More Singapore

After an ample breakfast at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay, we set off to Marina Bay to see the attractions we missed the previous day. Our first stop, the iconic Merlion, the official mascot of Singapore, is a water spewing 8.6 meter tall statue of a mythical creature which is half lion half fish. Unfortunately it was shrouded in screens and tarps for refurbishment so we took photos of the nearby small replica.

The views from the Esplanade of Marina Bay and the modern buildings surrounding it were all worth a second visit, however. I was especially drawn to the Art and Science Museum which looked to me like an open clamshell and the Helix, a nearby pedestrian bridge, inspired by strands of DNA.

Marina Bay Sands with Art & Science Museum and the Helix to the left

Since our HoHo ticket wasn’t expired, we hopped on a bus on the red route to catch a ride to Little India although we could have used the mass rapid transit system, if necessary. Little India presented quite a contrast to Marina Bay. The neighborhood was vibrant and colorful with small historic shophouses rather than the new skyscrapers of Marina Bay but still very well-kept and clean.

Indians first arrived in 1819 with Sir Stamford Raffles who established a trading settlement for the British East India Company. They soon congregated in the Serangoon Road area where they engaged in brick making, quarrying lime, and raising cattle. Today the Indian culture continues to flourish in this neighborhood.

Named for the goddess Kali, the destroyer of evil, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore, dating from 1855, according to a Singapore Government Agency website, Roots. We removed our shoes as required and joined the worshippers inside.

Leaving Little India, we found the nearby neighborhood of Kampong Glam, the Muslim Quarter. This area was ceded to Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah in the 1820s by Sir Stamford Raffles as part of the deal struck handing over Singapore to the British East India Company. The Sultan soon built a palace and moved over 600 family and friends to the area. The palace was followed by a mosque built in 1824 to provide the Sultan’s entourage with a place to worship. Both have been replaced and rebuilt several times but the Malay Heritage Center occupies the palace built in the 1840s and the present Sultan Mosque was built in 1928.

Inside the Malay Visitor Center, we found a temporary exhibit titled Undangan ke Baitullah: Pilgrims’ Stories from the Malay World to Makkah. Hajj, Arabic for pilgrimage, is the requirement for all able Muslims to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in their lifetime. The exhibition presents hajj through the personal accounts of people making the journey. As the departure point for the steamship journey to Mecca from Southeast Asia, Singapore has played a major role in the religious history of the region.

After a stroll down picturesque pedestrian Bussorah and Arab Streets, home to quaint shophouses and tempting international cuisine, we were ready to move on to one last ethnic area of the city.

China Town is the largest ethnic neighborhood in Singapore. Although there is evidence of the Chinese trading in Singapore before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, Chinese immigration exploded with the establishment of the colony. The city plan devised by Raffles in 1822 located the Chinese inhabitants south of the Singapore River where China Town is still found today. My reading indicates the area was sordid, dark, and dirty with narrow lanes where Chinese were crowded together in poor living conditions among legal opium dens and illegal gambling houses and brothels. Today the neighborhood is bright and welcoming and, like all of Singapore, clean. We visited soon after Lunar New Year and many of the decorations were still evident. As you can probably guess when you see the photos, it was the Year of the Pig.

China Town

One sight which piqued my curiosity was the large spiky fruit sold in produce stalls for $15 each. I found out they are durians, a tropical fruit grown in southeast Asia. The popular fruit is expensive because demand exceeds supply. I’m told it’s delicious but the smell is terrible. In fact, they smell so bad they’re not allowed on public transport in Singapore.

When we found Food Street in China Town, we felt a little peckish so why not try some authentic cuisine from one of the many hawkers? Fried Kway Teow Mee is a popular stir-fried dish with flat rice noodles which is cheap and tasty. Jim and I shared a plate for around $5 and it was plenty for both of us.

Honestly, we barely scratched the surface of Singapore in two days. We could have spent several more days and enjoyed many more attractions. If you’re thinking about traveling to Asia but feel hesitant, Singapore is a great place to begin your exploration. It’s culturally diverse; safe and clean; has great food, shopping, and nightlife; and has many gardens and a tropical climate. I would welcome the opportunity to return and explore further.

But for now, we had a plane to catch to meet a friend in Tokyo.

Based on events in March 2019.

Categories: Asia, Singapore, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crazy (But Not) Rich Tourists in Singapore

As we arrived in Singapore on our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jewel, in March 2019, the morning views were spectacular. Although we felt a little sad about our 19 day cruise ending, our excitement and enthusiasm to explore this city increased with everything we saw. During the taxi ride to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Singapore Clarke Quay, we peppered our driver with questions. “Is it true chewing gum is illegal in Singapore?” “Yes, so is spitting.” It’s also illegal to litter which accounts for the squeaky clean appearance of the city. ” How’s the traffic?” Not really too bad because the number of cars allowed on the roads is limited by a system of auctioning expensive permits to own a car. Voting is compulsory in Singapore. The population is diverse, comprised predominantly of Chinese in addition to Malays, Indians, and Eurasians. Fortunately for us, one of the four official languages is English. Our driver was very responsive to our curiosity and volunteered a great deal of information about this city-state of 5.7 million inhabitants.

Because it was too early to check in, we deposited our bags in the hotel’s storage and set off to the nearest stop for the Ho Ho (Hop-on Hop-off) Bus. We decided to use the Ho Ho for transportation to some of our “must see” tourist attractions. Our first goal was a morning visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens before the heat and humidity in this equatorial city completely drained our energy. After a longish wait during which we questioned whether we were in the right place, the bus finally arrived and we were on our way.

Designated the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Singapore in 2015, the Gardens were originally established in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society on an abandoned plantation. Admission to the 60 acres of tropical gardens is free but there is a small charge to visit the National Orchid Garden which is totally worth it to enjoy more than 600 varieties of orchids.

Orchid dedicated to Barack and Michelle Obama
Orchid dedicated to Princess Diana

Back on the HoHo bus, we enjoyed the drive along Orchard Road, the famed shopping district, which boasts the flagship Apple store, flagship H&M, and numerous other high end shops where crazy rich tourists love to shop. We, however, had no interest in shopping. We were intent on finding our number 1 tourist attraction, Marina Bay Sands. If you saw the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, you can’t forget the scenes of the infinity pool on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

After some confusion and wandering, we finally found the entrance to the hotel and asked where to buy tickets to the Sky Park Observation Deck. A helpful employee told us we could pay $26 to spend an hour at the observation deck or we could go up to the Cé La Vi Skybar for drinks and enjoy the view for free. Well, that was a no-brainer. We headed up to floor 57 in Tower 3.

Rick, Lori, Jim and me with the view from Marina Bay Sands

The bar wasn’t crowded and we felt no pressure to give up our comfy seats so we lingered over our drinks and appetizers while we savored the views of Singapore. I don’t remember exactly what it cost us but a beer was around $15, a glass of wine was around $18-$20, and cocktails around $20. We felt the price was well worth it for such a memorable experience.

Directly outside the Marina Bays Sands Hotel we discovered Gardens by the Bay, home of the 16-story tall Supertrees and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. We didn’t have enough time to do justice to this 100 hectare park so we contented ourselves with the views below.

Singapore is proud of their environmental responsibility; over 47% of the island is covered by greenery including rooftop gardens and green walls; they recycle over 20% of their waste; and they are one of the 20 most carbon efficient countries in the world. I also recently read Singapore is one of the 10 cleanest cities in the world (clean meaning green.) An impressive record, to be sure. We saw these examples and many more from the HoHo bus.

Singapore has an excellent subway system called Mass Rapid Transit but we preferred to discover the city using the HoHo. For $35 we bought a 24 hour pass which oriented us to the city while we listened to the audio commentary about all the major landmarks. Although we preferred to sit on the open-air upper level, it was nice to have the optional air-con down below when the heat and humidity threatened to overwhelm us. Our hotel is circled in white on the HoHo map below so when we were done seeing the city, we disembarked and had a relatively short walk to our accommodations.

HoHo brochure map

We chose the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay for its location, amenities, and price and we were delighted with all three. For 2 nights, we paid $325.79 which included an outstanding breakfast, wifi, rooftop garden with infinity pool, and workout facilities. And, we were close enough to walk to many of the tourist attractions we planned to see the next day.

Singapore has much more to offer. Come back and read what these crazy (but not) rich tourists saw on day 2 in Singapore.

Based on events from March 2019.

Categories: Asia, Singapore, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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