Our Tuesday morning flight from Phuket to Singapore was short, and the American woman sitting next to us on the flight helped to prepare us for the stark cultural shift we were about to experience by telling us her opinions on the Singaporean culture. While her take was interesting, it’s a good thing it was only an hour flight, or she would have driven Jordan totally crazy. To say that our arrival at Chengi airport was smooth is an understatement. First of all, they have water fountains with drinking water – a first for us in over three months. Second, the duty free… let’s just say that someone had to pull Jordan out of there. Third, they have foot massage machines in the corridors – for free! Good thing we were coming back in a few days.
After a yummy lunch at the airport Souperlicious (broccoli soup and mushroom sandwich, $8.50) we headed to the MRT station and boarded a subway train ($2 each) towards Bugis. We realized too late that we were supposed to switch trains two stops in, and so, over an hour later (instead of half an hour) we arrived at our destination. Until that morning we had reservations at a hotel, but a fortuitous email from Klas which we received on the way to the airport changed the plan. Klas kindly offered us the option of staying with him, and we gladly took him up on it. After all, Singapore is a very expensive city, and Klas’s’ place was more comfortable than any hotel would have been anyway. Plus, this meant we got to spend more time with him. We arrived at the apartment and put down our bags, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed out to explore.
Kitschy and touristy as it is, we thought a Duck Tour would be a cool way to get to know the city, so we walked over to Suntec, purchased tickets ($26 each) and wandered around until the 6pm tour departed. The duck boat itself was pretty cool, a converted WWII amphibious vehicle, and it was actually exciting to feel it drive up and plunge into the bay. We got special kudos for being Israeli, and the tour guide thanked us for helping build Singapore’s military back in the 1960s. We saw all the important buildings and sites from the center of Marina Bay, which was actually quite pretty, especially at sunset.
After a quick stop back at the apartment, we were already a little late, we hopped in a taxi and sped over to Clark Quay to meet up with Michelle (remember, we met her in Laos?). It was fun to see her and catch up over some overpriced Mexican food ($26.50 for two tacos, a quesadilla, an iced tea and a margarita). From there, we took a quaint water taxi right from Clark Quay to MBS (which is what the locals call Marina Bay Sands) to visit one of the most iconic buildings around, and a place Felix was very excited to see up close. The shopping mall through which you enter is huge and impressive, with a giant funnel fountain at its center (lots of symbolism about money and water). We headed towards the Skydeck elevator and passed the attire inspection for KuDeTa, the swanky rooftop bar. Located on the Skydeck, which looks like a giant ship perched atop three vertical decks of cards, the bar is next to the rooftop infinity pool (shucks, it’s for guests only) and has an incredible view of the whole city. We ordered our overpriced drinks ($17-$20 each for a Fireside Old Fashioned and a Berry Bellini), took the requisite photos, checked in on Facebook, and hung out. Being the old married couple that we are (or the backpackers that we are, your pick), we left in time to catch the last MRT back to Klas’s as Michelle continued the evening at the bar – party animal 🙂 .
Always happy to have a local connection, we had made plans to spend some time with Felix’s brother’s girlfriend’s friends. Yup, that’s right – total strangers – but to us, fast friends. Sean and Ramu were there at 10am to pick us up in Sean’s car (a treat for us for sure) and off we went to the Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center in CBD for some traditional Singaporean breakfast of Kopi and Kaya Toast ($3). Of all the local coffees we’ve sampled in Asia, this was by far our favorite (which is to say, it’s actually good), and the accompanying kaya toast (a small toast sandwich with pandan jelly, served with soft-boiled eggs) was delicious. Sean had another Singaporean special, fried black carrot cake, and Ramu was in brunch mode with his fried chicken and rice. We had a great time learning more about each other over breakfast, and their stories of Singapore life were really interesting.
Our next stop was the Singapore National Museum. There, we purchased student tickets ($4 each, Sean and Ramu’s entrance was free as Singaporeans) and headed over to pick up headsets for the self guided audio tour. The entrance area was a bridge surrounded by a circular screen showing photographs of Singapore’s development throughout the years and speakers playing a song composed by a Russian composer. The song just had the word “Singapora Singapora” playing over and over again. The hilarity overwhelmed Sean and Ramu and it took some time for them to regain their composure. We thought it was hysterical Sean and Ramu got such a kick out of their first visit to the national museum. The museum was an impressively designed multimedia experience where each visitor chooses between two paths to follow: historical or personal. The visitors can also choose to go back and forth between the two as there as various points where the two paths intersect and one can decide to switch over to the other path. Jordan switched back and forth between the paths while Felix stuck to the historical path. We enjoyed learning about Singapore’s history and development in this fashion and while the museum was well designed and impressive, there was way too much information to cover in one visit.
Singapore is famous for its malls and so Sean took us to his favorite Orchard Road mall, the brand new, ION. The first stop was the food court as we were ready for some lunch. We managed to convince one of the vendors to make us a vegetarian version of one of the local specialties, Kway Teow – noodles with beef (hold the beef in our case) and some fried white carrot cake, a yam omelet which was actually really good. Sean had to go so we continued perusing the mall with Ramu. Jordan bought a pair of sunglasses ($13.50) at Uniqlo, one of our favorite stores. We had decided to buy a waterproof camera in Singapore since it’s known as one of the best places to buy electronics. Ramu took us across the street to Lucky Plaza where we saw a few good options, but weren’t ready to purchase yet.
We had dinner plans with Klas so we said goodbye to Ramu and hopped on the MRT. Back at Klas’s apartment, we changed into more dinner appropriate attire and got in a taxi with Klas. Dinner was at the lovely Otto restaurant at the Red Dot Museum (a converted fire station) and we were joined by Lawrence, a longtime friend of Klas who was visiting from Malaysia. This meal was what Jordan’s dreams are made of – prosecco, cheesy appetizers, delicious pasta, lemoncello for dessert, good times, laughter and fun company. A huge thank you to Klas and Daphne (hope to see you in HK)!
Kopi and kaya toast made such a positive impression on us that we wanted to try in at the ubiquitous Ya Kun coffee chain. While a bit more expensive ($5 for two orders), we enjoyed it immensely. We wandered around the malls in Bugis for a bit and then, walked over to the nearby Sim Lim Square electronics mall to meet up with Michelle and look for cameras. While the prices weren’t as good as we had hoped, it nice to hang out with Michelle and we were so happy we got to see her again. From there, we took a stroll through Little India, which was different from any other part of Singapore we had seen. The character of the area changed immediately with Indian music playing, the aroma of curry filling the air and the place just had a more old world feel than the glitzy glass and concrete of Singapore of today. We wound up at Mustafa, a giant department store that sells everything (literally everything – it’s like a cross between Walmart and a street market, narrow isles and a sea of people, but selling absolutely everything you could want and more). We decided the camera there was not a good enough deal and made up our minds to go back to Lucky.
A few minutes and two crowded MRT trains later, we emerged at Lucky where we found a vegetarian food stall and scarfed down a plate of noddles and veggies ($2). Recharged and ready to negotiate, we wound up back at one of the first stores we had seen the day before where we purchased our new Pentax waterproof camera ($190 down from $300). We rewarded ourselves with a anniversary blend Coffee Bean Ice Blended in birthday cake flavor ($4.50) before getting on a bus to our next stop. We changed buses somewhere out in the residential area where the government housing blocks are located. The second bus ride was a short ten minutes and we got off seemingly in the middle of nowhere and turned down a long dark tree-lined road toward the Night Safari. It looked like something out of a horror movie – a guy and girl walking down a dark road surrounded by thick trees and shrubbery on both sides and animal sounds echoing throughout. On the one hand, this was the cheapest way to get there and on the other hand, it was quite an experience.
The Night Safari ($18.50 each using a groupon- thanks Michelle for sending us the link) was one of the highlights of our trip. We started with the 45 minute tram ride through the park where we saw many animals, some of which we had never seen before and some which we had never even heard of. Everyone on the tram got excited when a water buffalo came right up and starting trotting beside us. Felix was startled when he turned to his left and was greeted by a humongous water buffalo only a few inches from his face. It’s a good thing Jordan was there to protect him. At the end of the ride, we wandered the dimly lit visitors paths stopping to see animals as we went. Jordan was definitely scared when a bat flew right by her face almost touching her eyelashes. We stopped by the tiger enclosure for a staring competition with a magnificent tiger. After recently watching The Life of Pi, we were happy he was behind glass. We finished our visit with the Creatures of the Night show where we saw saw night animals do cool tricks and a member of the audience hold a gigantic snake (Jordan couldn’t watch). Not wanting to repeat our experience of getting there, we caught the tourist bus ($4 each) back to Klas’s apartment. There, we were met by Sean who gratuitously offered to give us a ride to the airport for our 1am flight. We were happy to have a ride and so glad to have had the opportunity to see Sean again. It was a perfect send off and we hope all our new friends will come visit us in Israel soon.
Have we mentioned that we like Changi airport? We had a great dinner of soup and sandwiches ($18) and played in the duty free of course (Felix sampled scotch while Jordan used all the fancy cosmetics). We found ourselves running to our gate while our names were called over the loudspeaker and simultaneously skyping with Felix’s sister on her birthday. We have become quite the multi-taskers. Luckily, we made it onto our Cebu Pacific flight for new adventures in our 6th country so far.