Catching up my blog following friends…
We say farewell to my parents at Melbourne’s Tullamarine International Airport as Charlie and I embark on another adventure, this time it’s just the two of us together to Singapore. The flight to Singapore with Scoot is a turbulent one from the very start of launching up into the air. And it’s not like the normal short-lived turbulence. This turbulence goes on and on, up and down and the butterflies in my stomach just makes me feel a little more nervous than usual.
Then I hear the sound of crying. I look around behind me stretching my neck up and around as I’m sitting in the middle chair in the middle seated section of the plane. I see a young woman a couple of aisles back from us breathing heavily and crying, clutching at her lap. I think she’s having a panic attack. No one else seems to be noticing her as well we are all pretty much focussing on holding on to our seats and the air personnel are all up either end of the plane seated as well. I turn back and notice the young woman sitting on the seat to my right is doing some sort of prayer and reading a booklet with Chinese characters imprinted on the pages over and over. I’m thinking what the heck is going on here!? Between panic attacks and prayers we’re all in this together…this one ginormous plane full of butterfly stomached passengers up and down. The woman behind continues her incessant cry while the woman beside me pulls out an A5 piece of cardboard and starts reading it – lips moving and letting out a slight mumble. Finally after some time the turbulence stops…the woman behind stops crying but the woman beside me continues reading.
I’m curious and can’t help but ask her what she’s reading. And then begins a lovely conversation about Buddhism called Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door. A quick Google on the subject provides me with this explanation: Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door belongs to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and encourages people to recite Buddhist scriptures (sutras and mantras) on a daily basis, practise life liberation (ie. saving the lives of beings destined for slaughter), and make great vows to help more people. She is also snacking on her own lunch. She and her clan (also in the plane reading their A5 cardboard booklets) are heading to Singapore for a big Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door get together. I wish her the best and tell her I will look it up.
We arrive into a sun-soaked Singapore from Melbourne at 6pm. The city is commonly referred to as The Lion City even though lion’s have never been recorded as living on the island state but at just 719.1km squares (after land reclamation) it spreads itself out over 64 offshore islands. Singapore is just one of three sovereign city-states that exist in the world today, the others being Monaco and the Vatican City. Also Singapore is considered to be the second most digitally connected country in the world. We’ll soon test that out!
It’s a warm 33 degree muggy night and the glow of the sky is welcoming after feeling the glum and cold somewhat in hometown Melbourne for a week. Charlie is a little glum after having to leave her “life” and friends in Melbourne and return to South East Asia where we will finally depart our Hoi’An home in a little over a week and finish the 365-day family backpacking journey together by mid-December. Life’s tough as a teen international traveler…but I’m sure that just the two of us will enjoy exploring this exciting city together as a little reward for all the hard work and study Charlie has done via distance to formally finish her studies with Distance Education Victoria with the sitting of her Year 12 exam Health & Human Development.
We walk outside, find a taxi and show him the name of our hostel in Boat Quay. And as we get comfortable in the back seat, he turns around to us and says he doesn’t know where the place we want to go actually is. So we jump back out with our backpacks and jump into the next taxi. The new driver is a little younger and confirms he knows where we’re wanting to go. I always get a little hesitant in my abilties to pull this travel from airport to accommodation thing off on my own, as Steve is always the one hailing and negotiating with the taxis as he is the one who books all the accommodation. Anyway…keep breathing I tell myself.
The ride into the city is a pleasant one. The first thing we notice driving along the main road are the old trees either side of us on the reclaimed land. They’re majestic and beautiful and well looked after and neatly pruned of old branches. The next thing we notice is just how clean, tidy and ordered the place is. Of course most people have heard of the Singaporean style of clean streets and an ordered life thanks to former and first Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew. He is known as modern Singapore’s founding father and sat at the helm for three decades. He’s best known for his leadership of transitioning Singapore from third world to first world in just one generation. It’s finally nice to see it in person. And we can confirm it’s true of the city – it’s clean and green. We pass by a billboard stating: “Let’s Make Singapore Our Garden”.
Our taxi driver happily chats with us while he’s driving suggesting some of the things to see and do around Singapore. He mentions it is quite expensive but if we head out from the main CBD and flashy touristy areas of the bay area and get to places like the Maxwell Hawker Centre or Chinatown we will enjoy the best authentic meals the city has to offer with a beer. And then he tells us to look out the left window for a surprise as soon as we get onto the overpass.
And there it is in the golden sunset light what seems to be a long, colossal ship (yes ship) balancing atop a skyscraper (yes skyscraper)! Our jaws drop open while the taxi driver chuckles at us, and I’m scrambling for my camera while pressing the window button down. This picture was the best I could manage from the moving car and Charlie and I are left with an excitement in the pits of out tummies. Welcome to Singapore!
And this is what the balancing act looks like closer up…
So the question is: Can travellers slum it in Singapore?
And the answer: Hmmm…maybe. So let’s try it out!
Based on the current cost of living and traveling associated with staying in and exploring Singapore, the word slumming is not a word travelers nor many backpackers would use all too often to describe their stay and experience on the warm, tropical island state. Bloggers are always complaining about how expensive it is here and although I would tend to agree with them if all six of us were here for a week or so, we know it’s not something we could afford as a family tribe. But just like our friendly taxi driver mentioned to us, there are alternatives for a quick and cheaper stay in Singapore that won’t break the bank. The easiest ones are obvious: stay for a shorter period of time and visit Singapore without the whole family in tow! Tick and tick. What else?
It’s our first visit in Singapore. I have done no major research on the place except a brief overview of some of the main sights to see after a quick conversation with my parents who adore Singapore as their preferred place to stop over on almost any flight anywhere! Of course Raffles Hotel is world renown and we happen to pass by it in our taxi. Currently it’s hidden under scaffolding and is having a face-lift of sorts. Steve has booked us a three-night stay which is all we could muster in this lucrative city on a backpacker’s budget. But there are ways of being smart and frugal here and it all comes down to choice. Isn’t that always the case?
We really enjoy our stay in Singapore. And although it’s definitely a much more expensive to travel in this city than other cities of South East Asia, it didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy ourselves with some of these handy and what I’ve coined ‘Slumming it in Singapore Survival Skills’ to fully embrace Singaporean culture and create some memories here.
#1 – Book a Hostel
5 Foot Way Inn hostel is located right on the waterfront at Boat Quay with a view to match alongside the likes of many of the big name hotels that also hug the riverside, but doesn’t come with the as hefty price tag. Sure the room itself can feel more like a broom cupboard than an actual room, but with just the two of us and only staying for three nights, we found we never really spent all that much time in our room anyway. Having said that, it is the most expensive hostel we have ever paid for at A$30 per night per person.
Another good idea before booking the more-like-a broom-cupboard-accommodation is to know what other areas the hostel offers its guests. 5 Foot Way Inn offered a welcoming and comfy ground floor lounge area as well as a fully decked out kitchen upstairs with tables, chairs, lounge and large balcony overlooking the river. There’s even a coffee machine! Not only did we utilise all these spaces and amenities at the hostel, but we appreciated the million dollar Singapore River views over a bowl of crunchy cereal, fruit or for the sweet tooth the multilayered multi-coloured rainbow Lapis which I’m told is authentically eaten layer by layer! I stuck to the cereal while Charlie kept with the fruit. Make sure the breakfast option is included in accommodation before booking as it just makes life that little bit easier and that little bit cheaper.
#2 – Eat the Local Food
Before we do that…there’s been one thing I’ve always wanted to do in Singapore…enjoy a Singapore Sling in, you guessed it, Singapore! So we arrive and pretty much within 5 minutes walk out of our hostel and straight into one of the waterfront restaurants and order a Singapore Sling. It’s a lovely balmy night, the twinkling lights of the city have sprinkled out across the river and life just feels spectacular. How lucky am I to be sharing this experience with Charlie girl? Yep. Very lucky.
We’re up for being bold on our first night in Singapore and decide to walk to the closest underground train station, purchase tickets and ride the train to Chinatown. Chinatown located on Smith Street is home to plenty of food stalls that deliver the perfect traditional and tasty Chicken Rice meal for just 5 Singaporean dollars (S$5) each. The traditional Chicken Rice is a combination of fatty rice and juicy chicken that was created by migrants from Hainan. It looks small but it’s absolutely filling and the atmosphere is alive and vibrant. Lights, people and food stalls fill the street.
The following night we venture out to the Maxwell Hawker Centre for an authentic Laksa with vermicelli served in a curry-like soup which warmed me up even more so for just S$4. Charlie opted for another Chicken Rice dish and we enjoyed a cold beer and Sothersby (S$9), and the atmosphere here is well and truly relaxed and friendly.
On Tuesday Charlie and I explore Bras Basah Bugis precinct explicitly to visit the National Library of Singapore that says has a lovely rooftop garden. But when we arrive to the library, we soon discover that there is no lovely rooftop garden, but we are allowed to catch the lift up to one of the floors and take some photos. We’re here anyway so we do just that. It’s a colourful view against a backdrop of grey weather.
We find ourselves in an amazing street corner restaurant called JinJin Eating House (located near Bugis MRT) that is displaying a smorgasbord of Malay culinary delights of meat and vegetable dishes. It was a matter of lining up with the locals – which by the way is the best way to judge if a food joint is good or not for the unknowing foreigner. The best advice: if the locals line up then it’s good tucker so line up too. We lined up and followed the locals pointing at the foods we wanted on our plates and then shuffle along and pay at the register. Easy peasy and oh so deliciously tasty. We order two plates full of fish, meat and vegetables for S$12.20 combined. Our stomachs are full.
#3 – Walk and Use the Public Transport System (MRT)
The best and cheapest option for getting around Singapore’s attractions is by foot combined with a public transport tourist pass. Charlie and I walked (on average) 15km per day and that was in conjunction with using the MRT tourist pass (purchase a 1, 2 or 3-day tourist pass and tap on to all trains – both above and under ground – and buses in the city). We didn’t have weeks to explore so the tourist pass gave us quick and easy access to many corners of this sprawling city from China Town to Little India to Tiong Bahru. There is a S$10 deposit on the wallet sized cards which is refunded when you hand them back at the airport train stations before departing the country. Easy peasy yet again. Loving how easy Singapore actually is to get around and enjoy ourselves.
#4 – See Most of the Sights
There is SOOOO much to see, do and experience in Singapore. For such a small island country, there is much to see. So in just three short days our day and night schedule is well and truly booked up. We return to our dorm room after a morning and afternoon of exploring to lock ourselves away for some much needed rest and rejuvenation and give our legs a chance to restore themselves. The only way is to rest before heading back out at night time to enjoy the magical nightlife and lights of Singapore. Here’s some of the attractions:
Orchard Road – we didn’t venture out to see the famous Orchard Road, because well I’m not that keen on high end retail shops and shopping in general. So we skipped that one so we could take in more culturally rich experiences.
Marina Bay – is the epicentre and engine of the economy. Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort in and around this precinct is a an array of 5-star hotels, white collar drinking holes along Amoy Street and the architectural wonder Gardens by the Bay. It’s a lot of glitz inside, with the big retail shops, an extensive water feature (looks more like a long pool) and amazing windows which is nice to see, but the real reason we’re here is to head up the lift to that ship balancing atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel. There’s also the Singapore Flyer which gives visitors a birds eye view in a giant Ferris wheel (we didn’t do the Ferris wheel as we opted for the Skydeck – explained later). And even on a grey and overcast day, the spectacular-ness of this area is still amazing to walk around and see.
Gardens by the Bay – is a 101 hectares/250 acres of reclaimed land in central Singapore that showcases three waterfront gardens. It was a strategy of the Singaporean government to transform Singapore from a “garden City” to a “City in a Garden” by enhancing the greenery and flora within the city. And they have certainly achieved what they set out to create. It’s amazing and a must visit while in Singapore.
Gardens by the Bay on a grey day:
Gardens by the Bay at night time:
Smith Street, Chinatown – Charlie and I ventured down here a couple of times for a meal and wander. It’s beautiful at night time with the hundreds of lanterns criss crossing the streets.
And not too far from the Chinatown is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. We didn’t get to see it during the day, but walked past the amazing temple and it’s cascading oriental rooftop and impressive brass studded wooden door and muscled statues guarding the tooth relic location at night time on the way to the Maxwell Hawker Centre.
Little India – another MRT train journey out to Little India is an easy way to see another cultural element to Singapore’s bow. The land here was a former racecourse and the place where migrant Indian migrants raised livestock, traded and settled. The major Hindu temple Sri Veeramakaliamman temple with its very elaborate facade is named after Kali, the Destroyer of Evil which was built here to protect Indians in their adopted country. I just loved seeing the shoes left out the front of the temple. Brings back lovely memories from our time in India itself at the start of our year away. And the main street of Little India, Serangaon Road, is overtly decorative with its pink coloured street scene and marigold stalls.
Kampong Glam – is the historic heart of Malay aristocracy pre-colonial rule. And here stands the 1824 Sultan Mosque which according to some legend, the dome base is made from soy sauce glass bottle that were donated by the poorer members of the community. I ask some people if this is indeed true, but no one can verify this as fact or fiction. But the golden dome of the mosque is shining bright in the dull grey sky. We enjoy the cultural roads of Arab Street and Haji Lane with its array of interesting shops and cafes.
And while you’re there, look out for the illusionary paper thin building. It had us stumped for a while!
Tiong Bahru – I love visiting bookshops when I’m travelling. It’s my version of clothes shopping at a mall. So I find a bookshop that people rave about when in Singapore. Just one problem – it’s out woop woop and requires a long underground train journey, bus and walk to get there. But the lady behind the glass window at the train station seems certain we will be able to find the book shop with her directions. I’m a little more uncertain but maintain a level of “we can do it” attitude. Train journey – tick. Bus journey – tick. Now what? Hmmm…the bookshop called Books Actually is no where to be seen. So the handy Google Maps comes out and assists us in following a laneway due south. Charlie leads the way and I follow behind taking photos of this new, and suburban Singaporean environment.
Yong Siak Street is considered to be one of the most densely populated streets in Singapore but the once quiet residential 1950s Art Deco area has been transformed into a hip place with trendy retail outlets, cafes and scrumptious bakeries.
Books Actually is one of those shops. It’s definitely a destination stop. We’re surprised to see standing out the front of the bookshop a book dispenser – yes not a drinks dispenser, but a book dispenser! It’s an awesome idea where you put your money in and out comes a mystery book!
Once inside I’m literally feeling like I’ve reached heaven! There are books lining the walls and stacked beautifully in the middle of the room. Plus there is an assortment of old world charm including maps, bags, bags and other delights. Charlie does her once round and is ready to depart, but she knows me too well to think our time has ended so quickly here. She’s lovely and patient and allows me to soak up the essence of this amazing space and dream my bookshop dreams.
The other delightful aspect of Tiong Bahru are the paintings depicting Singaporean life along its back streets.
Sands SkyPark Observation Deck – we left seeing this sight until our final night, hoping for a clear afternoon and glorious sunset and we got it on our final night in Singapore. Deciding to pay the S$23 each ticket to go up a fast lift to the observation deck was a process of will we-won’t we until we decided yep let’s do it and make the most of our time up here by arriving in the late afternoon and staying until evening so we could appreciate the view at sunset as well as the lights below.
Charlie and I ended staying up there all night! It was great sitting and chatting together on the decking and sipping on Singapore Sling slushies (oops). The views are amazing.
I must admit others, that is patrons staying at the Marina Sands Resort probably had a more comfortable and breathtaking city skyline view than what we did – sitting in the infinity pool sipping on champagne (photo below). This is for hotel guests only.
And at dusk…a perfect spot for quiet reflection high up overlooking the city of Singapore.
Gardens by the Bay Cloud Mountain Dome – another highlight was experiencing the Cloud Mountain Dome. It was a hefty S$28 each to enter but it was worth it. We learnt so much about Cloud Mountains and the habitat as well as enjoying the experience of walking through this tranquil and green man-made mountain. We experienced the waterfall, a wedding photography session, and the event of mist that set in around the top of the mountain. At the exit there is a theatre that loops mini documentaries and a room full of information and models about planet earth that addresses many aspects of climate change and humans stranglehold on the environment. I think we wandered around for over 3 hours inside the dome.
Something that grabbed my eye was the Lego created flowers within the garden.
#5 – Remember to Live It Up A Little!
This was my first time to Singapore, so what I saved on accommodation, food and public transport expenses I more than made up for on what I call the “live it up” items such as enjoying a sunset Singapore Sling cocktail along the waterfront. The old saying is true, rob Peter to pay for Paul mentality is how it works best so there was some balance to our experiences in Singapore. We found the best Singapore Sling to be had on top of the Marina Bay Sands that came slushy style in a large plastic cup! Yep who would have thought that was possible but it was and is. Charlie and I watched the sun set and the lights of Gardens by the Bay come on from our lofty 56 floor height at Sands SkyPark Observation Deck.
I know this is easier said than done as there were only two of us (rather than the typical 6-person family and accompanying expenses) which adjusts the usual budget immensely. But it can be done and the experience is more than rewarding.
Next we board another plane for a quick skip across South East Asia back into Da Nang International Airport (thank goodness for multiple entry visas!) where we will be reunited with the rest of the Sixbackpacks crew in our home away from home base Hoi’An. This is our final week in Hoi’An and there’s plenty on – birthdays, packing, goodbyes, cleaning up, and decisions about our immediate future – will heading to Bali be troublesome with Mount Agung continually erupting, and our longer term future – will we continue traveling, return home or create something else?
Until next time. Goodbye Singapore it’s been a blast!