Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Six days in Singapore
September 16-22, 2005
We stumbled out of Changi airport about 10pm Saturday night, surprised at how easy it was to get through customs in Singapore. Fortunately the friend we were staying with was waiting and we got straight into a taxi to head to her apartment.
Sunday morning was interesting - having gone to bed so late the night before (close to midnight local time) I expected to sleep in, but found myself wide awake at 8am. I soon realised that was because it was 10am at home. Slipped out of our bedroom to discover my friend (Sally) was still asleep, but her flatmate Kat was up. Introduced myself as she'd been in bed the night before, and soon everyone was up and we were discussing what Andrew and I should do while in Singapore. We eventually decided on an easy start, with a trip to Orchard Rd, followed by High Tea at Raffles hotel. Orchard wasn't really all that exciting in terms of shops, but we started to get an idea of what was around and what we might want to buy. High tea at Raffles was an experience - a very English building, in a tropical setting serving finger food ranging from scones to curry puffs, cakes to aigar (sp?) Andrew and Sally each had an orange juice, which we were startled to discover when the bill arrived cost S$8.50 each! We followed this up with Singapore Slings in the Long Bar - probably the only place in Singapore you can litter. Bowls of peanuts are on every table and you are expected to throw the shells on the floor. The floor was thick with them. On the way home, we stopped by Sim Lim, an electronics mall, a shopping centre entirely of electronics retailers. Sally had suggested we spend a couple of hours there, which was met with enthusiasm from Andrew and horror from me. In the end, we had a quick look around, and Andrew bought some new lenses for his digital camera.
On Monday, Sally had to work (she teaches at a university there) so Andrew and I were left to our own devices. Following Sunday's discussion of what to do, we headed for the zoo. Having only ever been to Melbourne zoo, Singapore zoo was amazing - there are monkeys that roam free, there are opportunities to feed the elephants,
and many of the animals are so close you could reach out and touch them (not approved of by keepers as we discovered when one woman attempted to pat a giraffe the keeper was feeding) They also have animals we simply don't have in Melbourne. Once we were done at the zoo we headed back to Orchard and walked it's length again. I had a look at a few of the jewellery stores but was afraid to go inside as simply glancing in the windows causes sales assistants to pounce on you and attempt to drag you inside "You come in. You buy. We have good things. I show you." We arrived back at the apartment to find Sal home and we, along with her flatmates, Kat and Adam (well, technically, he lives in another apartment, but because he's also Kat's boyfriend, he's kinda moved in) decided to go to the local hawker centre for dinner. That was a strange and frightening experience, especially for as picky an eater as I am. We found a table to sit at, then left Sally to mind the table while we went to order food. After wandering between the stalls trying to find something that looked edible (many don't have English labels, and many of those that do say things like Pig liver soup or intestine porridge) We went back to the table to ask for a recommendation from those with more experience. They recommended a stall selling Japanese food, and lime juice from another a little further down, so it wasn't so scary in the end.
Tuesday, Sally had taken a day off, so the three of us headed to Bintan Island - part of Indonesia, around 45 minutes by ferry. Despite knowing we were going to another country, it didn't quite occur to Andrew and I that we were leaving Singapore, and he removed the departure cards from our passports which got us in a little trouble going through customs, but after growling at us for a few minutes, the official got over it and filled in new ones for us. Once we arrived in Bintan, purchasing visas and getting through customs, we were at something of a loss for what to do - it's a resort island, and nothing was all that close to the ferry terminal. After much discussion we hired a driver and guide for the day (well 6 hours) and set off on a brief tour of the island. Our first stop allowed us to ride elephants (and I was excited about feeding them at the zoo!)
which was fantastic, but I was saddened to see a sunbear kept in a cement pit, and several monkeys in a small cage, especially after seeing the same animals so well treated at the zoo the day before. Our next stop was one of those beautiful beaches you see on postcards, completely deserted except for a few locals selling drinks. Sally and I went for a swim, while Andrew went mad with his camera.
By this stage we were beginning to think about lunch. Fortunately, our guide was also thinking that way and once back in the car we started discussing where to eat. Sally and Andrew deferred to me as the pickiest eater, but I agreed we should try local food and go for the banquet the driver suggested. As we travelled our driver/guide pointed out local sites and we asked questions about what we saw and the local culture - he was fascinating to listen to if you could understand his heavily accented English. The banquet which cost S$15 each or around 270,000 rupiah total consisted of rice, chicken satay sticks, fish (deep fried whole) cuttlefish (we think), soup of some kind, and vegetables, in far larger quantities than we needed. I was cautious, but did try several dishes. We were then taken into the town, where for the first time I began to feel slightly unsafe, to have a quick look around at shops. Fortunately our guide was quite protective (especially of Sally and I, I think) and I felt safe knowing he was watching out for us. Unfortunately the shops were quite tacky, touristy stuff, but it was funny being told a necklace was 15,000 rupiah or S$2! Finally we headed back to the ferry terminal, and onwards to Singapore. Once back, we decided to head to a restaurant call Marche for dinner - it's all western food, but definitely an eating experience. Marche consists of a series of stalls, set up like a market, selling a range of foods. As you walk in, you are handed a card with a barcode, which you carry to the stalls with you. When you have decided what to eat, you hand the vendor your card, and they scan the barcode. At the end of the night, you hand your card to the cashier, and they scan it to get a total of what you have spent, and you pay on your way out.
Wednesday was our last real day in Singapore. With Sal working again, Andrew and I headed to Jurong bird park, quite amazing in itself, both in set up (they have a 30m waterfall inside an aviary!) and in the range of birds, but it simply doesn't live up to the zoo.
It was also pouring rain when we arrived, and while I was all for pushing on due to our limited time, Andrew was reluctant due to paranoia about his camera. We moved between areas during lulls in the rain, but soon we were drenched and our shoes squelched with water. We stopped at a cafe for a drink, and finally the rain stopped, so we squelched our way around the rest of the park, before heading back to Orchard Rd for dry socks. On Orchard, we picked up some souvenirs we had been intending to buy (including a cheong sam for our 4 year old niece) and ate a slab of ice cream between 2 wafers. We also wandered into a Louis Vitton shop, where we were afraid to touch anything, but were glad not to be pounced on by sales assistants. We actually arrived home a little before Sal, and spent a little while relaxing before eating dinner, and heading out (with Sally) to the Night Safari, another amazing experience, where all the animals you usually see asleep at zoos are wide awake and on the prowl. It's also set up so barriers between you and the animals are not obvious, so you feel like you're in their territory. Andrew managed to get himself up on stage holding a snake during the show, and peed on by a bat. We arrived back at the apartment at around 11pm, but figured there was no point sleeping as we had to check in at the airport at 2:30 am. So we packed our bags and chatted, and Sal stayed up to talk to us, despite having work the next day. Finally we called a taxi and headed to the airport and home.