Flashpacking in the Lion City

Trip Start Oct 31, 2008
Trip End May 27, 2009

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Where I stayed
Marlin's apartment in Potong Pasir

Flag of Singapore  ,
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Singapore or Singa Pura (Lion City), the world's busiest port, is a tropical jungle metropolis but also (bar the climate) a home away from home, with all the creature comforts and modernity you could want to ease you into a round the world trip gently. You can eat the local food with confidence, drink the tap water with assuredness and roam the streets safely and with ease of navigation as everything is in English. That's how the city state appears at first glance but when you go to Little India, China Town or the Arab Quarter you start to experience the exotic feast for the senses you have been craving.

I should explain that i have had the luxury of flash-packing through Singapore as was put up at the Rasa Sentosa Shangri-La, a five star resort on Sentosa Island, by my good Norwegian friends Heidi and Andreas who kindly invited my out for their wedding at the legendary Raffles Hotel (see separate blog entry for wedding). Thank you so much you two what a fantastic experience!

My accommodation experience was not that of a typical backpacker but all that is to come after SP. I still tried to stick to my traveling ethos though, to seek out good conversation, new people, great food, to generally experience the unknown and to keep the budget tighter than a duck's arse! For anyone looking for five star luxury right on the beach with a great facilities and a smorgasbord of breakfast delights then i highly recommend the Rasa Sentosa.

Sentosa Island (where i stayed) is just off the coast of Singapore and was a former strategic stronghold of the British Royal Artillery (you can go to Fort Siloso on the Island to learn about this period in history). During World War II the Island was a military fortress. The British Artillery set up their big guns pointing to the Sea in anticipation of a sea assault but the tactically superior Japanese took Singapore from the North... DOH!

Free buses run around Sentosa and you can take the Sentosa express monorail over to Vivo City (one of the many flashy shopping malls in SP) and then take the MRT (subway) around the city. There is plenty to see on Sentosa although it has a theme park feel albeit on a tropical island. You can also take a glass bottom cable car over to the city, or go to Underwater World, Dolphin Lagoon (swim with Dolphins), go on nature walks, chill on the beach and plenty more bits and bobs. Cafe Del Mar is a cool place to go for a drink on the beach at night and listen to nice tunes altough take a fat wodge of cash with you if you want to drink mor than ice water. 

The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is the best i have experienced in the world in terms of cleanliness and efficiency. It is amazing how the Singaporeans can run such a good system and keep the ticket prices so cheap (<1) for a single journey. The trains are air conditioned and it is effortlessly easy to find your way around. Singapore as a whole is a very clean city, some have called it too clinical in it's cleanliness and it does have a slightly 1984 Orwellian feel with all the fines and controls. It is illegal to possess chewing gum unless it is nicotine gum on prescription, fine S$1000.  That being said if you dig a little deeper you can find a wealth of new experiences and some lovely, interesting people in the multi-ethnic melting pot of Singapore.

I had the pleasure of spending my first week with Andreas and Heidi's family and friends for the wedding. People came from Scandinavia, San francisco, Hong Kong, Australia, Tokyo and London (me) so i really enjoyed meeting a bunch of new people from around the globe. I also loved seeing the Norwegian possy again and having some great laughs. They are a funny bunch and are good ambassadors for their country - laughter, drinking, fun and general vikingness being their main attributes. It was good to see Aunt Windy, who suffers from flatulent narcolepsy and her husband Uncle Guy (who likes a tray of tequila or two) as it had been ages.  I shared a room with Kristian (Heidi's brother) and we had a wicked laugh and the usual Gunners - Spurs banter.

The first day we hooked up with everyone at the airport, chilled by the pool and then headed out to the Bikini bar to watch the footie. The bikini bar (you guessed it with scantily clad waitresses) closed and so we headed for Boat Quay (a strip of bars and restaurant along the river) and bantered with some Royal Navy petit officers on shore leave. They were posted just of the coast of SP and were manning a survey frigate but didn't really say more than that. Arsenal lost and Spurs somehow came back to a memorable victory against Liverpool so i took some heavy stick from Heidi's Dad and Bro but no matter as they are still in 19th place at the time of writing this.

the next night we went to Heidi's condo in The Icon building in the Tanjong Pagar and we kicked back by the pool on the 7th floor (an amazing tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle) and then about 20 of us strolled into Chinatown for some exotic colour and flavours on food street. I highly recommend eating here if on a budget or other wise as the food is delicious and cheap (for Singapore). Singapore can be expensive for backpackers, especially for alcohol, (average S$10 for a small beer!) If you hunt around you can find some bargains and you can always get good food in street food courts. Singapore food standards officers rigorously assess food establishments and give a rating "A, B, etc". Look for A's and B's and you can't go wrong.

In terms of doing stuff Kristian and I went to Singapore Zoo and were really lucky as there were hardly any people there. I am not sure where I stand morally on zoos yet but i sure do love seeing those white tigers. I am conflicted as don't want the animals to be cooped up in small enclosures but love seeing them and don't want them to get poached. As zoos go i think Singapore is the best i have seen as they do at least give the impression that the animals are in an open environment by putting them on islands with moats around although typing that out makes it sound horrible! They have loads of different monkeys and primates and the flora and fauna are impressive and give a feeling of roaming around the jungle and just happening across the animals.

We also checked out the night Safari which was a new experience. We encountered fruit bats, monkeys and 3 utterly deranged hyenas who made noises that would make you trickle excrement all down your trousers. i have never heard anything like it, they put 2 pieces of meat on the bone out chained down to the ground and the 3 hyenas had to compete for them. They started with their evil laughs and then started tearing chunks out of each other and then started sprinting around their own private Island screaming like Tyrannosaurus Rex (although the noise a T Rex might make is pure circumspect). Kristian and I stood there in utter amazement for about 20 minutes and then creased up at the changing expressions of the voyeurs slowly chugging by on the little safari train, from gaiety and joy to bewilderment and terror.

For both the day and night zoo it costs S$30 which is about 13 which is about 3 beers in Singapore. If you like zoos definitely go to this one although it is rammed on the weekend apparently. A 6 hour walk around the zoo in tropical climate can be a bit taxing but worth it.

Gastronomically Singapore has at lot to offer, the highlight for me (aside from the 8 course wedding feast at Raffles) was at Long Beach on Dempsey Road which is world famous for serving the best pepper crab in SP and it certainly lived up to its rep. The food there is delicious and fresh as a daisy, you can choose your dinner from the tanks and have it cooked there and then. If you are not budget restricted and can get a table there then definitely check it out.

Clarke Quay is definitely worth checking out for funky bars and restaurants in a covered area along the river. Clinic Bar was a wicked laugh and is set up like a hospital with gold wheelchairs for chairs, giant pills for tables, surgical lighting, hospital beds for sofas and you can down a bag of booze from an IV if that's your thing! Obviously the obligatory Timmmmaaaaaai pictures were taken.  

Well that's it for SP part 1.

Belated shout outs go to the main man Obama, what an incredible orator, and to Lewis Hamilton for taking Glock on the last corner to become youngest F1 world champ!

Andreas - legendary stag do nice one, can you remember it? i think not.

Stay tuned for Singapore Slings, a wedding on the lawn at Raffles and the mastering of toast!
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