What A Nice Surprise!

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
Marina Bay Sands

Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, January 22, 2012

How do you plan a multi year trip? You don't. We have a general idea of where we want to go and what we want to see but booking anything ahead of time would just limit our options. The one exception was Singapore- we really wanted to visit this Asian Tiger but since Singapore is reputed to be just another big modern city, I wanted to tie our visit to a festival or celebration. Problem solved since Singapore plays host to one of the biggest Chinese New Year parties outside of China itself so we booked our Singapore accommodation well before we started traveling. I really expected to enjoy the party with the city as background noise only- what happened was the exact opposite and we have certainly added Singapore to our growing list of potential retirement destinations. To answer the calls from her fan base DH is insisting on describing our visit so I'm turning the pen over to her:

Many people marvel at the beauty of Singapore and her progressiveness. Most impressive to note is that she was formerly just a humble fishing village, inhabited by an indigenous population. I do have to admit that I thought Singapore was a large city in China, and judging by some of the emails we received, I am not alone in this. Having spent five days here, I still think of it as a big city. So to make up for being geographically challenged, I am enclosing a few facts of Singapore the  "Island Country":

* Population: 5.18 million
* Located in Southeast Asia between Malaysia and Indonesia.
* Singapore was united with other former British territories to form Malaysia in 1963 and became a fully independent state two years later after a separation from Malaysia.
* Since then it has had a massive increase in wealth, and is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The economy depends heavily on the industry and service sectors.
* It is the world's fourth-leading financial centre, the world's second-biggest casino gambling market, and the world's third-largest oil refining centre.
* The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world, most notable for being the busiest trans-shipment port in the world.
* The country is home to more US dollar millionaire households per capita than any other country.
* The World Bank notes Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business.
* The median age of the resident population is 38 years in 2011.
* Singapore is counted amongst the 20 smallest countries of the world. However, it is the second most densely populated country in the world, after Monaco.
* In 2011, the Chinese formed the majority at 74 per cent of the resident population, followed by the Malays with 13 per cent and the Indians with 9.2 per cent.
* In 2,000, the World Health Organization ranked Singapore as the 6th best health system in the world, much higher than the United States, Canada or the UK. Currently, it sees some 8,000 patients a year, of whom about 90 per cent are foreign patients.Tourism receipts from medical travelers last year hit an estimated S$940 million, a jump of about S$200 million compared to the year before.

Fast forward to today. Singapore is a bustling cosmopolitan city populated with high-rise buildings and landscape gardens. Brimming with a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture, Singapore is a dynamic city that’s rich in contrast and colour. In fact, you can even say that Singapore embodies the finest of both East and West.

The one thing most people had associated with Singapore is that it has been a fairly rigid law and order town and has a fine for just about everything. We saw a quite a bit of this behaviour shaping strategy- it does seem to work and the locals seem to have fun joking about it. Singapore is clean and almost crime free. There are fines on thousands of offenses, such as smoking in a public place, jaywalking, not flushing a public toilet, littering, eating on public transport and even possessing chewing gum. Singapore truly is a 'fine' city. Perhaps it's most famous fine is related to chewing gum. In January of 1992, Singaporean law adopted a new ban on chewing gum which was an extension of the littering law. The ban on chewing gum in Singapore outlawed import, sale, and manufacture of chewing gum. Therefore, the act of chewing gum in Singapore is associated with similar penalties to those imposed for littering. The littering law requires a fine of $500 to $1,000 USD for first time offenders. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $2,000 USD and assigned a Corrective Work Order (CWO). The ban on the import and manufacture of gum was enforced immediately, and a short grace period was allowed for merchants to sell their remaining supplies, and for the public to chew whatever gum they had left. When serving a CWO for violating littering laws, offenders are made to clean public spaces, often while wearing a bright colored jacket. The media may also be invited to cover the event, increasing the severity of the penalty though additional public shame.

The one punishment we made a particular note of was for visitors overstaying their visa by 90+ days- caning. Yes, those periodic stories about drug trafficking Aussies getting sentenced to a caning are true. In 2007 6,500 criminals were sentenced to caning- that kind of archaic punishment  really doesn't seem to fit with the super modern Singapore we saw.  

Alright, 'nuff said, now I don't feel as in the dark about Singapore and I hope you don't either.

We had planned this trip around the Chinese New Year, January 23rd, and Vic managed to get us a place right in downtown Chinatown, a perfect location at a really cute boutique hotel. It may be the smallest room we have stayed in-  other than the bed, no furniture, shelves, closet or cupboards, bathroom is about the size of those on cruise ships. It is clean, flushing toilet and hot water so I am very happy. We arrived in plenty of time for New Year and managed to walk around Chinatown while we waited for midnight They have pulled out all the stops with the decorations, stunning.

The lights, lanterns, dragons (this is the Chinese Year of the Dragon- the Water Dragon specifically so it's supposed to be a good year for most of us) and there is quite a good crowd milling about, you can feel the excitement and anticipation in the air. There was a stage set up and we were pretty close but in typical Asian style there were too many " celebrities" with too many microphones for my liking as they all had something to say, or laugh at, at the same time.

It did start to rain, as in, the heavens opened. At midnight we stood together near the stage in our matching blue rain ponchos- the fireworks used to announce the New Year were a loud and scary reminder of our machine gun experience in Phnom Penh- this was followed by more traditional fireworks but the rain probably limited the show (the Tottenham firefighters put on a better show every Canada Day!). The dancers and other performers did have a look at the stage but it was not covered and, we are assuming, not a safe place for performing. Too bad, it looked like a lot of "hair and makeup " effort on the part of the female dancers, not to mention some beautiful costumes, and I am sure many hours of rehearsal.

Up and at it early the next day, and yes, I will admit, out first visit to McDonald's since August, and it was great! An Egg McMuffin and latte, but the real bonus was sitting with an older gentleman who has made 6 trips to Singapore from Australia over the years and was a wealth of knowledge. Map in hand we were off. Beautiful weather, beautiful city, NO traffic since it was now a holiday and for the next two days we were promised a quiet city as most of the residence had two days off.

A beautiful Hindu temple, The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple. Located in the downtown Chinatown district, the temple serves mainly South Indian Tamil Hindu Singaporeans in the city-state. We have rarely seen this style before as it is mostly from the south of India.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Nice, interesting, saw the tooth.

Took famous MRT subway, (up to 90 kms per hour). Looking at the map of the subway system for a minute or two and Vic says, " looks like we take the yellow line two stops, transfer to the purple and get off at the ninth station.". I am standing there like an idiot still trying to find the " You Are Here" bubble.

"Singapore Flyer"- sorry more facts:

* Opened 15 April 2008
*Cost US $ 180 million
* Described by its operators as an observation wheel, it reaches 42 stories high, with a total height of 165 m (541 ft), making it the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, 30 m (98 ft) taller than the London Eye.
* Each of the 28 air-conditioned capsules is capable of holding 28 passengers, and a complete rotation of the wheel takes about 30 minutes.
* Initially rotating in a counter-clockwise direction when viewed from Marina Centre, its direction was changed on 4 August 2008 under the advice of Feng shui masters!!!!!

This was an amazing experience and, at $30 each, worth it I thought. The view as you could imagine was breath taking. We then ventured into the food area where you could buy " government regulated " street meat and dishes from the turn of the century, or at least that's the way it looked to me. I had the famous Chicken Rice and Vic had the famous Oyster omelet, I hope this all ends well........

Next day we managed two different tours on open top double decker buses, great way to see the place on such a beautiful day. The architecture of these buildings is like nothing we have seen before. Some of old Singapore appears standing in between the skyscrapers and the buildings seem to complement each other. Every building is uniquely different, so much thought put into every aspect of it's design. The City's extremely green and the parks are so clean, what a pedestrian friendly place. We did hop off the bus when it stopped near the Raffles Hotel- one of the grand old hotels of Singapore... and home of the Singapore Sling!! Talk about high school memories although I don't think we were paying $26 each for Slings back in those days. We did get free peanuts!!

We also took a " bumboat" tour of their Harbour which is beautifully laid out, perfect, I wish Toronto had implemented these ideas. We pause at the famous Merlion statue spewing water from it's mouth into the Harbour- very impressive.

Knowing that I had to suspend my lifetime memberships to PETA, WWF, ZooCheck, and Ontario SPCA, to travel like this, Vic took advantage and doesn't he go ahead and buy us tickets for, "the only night safari in the world". Now, I did in fact Google this and saw that the Singapore Zoo was rated as one of the top 3 zoos in the world-  they had implemented a very serious code of ethics in the treatment of their animals, so we went. It actually seemed like a good idea, as 80% of animals are nocturnal, or so the sign said. We opted to walk (about an hour) instead of the open air tram. The enclosures (no cages thank goodness), were defiantly animal friendly, large, clean, lots of vegetation (no concrete), so you really had to look for the animals, which was great. What was not great, were the people. I sound like I am exaggerating when I say "most" but I swear, most, of the people walking through were so inconsiderate not only of the animals but of us. Kids out of control, running around, banging enclosures and glass, yelling at the top of their lungs, parents oblivious to all of this, talking on cellphones, using flash photography even after being told not to and seeing signs posted everywhere. There must have been a convention of " loud talkers" in town. Never in my life have I heard such loud talkers!!! I was ssshhhing to beat the band, but no one paid any attention, lol. The wrong critters were definitely locked up in this zoo. Anyway, it really put us off.

Next day, like Christmas, I leap out of bed already packed and ready to go to the luxury hotel!!! Check in is not till 3pm, but I am determined to challenge that and have a pre rehearsed speech to deliver if we are challenged at the front desk.. 10 minute cab ride ( thanks again Vic), and as luck would have it we checked in early 11:30ish and our room was ready for us!

The Marina Bay Sands (related to the Sands in Vegas) Hotel

Absolutely stunning! On par with a Vegas hotel. But it was missing a theme, not quite the unique flair of Vegas. The hotel consists of three towers containing over 2,500 rooms, 55 floors in each tower and the large 'ship' that sits on top which is where the pool (holding 376,500 gallons of water), restaurant and observation deck are located. As in Vegas there was high-end shopping, restaurants, and galleries, that line the inside along with the casino, convention centre, theatre  and even a skating rink.

But the reason we were here was to swim in the horizon pool 55 stories up. You could only do this as a guest of the hotel so with the Jaws Of Life, we pried open Vic's wallet and spent more on one night here than we had in the combined previous 3 weeks in Asia. I cannot put into words how magnificent that view from the top was, it really did take your breath away. It felt almost dream-like to look out over the beautiful pool that drops off to nowhere and yet the tops of all the skyscrapers are in the same view. I will let Vic's incredible photo's document this experience for us.

The full effect of being in the highest horizon pool in the world really became apparent when you were swimming, you never wanted that view to leave your sight. Both Vic and I agreed that it wasn't as scary as we thought it would be. What a treat, a taste of the rich and famous if only for a day.

We stayed in the pool for four hours that afternoon, the only thing that drove us out was the fact we hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours. We found a nearby food court and ate quickly before heading out to explore. The hotel was located on a bay and so lots going on around us including a lantern exhibit that was truly amazing. It seemed set up for kids but very talented artisans, so much effort and attention to details. We had drinks at a very trendy bar directly across the water from the hotel and witnessed a spectacular laser show put on by our hotel. The show included synchronized fountains and classical music. Really made me think the Bellagio ( fav hotel in Vegas) could use an upgrade. The show was great. We walked back and got some amazing night time skyline shots and another look at the lanterns, then you guessed it, back up to the pool for a nighttime swim. Our room, without a doubt, the nicest room we have stayed in so far this trip. The bed was so comfortable and a fluffy pillow- real pillows, not the sandbags we have been sleeping on these past few months. We would have had a good nights sleep if it wasn't for the sunburn!!!!! Who knew you could burn like that when you are underwater- the pair of us! The next morning, coated in sunscreen, Vic went in again. I stayed on the edge, with the chills from too much sun and monitored Vic's sun exposure. It was with a heavy heart we had to leave our little piece of heaven. Grabbed a bus to the airport and we were on our way back to Cambodia. We thoroughly enjoyed Singapore, and I know that it wasn't the last we will see of it. We'll be back......
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doe on

Wow, love that hotel, must go back! You missed the Tiger Balm Garden!!

May on

Great blog, Deb!

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