So we left Bali and made it to Singapore, a fascinating city/country. It is famous for being a wealthy shoppers paradise (not exactly our scene), but there are plenty of cool cheap-ish things to fill a three-day stay. The first thing to pin down was accommodation, which can be very pricey. We knew a private room was out of the budget, but Jess really did not want to stay in a pod hotel; she thought it was too much like sleeping in a coffin… so we ended up in a kind of unusual dorm room, a queen bunk bed in a dorm to be precise. Privacy amounted to a curtain on the side of your bed, but it was perfect. We had a busy schedule and didn’t do much there but sleep. 7 Wonders ended up being a clean and comfortable launchpad to go out and explore.
Another benefit (besides price) of our hostel was its location – very close to a subway stop – and the subway system in Singapore is great! Something we have realized really sets a public transit system apart is if it allows you to get into the city from the airport. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in Singapore does exactly that; one stop out of the airport and you transfer to the Blue line which goes to downtown and does a loop – couldn’t be easier. We landed at 7:30pm, were at our hostel by 9:00pm and basically went straight to bed.
Our first day began with a chore. We needed to print out a bunch of information for our Chinese visa applications. We found a print shop nearby, which was a bit confusing when we arrived. There was barely any room for us to enter because there were so many printers! Fortunately, someone noticed us lurking outside and then was super professional and helpful. We were out of there in no-time; we could barely enter after all. Quick $3 lunch nearby and we were off to our first attraction.
Our first site to explore was the Botanic Gardens. It is an impressive, sprawling garden, and even though we were there most of the day, we barely saw half of it. We basically wandered aimlessly at the beginning, seeing fields and nice trees. There is an Evolution Trail that has a series of informative displays describing the kinds of plants the existed throughout earth’s history. In each area they try to plants things that resemble those old plants, i.e. mosses in one spot, ferns in the next. While walking around a central pond in the garden, we saw Monitor lizards swimming from one reed patch to another as well as clouded lizards slowly plodding through the bushes nearby.
We then came across an awesome orchid garden, with dozens of different varieties very artfully arranged. While the Botanic Gardens are free, the special orchid exhibit has a small entry fee of SGD 5 ($3.60) per person. A center display described the process of breeding and registering new orchid varieties, which was very interesting. It routinely takes more than four years to get a new hybrid, and this garden has a tradition of creating new variety of orchids for famous figures who visit… i.e. the Obamas and Margaret Thatcher have both had orchid hybrids dedicated to them when they visited.
After a long day at the garden we were ready for food, but everything nearby was quite fancy, and we were not ready to splurge on a fancy dinner just yet. We found a grocery store to get some cheese and bread, sat outside the gardens to eat it, and then decided to walk home, about two miles.As we walked, we remarked how Singapore seemed much like any other city, but then we happened to walk through some central shopping areas downtown, and we got to see what makes Singapore stand out. It was so shiny!!! There were a solid ten blocks that were all very well organized, lit up like Times Square but not terribly crowded, and just a pleasure to explore. It was all so clean, and felt super new. A snack of matcha ice cream wrapped in rainbow bread completed the package.
The next day started with a mission to the National Gallery. We walked there (no better way to explore), and on the walk we could see a strange building with a boat on top in the distance. The National Gallery inhabits old government buildings, so there is a Supreme Court Wing and a City Hall wing. The Supreme Court Wing had more art and artifacts relating to the history and founding of Singapore, including images dating from Singapore’s independence and the preceding strife with neighboring Malaysia. In the early 1960s, Singapore became part of Malaysia through a merger of territories including Malay, Borneo and Sarawak, but was expelled from the union only 2 years later! Singapore celebrates the entire month of August for its independence, so we were lucky enough to get into the National Gallery for half price.
The City Hall exhibits were mostly more modern and permanent exhibits. We saw some pretty cool things including this deconstructed chair.
After the National Gallery, we went to the local food court called Lau Pa Sat which had tons of reasonably-priced options. As one might expect, we have eaten loads of noodle soups and noodle stir fries, and this place was no exception.
After lunch, we went to Gardens by the Bay. This public garden is a major highlight of Singapore, and you will often see pictures of it, so it is a must see. Although much of it is public, there are some very impressive conservatories and exhibits that have an entrance fee. The first exhibit we came across was called Floral Fantasy, which as you would imagine, features many beautiful flowers. More than that though, the designers have created an incredibly relaxing environment. Nice music plays as you walk on the grass, and flower arrangements are everywhere you look scenting the air and even sometimes moving in very active planters. Towards the end you walk through some very impressive fountains that produce beautiful patterns, and there is even an exhibit of poison dart frogs. We spent a long time looking for the frogs which are tiny, but very brightly colored. The final show as you exit is a “6D” experience, supposedly what it is like to be a dragonfly… It is a short 3D movie where the seats move, water is sprayed on you, and jets of air make you experience what is happening… it was fun, but honestly, pretty over the top. Apparently being a dragonfly includes non-stop hallucinations of statues coming to life and casting spells.
The next two exhibits are a bit older, but just as impressive. The Cloud Forest is a mountain inside a greenhouse, with paths all around, and then an elevator that takes you to the top of the mountain for a walking path winding around and down it. Very impressive, also very crowded. The Flower Dome is a riot of various flowers arranged in paths that feel vaguely like the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland. Both of these places would have been more enjoyable with smaller crowds. We were there around 5:30pm, and we think this is when crowds really pick up.
Our original plan was to go and see the Spectra light show, after seeing the conservatories at Gardens by the Bay. The first show was at 8pm, so we went to the Satay market, the food court in the Gardens for dinner. Again, we were pretty impressed, food court meals can be pretty un-inspiring, but we had some pretty good Indian prata and a chicken stew. Then, on our way to the Spectra show, we realized the Gardens’ Super Grove show was about to start in only 20 minutes!! So, quick change of plan, we stayed for the Super Grove show, and planned to catch the 9pm Spectra show.
So cool! Hard to believe this is free and occurs multiple times per night. 100 foot “trees” are illuminated to music for about ten minutes. We then joined a large mass of people as they all slowly shifted across the small peninsula, through the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is the building we had seen with the crazy boat on top, to the Spectra light show.
The Spectra show is a show of lasers and light projections all displayed on water fountains, again to music. It is crazy that it is even possible to project images on water like that. Super epic show, very glad we got this double header!
The following day was our last day in Singapore, and we planned a nature hike. We took the local bus to the Central Catchment Nature Preserve where there is a series of hiking trails around the local water reservoir. It ended up being quite a long hike, as we wanted to do a loop rather than an out and back, and we wanted to cross the Macritchie Tree Top Walk, a suspended bridge about 30 feet in the air, right at the tree tops! It was a pretty cool forest, with almost as many monkeys as the Monkey Forest in Ubud!
After the treetop walk we decided to take a taxi… or more precisely a “Grab”. Grab is the South East Asian Uber, and they have successfully pushed Uber out of the area partly by offering scooter hailing as well as allowing people to pay in cash, instead of just credit cards. Our Grab driver made the ride very interesting telling us some of his perspectives on the local government. He thinks that the prime minister has become too complacent, partly because he is nearing the end of the term, five years, and partly because he is actually the son of the first ever prime minister of Singapore. The driver thinks that he won the election largely because of this father’s name, which means he doesn’t actually have to do a good job. In addition we learned that 80% of people’s housing is subsidized or even built by the government. In the late 60’s there was a major housing crunch, and the government stepped in, and its role continues to this day despite heavy private investment as well.
We took the taxi to Chinatown where we got lunch at The Noodle Man. It is a pretty touristy spot, but it was also delicious, and very fun to watch the man hand making noodles. We then got some fresh durian for dessert. For those that have not encountered Durian, it may be the smelliest fruit on the planet. It is so stinky, it is explicitly forbidden to bring it on the subway, even though there is already a no eating/drinking rule. Strong smell aside, Eric likes it, so we are likely to have it a few times on this trip. Finally, on the way home we stopped at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
As this was our last night, and we had a very early morning to get to the airport tomorrow, we decided to stay close to home, and look for food in Little India. This turned out to be a great choice because we found some very yummy Indian food at Sakunthala’s. It caters to a very local crowd; we were the only non-Indians we saw during our meal, and the food was incredible. Both of our meals were platters with something like six small, flavorful sides to go with our main selection. One salted lassi for Jess and one mango lassi for Eric and we were very happy customers.
The final adventure was trying to get to the airport. 7 Wonders has a shuttle service, but it starts at 5am, and we needed to leave around 4;30am, so we had planned to get a Grab. We were told that the Grab would be about $20, so we had diligently saved $24, to have a little buffer; however… when we looked at the price on Grab at 4:20am, it was $36 ?!?!?! We had plenty of time, but frankly, no other plan, so we started walking while we thought of options. MRT? Doesn’t start till 5:30am. Walk? Too far. Pay for Grab with credit card? Then we would have $24 to spend at the airport at 5:30am?! Taxi? Have to find one… we are not sure how much it will cost, but that is still the best plan. Just as we were considering taking one Grab part way with our cash and taking a second one the rest of the way with a credit card, we saw a cab. We asked the driver how much it would cost to the airport. He said he would use the meter, but it would be over $20. We explained we only had $24 and we would just get out when he had taken us as far as he could. We piled in and watched the meter carefully as we chatted with the driver. As we got closer, he seemed confident our $24 would be enough. There is an additional midnight surcharge at that hour that is 50% of the regular fare, so we knew our limit was $16 fare and $8 surcharge. When we pulled up at the airport curb at Terminal 2, the meter said $15.85 and the surcharge $7.90. How lucky are we! We handed over our $24 and laughed about how we had just squeaked under the limit.
We did not do as much exploring of the Singapore airport as we should have, opting to find breakfast in a lounge instead. In the future, we would really like to explore more. It is supposed to be one of the most amazing airports in the world… so much so that people have come up with all sorts of creative (and illegal) ways just to visit the airport. Oh well.