Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Welcome to Singapore!

We were pretty excited to go to Singapore – there’s such a mystique to the place. But in the end it failed to leave much of an impression on us, unlike the other big island Asian city of Hong Kong.

I’d read this article [36 hours in Singapore] and hoped to hit many of the places suggested. I guess there are a few main areas to see when here: the shopping overload that is Orchard Road, Chinatown, the CBD, Sentosa Island, and the Zoo.  It’s also true that Singapore is a clean and efficient version of the rest of Asia. It’s got a good transit system, the streets are clean, everything looks like it’s just been built or at least repainted and it’s highly regulated. We had an entertaining cabbie on the way in from the airport: he had conjured up all sorts of clever acronyms out of basic words like SINGAPORE, LOVE, LIFE and it’d make this story better if I could remember any of them!  But he also told us how to buy a car in Singapore is really expensive and the government makes you buy a new one every ten years through their Certificate of Entitlement program. It’s an interesting way to limit the number of cars on the road.

We did have a nice hotel booked [the Furama Riverfront] and we’d hoped to hit the town and go for a nice dinner or something like that upon check-in. Well, no.  We spent a few hours unpacking all of our bags and shaking everything out over the tub to get rid of all of the ants that we’d collected on Mabul. We were pretty glad that the freezing air in the cargo hold of the plane had killed them all as we really didn’t want to have to spend a day washing everything.

Monday 1 December

First stop today was Chinatown for lunch and some shopping. Pagoda Pagoda StreetStreet provided ample opportunity for last-chance Asian shopping.  From tacky souvenirs to oriental slippers and electronic gadgets, both of us found more than we were looking for. I got myself a wide angle lens for the camera (super cool as I’ve never seen add-on lens for compact cameras before) and Julie found some cute baby clothes for all those babies popping out back home.

As we’d learned in Europe, if you don’t have much time to explore a city, get on one of the open-top bus tours to cram it all in. Here it’s the HIPPO tour and starting in Chinatown it took us over to Little India, the Arab Quarter, through the CBD and over to the Raffles Hotel. Here we hopped off to grab a signature drink at the home of the Singapore Sling. This hotel is exquisite: from the impressive front facade and the uniformed doormen to the elaborate dining rooms and tranquil courtyard, this place knows how to do luxury. We enjoyed our super expensive cocktail and Julie convinced me not to spend anything in the gift shop.

Trying to get a photo of us having a S'Sling

We weren’t all that impressed with Little India, or the Arab Quarter. After being in Istanbul it just wasn’t “Arab” enough and I was seriously disappointed that there wasn’t one tailor in Little India out on the street trying to convince me to get a tailored suit, when I actually wanted one!

But we were impressed back at Clarke Quay with Brewerkz – they Beers @ Brewerks, Clarke Quayhad typical bar snacks like nachos! And the beer was good too. The server gladly brought out sample size portions of their beers and Julie found a real tasty raspberry beer that wasn’t too sweet. The staff was also real nice when it started to drizzle on us, gathering up all of our things and moving us under the canopy.

Singapore River Boat CruiseTonight we went on a boat cruise of the Singapore River from Clarke Quay down to the harbour through Boat Quay and the CBD to where the Merlion statue stands. This statue, the symbol of Singapore Tourism blends a lion and a fish together. (Based upon the Malay term Singapura for lion city and the city’s relationship with the sea)  It was a nice cruise and both it and the bus tours had good guides on them who provided entertaining history and stories about the city. We’d tell you some of them, but we forgot them already! 

We capped off the day with a special Christmas Lights tour of Orchard Road. Singapore pulls out all of the stops for Christmas and Merry Christmas in Singapore puts on possibly the world’s best display of Christmas lights and decorations. It’s just over the top really. This year’s theme was ‘candy’ that had light poles pretending to be candy canes and trees dangling lollies from their branches. It is quite nice though.

While down on Orchard Road, we wandered in to a little alleyway called Emerald Hill road that contained many trendy little bars tucked into old-style Chinese shophouses.  We tried to find some food, but couldn’t find table, except for the place that had martinis on special. While drinking our martinis, the waiter from the first place came over to ask us if we still wanted a table back at his bar! Sorry, we’ve got ourselves tied up here for now.

Tuesday 2 December

While Singapore is home to many high-quality museums and galleries, we instead went to the gimmicky theme park that is Merlion on Sentosa IslandSentosa Island. We took a ride down the luge – not a luge by Canadian description but rather more like a go-cart – which was pretty fun. Unfortunately the adrenalin rush from that ride didn’t last long and those martinis from last night were making us lethargic today. Fortunately Julie noticed a fancy spa on the island so we headed over there. Now I’m not a purveyor of spas at any rate, so  when I walked into the place and saw how ritzy it looked I immediately felt uncomfortable, made even worse when I saw the price list. egad! But Julie talked the salesgirl into granting us a big room for a couples massage complete with a mud bath, so here we go.  I’m not sure if I can properly describe what this place was like but Spa Botanica is a nice place with serene gardens, gurgling pools SpaBotanicaand their prized volcanic mud. Continuing on with my uncomfortable saga, we both went to get changed and the fellow in the mensroom  politely pointed out my locker, handed me some disposable underwear and a cup of tea and directed me to wait until the massage room was ready. So there I sat, in my polyester undies and plush robe, sipping tea while reading a yachting magazine. Until Julie bounded up to the outside door asking why I was sitting in here and not out there by the pool? “Because I thought we were having a massage now.” “Oh no, the massage isn’t for half an hour – come out and try the mud!”  Sure enough, she’d already plastered herself in this fancy mud and encouraged me to jump in and coat myself with it.  The mud is like clay and the spa prominently displays it on a pedestal. So I start smearing this mud all over myself and just about get finished when the masseuse comes searching for us. This wasn’t my most embarrassing moment ever, well, maybe it was.  It felt like you were a kid, happily playing in the mud, and then your mom comes along and sees you and says “what do you think you’re doing in there!”. That’s what I felt when the lady found me standing in the mud pool, covered in wet clay sporting stylin’ briefs. So she waits while I quickly try to rinse off the mud and follow her up to our massage suite.

This massage room was like a big fancy hotel suite, just no bed. Our first treatment (besides the mud outside) was a mud bath. They pour in this plant-based goo into the jacuzzi and in you go! The bubbling mud was quite relaxing and I thought that they might sell the goo but it’s probably best that people don’t try to run that through their jacuzzi systems at home. Oh, and the massage was good too.

We left the spa in a tropical rain and scampered to the Smith Street Food Market, ChinatownMRT station to get a ride back to the downtown.  We stopped off in Chinatown  for some food at the Smith Street food market. This covered street is lined with small restaurants and food stalls but was quite quiet tonight in the rain. After getting our fill of sweet’n’sour I pointed us to the Archipelago Brewery that’s brewing craft beers in downtown Singapore. I had my eye out for a beer tap handle for cousin Jim back home, but alas, their handles were plain wood with no adornments.

Wednesday 3 December

It was a nice sunny day out this morning so we opted to enjoy the rooftop pool at the hotel and pretend like we’re on a holiday before Bengal Tiger venturing across town to go to the zoo.  Singapore Zoo is a really nice zoo built in the open-concept style.  The apes are almost free to roam the entire place while other animals have quite large paddocks. My favourite was seeing a Komodo Dragon up close – it’s such a massive lizard – while other highlights were the Bengal tigers and aquatic show. It’s my opinion that San Diego Zoo is still the best zoo I’ve been to, but this one’s pretty good.

We’re flying out tonight, so on our way to the airport we stopped at this hawker market that I’d read about on NY Times. The East Coast Lagoon Food Village is a large outdoor vendor hall filled with hawkers shouting out their specialty dishes. Each of us picked a dish, and after I could barely choke down the one I picked I let Julie do the rest of the choosing.  Next door to the market was a small lagoon where I spotted some guys on wakeboards. I couldn’t see a boat but then saw that there were a bunch of guys on wakeboards and water skis being pulled along by ropes on a big conveyor system strung out above the water. Super neat.

So long Asia! It was a fantastic 3 months learning about the history, culture, food and way of life of these populous countries.

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