down side is that with every hick up for the rest of the day, the durian taste comes back, in a way good value for money.

After way too much food, Cho drops us off at Little India. Here we take a stroll to a less polished part of Singapore. It is a colorful collection of stores, mostly selling cheap clothes. The people all have a third eye painted on their forehead, and we find a classic Hindu temple along the street. It is interesting to see, but the damp mid afternoon warmth make it all a bit uncomfortable. So after a short walk we hop on to a taxi to go to higher grounds, the Marina Bay Sands observation deck.

The Sands is an odd appearance on the Singapore skyline. Three big towers hold a squeezed version of a cruise ship about 50 stories above the ground. The front of the ship is the observation deck and hovers around 200 meters above the ground. Below the three towers these is a big shopping mall (of course) and a casino. The taxi drops us off at the observation deck entrance. Here we have to pay twenty Singaporean dollars (!) to catch the elevator to the top. But we came all this way, so as good tourists we comply with the extortion and get ourselves two tickets for the elevator. It was not too busy and there were no queues, so a minute later we stand 200 meters above the Singaporean ground level, on the observation deck. The ocean view is amazing, not so much for the ocean or the beaches, but more for the incredible amount of container ships docked in before the harbor waiting for their turn to get in and be loaded. The city has a pretty skyline, that is interrupted with the occasional church or other heritage building. I read somewhere that the Singaporean skyline is voted to be the 3rd most impressive in the world. This is in my opinion a bit overrated, but yes it is pretty.

We sit down for a drink at the bar on top of the observation deck, but the prices for a drink are ridiculous, and the service below Singaporean standards. If you have to pay twenty dollars for a beer you would expect to be served, don't you? Well not at the Sands, you will have to order from the bar and probably clear your own table. So without a drink and feeling a bit ripped off we took the elevator downstairs to have a peek at the praised Casino. Here we ran into another unpleasant surprise. We were all prepared and brought our passports, as our friends warned us that you would need these to enter the Casino floor. But at the gate we were stopped by the guards as my flip flops were not allowed. Have you ever!? Except for the tiny Casinos in Holland, I have never seen a Casino in an entertainment complex that requires this kind of dress code. Not in Vegas and not in Macau. We did manage to have a peek at the rather empty gaming floor from a gallery two floors above the room. It was rather quiet, but I did see another tourist wearing Crocs, apparently these are allowed, no matter how untasteful they are. Anyhow, we probably would not gamble anyways, so nothing gained and nothing lost. We head onwards to explore the mall. This mall is big and spacious, but a lot of the store spaces are still empty. There is a little ice rink at the food court, here we sat down and enjoyed a coconut and a glass of dragon fruit juice. All in all we are not too impressed with the Sands, it has the same feeling as an high end mall, even the hotel and casino area. No thrills, glass and marble, no sense of party or excitement, which are in my opinion essential to a Casino resort. I am glad we did not book a room here.

This evening we grab a bite at the Sunctec mall food court. Thunderstorms have covered the sky of Singapore and a soft drizzle wets the streets. But that is no problem, as everything is connected through underground walkways. So we walk from our hotel to Raffles City, from there to CityLink, and from there to Suntec, all underground, without feeling a drop of rain. This explains to me why the streets that we see from our hotel are so empty. Everyone escapes the elements, being heat or rain, by hiding in the underground city of Singapore. We grab a Penang style dinner at one of the many restaurants around the fountain of wealth. There was a little multi media show at the fountain. Some laser projections in the wash of the fountain with loud music. Not too stunning, but good entertainment. Our food was delicious. I think it will be very hard to find bad food here in Singapore. The whole culture is about eating and eating some more. There is a restaurant or eatery every step you take. And they all have a high standard of quality and service. I seriously wonder how all these people stay relatively slim.
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