1st – 3rd May 2013
Arriving at Singapore airport, I was pretty dazed by the sudden hot and humid climate 12 hours after leaving a rainy and grey UK. When I left, home was a cool 6 degrees Celsius and Singapore was 34 with 80% humidity. I grabbed my suitcase and found somewhere to sit to change my shoes over to flip flops, drain a bottle of water and let my Dad know I’d arrived safely.
The next job, after changing some money over (I took my leftover euros from France and pounds to offer as exchange and so far no one has advised me to change my euros over. Literally nobody wants to buy them, so it looks for the mean time I’m stuck with them until the economy sorts itself out), was to find my hostel, which I did fairly easily. I still arrived in a sweaty heap though and really welcomed the air conditioning in the reception.
I stayed at Footprints Hostel in Little India, which as the name suggests is the Indian neighbourhood of Singapore. I took the MRT (underground) on the way there, but I found out later there’s a cheap shuttle that runs from the airport to your hotel/hostel for SG$9 which would have been much easier than lugging my suitcase around in the heat. I took it back to the airport when I left – all I had to do was ask at reception and they rang the airport for me to book the shuttle bus.
My hostel room (a dorm of 10 people) fulfilled my two main requirements at the time – air con and access to showers on the other side of the corridor which I made use of straight away. that heat is no joke and it took some adjusting to. I visited Hong Kong a couple of summers ago and that was the last time I’d experienced humidity like that, but it wasn’t quite so hot as Singapore (unsurprising, considering its proximity to the equator). It’s the sort of heat that just clings to you – no clothes are comfortable, my hair was constantly tied up to avoid any sort of irritation and as soon as you stepped outside, you wanted just to hop into a cold shower.
I was pretty tired from limited sleep on my 12 hour flight and I had intended at that point to have an early night ready for a full day the next day. However, that didn’t work out because after chatting to a couple of people in the hostel kitchen (Beau, English and Su, Thai, and Mum and daughter duo Jean and Anita from Taiwan, who had never been clubbing before and wanted to come with us) we decided to go out for Ladies’ Night at Clarke Quay, the restaurant and bar quarter. Despite warnings about how expensive Singapore was, that was the cheapest night out I’d ever had. I spent only the 1 or so dollar on the MRT fare each way and that was it. Ladies’ Night means free drinks and free entry for ladies. The club (Club Dream, which was really new) we ended up at was handing out like 5 free drinks per person and we were getting some free drinks from the bar staff here and there anyway (sometimes it pays to be a tourist) so there was really no need for my wallet after all. It was really fun, and I’m not sure I’ll forget first time clubber Jean dancing up on the podium by herself while she was cheered on by her 18 year old daughter. That’s what you call a cool mum.
On the way back to the hostel, we stopped at Lavender Food Court for some food – I had prawns and noodles, quite different from my normal chips on the way home after a night out.
I don’t quite recall what time it was when we actually got back to the hostel, but we (Beau, Su and I) managed to be up at a good time for breakfast ready for our first full day in Singapore. I’d had a leaf through the tourist leaflets provided in reception the previous evening and I’d seen a couple of free walking tours around different parts of Singapore (after going on a great walking tour in Berlin in February, I was keen to try more here, but that’s a blog for later) so we decided to do that. Free walking tours are, technically, free and you turn up meet your guide and group at a set time and location – usually you pay them a tip at the end of the tour in lieu of tour fare. However, the leaflets from the company included full maps with points of interest on them so instead of joining the group we set off on the route just the 3 of us.
Seeing as the hostel was in Little India, we started by going to see the temples and points of interest nearby, a range of colourful buildings each with a definite Indian twist. Each neighbourhood really had its own heritage and feel to it, which was really obvious when we headed to Chinatown later to see the markets and temples there.
Lunch was recommended by Su, who regularly comes to Singapore – we had famous local chicken rice (but not the claws or “spare parts” … ) and it was just as good as promised.
In the afternoon we followed the walking tour route in Chinatown. We stopped at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, where we arrived just in time to see the daily chanting of “the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra”, which was quite mesmerising to watch.
On top of the temple is a beautiful orchid garden, which we wouldn’t have found unless someone hadn’t have pointed us up the stairs in that direction. Up in the garden there is also a large prayer wheel, which used to be a revolving bookcase. The idea behind it is that you can use it to pray and discover the teachings of the Sutras even if you can’t read.
After we picked up a couple of fans at the market, we walked around until we found Fort Canning park, where we heard there was the last original part of the gate still standing. It turns out the park was larger than anticipated, but eventually we found it. To be honest, the film crew filming right around the corner from the gate were actually more interesting than the gate itself, but the walk through the park gave me the opportunity to read information boards placed throughout and top up my knowledge of Singapore’s history. Did you know that in the 1700s, after some turmoil over ownership, one man was offered the whole country of Singapore as a gift but he declined!
We returned to the hostel then for more showers before going out to Marina Bay to see the Singapore Light and Water show, which was pretty cool – lights and pictures were displayed on sprays of water to tell a story with accompanying music.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel has to be one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore. It’s pretty striking in person. One of the good things about staying in hostels is meeting and talking to other travellers. We had heard through a couple of people that it was possible to sneak up onto the roof bar to see the famously large infinity pool without having to pay the SG$25 for entry and we were keen to try it out. You couldn’t get up to the roof without paying unless you had a hotel keycard to use in the private lift to get you up to the 52nd floor. When we reached the huge lobby, Beau spotted a couple of hotel guests wearing bath robes going into the hotel lift and we rushed after them, hoping that they’d be going to the pool. Luckily they swiped their card and selected floor 52, allowing us free entry.
The view from the top was stunning and we got a good look at the impressive pool. The view on the other side from the Sky Bar of the harbour was more spectacular and a nice chap on the other side of the fence (in the VIP area) got us a good close up photo of the pool. Success!
After all that excitement, we finally went to go and do what I’d been wanting to do the whole time in Singapore Sling cocktail in the famous Raffles Hotel bar. However when we got there at just after 11pm, the bar was already closed, to my immense disappointment. We had a few photo snaps before heading back to the hostel, ready for my flight to Hong Kong in the morning.
Although I only had limited time in Singapore, I really loved what I saw. It’s a really diverse and culturally unique country, despite the negative things I’d heard about it before I went. The blend of cultures and heritages mean that there’s probably something there for everyone. I heard there are beaches too, though I didn’t have time to do that. I almost wish I’d had another day.