The trip to Singapore occurred in a roundabout way – our friends Kat and Adam are spending 2016 on a rotational program through Adam’s work, and their first stop was Singapore. Another friend, Mitch, has a brother in Bangkok, and found a cheap flight to Southeast Asia to visit both. Garret had enough vacation days to tag along, his first trip to Asia (unfortunately Emily could not come). We couldn’t be more grateful to Kat and Adam for spending their weekend showing us around. The experience was full of exploring the different neighborhoods of Singapore with our local hosts, absorbing the hints of previous British colony and newly found Asian center of financial power, consuming large amounts of tasty food along the way (the thing to do when in Singapore!).
Friday March 18th
Our trip started out with a Thursday 2am flight from JFK on China Eastern Air to Shanghai, a 15+ hour flight! We landed in Shanghai at 5am Friday local time to a very sleepy/vacant airport. Excitement was in the air though, as our KU Jayhawks were then playing their first March Madness game. There was a scramble to get internet and hopefully stream the game, but we ran straight into the Great Firewall of China and could only follow along with score updates. Luckily KU advanced and we would be able to catch the next round in Singapore that weekend.
To celebrate the KU victory, and to help occupy the five hour layover (no sports bars in this airport), we had Chinese beer and dumplings for breakfast. The other highlight from the wait was Garret mistaking the low-hanging smog for fog. Be sure to bring a face mask if one ever visits Shanghai. Finally it was all aboard Shanghai Airlines for the last leg, a five hour flight to Singapore. The review of the flights is you get what you pay for – a lack of wifi for a 15 hour flight (Garret persuaded one of the flight attendants to give him a code reserved for business class), not the best movie entertainment selection, and cramped economy, although taking an aisle seat helped. The food and service, however, were good.
For some reason no line at 5am.
The smog makes quite the backdrop.
Upon reaching Singapore Friday afternoon Mitch went through customs first and made his way to Adam. We had made Garret visiting a surprise, although we were sure to get the blessing of Kat beforehand! Garret snuck up behind a Mitch-orchestrated selfie to throw off the cool as a cucumber Adam, who actually tried to initially block Garret out of the picture. With the gang together it was a taxi ride back to Adam and Kat’s!
Singapore Surprise Selfie!
After a stop at the apartment the guys took a taxi to one of the “hawkers” nearby. These open food courts were extremely popular and all over Singapore, a main source of where most people eat. After walking around they settled on a Thai restaurant along the river. It was a lot of fun catching up, especially when Kat met up with everyone after work. However, the jet lag eventually set in, and with Garret passing out sitting up it was decided to head back to the apartment to catch up on sleep, as a full day of exploration was in store for Saturday.
A hawker, where one goes to eat and eat.
We settled into a restaurant on the river edge of the hawker.
Saturday March 19th
To start out the Saturday exploration we took a quick (and cheap) taxi to Little India. While full of numerous Indian shops and restaurants, Kat and Adam explained the Singapore policy of racial harmony meant Little India it is not exclusively Indian as one might think, although that did not take away from it standing out as predominately India. After walking past the many shops selling either jewelry, cheap electronics, and goods, we had our first (of many) meals that day on the second floor of Lagnaa Bare Foot Dining. Once we had finished at Lagnaa we were back on the exploration track, stopping for a quick peek in the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple as we made our way to the next neighborhood on the list, Arab Street.
Colorful Little India.
A mural on the different types of Indian migrants over the years.
Many buildings in Little India and around the city were venerable two story shops.
Remove your shoes before entering Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.
Bare feet and lots to eat at Lagnaa.
Less than 15 minutes later we went from Little India to Arab Street. The neighborhood is known for both the distinctive and beautiful Sultan Mosque and the numerous hipsters. We saw both immediately upon entering Arab Street. The call to prayer was occurring as we explored the streets around the mosque, and we eventually made our way to a restaurant called Al-Tasneem, literally across the street from the mosque. There we proceeded to scarf down two murtabaks, one mutton and the other chicken, both of which were extremely tasty, we highly recommend trying murtabak, “folded” in Arabic.
The impressive looking Sultan Mosque.
The streets lined with palm trees and 7-Elevens.
When we ran out of murtabak we decided to make our way towards Chinatown, and ended up walking by the Raffles Hotel, a five star hotel built in the 19th century and named after the founder of Singapore, British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. We had planned on stopping by Sunday for the well-known tea time, but figured we could give it a quick exploration since we were already there. They had no availability on Saturday for tea (plus we were not dressed appropriately with our shorts), and we instead opted for a famous Singapore slinger, a drink made originally so women could drink in public, at the outdoor bar.
The Raffles Hotel sticks out for its beautiful colonial architecture.
The Singapore Slinger, pricey but when in Singapore…
Emboldened with our slingers, we continued our walk and eventually made it to Marina Bay, a modern and busy part of town. Here we found outstanding architecture all along the bay, leading up to the main commercial high rise part of the city. By dodging the other tourists we made our way to the famous Merlion, the mascot of Singapore, before taking a quick cab ride to nearby Chinatown.
Doing our best to not look like tourists.
The beautiful Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay.
The Merlion, guarding the prosperity of Singapore.
While not being new to a Chinatown coming from NYC, we were still eager to dive in and see what this one had to offer. We were not disappointed, as the neighborhood was full of people, open markets, infinite small goods, and food. The main difference from NYC’s Chinatown was the more open mainland Communism influence, both in the goods and displays. We walked through a Buddhist temple containing a supposed tooth relic of Buddha, and as our final act in Chinatown we tried the King of Fruit (durian) and the Queen of Fruit (mangosteen), quite a smelly event for those who have also done this.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Nothing quite like Chinatown open markets.
Mitch and Adam selecting a durians, King of Fruit.
Beneath the rough exterior is the fruit’s muscle.
The durian, King of Fruit, and stinkiest fruit one will ever come across.
The mangosteen, Queen of Fruit, was quite good!
East Coast Hawker
Since it was going from afternoon into evening we taxied over to East Coast Lagoon, a hawker located on the beach. As we drove down the highway surrounded by lush and well manicured vegetation, we admired the forest of “rain trees” while our taxi driver told us Singapore was more of a concrete forest. This hawker was one of the busier ones, both for its location along the beach and it being a Saturday night, and we enjoyed trying the noodles and skewered meats from a variety of vendors. After our meal(s) we walked down to the beach to take in the hundreds, if not thousands, of ships all along the coast. These ships were waiting for their turn in port, or as Adam explained some were loaded with oil and instead waiting out the low global prices. We took a taxi back to their apartment and spent the evening out by their building’s pool.
The outdoor hawker was staying busy on a Saturday night.
Singapore, home to an endless amount of ships waiting to dock.
Sunday March 20th
Sunday morning started off bright and early with March Madness, KU playing Connecticut at 7:45am local time. Kat went all out and got McDonald’s breakfast for us, which went great with our morning beers (Tiger beer if you must know).
After the Jayhawks victory we had a short taxi ride to another “hipster” area with modern coffee shops and of course a hawker/market! We walked the first floor, which was a market full of goods and fresh fish, then went up to the second floor hawker to try out yet more fruit, fresh lime juice plus mangos and dragon fruit.
Fresh off the boat.
Dozens of places to choose from for a cheap but tasty meal.
No fridge no problem!
Hipster coffee shop with menu painted on the wall.
To follow up our time at the hawker, you guessed it, we went somewhere else to eat some more. This time it was for chili crab, said to be a must-try by numerous people before we came. Kat had a place in mind, 3 Crab Delicacy Seafood Restaurant, and it was here we feasted on chili crab and another high in demand dish, fish head stew. We were armed with both bibs and gloves to tackle this delicious meal. The chili crab did not disappoint, and the fish head stew was more than interesting. We went for more of the broth as the fish head falls apart pretty quickly, and no one mustered up the courage to eat the eyes.
If you come to play make sure you have the right gear and the right game-face.
Chili crab presentation.
Following the early afternoon feast we went to Sentosa Island, a short taxi ride from the main island, where ~20 million people a year converge on the beaches, golf and Universal Studios. We posted up at Tanjong Beach Club. This artificial beach had a pool, bar, and plenty of beach umbrellas and chairs. One of the oversized chairs and umbrellas were available, and we spent the next hour people watching and consuming a pitcher of mango margaritas before heading back to the main island for our attempt at Raffles Hotel tea time.
Come on in to Tanjong Beach Club!
The pool overlooks the beach and ocean.
Kat and the bros on the beach.
Can you spot the numerous ships beyond the fine sand and palm trees?
While it was our second visit to Raffles Hotel in as many days, it was still a challenge to try and get into the Tiffin room for afternoon tea. They had no open reservations, and even after hanging in the area for an hour they still were not seating us. As a last attempt Adam and Garret went to the host and actually pointed out an available table, which ended up working. We were glad such efforts were made, as it was a fun experience, a good splurge event for the trip. There was a definite British colonial feel to it; at the same time, the harpist proceeded to play “Fireworks”, “Blow My Whistle Baby”, and “Empire State of Mind”. By the end of our good time we were the last table in the Tiffin room, and had a quick look around the interior before departing.
Oh you fancy huh?
Well restored and maintained interior lobby of the Raffles.
Gardens by the Bay
With tea time over it was time for the next excursion, this time to Gardens by the Bay. This came about in the mid-2000s as the city held an international design competition to develop the area, which turned out beautifully. One can spend a couple of hours wandering the ground and going through all of the exhibits. Our favorite part was the Supertree Grove, which contains both beauty and a practical use in releasing the buildup of heat in the two conservatories. Vegetation has steadily snaked up these “trees” over the years, meaning the garden itself slowly evolves over time. After walking through the grove we went to the top of the SuperTree Grove, which provided a great panoramic view of the Marina Bay area. Up there we watched the sun set and the city light up, including a light show in the Bay.
Walk below or from tree to tree.
Step right up to the SuperTree.
Day or night, the Gardens always impress.
Marina Bay Casino
Our last stop for the day was the Marina Bay Casino. This casino was a short walk from the Gardens, through the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has a unique rooftop (we did not go up but wish we had!) providing incredible views and an infinity pool (for guests). The Marina Bay mall is right next to the hotel, and within this glamorous mall (malls are a huge thing here) filled with high end stores lies a large casino. Free for foreigners, Singaporeans have to pay an entry fee, as the government tries to not only attract tourism but also prevent a local gambling problem. A majority of the casino was reserved for tables of sic bo. We were interested in learning how to play this game but the buy in was too steep for our wallets. Once we had contributed to the casinos profits at one of the few craps tables, we headed home to pack and get ready for our departure Monday morning.
Marina Bay Sands hotel – spaceship, boat, or baguette?
First time visiting a mall casino.
The main floor, with hundreds of sic bo tables.
Monday March 21st
On Monday morning Mitch and Garret said farewell to Kat and Adam, and headed to the airport. It had been a busy but great weekend of exploration in Singapore, all thanks to our hosts. Now it was onward, a short flight up to Bangkok!
(De)parting words of advice!
- The Singapore airport is excellent, and use innovative systems to get you to your gate quickly.
- Those who admire architecture would greatly enjoy Singapore, where there seems to be greater emphasis on building features merely there for the looks versus practicality.
- Don’t be shy about trying all of the different fruit one typically doesn’t see in the United States.
- Take advantage of friends or families in foreign places because you get a local experience from someone you know and who knows you/your interests
- Taxis/ubers are cheap and an easy way to get around, just make sure the taxis run the meter.
- Dress and prepare for the hot and muggy weather, with an afternoon shower!