Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Singapore Slingin'

Singapore by night
Rucksack Inn
We arrived at night.  As our plane was flying over the harbour, the city was a beautifully illuminated backdrop to the lit-up ships interspersed across the water.  The view from my plane window was absolutely lovely to behold. A few minutes later, we touched down, deplaned, grabbed our luggage, booked an airport shuttle and were on our way to the Rucksack Inn, the hostel where we would spend our nights while in Singapore.  Unfortunately, I don't have as high a praise for this place as I did for the other two we'd stayed at so far.  Other than the cleanliness, the price (which was decent considering it was in Singapore) and the friendly staff, Rucksack Inn left much to be desired.  Firstly, we were stacked in a 28 bed dorm room, which as you can probably imagine, can get quite interesting.  Between, the snoring, burping, farting and constant noise outside, getting a full night's sleep could be a challenge (although I slept like a baby, Jen did not find sleep on the first night).  To make matters worse, some of her underwear went "missing" (she didn't realize it until we were in Thailand) and she was forced to buy new ones.  Fortunately though, the hostel would only be our base and we wouldn't spend too much time there.  It served perfectly for our needs though, and that's what counts.

Happy Chinese New Year
I woke up bright and early the next morning to find Jen already up (that NEVER happens, but of course, that's because she hadn't fallen asleep to begin with).  Ergo, we decided to get a head start on the day since we had planned to visit many of the city's places of worship.  As we started our short walk to Chinatown, our first impressions of Singapore were about how clean it was.  Indeed, the city-state is very well kept and has many laws to keep it so.  For example, it is illegal to chew gum anywhere, to spit, to eat or drink on any public transportation, and many more strict rules that help maintain a clean environment.  At this time in the morning, the streets were also completely empty. (We found that this is mostly the case in all the South East Asian countries we've visited.  Shops tend not to open until 10 or 11am and will usually close very late).
Before 11am
After 11 am
Some of the many laws.. In Singapore, there is a fine for everything
We left the hostel around 9am and there was no one in sight, which made it very easy to navigate to our destinations.  We visited a Hindu temple (the first of many) and a Buddhist temple before making our way to a famous hawker center.  Here, we indulged in the cheapest (and most delicious) meal that you can get in Singapore.  For under $5, you can choose to eat at any of the many food stalls cramped in the center.  Unfortunately, because it was so early, most of the stalls hadn't opened yet so our choice was somewhat limited, but we still ended up with a cheap tasty snack before getting back on our way.  By the time we returned to Chinatown, it was packed with people.  When I noticed a random lineup, I decided to stand in queue figuring it must be something worth it.  And it was!  I was unknowingly in line for some Lim Chee Guan's famous sliced pork.  After ten minutes of waiting, I was able to pay $15 for 300g of heaven-in-my-mouth (think marinated smoked bacon with just the right amount of spices... melts in your mouth).  As the streets of Chinatown were now overtaken with tourists and locals, we opted to make our way to the Little India part of town.  There, we walked, and walked and walked, visiting a couple of Hindu temples and an antic/electronic market.
Hindu temple
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Sprinkle the Buddha with water for a good omen
Lim Chee Guan Sliced Pork (BEST THING EVER)
Antics/Electronic Market in Little India/Arab quarters
The heat mixed with all the walking left us drained and tired.  We needed a drink and some grub to help us recover, so we made our way to a microbrewery and restaurant called Red Dot which was located by the river along with a few dozens of other restaurants on a "cafe street by the water" type of area.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day and it was nice to be able to enjoy it by the water.  While we were there, we spied the Asian Civilization Museum across the river as well as a ship mounted on three buildings... what the snap?  We wondered if we visit and get up there (the answer is yes and we ended up going the next day).
Enjoying drinks @ the RedDot

The "ship on three buildings"
Night Safari
After our early dinner, we returned to our hostel, freshened up and booked the Night Safari through the friendly staff at Rucksack before trying unsuccessfully to take a nap.  At around 7pm, the shuttle bus bound to the night safari picked us up and we visited many nocturnal creatures from the comfort of a tramcar, and for a time, walking.  Because it was night time and we were not allowed to use flash photography, it was hard to capture all the amazing animals we had a chance to see, including: flamingos, lions, antelopes, lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, rhinoceros, exotic bears, and many more.  It was quite fascinating to see them in their habitat, looking back at us as we passed by perhaps wondering what two Canadian love birds were doing in the jungles of Singapore... or maybe not!  The experience was well worth it but by the time it was over, Jen and I were both completely spent so we returned to the hostel for the night despite our plans to explore the much talked about Singapore nightlife.
The only picture that turned out decent

Sentosa Island
We spent the next day on Sentosa Island, where we stood on the Southern most tip of continental Asia.  But mostly, we walked along the beach and relaxed on our rented beach chair.  Everything on the island was extremely overpriced (try $12 for a beer), so we didn't indulge in too many activities.  Rather, we read and relaxed, letting the sun do the rest.  Sentosa is grossly saturated with people at all times so it wasn't the ideal getaway, but it was definitely the next best thing, especially after a long day of walking.  We even randomly met up with some of our friends from our Kuala Lumpur adventure.

That night, we made our way to the "ship on top of the three buildings" and discovered it was actually a five-star hotel cluttered with a posh shopping center full of the most expensive brand names.  It was $25 each to get up to the 57th floor and aboard the "sky ship", but it was well worth it as it offered the best view of the city.  We snapped many pictures before making our way to the Raffles Hotel, an authentic Victorian-style hotel dated from the colonial times.

The "ship" at night
We're here and ready to go up
The view from the "ship"
Raffles Hotel
Clarke Quay
When hunger grabbed hold of us, we headed over to Clarke Quay, the nightlife district of Singapore, where we ran into our friends once again.  After a few drinks together though, we went our separate ways (they wanted to see the fireworks for the Chinese New Year, and we just wanted to fill our bellies... it was almost 11pm after all).  I enjoyed my first real singapore sling with our meal before heading over to a Scottish drinking establishment for some delicious dark Scottish ale.  Our night ended not too long after that, seeing as we had to be up very early the next morning to catch our flight.  We were thoroughly satisfied with our date night on Clarke Quay, which had offered the perfect romantic and vibrant setting.
Enjoying my first (and only) singapore sling
My favourite picture of  Singapore.  Jen having some fun with a pineapple
1 beer, 1 cocktail & 1 potato skin... ouch
Early January 23, 2012, we were riding the MRT bound for Changi International Airport and an airplane that was going to take us to Bangkok.  As I sat waiting while getting a free foot massage as the airport, I reflected on our short stay in this city.  Singapore had been a great destination, albeit quite expensive.  It reminded us of all the best things from each of the metropolitan areas mixed together to form an urban paradise.  No other city, on its own, can compare to Singapore.  But if you are traveling on a budget, best avoid this costly city-state or do like us and make it a very short stay.  Two full days should allow plenty of time to see most of what it has to offer.
A rainbow came to greet us as we were waiting for the bus to the Night Safari 
Jen's sleeping mechanism.. earplugs and a cute chicken sleeping mask

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