After a pleasant 17 hour journey on the Dreamliner, we landed in Singapore to find ourselves in a beautiful, clean and lush airport (the airport had everything from water features to tropical foliage and not to mention a Victoria Secret, just in case you needed to do any last minute lingerie buying before flying out). We noticed right away that Singapore might be the most developed country that we would visiting in the next year. The flight itself was pretty uneventful besides Natalie sitting next to a rather large (but incredibly nice) man sitting next to us who must have taken a sleeping pill to last the 17 hours because he managed to snore and twitch for almost the entirety of the flight. But back to Singapore.
After deliberating whether or not to get a Starbucks (yes, how very American of us) we decided to wait for a more authentic coffee in the city and instead lined up to clear customs. While we thought that we had throughly crossed all of our “t’s” and dotted all of our “i’s” in preparation for the trip, something about the immigration line reminded Ross that he had forgotten to call his bank to let it know that we were traveling (one of the many small mistakes we made over the course of the next few days). After being on the phone about five minutes with his bank, Natalie noticed a few signs in the airport warning us not to be on our phones. Whoops – mistake number two of the day and we had only been in the country less than an hour. The next mistake came soon after when we lined up to buy a ticket to get on the train to take us into the city. The machine only returned change of S$4 so we had to break our S$50. Still having a strong desire for coffee we detoured to the nearest cafe, a French patisserie. We had skipped Starbucks to be more authentic and instead our first Singapore beverage was from a French cafe, fail number three. A few sips into the deliciously refreshing cold brew, we realized that we had been warned of drinking anything with ice. The damage had been done, we were half way through the drink. Foolishly (as we learned later that Singapore water was perfectly ok to drink) we tossed the remaining coffee into the trash can, we knew that there was a pretty high chance of us getting sick on this trip but we didn’t want it to be the first day. Mistake number four.
Our running joke while in Singapore was that we had the potential to be caned at any given moment for a number of mistakes. Singapore is a stunningly beautiful, modern and clean country but it has many rules. Our (mostly Natalie’s) slightly paranoid/worried parents had warned us about the dangers on chewing gum, spitting, littering, excessive “canoodling” and not being respectful of the country’s religious and cultural rules could end up with us either being caned or sentenced to death. This was not a joke, on the back of our customs card to enter the county was a stern warning that any persons trafficking drugs in the country would be killed. We could only guess that the reason for Singapore’s glistening, trash free streets has something to do with its strict rules and reminder street signs. Our favorite sign was the “no durian” sign on the MRT trains and the playful workplace safety signs, check them out below. Durian is an incredibly pungent spiky fruit that smells like rotting flesh when peeled, yum!
We arrived at our hostel, Rucksack Inn (formally Green Kiwi Backpackers) and settled in. This was Ross’ first hostel experience. While he has travelled extensively with his family, it has always been set up and a four to five star experience. The Rucksack Inn was a great first impression of hostel life. After meeting some fellow travelers, Andi & Mel, we set off for some business (getting immunizations for Japanese Encephalitis as it wasn’t available in the US before we left) and fun (exploring the city on foot).
Tan Tock Seng Hospital was absolutely impeccable. The hospital rivaled any hospital that we had ever been to in the US. We had been recommended to this specific hospital from a friend of ours who works in healthcare. She told us that Singapore is a leader in healthcare and she was not wrong. We arrived to the travel clinic sweaty from the 30 minute walk and were told to come back again the following day for a doctor’s appointment for the vaccine.
Intent on making the most of our first day in Singapore we hit the humid trail again and set out to find one of Singapore’s two Michelin starred food stalls (also recommended two us by Andi & Mel). The stall, Hill Street Hui Pork Noodle, wasn’t too far from our hostel and was hard to miss with the line of hungry people stretched into the street. We spilt two noodle dishes on the menu and soon figured out what all of the commotion was about. The noodles, dumplings and meat balls all melted in our mouths. While in line, we chatted to another expat who moved from Portland for her husband’s work. She gave us some more travel tips and shared that in her opinion, Singapore was safer than the US. She doesn’t worry about her five year old blond baby running around in Singapore’s streets but was more cautious in the US.
Determined to stay awake (even though it was already past 2AM PST) we continued on with our full bellies to see more of what Singapore had to offer. Looking back on it, I am not sure what we were trying to see next but we made our way through Little India to the iconic surfboard looking hotel, Marina Bay Sands. After getting slightly lost, we found our way across the Helix Bridge and took refuge in the air-conditioned Marina Bay shopping center. Another thing that Singapore does extremely well is its malls. We are not big shoppers (plus our budget doesn’t allow for it) but if you are, Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. Feeling exhausted from all of the the walking and jet lag, we found a cozy food court and guzzled a bottle of water. All of the walking at Disneyland, plus the few extra pounds from being unemployed and “stress pounds” from quitting our jobs did not prepare us for all of the walking. Feeling a bit rejuvenated after the water, we peeled our tired butts from our seats and made our way to the famous (and equally touristy) Long Bar at Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling.
The Singapore Sling was created by Niamey Tong Boon at the Long Bar in 1915 to allow ladies to enjoy alcohol in public. The dangerously boozy concoction is a gin-based cocktail with Dom Benedictine, cherry brandy, pineapple juice and lime. Supposedly you can’t go to Singapore without enjoying a Sling. Mistake number five – we ordered two at S$31 a pop. If you are planning on going to Singapore on a budget, only stay two or three days and definitely only order one Sling. To punish ourselves for definitely going over budget on our first day and with some liquid courage in our system, we walked home and crawled into our top bunks feeling exhausted.
We both woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. The goal of day two was to use the MRT system as much as possible to save our feet and to see as much as we could. After a delicious breakfast of Nutella and toast (not sure why more American’s don’t embrace Nutella) we headed out of town to see the Botanic Gardens. Since we had to bring our passports to our vaccination appointments we left the hostel with our newly nicknamed “crouches”, pouches that hide passports and other valuables that rest under your pants or dresses on your crotch – so crotch + pouch = crouch. Wearing our crouches all day in the intense humidity made for an even better nickname, “SWASS & TWASS/PWASS”. SWASS stands for swamp ass and you can guess what the other two acronyms stand for! Never the less, our delicate, white, American bodies were not equipped for the heat. Once at the gardens we learned that the Botanic Gardens are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and have also won many awards for the biggest and best botanic gardens in South East Asia. The gardens even beat the US and Australia in several prestigious garden awards! Highlights of the gardens included the Bonsai Forest, the Rainforest walk, lizards that can grow up to four feet long and the friendly park employee who greeted us at the door and told us that a lizard found a tourist who had been lost over four hours in the garden.
Feeling quite accomplished at mastering the MRT public transportation system, we headed back to Chinatown to visit the Buddha Relic Temple and to find the second Michelin starred food stall. Our favorite part of the MRT journey were the announcements at each station. The announcer first says the platform announcements in English and then in Mandarin. We aren’t quite sure what the translation was but it sounded like the translation for “mind the gap” was “happy happy platform”. Maybe it was one of those things that you had to be there for but we thought it was hilarious.
The Buddha Relic Temple is said to house one of Buddha’s canine teeth and is now a place of worship. Inside the temple there are walls of 100 Buddha figurines and a gold stupa housing the tooth, statues, alters and meditation areas. Since this was a place of peace and prayer, we both lit incense honoring those who left our lives too soon.
Feeling the pit of hunger in our bellies and realizing that we didn’t do the best at budgeting our time, we hurried to find the second Michelin starred food stall. We instead found ourselves in Maxwell’s Food Hall. We decided on Tian Tain Hainanese Chicken Rice which was quite possibly the most tender chicken either of us had ever tasted. Now we understand why this dish is so popular here.
Turns out that Japanese Encephalitis is not cheaper in Singapore than in the US (surprise, surprise) so S$1,000 later we left the hospital and joked that all of this preparation might make us sicker than better after the doctor warned us that there was a one in five chance (not low) chance that we might get a high fever for three to five days after receiving the injection.
To complete our packed day, we headed to one of the most memorable parts of the trip – Gardens by the Bay, a sustainable new initiative for the city and a pretty beautiful tourist attraction. The Supertrees are one of Singapore’s most recognizable landmarks but besides being pretty, they serve a bigger environmental purpose. photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy for lighting up the Supertrees. The trees are integrated with the Cooled Conservatories and serve as air exhaust receptacles. The trees also are home to over 62,900 plants comprising more than 200 species and varieties of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers. The country of Singapore is supportive of green initiatives and the government supports this change. One of the main reasons we were so excited to visit Garden by the Bay was from seeing all of the green integration on the latest season of Planet Earth II. At Garden of the Bay, we also visited the Cloud Forest, another educational attraction in time to see sunset across the skyline. The Cloud Forest is home to the largest indoor waterfall in the world, an impressive sight. Just after the last bit of color faded from the sky, the real show started. At night time the supertrees come alive. In Disneyesque fashion the trees all lit up and danced to different renditions of jazz, Star Wars and classical music.
When we got back to our hostel we retreated to the roof for some well earned hostel Tiger beers (the cheapest in town).
We reserved our last funds for Sentosa, an island off the coast of Singapore accessible via tram, walking (with moving walkways) or gondola. The island houses three amusement parks and other resort style entertainment. Given our budget and already being American (with Disneyland and other amusement parks at our disposal, we opted out of the attractions but if you were a kid, you would have gone nuts with all of the excitement and fun to be had on Sentosa. To us it was a bit too much like Jurassic Park and we escaped to find a bit more culture. Taking advice from Indie Backpacker, we headed to Makansutra Gluttons Bay for some more street food. We both ate noodles – Nat’s were spicy with chicken and Indian spices from Old Satay Club Mee Goreng and Ross’ were sweeter with Hoison like sauce from Soon Lee Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee. Both were delicious!