25th July 2012 – Singapore (Part 1!)

It’s our last day in Singapore and the last day of our trip, we’re flying out at 11pm and will be back in the UK tomorrow morning. We’ve had a lovely few days in Singapore, and have had a couple of days of total luxury at Raffles, which has just been the most incredible way to end our amazing honeymoon! We’ve just checked out and are now spending our afternoon lounging around the pool, then we’re having High Tea at 4pm before we head off to the airport for our flight.

On our last day in Darwin, we got everything packed up at the hostel, and packed into the car, then checked out of the hostel and drove into town in search of breakfast. We had bacon and eggs at a lovely little cafe (Chris was very pleased to find they had brown sauce, which is unusual in Australia). We wandered around town running a few errands, buying a few souvenirs, and popping into a Salvation Army shop to buy an extra bag to pack all our sleeping bags, pillows and blankets – we’re under our weight allowance, just having backpacks, and it seemed silly to leave that stuff behind! We picked up a bargain for and packed everything into it from the back of the car. Then we went out and spent a couple of hours browsing around Darwin Military Museum – Darwin has a really interesting military history, it was heavily bombed during WW2, and the bombings were kept quiet as they didn’t want to panic everyone by admitting Australia was under attack. They were seriously concerned about the possibility of Japan invading at Darwin, and it had a heavy military presence throughout the war. The museum was really interesting, lots of interactive displays and a big collection of tanks and guns and searchlights and things, all displayed in a tropical garden. We had a nice couple of hours there, and then had a coffee and a piece of cake in the cafe, before we headed back to town. We refuelled the car, and went to the supermarket for a last fix of Top Deck – you can get so many different Cadbury’s chocolates in Australia, and my favourite is Top Deck, which is like Dairy Milk but with white chocolate for the top squares – yummy! So, we bought a bar for the plane, and then we had half an hour or so before we needed to take the car back, so we drove to the beach and went for a walk along the beach, chatting about all the fun things we’d done in Australia, and sharing our last pear cider between us. Then we took the car back, persuaded one of the guys at the rental place to give us a lift to the airport, and headed off to catch our flight – via a Duty Free bottle of Bundaberg rum, which we’ve both been enjoying while we were in Oz, and it was half price at Duty Free!

On the beach on our last day in Darwin

It was a 4 ½ hour flight to Singapore, very easy. Arriving in Singapore was lovely – it’s so familiar from all the times I’ve been here in the past, when Mum and Dad lived in Indonesia. The immigration counter still has bowls of Fox’s Glacier Mints for you to help yourself to, and there are orchids everywhere – it’s such a lovely place to arrive. We picked up our bags, stopped at the ATM for some cash, and headed out to get a taxi. We’d booked our hotel online, and had just gone for the cheapest one we could find, which was a Hotel 81 – it’s a big chain of cheap hotels, all over Singapore – and we’d gone for one in Geylang, which is the red light district. It was a great area to stay a couple of days – busy and chaotic and bustling all the time, and it didn’t feel unsafe at all, there were lots of people around, and although we saw a few working girls (or boys!) we didn’t get any hassle from anyone. It felt like a very authentic local area, with hawker food stands all along the roads, and little fruit stalls and funny little grocery stores, and lots of people rushing about their daily business. The hotel was basic, but fine – the room was clean and felt secure, and the guys on reception were very friendly and helpful. The bed was bizarre – the sheets were the wrong size and the mattress had a plastic cover, so the sheets were constantly slipping off! The pillow had disposable pillowcases, like you’d get in a hospital, so we wrapped t-shirts round them to make them comfier. And the bathroom was a wet room, with a shower mounted on the wall but no shower curtain or anything, so the whole bathroom got wet when you showered! Anyway, it was $40 a night, and we got what we paid for! The first night we checked in, dropped our bags in our room, got changed into cooler clothes (it was absolutely boiling, and quite humid, and we were both dripping with sweat by the time we got to our room!) and decided to head straight out to Clarke Quay for a drink. We’d been chatting to our taxi driver, who was full of useful information – he told us Clarke Quay is very buzzy on a Friday night, and everything’s open till 4am. He also told us the next night there were going to be fireworks at Marina Bay, as part of a rehearsal for the National Day celebrations, due to be held on 9th August.

Anyway, we left the hotel and walked a couple of hundred metres up to the main road, and flagged down a taxi – there are taxis all over Singapore, you can always find one easily, and they’re really cheap – it was generally less than $10 (£5) to get anywhere in town. We got dropped off at Clarke Quay, and went for a wander – I was amazed at how much it’s changed in 10 years, it’s an absolutely huge complex now, with bars and restaurants not just along the waterfront but also in a giant covered complex behind the waterfront. There were hundreds of people milling around, every bar was busy, and people were still eating at all the restaurants when we got there at 11pm. We walked down the whole length of the waterfront, enjoying the atmosphere, and stood watching some bungy swings throwing people up in the air for a few minutes, and then went and found a table at a Mexican restaurant. Although everywhere was busy, there were tables available everywhere, and waitress service, which was very nice – the tables are all set in seating areas over the water that are designed to look like lifeboats, with nice lighting and ceiling fans and everything – it was a lovely place to sit for an hour, we ordered margaritas and a plate of nachos to share, and sat there watching the world go by for a while.

We eventually got a taxi back to the hotel and went to sleep, and slept really late the next morning – we ended up only leaving the hotel at 1pm! We had picked up a load of brochures from the airport and the hotel reception, so we sat in bed and looked through them and decided what we wanted to do for the next couple of days, and phoned up to book tickets for Universal Studios for the next day – an entirely frustrating process, as we were on Skype which kept dropping out, and the woman on the other end of the phone was working laboriously slowly through all our details, and spelling out everything – name, address, email – using her own unique phonetic alphabet based on country and city names. ‘So that’s Malaysia, England, London, India, America’? Argghhhhh!!!!

Anyway, once our tickets were booked, and we were showered and dressed (and covered in suncream!) we headed out and walked to the nearest MRT station (train), which was about 10 minutes’ walk. On the way, we stopped at a hawker stall for lunch – I had chicken biryani, and Chris had lamb. It was all very efficient – we told the lady what we wanted, she told us to go and sit down, a chap from another stall came over for our drinks order, brought us our drinks, we paid him, she brought us our food, we paid her, we ate – a huge plate of curry and rice – and then wandered off when we were finished, no more than 10 minutes, and less than $15 for the two of us! Definitely the easiest way to eat in Singapore. And there were hundreds of stalls, all along the roads we were walking along, and all with people eating at them – there must be so many people here, to support all those stalls!

Eating lunch at a hawker stall in Geylang

We got to the MRT station and went up to a counter to buy our travel cards, which were $12 each, with $7 of credit on them – you can use them on all the public transport, and redeem the credit on them if you haven’t used it by the time you leave. We caught the MRT into town, to City Hall station, which we’d chosen just because it looked pretty central! We had decided to do a City Sightseeing open-top bus tour first, so we walked around a bit looking for a bus stop, and then saw one of the buses driving past, so we just followed that till it stopped a bit further down the road! We got on and bought tickets, and went to sit upstairs, in the shaded section at the back – the sun was definitely too strong to sit out in the open! We went round the circuit, enjoying the commentary, which was a mix of historical anecdotes and information about life in Singapore today, very interesting. We drove down Orchard Road, and were looking at all the huge shopping malls and hotels, when we spotted a Rolex shop, so we jumped off at the next stop and went in to spend an hour looking at watches, so Chris could narrow down his choices for his 40th birthday present! When we left, we bought an icecream and sat watching all the shoppers for a while, then got back on the bus and went round the rest of the circuit.

Waiting for the MRT

Orchard Road

We got off the bus at the Marina Bay Sands Resort, which is a huge new hotel and casino, with three towers linked at the top by a giant structure shaped like a ship or a submarine, with a roof garden and bar and restaurant on the top. Chris said it reminded him of hotels in Las Vegas, and it was definitely impressive! We took the lift up to the 6th floor, where a bridge goes through the middle of the hotel and out across the road to the Gardens By The Bay. This is the newest attraction in Singapore, it’s only been open a month, and it’s absolutely incredible – it’s a huge park with different themed gardens, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese, all with different native plants and sculptures and walking paths – and then the main attractions are two huge glass air-conditioned domes, a bit like the Eden Project or something – giant greenhouses where they can control the atmosphere and grow plants that wouldn’t survive out in the heat. There’s also a scattering of ‘Supertrees’, huge concrete and steel structures with plants growing up and through them, in purples and greens, and there’s a ‘skyway’ – suspended boardwalk – running between the main group of them, so you can take a lift up and walk along it looking down at the gardens. It’s just an amazing place. We joined the queue and bought tickets for the domes and the skyway – everything else is free – and then went into the Flower Dome first. It’s amazing, full of Mediterranean and European flowers, and baobab trees, and an Australian garden, and a cactus garden – hanging baskets and planters everywhere, walking paths and benches and raised platforms – the whole thing is so well landscaped, it really is like walking around a huge garden, but in this wonderful cool air conditioned atmosphere!

Gardens By The Bay

The Supertrees and Skyway

Inside the Flower Dome

After the Flower Dome we went through to the Cloud Forest, which was even more impressive – its central feature is a huge tower with a waterfall coming out the top of it, with canopy boardwalks at a couple of different levels, and plants growing out of the sides of the tower all the way up. We queued to take the lift up to the top, and then walked down via the various canopies and halls with displays of rock crystals, and information displays on climate change, and various other interesting bits and bobs. You could stick your head out over the waterfall at different levels and be completely amazed by how high up you were, even though you were inside this dome!

Waterfall in the Cloud Forest

This is how they make the clouds!

Canopy walkways in the Cloud Forest

It was nearly sunset by then, and we wanted to make sure we were in a good viewing spot for the fireworks, so we thought we’d try to get onto the skyway in time to watch them. When we got down there, there was a long queue to get the lift up to the skyway – they only allow a certain number of people on there at a time, so it’s one-in-one-out. It’s obviously a very popular place – I suppose as it’s only been open a month, and we were there on a Saturday, it’s probably full of locals coming to see it. We joined the queue (well, Chris did – he let me go and find a bench to sit on and rest my feet for a bit!) and eventually made it to the front just as it was getting dark, with about 20 minutes to go before the fireworks were due to start. While we were in the queue, we noticed the National Day rehearsal celebrations starting, with a flyover by a group of jet planes, and three helicopters flying over the city towing a huge Singapore flag. The view from the skyway was absolutely incredible – it really was one of the most beautiful places we’ve been. You could see down into the gardens, and across the bay to the Singapore night skyline, with all the tower blocks and the wheel of the Singapore Flyer.

The Singapore Flyer

Helicopters for National Day rehearsal

Flyover

Then the fireworks started – we were rather in the wrong place, as it turned out, because the Marina Bay Sands was between us and the fireworks! So we could hear them, and see bits, but most of our view was blocked. We were watching anyway, and then suddenly it went dark, and the Supertrees lit up in different colours, and some ethereal music started playing, and we were treated to an amazing light show, with little fairy lights running up the supertrees, and all the trees fading and changing to different coloured lights, in time with the music. So we had that on one side, and fireworks on the other, and this amazing view all around us – it was incredible, and definitely made up for how wobbly my knees were feeling, standing on this narrow little suspended walkway, with a floor you could see through! There was a lady on the walkway marshalling people along and trying to get them to move along so they could get the next people up – she moved us on once or twice, but we just doubled back so we could watch the rest of the light show and fireworks! So, the timing was perfect, we were up there for about half an hour and saw everything.

Skyway and Supertrees with the Marina Bay Sands in the background

Singapore skyline at dusk

The best photo we got of us on the skyway! (there’s only so many times you can ask a random passer-by to re-take a photo for you…)

Light show at the Supertrees

Marina Bay Sands with fireworks in the background!

Supertree light show

After all the shows were over, we carried on to the end of the walkway and went down in the lift, and walked out to the taxi rank to get a taxi – possibly a bad idea, as traffic in town was awful, with everyone leaving from the parade and fireworks! Still, it was quite nice to get to sit down for 20 minutes in the taxi, as we’d been walking for hours by then. We got dropped off near the Singapore Flyer, and went down to the food court underneath the main building. We’d decided not to ride on the Flyer, as we’d had such a brilliant view from the walkway, and it was starting to get late. We’d heard the food court was worth a go, though – and we really enjoyed it, it’s called the Singapore Food Heritage Trail, and is made up of lots of different hawker stalls, in vintage 1960s style, with carts for the stalls, and tables in the middle of the food court, and lots of authentic hawker food stalls to choose from. I had chicken rice, and Chris had pork noodles, for $5 each – so although it’s in a touristy location, it’s not overpriced, and it wasn’t tacky – it felt very authentic and well done. There seemed to be more locals than tourists eating there as well, which was a good sign – might have been that it’s the nearest place to the parade and fireworks viewing! There were only soft drinks and beer at the food court, and I felt like a proper drink after all the walking, so after we’d eaten we walked round to an odd Irish / Boston / sports bar, for a totally overpriced G&T! Then we got the MRT back to our stop, and walked back to the hotel, stopping to buy some bits and pieces for breakfast – grapes from a fruit stall, and fruit cake from a little supermarket, so we wouldn’t need to go out for breakfast in the morning.

Pork noodles at the hawker stall food court

We got up early the next morning and left at 8, and caught the MRT to the Harbourfront station, which is the nearest one to Sentosa Island. Sentosa is basically one giant resort / tourist park / playground, with beaches and theme parks and various tourist attractions and hotels. We were heading to Universal Studios, so after a quick coffee at McDonald’s, we bought tickets and jumped on the Sentosa Express monorail, which very quickly got us to the main resort. We followed signs for Universal, and picked up our tickets, and then joined the queue at the gates – we got there around 9.30 and it opened at 10, so our timing was perfect! When the gates opened, we’d had time to look at our map and decide which rides we wanted to head for, so we walked straight through to the newest ride, Transformers 3D. We walked straight onto the ride, no queue, and it was brilliant – all done with a motion simulator and 3D glasses with screens, but really effective, you really felt you were falling and speeding around and bumping off things – they used fog and water and heat effects to match what was going on onscreen, too, so it was a really complete experience. Very cool. They had free lockers to leave your bags in while you went on rides, so we left everything in a locker and went on a few in a row – the Battlestar Galactica rollercoasters – no queue again, in fact the longest we queued all day was about 5 minutes, it was brilliant – and the Mummy’s Revenge, an indoor rollercoaster in the dark, and, just so we’d been on everything, Treasure Hunters, a tour round a track in little cars which was really meant for kids! We were boiling hot by that point, so we went on the Jurassic Park river rapids ride and got thoroughly soaked, which helped cool us off a bit, then on one called the Canopy Flyer where you swing round a track over the trees. Then we stopped for lunch, and had hot dogs with chips and chilli – yummy! – and then we had a bit of time to kill before the next show started, so we went on the Shrek 4D ‘ride’ – a theatre with moving seats and a 3D movie – which was quite sweet, but not that great, especially as our seats didn’t seem to be moving as much as anyone else’s! By then it was time for the Waterworld live action stunt show, which was fun, and then we had an ice cream, then went on the Madagascar Crate Ride, which is a bit like It’s A Small World, but with Madagascar animatronics. Then we went to the Stephen Spielberg Lights! Camera! Action! Show, which is a sound stage showing you how special effects can be used to create a Force 5 hurricane. We sat down and looked at our maps and realised we’d been on all the rides, and it was only 2pm, so we went back and went on Transformers again, and then decided to go and explore Sentosa a little bit.

Universal Studios Singapore

Having an icecream in Madagascar

We got back on the monorail and got off at the next station to see the Merlion, which is the symbol of Singapore, then went on to the next station which was close to the beach. We were going to wander down and find a beach bar where we could get a Coke and some air con, and sit and read our books for a bit, but the first place we wandered past was a McDonald’s so we went in there and rested our weary feet for an hour or so! Then we got on the monorail back to the MRT, and the MRT back to City Hall. We’d decided to go for dinner at a place Holls had reminded me about when we spoke the other day, where our family always used to go when we came to Singapore, called Bobby Rubino’s – they used to do amazing ribs. We’d found the address online, so we walked down the street looking for it, and then realised it was in a shopping centre called Chijmes, a converted church with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. Bobby’s (as it’s been rebranded!) is in the lower courtyard, and I remembered it as soon as I saw it, even though it’s had a bit of redecoration. We were quite early for dinner, so the restaurant was nearly empty – we both ordered ribs and they were fantastic, which I was glad about, having insisted that we go there on the basis of a 10-year-old memory!

The Merlion on Sentosa

Bobby Rubino’s

We then got back on the MRT and went to a station quite a way out of town, and transferred to a bus to the Singapore Zoo, where we were going to the Night Safari. By the time we got there, it was dark, and the Night Safari had just opened – we bought tickets and tried to decide what to do first, and asked a member of staff how far away the lions were, as there was a feeding scheduled five minutes later. She told us we wouldn’t make it in time, but if we were interested in the ‘Creatures of the Night’ show, then we ought to join the queue for it now, as there were limited spaces in the auditorium. So, we queued for the show for twenty minutes or so, and filed into the auditorium, and watched the show – bits of it were great, like the raccoons scampering across the stage, or the possum walking down a tightrope over our heads, or the otters sorting cans, plastic bottles and paper cups into the right recycling boxes… but bits were a bit cringy, such as when they staged a fake panic and pretended an animal had escaped, and made everyone in one area stand up and get out of their seats, then unearthed a huge python from a trapdoor under the seats, and then proceeded to run round the auditorium pretending to trip and thrusting the python into peoples’ faces – most bizarre! They had asked at the beginning for everyone to please not use flash photography, as it’s bad for the animals’ eyes, and they repeated the request in 10 different languages and made a big thing out of it – and yet people were still flashing away all over the place, very annoying.

After the show, we went and got on the tram which took you all around the park, with commentary on all the animals as you passed them. It was about a 40-minute journey and was very well done, with excellent lighting in all the enclosures – really quite an impressive feat to make the animals think it’s nighttime, but light them well enough to let people see them. We weren’t entirely sure all the animals were really nocturnal – are rhinos and hippos nocturnal? – but we enjoyed seeing them all anyway! When we finished the tram ride we thought about going for a walk round some of the walking trails, but it was after 10pm and we were knackered from walking all day, so we just headed for the bus / MRT / walk back to the hotel.

I’m going to stop writing now and upload this before I start writing about Raffles, as it seems to have got rather long already, and I have SO much to tell about Raffles! We’re just leaving for the airport now, so if I have time, I’ll write the last bit from the airport – otherwise it’ll have to be when we get home!

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