15-17th June 2010
I landed in Singapore, fresh from Australia, after a really good flight with Qantas – I was sold on the airline as soon as we were given a menu to order our in-flight meal from; you don’t often get that treatment in economy. There was also slightly more room as the seats were set in twos rather than threes. The Gap Year Buddy and I were staying with her aunt and uncle, who were nice enough to collect us from the airport and take us straight to Little India for dinner. After our first taste of the delicious cuisine that Singapore had to offer, we were finally able to crash.
We awoke on our first morning in Singapore to find that we had been greeted with heavy rain. Of course. It seemed, with our arrival, monsoon season had started. The downpour was clearly not going to ease up anytime soon so, since we didn’t want to spend our short time in the city stranded inside, we ventured out into it. We drove down to a local market with the Gap Year Buddy’s uncle and sat down to a breakfast of curry. Turns out in Asia you can have curry 24/7 if you so desire. I was liking Singapore so far.
Now that we were all fed and watered, we headed off to start exploring Singapore. Our first stop was Changi Museum, which was located at the old Changi Prison – where Japanese soldiers had held their prisoners during World War II. My great uncle had been one of those imprisoned at the site and so I wanted to visit the place and find out more about what had happened there. Our audio guides were informative and included interviews with survivors from the prison. It was interesting but hard to hear and read about. I left a note on the remembrance board before we left.
Afterwards, the Gap Year Buddy and I headed into the city and over to Chinatown to meet two girls who we had met in New Zealand – and then again in Australia (we really were treading a familiar backpacker route). Despite some inevitable direction-related confusion, we managed to find them and went off for some Dim Sum.
After a snack of a steamed pork bun and steamed sponge (both excellent choices), we wandered through a nearby market, before settling down to try a Singapore Sling cocktail – when in Rome. Whilst this may have been the right place to try one of these, I quickly realised I wasn’t going to be ordering another. It was not for me. Instead, we left to go and see Singapore’s landmark Merlion – a statue with a lion’s head and mermaid’s tail, which spouted water from its mouth.
The Merlion fountain overlooks the Marina Bay and stands opposite a building that is too distinctive to miss. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel looks quite like a boat balanced on three huge stilts. We’d heard that there was a rooftop garden so decided to go and see if we could get up there. Sadly, upon arrival at the hotel, we found out that the garden was so new that it hadn’t even been opened yet. However, we did discover that the passage beneath the hotel led to a casino (which at 18 we were not old enough to actually get into, even if we had wanted to) and then to a shopping centre. This wasn’t a shopping centre that us four backpackers could afford to shop in at all but there was an actual canal running through it. A floating Louis Vuitton shop was also being built. The place was definitely worth a peak.
After marching around Singapore with a map, the Gap Year Buddy and I waved goodbye to our New Zealand friends and met up with her aunt for dinner at a restaurant called Fraser’s Place (I think). My porcini pasta and chocolate brownie may not have been the most cultural dinner option but they sure did taste good.
The next morning brought both our last day in Singapore and the sun. After a slow start, we headed back to Little India, which in the light looked very much like I would expect India to look like (minus the same amount of hustle and bustle). The area was full of decorated and colourful buildings, which marked a striking contrast with the skyscrapers towering behind them. We wandered past a stall where we could have our fortunes told by a bird, which would flip over a card after being let out of its cage. Apparently good things were going to be happening for me – my fate was like that of Buddha’s, I would win my lawsuit and my son would be forward in the family. I wasn’t quite sure what that all meant but I guess I couldn’t complain.
We stopped for a drink of coconut milk, which came straight out of the coconut with a straw, before heading to the Banana Leaf Apollo for lunch. The restaurant was famous for serving its food on banana leaves instead of plates, as well as for its fish head curry. The food was delicious but I must admit that the sight of a big fish head floating in the middle of my soupy curry was somewhat off-putting. Thankfully it just tasted like any other part of a fish.
The Gap Year Buddy’s uncle told us that it was customary for the man of the house to eat the fish’s eye. We did not have a problem with that. While scooping it out, he punctured it and it started to ooze. Still, he popped it in his mouth and we sat there very impressed for a moment, until he spat it back out. I can’t say I blamed him.
After brunch, the Gap Year Buddy and I went off to Bugis Street Market, which had been recommended to us by a friend. It wasn’t the best market I found in Southeast Asia but it was still full of goodies and I had a successful trip, returning with a bag, purse, necklace, souvenirs for friends and a shot glass for our travel collection. If Singapore had been our last stop, I would have bought a lot more.
As we wandered around, we came across a Buddha statue with a queue in front of it. Apparently it was good luck to rub its belly. We also found a few intricately carved Hindu temples. There was a lot of culture in this city.
Unsurprisingly, during our wanderings we also came across a Starbucks – they really are everywhere. We stopped off for a quick drink before heading to the Asian Civilisations Museum to learn about the different cultures that existed across the continent. There were several interactive areas in the museum which were meant for children but that we took full advantage of – colouring in and trying on turbans.
We spent a while enjoying the museum before heading off for a dinner with the Gap Year Buddy’s aunt and uncle. We ordered satay sticks and were introduced to a local dessert of ais kacang. This was something I wasn’t going to forget in a hurry. It was a weird combination of crushed ice, syrup, sweetcorn and agar jelly (which was the type of jelly we used in biology experiments at school – mhmm).
After a couple of jugs of beer, it was time to go home and get ready for our bus journey to Malaysia in the morning. We hadn’t had long in the city and I have no doubt that we missed a lot but we still seemed to have seen a good slice of what Singapore had to offer – food, markets, temples, museums and architecture.