Updated: Jul 3
We expected a bit of culture shock flying from a small town in Eastern Indonesia into the major metropolis of Southeast Asia, but – WOW! Have never been through such a speedy and efficient customs and immigration before. There were many travelers coming from several airlines, but the queues were well organized, and everyone was checked, fingerprinted and passed on quickly. Singapore airport is huge, spotless and busy.
Opting for a shuttle bus instead of a taxi, we saw part of the city by night as other folks were dropped off, finally getting to Hotel NuVe Urbane in the Lavender District about 10 pm. Our tiny 6th floor room was very nice and well appointed, with lots of green glass & tile giving an art deco feel. The miniscule balcony overlooked the 5th floor outdoor pool, that had see-through panels in the bottom so you could see cars driving below. We were way over our usual budget here – around 120 USD a night – but hey – just a few days in the Big City! And it had a great shower and super comfy king bed - that occupied the whole room.
Monday (30/09/19) we walked a few blocks down to the water, which was the Kallang River, and followed a path along the waterfront. Had not gone far before we saw many signs of construction, or in some cases demolition, and finally hit a dead end at a large construction site. We finally realized most of this was infrastructure put up for the Formula One auto races the previous week and was still being dismantled.
Singapore has a great subway system called the MRT so the next day we spent some time figuring out the fares and routes, and bought 3 day passes for 20 USD each. There are four main color-coded routes and a few secondary routes and loops, and each has a different platform at a different level, with many stairs and escalators. All the stations and cars were very clean and busy, with no one standing around busking or pan-handling.
Several of the underground stations had many rows of shops and hawkers selling everything from street food to clothes to haircuts. Street level at the Lavender Station near us had a McDonalds, Burger King, and a dozen local food stalls. We had tofu, rice, noodles, eggplant, curried chicken & a double cheeseburger at various times – usually when returning at the end of the day.
About half the time we could find a seat on the cars and had to stand the other half. Not that bad as the runs were pretty short. Many cars had a digital route map showing current stop and upcoming stations. Very cool. The confusing part was after coming up the escalator at most of the downtown stops we were in the middle of a huge shopping mall, and it was difficult to find the way out to the street!
If you love to shop for just about anything, but especially high end clothes and jewelry – this is the place! There are luxury malls everywhere. Our first walk downtown was in the Orchard District, and seemed like every other store was a Tiffany, Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc. The gigantic Ion Orchard shopping complex dominated a complete city block with huge LED adverts. Lamppost banners touted the Patek Philippe Watch Art Exhibition and Rolex stores were everywhere. We did stop in the gigantic Apple store that was jammed with people, finding the new iPhone 11 was about double what the cost is in the US.
While walking through the 6th floor hallway of the hotel Tuesday we saw a man in a grassy field flying something in circles high in the air – maybe a drone or RC airplane? As we were walking to the MRT I suddenly felt something on my left shoulder and realized a bird had landed there! It was a pretty cockatiel that the guy had been flying around which decided to come pay me a visit.
Nearby was another landmark – the Vagabond Club – housed in a 1950s heritage Art Deco building, designed by a renowned French architect whose motto was “all things in excess”! We walked through the mostly empty lobby and Whiskey Bar (it was 10 am) admiring the rich gold and red theme, with large gold rhino & elephant statues. Sell your car and come get a couple of shots.
We found some stores that were targeting to more normal humans, where I picked up a pair of sandals and Susie looked into some prescription sunglasses, but time and $ were not on her side and decided to wait for Kuala Lampur. Several places had huge “luggage shows” with a large area of the main floor stacked with huge piles of suitcases and travel bags.
Another quick subway ride and we were in the Marina District where the Singapore and Kallang Rivers join and empty into the Singapore Strait. Walking along the Esplanade offers views of the most iconic buildings in the Singapore Skyline, including the lotus blossom shaped ArtScience Museum, the Singapore Flyer (like the London Eye) and the huge Marina Bay Sands, which looked like a spaceship landed on top of the towers!
It was about 17:00 when we were walking along the river under the Helix Bridge and found hundreds of joggers and runners using the wide paths, which led back to the Gardens by the Bay. There was a huge indoor botanical garden with lovely landscaped grounds around it, featuring the futuristic Supertrees towering overhead that would be lit up for the light show later.
But now it was time to get back to the Esplanade in front of Marina Bay Sands for their Water & Light Show at 20:00, which meant about 15 minutes of walking through the increasing crowds, and making our way through several levels of yet another luxury mall! Getting hungry but afraid to take time to find a bite we found a seat outside on the steps just in time to view the wonderful show in the bay just in front of us, with many choreographed water fountains, lasers and music.
15 minutes later the show ended and we retrace (almost!) our steps back to the Gardens to watch the light show there with the Supertrees. It was pretty cool as well, but not on the scale as the Marina Sands – plus we were getting a bit tired anyway. Now back to the MRT station, and grab something to eat at the street level shops.
It was about a 15 minute walk from the Lavender Station to the NuVe hotel, and one street would take us through a series of local food and merch stalls. The people had actually built their (temporary?) shops over the sidewalk so we were walking between rows in their store or café! Grab a nice plate of noodles & chicken for about $3.00.
One shop had a bunch of guys hanging around a window and several screens on the wall. I walked in to look and most screens were inscrutable (haha) but one had a heading saying “Chelsea vs Southampton”, so apparently this was a betting parlor! There are only a couple of large casinos in Singapore but it ranks in the top 3 worldwide for casino revenue and those two casinos take in almost as much $ as the 75 in Las Vegas all put together.
We have seen a lot of the city below street level so next day we bought tickets for the Big Bus Tour where we could sit on the 2nd level of a large bus and listen to facts and highlights of local interest through headphones. This was quite nice to see things from a different vantage point, tho it did get quite warm in the middle of the day. We hopped off at Little India to walk around and try a delicious lunch at an Indian vegetarian restaurant. Walking a little farther we realized almost every shop was selling the same touristy stuff, so back on the bus.
The weather was very similar to Central Florida this time of year so we felt right at home. Not bad in the morning or evening but pretty warm in the sun during the middle of the day. And we did experience some thunder storms and rain - the first since leaving North Carolina!
Singapore has tried to preserve many of the buildings and architecture from the British colonial days. The Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling is a fine example, where famous writers such as Rudyard Kipling & Joseph Conrad have lodged and dined. Several old historic buildings have been preserved in the financial area, with modern, tall buildings on either side.
Land area has been reclaimed from the sea to increase the islands area by 23% since 1965. Pretty expensive real estate! Singapore was ranked the most expensive city to live in for the last 6 years by the Economist. It places very high in education, healthcare, quality of life and personal safety. Malay is the official language but almost everyone speaks English. Singapore has the highest religious diversity of any country.
Back on the bus taking the yellow route we hop off at the Botanical Gardens to take a look. First stop is the Orchid Garden which has a fabulous variety of gorgeous orchids. I usually have usually had pretty good luck growing plants in Florida, but I have never met an orchid I couldn’t kill! So I made sure not to touch anything lest my orchid-jinx would taint anything there. It really was fabulous.
Walking through a few other areas included one of only two rainforests within city limits in the world, and other lovely tropical areas with palms and plumeria. Quick stop for a popsicle and bathroom and hop on the bus Gus. Whew. Time to head back to the room.
So that’s about it for us in Singapore. You can really get around and eat quite inexpensively, but it is difficult to find lodging for a bargain. Unless you don’t mind sleeping in a pod! Google Singapore pod hotels and take a look. Kinda like dormitories, or maybe upscale hostels with a little sleeping cubby and shared baths. Um – not for me – not now, anyway!