Wednesday, May 4, 2011


The cheap places to stay are few and far between in Singapore, even more so than KL.  The country is an island joined by a bridge to the South of Malaysia so we were able to leave Melaka in the morning and be at our accommodation by lunchtime.  It has a reputation of being a police state and the smallest of crimes is often severely punished.  It is also one of the wealthiest countries in the world based on GDP.  Unlike some parts of Asia where people throw their rubbish wherever they feel like without a second thought, Singapore is in the most part spotlessly clean.  Like Malaysia, there are notices upon arrival about drug trafficking resulting in the death penalty which makes you seriously consider what you have to do in order to stay on the right side of the law.  Because of the severe punishments you actually feel safe without there being a noticeable police presence.  We stayed in the district of Little India which is like a different country entirely.

The district of Little India

The place we stayed in was more of a homestay called Ali’s Nest.  We stayed with Ali’s wonderful family in a room which had walls that didn’t reach the ceiling and could easily have been scaled by a would-be burglar but have obviously never been a problem.  We met Ali’s sister and grandmother first of all and were slightly taken aback by the sister shouting at the face of the grandmother in Chinese.  It turned out that she was stone deaf and didn’t speak a word of English (officially the first language in Singapore) but this certainly didn’t stop her from being hospitable and try to chat to us at every chance she got.  We later met Ali who was a lot like Howard from Melaka in many ways with the confident but laid back persona and totally comfortable with the disorder and comings and goings in his home.  Ali’s house and the immediate surrounding area was a lot like I imagine the old Singapore to have been like before the large scale developments took place, in that it was very traditional and creaky.  We had a bit of a wander around the area, stopping at a temple and finally an Indian restaurant to have lunch.  The food was exquisite and very cheap.  It was served only on a banana leaf with a range of magnificent flavours along with the dish you ordered.  The locals use their fingers in a delicate traditional Indian style but they give you cutlery if you don’t look like you could be quite as sophisticated. 

In the evening we headed into the modern city using their cheap and efficient subway system.  It turned out that we had a subway station at the end of our street but we didn’t notice it until the last day.  Instead we took a five minute walk to the ‘Little India’ station which we complimented on its convenience.  We took a subway to the city center and were overwhelmed with the size and scale of the malls, we engaged in some window shopping before we noticed a sign for cable cars.  This sounded like fun so we tried following the signs but ended up getting lost in the labyrinth of YET ANOTHER MALL.  We eventually left this mall on good advice that the cable cars were accessed from a different building (probably a mall).  Upon leaving we saw the cable car pods lit up beautifully in the night sky and followed them to the base.  We paid for a round trip (the cars can be used as a means of transport to Sentosa Island) which included free drinks and popcorn at the shop at the other end.  These modern cable cars were an excellent way to see the city and Sentosa Island lit up at night in comfort and at not much expense.                   

The MRT subway we used most days
The Cable Cars

Kate in the cable car
The next morning we visited the large campus for The University of Singapore with the aim of visiting their permanent art exhibition.  There was an exhibit based on the communities who live off rubbish which was a pretty smelly exhibit as it used some of the rubbish in its displays.  The highlight was on the top floor the most part of which was dedicated to a famous posthumous sculptor called Ng Eng Teng who had many interesting psychologically motivated pieces.  We grabbed a sandwich before getting the bus back to the city center.

The rubbish exhibit at the University
From one of the shopping malls (they all blend into one, I can’t actually believe they can all be sustained there really are that many) we took the sky train in the afternoon to Sentosa Island.  This is an island developed purely for tourism and is very much like its own self-contained Disney World.  There is in fact a Universal Studios but we passed on the basis that it was quite expensive and we would be visiting Orlando much later on this trip.  Sentosa has an imported beech and everything is very polished and fake with the intention of grabbing you by the ankles and expertly shaking out your last pennies!  We thought this was a great excuse to part with some cash and chose a few things to see, starting off with Underwater World which was what it says on the tin.  

This modern aquarium was full of tourists jostling for a position at the tanks, on one occasion an Indian woman attempted to physically move me away from a tank that I had just made my way to the front of, I’m assuming on the grounds that she was recording judging by the fact she pointed her finger at her camera and it was all I could do to not lose my cool!  It was intense.  It was the fish I feel sorry for, especially the poor ones who were placed in a ‘petting tank’ and are subjected to the fingers of hundreds of snot-nosed kids (and their parents) grabbing at them all day long.  The main aquarium is actually very interesting and professional with the highlight being the conveyor belt that customers can stand on with massive flatfish and sharks swimming above you.  In the outside tank at scheduled times is a seal show and a dolphin show which are as impressive as they are unethical.  Seals are pretty funny when they act like people though!

The Skytrain
The bridge entrance to Sentosa Island (view from Skytrain)

Once we had our fill of fishy antics we headed to some of the more Disney World type attractions.  We decided to go on an interactive ride called ‘Pirates’ which was advertised as a 4D experience.  It wasn’t cheap, but you got a twenty minute film in 3D whilst sitting on chairs that jolted around in synchronisation with the film along with sprays of water and material slapping your feet.  After this we went to Desperados which was an even shorter attraction where you rode your individual horses (in contrast to Underwater World we were now the only two people in here) whilst wielding a light gun which you shot at the screen and registered your bullets.  As the horses shook you along you shot at wagons and cowboys.  God knows how you would have known who was shooting at what if the attraction was full.  It was only ten minutes long but as we were the only people in there they let us do it again for free which was cool of them.  The park was rapidly emptying by the time we got out of there so we called it a day.      

A performing Seal

Posing on Sentosa Island

On the third day we headed out to Singapore Zoo.  Being quite fond of animals, especially monkeys, we had high expectations.  It was in fact a pretty good zoo although perhaps not to the size and scale we had expected from talking to people.  There were some large enclosures, mostly for the primates and some that were perhaps too small.  Either way it was an easy way to spend a day and there was a great range of animals to see including tigers, white rhinos, manatees and more.  As it was a modern zoo they had designed it as such that there were often no bars or cages which made you feel much closer to the animals. 

In true Singapore style and classic ‘zoo’ fashion however there were animal shows which again seemed unethical to me.  Considering the elephant park we visited in Chiang Mai would only let us ride elephants bareback (i.e. no saddle mount or anything) it didn’t feel as though elephants would enjoy standing on one leg, waving their trunks around and doing circus tricks.  The worse thought was remembering how our Thai Mahout elephant carers had to give them a hell of a whack just to make them go in the right direction, I shuddered to think what kind of beating these animals would have had to endure to do what their trainers wanted them to.  Ethics aside it was well worth a visit, but other than that I can’t think of anything more to say as it was pretty much what one would expect from a zoo albeit with some rarer animals.  The Giant Turtles and White Tigers were a delight to see as were the good old Orangutans.

Hanging out with the Giant Turtles
The White Tigers posing for photos
On this, our final evening in Singapore we met up with Jo who we met in Melaka and lives and works in Singapore.  We met at the famous Raffles hotel, which was well worth a visit on its own merit.  It was the height of imperialist extravagance with the hotel playing host to boutique shops of the finest brands.  We were unfortunately too late to catch the museum, but we had a walk around and managed to see the rest of the place.  Jo took us for some delicious authentic Singaporean hawker food, I couldn’t pronounce the name of what I ate but it looked like prawn crackers with neon edges on a delicious bed of something tasty but not very substantial.  Kate had a delicious Laksa which she generously allowed me to share.  After dinner we visited Arab Street and the surrounding alleys.  It was great to see a more down to Earth Singapore outside of Little India and it’s easy to see why it is a popular hangout with its more natural feel and bags of personality.  We ended up in a shisha bar drinking cups of tea until it was time to head back with many thanks to Jo for a thoroughly relaxing evening.

Raffles Hotel

Our friend Joe in the Shisha bar

1 comment:

  1. Singapore, the attractive country for vacation and shopping. I have 5 shopping paradises in Singapore. I love them.