I LOVE Singapore, as you know, and so does Mum, so we can’t wait to start our trip off here, getting pampered and relaxed to start our holiday off on the right foot. Stepping out of Changi Airport into the early morning heat (it has been an abnormally humid week for this time of the year), we grab a taxi, load our bags in the boot, and are soon driving along East Coast Parkway towards the city. Arriving at the financial district, the roads are busy with commuters heading to their offices, ready to start their day. In the near distance, we can see our hotel emerging, and our sense of excitement begins to build.
We have been eyeing off the Parkroyal on Pickering for years now – in fact, ever since we saw it magically arrive on the little red dot known as Singapore. ‘One day’, we thought, ‘one day we’ll stay there’. And just like magic, a good rate appeared on Agoda and that day has now come….
The Parkroyal on Pickering is a ‘green’ hotel – in more ways than one. It was the first eco-friendly hotel in Singapore – check this out:
there are 15,000m2 of sky gardens at the Parkroyal on Pickering;
it features zero energy sky gardens;
light, motion and rain sensors regulate the use of precious resources;
32.5 Olympic sized swimming pools are saved through water conservation every year; and
their annual energy savings could power 680 homes!
But that doesn’t mean that it’s all heart and no soul, because this hotel does ‘green’ very well. Apart from the super lush greenery sprouting from numerous floors of the hotel on the outside, there are plants sprouting from the walls on the inside!
But we can’t check in yet, so you’ll just have to follow us around for the day, until we can give you more ‘goss’ on the hotel later.
We arrived in Singapore early this morning – just after 6am to be exact – and jumped into a taxi straight away to partake of one of our favourite things to do on our trips – a visit to SO Spa (previously Spa Botanica). Normally we would leave a stopover in Singapore for a relaxing wind-down at the end of a big trip, but because we had already booked Singapore in when Scenic cancelled on us for the second time, we had to start with it at the beginning. And you know what, when we looked at it – we thought, well at least we’ll have the opportunity to relax beforehand so that we are nice and chilled for our trip BEFORE we start this time – all the better to make the most of the things we love doing best on the little red dot.
SO (haha) here we are, back amongst the peacocks and the mud pools, ready to partake in some amazing massage treatments to kick off our amazing holiday.
Mum chose the Instant Glow Green Tea Facial, I decided on the Gotu Kola and Walnut Body Scrub and we both went in for a Shoulder and Scalp Massage (check out my greasy hair afterwards down below!). I am very close to sleep during the appointment, but I promise there was no snoring.
Afterwards, we sit in the small balcony room sipping a cup of ginger tea before changing into our bathers and heading for the gardens outside where you can head to the mud bath or take a dip in the float pool. What’s so good about lathering your skin up with a thick layer of goopy brown mud and letting it bake onto your skin before rinsing it all off? Well people have been aware of the healing powers of mud for thousands of years. Mud has anti-inflammatory properties so soaking in it can relieve muscle aches and pains. The minerals in the mud can also have a soothing effect on your skin. One you can feel straight away – your skin kind of tingles and feels fresh and alive. That’s the best way I can explain it, other than to say, just come here and try it for yourself!
At the float pool, the water splashes onto you from the rock face waterfall above, frangipani trees surrounding you. Floating around in this pool is certainly not a dull way to spend the day, and any cares or worries we may have had just 12 hours ago are certainly not making an appearance here.
Then, inside for a bit of whirlpool action before washing our hair under the shower, drying our bathers in the spinner and moving on. Because you know, well, you can’t stay here all day.
Relaxed to the max, we jump about the island bus and head for Siloso beach to continue with the chilled out vibe, with a spot of lunch and the imbibing of cocktails. It is peaceful sitting here, but looking out to sea we can see a raincloud swiftly moving across the waters – I think the Singapore afternoon shower is on its way. We make our way back to our hotel just as the heavens open.
We finally make it back to our hotel, eager to explore every inch of this incredible place, hoping that it matches all of our long held expectations. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
I can’t wait to check out that infinity pool later!
The chilling keeps rolling well into the evening as we make our way to Clarke Quay for some music and dinner. Mum LOVES Clarke Quay. I think it’s touristy and overpriced and would usually prefer to dine elsewhere. That said, I’ve had some great evenings here, and No. 1 – it’s close to our hotel, No. 2 – this trip is about compromise for this solo traveller.
We make the rounds of the restaurants checking out each of their menu displays to see what takes our fancy before settling on Warehouse, where there’s a great little band playing. One duck pizza and a cocktail later, it’s time to head back to the hotel and get some proper rest (but not before getting Mum to try the black sesame icecream over at Azabu’s!)
Today neither of us feel very top quality at all. We start the day with lunch at Brunetti and decide that instead of running around town investigating, we should probably just relax, so first port of call is OPI at The Forum, to get our nails done. Then we jump in a cab, cause it’s raining, and head to ION Orchard to try some shopping – but our heads feel like balloons and the noise in the shopping centres is just making enjoyment of shopping impossible. So back in the taxi and we head to Chinatown to seek out massages of some kind.
But first, we stop in at Da Dong (Fatty Weng) for a bowl of soul warming chicken and corn soup and a dish of the lemonyist Lemon Chicken ever (nicely so though). I found Da Dong a few trips back but unfortunately the last couple of times I’ve been in Singapore, it has been closed, because of renovations occurring in Chinatown Food Street. The works are all finished now though and Da Dong is back in operation.
Yummy tummy warming, soul good food. The waiter walks us to the door and warns us to be careful because rain is on the way. We walk through the newly renovated food street – it’s all sterile now, but I think they have retained its atmosphere. I’ll have to dine here next time to make sure though.
Stopping into Kenko, we manage to book an appointment for our massages. You couldn’t do that in Perth! I go for an ear candling session which comes with a lymphatic drainage massage, which I’m hoping will clear my head up, because I’m sick of feeling like I have a balloon in my head. Its relaxing in an odd non-relaxing kind of way, but I’m hoping this makes me feel better tomorrow.
After lunch we stroll through the sprinkling rain to Clarke Quay. It’s raining again when we get there, and despite having grand plans for dinner, we end up eating an early dinner at SQUE on the wrong side of the Quay before heading home for an early night. A nice sleep will hopefully help us feel great tomorrow now we are all relaxed and massaged and manicured.
Legend has it that Singapore was founded by a Sumatran Prince who visited the island of Temasek. He saw a strange animal which was believed to be a lion and this prompted the prince to found a city on the spot which he named Singapura (Lion City).
In 1822 and to ease the chaotic and disorganised island, Sir Stamford Raffles created a “Town Plan”, which allocated different areas of the city to the different ethnic groups: the Europeans were granted land to the northeast of the government offices (today’s Colonial District), the Chinese predominated the area around the mouth and to the southwest of the Singapore River, the Indians were, and are still, largely housed in Kampong Kapor and around Serangoon Road and Kampong Glam was allocated to the Malays, Bugis and Arabs.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Chinatown and the Colonial Districts over the years, not that I’d been keen enough to say I’d seen even half of it, but today I want to get stuck into Little India and Kampong Glam, also known as the Arab Quarter. So after breakfast across the road at Raffles City (breakfast omelette and fresh watermelon juice – yum!), we are ready for the assault on our senses.
I’ve made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to spend time in Little India. I really want to love it, but it overwhelms me and that has always felt to me a bad thing. I’m going to spend some decent time here today if it kills me. It seems quieter here today than on previous visits. No hectic buzz, no thumping Bollywood. Little India seems to be asleep, and I like this new introduction. The first stop is Tekka Market.
Parrot astrology is a tradition brought to Singapore by the ethnic Indian community from the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In the old days, Singaporeans went to seers for psychic help in their daily lives, whether it be for determining auspicious dates, to finding a lifelong partner or simply checking on one’s luck. The parrot astrologer’s reading of the fortune cards was taken as valuable advice.
Unfortunately the parrot astrologers are a dying breed. In fact, there are only two parrot astrologers left in all of Singapore. But we walk around Tekka Market twice and we can’t see one, which is unfortunate because we were looking forward to some guidance for the new year. For those lucky enough to locate a fortune teller, a S$5 fee gets you a card reading session which lasts anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Depending on your beliefs, you could get an intriguing glimpse of the future — or at the very least, a memorable travel experience.
Walking around Tekka, there’s all sorts of colours, smells and sights. Rows of gold bracelets, intricately designed, catch your eye as you walk past. There are sweet shops, swathes of colourful, delicate fabrics, the wet market, food stalls and henna shops. Breathe it all in and enjoy.
When you come across one of the henna tattoo stalls, stop on in. $5 gets you a stunning design on the body part of your choice – just remember not to rub it against anything for 20 minutes or you’ll end up with a smudgy stain instead of a stunning piece of artwork. There’s books of designs to choose from or you can let them have free range. I’m surprised at how quickly the design appears on my hand, and can’t wait until the crust layer flakes off to reveal the burnt orange temporary tattoo.
Imagine a shop that is open 24 hours a day, that sells everything your heart desires. Such a place exists in Little India and its called the Mustafa Centre. Floor upon floor of books, clothes, food, art supplies, décor, luggage – you name it, you will find it here. Of course, it’s not anything like the flashy, sterile malls of Orchard Road, and it can be rather overwhelming if you let it. But just pretend the walls aren’t closing in on you and browse in wonderment.
Just outside Mustafa we come across an Indian Restaurant with a four star table rating, and given our stomachs are telling us its time to eat, in we go. The service is swift at the Copper Chimney and soon Pakoras, Chicken Murghlai, rice and naan soon adorn our table, washed down nicely with glasses of wine.
In Malay, the word “Kampung” means “village or settlement” and “Glam” is the name of a particular tree, which grew in abundance in the area in early Singapore. Kampong Glam began its life as a fishing village at the mouth of the Rochor River. Today it is one of Singapore’s ethnic district and retains a strong Malay-Arab influence. As trade flourished, Farquhar preferred the business quarter to be centered here at Kampong Glam. Rough justice, robberies, street brawls and stabbings were common. We’re not looking for any trouble today, but we are keen to find the Sultan Mosque.
Its begun to rain while we were filling our stomachs so we decide to take a cab. The driver isn’t sure what we’re talking about, but takes us in the direction I’ve shown him on the street map. “Ahhhh” he says when we get there – must be known as something else locally. I’ll have to find out.
Located along North Bridge Road, Sultan mosque is considered one of the most important in Singapore. Its a striking building, its golden domes dominating the skyline and its truly a focal point of the muslim community in Singapore. It has essentially remained unchanged since it was built and was named a national monument in 1975.
Visitors can feel free to enter the mosque which is open 24 hours a day, but of course you will need to remember to remove your shoes and dress appropriately.
Walking along the streets, the main thing I notice is the abundance of fabric shops. Not just any old fabric shops, but stunning colours, unusual fabrics, beautiful combinations of lace and satin. If you wanted a special outfit to be made, I can imagine this would be the place to come.
Bussorah Street is a shophouse-lined alley which leads to the back of Sultan Mosque. A mish mash of shops, including an intriguing little toy museum (who’s owner felt relaxed enough to nap while we browsed), it’s a quaint little area and I can’t believe it has taken me so long to make it here! There’s also several restaurants which look ripe for picking on my next trip back.
Haji Lane is a funky little alley that’s been around for a while, regularly touted as the cool place to shop if you want something different. Brightly coloured pre-war shop houses stock vintage clothing, jewelry and knick-knacks and there’s also several places to stop for a glass of wine, which is what we did. I’d love to come back here and spend some time browsing the goods – can you see how my trips to Singapore become so busy each and every time I come back!
In the 1950’s Bugis Street was a night owl. Known worldwide for its flamboyant transvestites, who would parade themselves amongst the visiting sailors and military personnel. The entire street would come alive, as vendors plied their wares, exotic street food and cheap goods. More recently it’s been transformed into another one of Singapore’s retail shopping locations and houses Bugis Village, which is a quaint little shopping quarter characterised by an outer mall filled with shopping cart vendors. There are no transvestites around.
I’ve really loved our cultural wanderings today – and we were lucky the weather made it so comfortable to do so. I am so glad to have finally enjoyed wandering around Little India. I’m so glad I gave it yet another chance and I’m excited that it has now widened my area of enjoyment for Singapore, with a whole host of new restaurants and venues to check out next time! And I know where to come for beautiful gold jewelry.
Done with our wanderings for the day, we decide to head to Boat Quay for dinner, but we wander around aimlessly trying to find something to whet our appetites, at one point taking a table and then up and leaving when the menu didn’t present any shout out dishes. For some reason, all I can smell tonight is cigarettes and, together with my weeping eyes, I feel just awful. At the junction of Boat and Clarke Quays, we come across a police tent, cordoned off next to the river. This is something I’ve never seen in Singapore before and I get the feeling there’s a body under that tent. I’m sure the news will reveal the story in the morning. We have just about exhausted the restaurants in Clarke Quay too, until we slide into a corner booth at Fern and Kiwi. We are still unsure exactly what it is we are looking for, but this place has quite an extensive array of choices, so we should be able to find something here, and it appears in the form of a pizza, followed by chips and copious amounts of wine and singing.
4am and my body clock has gone off. I suppose I shouldn’t’ be surprised – I’ve hardly slept in for the whole month I’ve been away! Luckily I have most of today free to spend in Singapore before I head home to Perth, so I may as well be up and at em!
Breakfast at the hotel is free. And it’s awesome. You walk in and get to choose from three breakfast sets, which is either scrambled, fried or poached eggs with baked beans, bacon, cheese sausage and a small meatball thing. Plus there’s toast, croissants, yoghurt, fruit and cereal. All for free – why is it that some hotels have awesome free breakfasts and others are crap?
The action doesn’t get going til around 10am in Singapore, so I decide to take advantage of the fact that it’s quiet around the streets and that I’m by myself to take a walk around the Chinatown area to explore. The two nearby areas that I’ve always wanted, but never had the chance to before are Ann Siang and Duxton Hills.
Duxton Hill is a small hill and road located in Tanjong Pagar. The area sits on the former nutmeg plantation of Dr J William Montgomerie, who first arrived in Singapore in 1819 and became an Assistant Surgeon in the service of the British colonial government. Duxton was the name of one of his two dwelling houses in the area, namely the Craig Hill and Duxton House.
After his death, the property was auctioned and fragmented into building lots. Duxton Road, Duxton Hill and Craig Road were presumably constructed after the sale and named after the houses that once existed on the hill. At the time, the area was still called Duxton Hill.
Duxton Road was also popularly known by the Cantonese as Jinrickshaw Place because of the many rickshaw pullers who parked their vehicles there at the close of day due to the road’s proximity to the Jinricksha Station. Opium and gambling dens, as well as cheap brothels, used to flourish on Duxton Road, and was described as a slum area and a notoriously vice–ridden environment, patronised by the rickshaw coolies who lived in Duxton Road and Duxton Hill. Because of the strong clan ties, the rickshaw pullers created their own area of land and fought whenever it was threatened, which made Duxton Hill and Duxton Road a dreaded area. To make matters worse, the slums were home to criminal elements. Whenever the residents in Duxton Road had disputes, the Hui Ann Association was asked to be the mediator.
Despite the notoriety of the street, many wealthy Straits Chinese families built and occupied lofty and exquisitely designed residences and shophouses on Duxton Hill. Today however, the area is enjoying a resurgeance as a dining spot.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Continuing along my trail, I come across the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. The complex is a living cultural monument featuring exhibitions relating to various facets of religious arts and culture of Singapore. It also houses what Buddhist leaders regard as the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic in a stupa composed of 320kg of gold donated by devotees.
The building was conceptualised and designed by local venerable Shi Fa Zhao, aided by a team of local and overseas consultants. Its design is based on the elements and history of Tang Dynasty and the Buddhist Mandala, which is a representation of the Buddhist universe. Highlights in this building include the Buddhist Culture Museum, Eminent Sangha Museum, Tripitaka Chamber, and a Theatre for cultural performances, talks and films.
The Temple is guarded by two gate guardians, also called Dvarapalas, which serve to protect the temple. These formidable Tang Dynasty style guardians stands on either side of the temple mountain gate. Their fierce faces with glaring eyes, powerfully muscular bodies, and threatening poses bearing weapons, serve to ward off evil spirits. They show their power and resolve in carrying out their duties in protecting the temple.
Unfortunately, I’m not dressed appropriately to enter, so that’ll have to wait for another visit, but it was a fascinating site along my walk.
Sago Lane has had an unfortunate past in Singapore’s history. Also known as the Street of the Dead, this was home to numerous death houses during the late 19th century. These were funeral parlours, also serving as hospice facilities for the migrants who were terminally ill, chronic sick and dying, to wait out their last days on the upper floors. The operators would also arrange the funeral services for the deceased on the ground floor. All the Chinese funeral paraphernalia (funeral clothing, home appliances, paper models such as houses, cars, incense paper etc.) related to death rites were sold in shops on this lane.
The death houses were banned by the government in 1961, and by the late 1960s, all the shophouses on the street were demolished, with part of the street being demolished to make way for Chinatown Complex.
Ann Siang Hill
Ann Siang Hill is a small hill and the name of a one-way road in Chinatown. It was the site of the house and estate of Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy Malacca-born Hokkien Chinese sawmiller. Chia joined British firm Boustead and Company in 1848. The company traded in natural resources, spices, coconut, tobacco, tin, tea and silk. After eight years on the job, Chia was promoted to chief produce storekeeper. He later became a wealthy landowner and one of the leading merchants of his time, and at that time acquired Ann Siang Hill.
The foot of the area between Ann Siang Hill and Mount Erskine, was one of the earliest Cantonese Chinese burial grounds. The graveyard was in use up to 1867 until it was exhumed in 1907 for a land reclamation project.
The Chinese used to call this area qing shan ting. The early Chinese immigrants visited Ann Siang Hill when they wanted to send money home to their families in China, as it was the traditional site of remittance houses. Letter writers and calligraphers also had their businesses at the five-foot way of the shophouses to help the illiterate immigrants write letters home. Most of the houses in Ann Siang Hill and along Ann Siang Road were built between 1903 and 1941. Ann Siang Road, which has elegantly restored shophouses today, was once the traditional home of clan associations and exclusive social clubs.
The hill leads to a wooded stairway, leading down to Amoy Street. The birds are chirping and a lady at the bottom of the stairs silently practices tai chi.
Telok Ayer Park
In 1822, Telok Ayer was the primary area set aside by Sir Stamford Raffles for the Chinese community. As the main landing site for Chinese immigrants, Telok Ayer Street become one of the first streets in Chinatown and formed the backbone of development of the Chinese immigrant community in early Singapore.
Until the late nineteenth century, Telok Ayer Street was the main commercial and residential thoroughfare in Singapore. As immigration from China increased, so did the adverse qualities usually associated with a highly concentrated population. Between the 1850s and the 1870s, the road was the centre of the notorious Chinese slave trade.
In the past boats used to moor in Telok Ayer Bay waiting to get fresh water, carried by bullock carts, from a well at Ann Siang Hill. The park now contains sculptures depicting the lives of the areas inhabitants. It’s a shaded area, housing a small pond – a peaceful oasis in the area.
Sri Mariamman Temple
The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, founded in 1827. The Temple has always served as a refuge for new immigrants, particularly South Indian Tamil Hindus. Besides providing an important place of worship for these immigrants, the temple granted them shelter until they found work and more permanent accommodation.
Historically, the temple was also the registry of marriages for Hindus. Today, in addition to its religious services and functions, the temple promotes various social, cultural and educational activities.
I end up back near the Chinatown markets with some time to spare, so I decide to try a couple of traditional Chinese pastries, a sweet tow sar and a wife biscuit, which was filled with wintermelon. Both are made of a flaky kind of pastry and were really yummy, the other I think some kind of bean paste, which I’ve had before. They’re typically not sweet kind of pastries as we’d be used to at home, but they are yummy regardless.
Just before I left home, I found out about a new place in Tiong Bahru, named Nimble/Knead. It’s a beauty salon situated inside a bunch of shipping containers. Sounded unique, so I was intrigued. And when I looked at the spa menu and spotted the Chocolicious Body Scrub – “a scrub made of 100% chocolate powder, cocoa seed scrub, jojoba oil and other skin food to boost cell regeneration, fight ageing, improve blood circulation and tone the body” – I was in.
Nimble/Knead is about a 5 minute taxi ride from the hotel, near the Tiong Bahru Markets. Local restaurants line the streets around. The salon itself is calmingly decorated, small pebbles and tea light candles light the steps into the various treatment rooms. The scrub smells divine and the therapist is really friendly. It’s a very thorough treatment which is probably a good thing given that I’ve only just finished peeling from all the sun in the Caribbean. Scrubbed to perfection, my beauty overhaul for Singapore is now complete and I have just a few more hours left to enjoy Singapore.
One of the museums that’s been on my list of things to do in Singapore for a while now, is the Peranakan Museum. Housed in a stunning white colonial building in Armenian Street, not far from Clarke Quay, the museum pays homage to the Peranakan people of Singapore.
Foreign merchants from countries such as China and India were long attracted to Southeast Asia’s lucrative trades in textiles, spices and more. Some of these merchants married local women and the descendants of these intermarriages were called Peranakans, which means ‘locally born’ in Malay.
The museum is filled with over 1,200 stunning objects, from jewellery and costumes to furniture, and covers all aspects of Peranakan life from wedding ceremonies to death. There’s some exquisite pieces here and it’s definitely worth a visit whilst visiting Singapore.
Central is a shopping mall situated on the banks of the Singapore River, opposite Clarke Quay. It’s been here a while, but each time I visit, I note that it seems a little busier and features more shops. There’s a Charles and Keith shoe shop here and although 90% of the time, they don’t have my size in stock (which is why I buy them on line) I’m feeling lucky today. Charles and Keith’s shoes are amazing, as well as affordable and comfortable. Art for your feet, as my friend Erin calls them. In fact, all my friends are big fans of this shop, and given there’s no shop in Australia, are all online C&K addicts. And can you believe that just about every pair I try on today, they have in my size? That could only happen when I have no room in my luggage for pairs and pairs of shoes. I settle on two pairs of flats, which I can jam into my hand luggage.
Lunch is required next and I can’t think of a better way to spend my last couple of hours than to sit alongside Clarke Quay with some wine and a nice lunch. I chose Thai, not sure why cause I don’t really feel like it – I think the waitress caught me in a moment of hesitation, and she agreed that I could sit on the river, so that was it. Thai. It was a little spicy and way too much food, but the wine was delicious and refreshing.
On my way back to the hotel, I walk past the Hokkaido Ice Cream Company and taking a look at all their flavours, I think to myself that its really about time I tried black sesame ice cream. Sounds so intriguing and I’m less afraid to try things on this trip for some reason, so let’s give it a go. It’s kind of creamy, it’s actually really, really good. Isn’t it good when you take a risk and it pays off!
I think I’ve squeezed in about as much as I can today, so I guess it’s time to go home. I wander along the streets of Chinatown back to the hotel, wandering in and out of the stores along the way. Chinatown is evolving and I’ve really enjoyed exploring its streets today.
Sitting in the hotel lobby awaiting my taxi ride to Changi Airport, I reflect on the last month.
It’s been such an awesome trip except for the San Francisco part. But hey you can’t enjoy it everywhere you go and considering I didn’t want to visit the states in the first place, two out of three cities being awesome is a pretty good ratio as far as I’m concerned! San Francisco certainly opened my eyes, which is probably one of the most valuable lessons you can take away from a city in any case.
I’ve learnt that even though I don’t like to not give a place a chance, it’s ok to not like it. I don’t have to come back, I can leave it at that. And although I know that sometimes this can be the best thing to do (Kyoto, Kuala Lumpur), I will never return to San Fran. And that’s ok.
I have learnt so much about myself and what I’m capable of and about the places I’ve visited. I’ve spent a fabulous two weeks with my awesome friends Katie and Yoshi (please do yourself a favour and keep an eye on their travel blog http://katieandyoshiaroundtheworld.wordpress.com), who created the premise for this trip in the first place. I’ve tried loads of new things, lots of firsts. I’ve faced some fears. I’ve seen magical scenery and walked in the steps of music history. Dolphins, chocolate fudge sundaes, turtles, Tiffany’s, sea planes, snorkelling, Mt Rainier, grunge, cocktails in the ocean, gum walls, Times Square, museums, Hard Rock cafes, stand up paddle boarding, Caribbean sunsets, fashion, relaxing massages, awesome food, good friendship, cat boats, Russian piroshki’s – I’ve loved it all.