Singapore


Singapore is not big, by any stretch, but busy! So busy. An international stopping off place for planes bound anywhere in the world – its not usually an island people spend much time backpacking in or traveling to, myself included – having only stopped over for a few hours on my way to Europe a few years back, so never left the airport. This time around, I picked 3 days only 3 days and feel I saw and experienced enough to get the ‘gist’ of what Singapore is all about.

Singapore is the only country in Asia with English as its first language, its also part of a group of 63 islands! As with most of the other ten million who visit each year, I spent my time on ‘the mainland’ checking out ‘downtown Singapore’. Busy, hot and happening, its a stopping-over, shopping mecca – but don’t expect too much out of the norm, I was a little disappointed to find shop after shop of the same shops we have in the west, in mall after mall after mall.. I think thats how the heat is tolerated – people travel on air conditioned metros, whose stations are next to air conditioned malls, so they can shop, eat and drink in air conditioning and escape the sweltering thats happening outdoors.
Orchard Road, famed for its shopping is literally a strip of malls. I only wanted to see the Apple shop, so didn’t spend hours on the strip. Things weren’t necessarily cheaper either, apparently the famous mid-year sales are the places to be to find your bargains.

With Singapore’s mix of ethnicity – Chinese, Malay and Indian, amongst others – comes the exotic local communities – from china town, little india to the arab quarter – with the western malls in between. Food is varied, cheap and tasty. I discovered the drink ‘chandol’ in little india – a mix of coconut milk, palm sugar and green pea flour mixed and rolled into small worm-like shapes. Im still not sure what their relevance is to the drink, but, its a drink that needs to be tried! My first impression from the taste was best described as the following – imagine if you were to eat a bowl of Nutrigrain with milk, eating only the Nutrigrain pieces, and then you drank the milk afterwards – its a very similar taste. But it really does have to be tried to be believed. Also, I discovered the gem that is ‘green coconuts’ – picked when they’re young, you buy them whole. The seller lops the top off them and inserts a straw and a spoon – so after drinking the liquid (which is not milky, its very watery) you can scoop out the flesh and eat it. Cheap, fresh and divine! And green coconuts (so called because they are picked when they’re young) are the latest ‘wonder food craze’, due to their health benefits – packed with magnesium, potassium, electrolytes – to name a few. Some experts are reckoning they will replace ‘sports drinks’ – what better hydration to have in the tropics!

In the Colonial district of downtown Singapore sits the world reknown ‘Raffles Hotel’. How to go past it without going inside for a nosy and to sink a ‘Singapore Sling’ in the famous ‘Longbar’. Im not sure how the rooms are set up now, from what I saw, all of the first two levels are now shops, and the courtyard they surround is a bevy of tables, waiters, palm trees … with a rectangular bar in the middle. Have a pricey beer in the courtyard before heading up to the ‘Longbar’ for an even pricier Singapore Sling – and don’t be alarmed at the state of the floor for this bar has ‘peanut history’. Peanuts, shells on, are placed on tables for your enjoyment – but here, you can eat the peanuts and then toss the shells straight onto the floor! It’s literally a ‘crunch fest’ underfoot as you make your way around the bar. Don’t forget to look up while you’re inside to check out the ‘ceiling fans’!

I took in Sentosa Island in a morning trip – Singapore’s answer to Australis Gold Coast. Easy to get to by a metro from Harbor Front tube station, its an island only meters from mainland Singapore. Made entirely from imported sand, its a mix of theme park, restaurants, accommodation and beaches – the beaches are ‘hemmed in’ by shark nets (Im not sure there’s sharks though), and right on the other side of the nets sits a shipping mecca, an array of ships, all shapes and sizes – either loaded up with cargo and leaving, or waiting to get into port to pick up their next load. The water at one beach we went to was really warm, and very polluted. However, go and see it – the busy, port side of Singapore life is worth seeing on its own.

Accommodation was a little harder to find in Singapore – there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, its either hovel or high-class – however, I’d heard about ‘Hangout@Mt Emily’ so I investigated and did end up staying there, and Id highly recommend it to anyone else! Location, cleanliness, service, breakfast included, free tea/ coffee, laundry and free internet.. great value for the price. The roof has a chill out area, including a ‘standing pool’, which meant nothing to me, but, it is literally a standing pool, at about 1 inch deep and a meter square. So, if you’re hot footed..

Oh, and something worth noting is that Singapore will leave a small card of white paper in your passport, which you need to show when you leave, so try not to lose it like I did! It took about 20 minutes for myself and another to be loaded into the system with replacement cards, not so bad, but we had a bus load of people waiting for our return.. (on that note, they use the same system in Malaysia, so keep that bit of paper safe!)

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