Last Drinks

The other day from a taxi window, I saw a Cedele restaurant up high in Wheelock Place.  It looked like it would make a nice place for breakfast with a view and Cedele has a range of breakfast options,  including gluten free meals, so that’s where we decided to go to start the day.  The selection of food is amazing, and the food itself is ok, though Erin’s eggs look far from cooked.  But the view is the winner.

We spend a few hours browsing the shops and then I’m cheered up by the sight of The Hokkaido Ice Cream Company, who make my beloved black sesame ice cream.  I couldn’t talk Erin into it unfortunately, but I tell you – you gotta try it!

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We were aiming to dine at the food hall in Takashimaya, but unfortunately everyone else has the same idea and there’s no way we are getting a table, so we’ll have to choose somewhere else.  You may think much of my time in Singapore is about eating – and well, it is.  Singapore is a food lover’s paradise.  There’s nothing you can’t dine on here and celebrity chef, after celebrity chef has a restaurant here – Wolfgang Puck, Tetsuya, Luke Mangan, Joel Robuchon and Jamie Oliver!  And then there’s the hawker stalls, the snack bars, dessert bars open til 2am, the wet markets, the cake shops!  Chinese, Peranakan, Malay, Indian, French, Italian, Japanese, Australian, English, Irish, Russian!  It’s so hard to make a food decision, do you go for an awesome place you found last time or do you try something new in town.  And places change so quickly, what’s there today, might not be next month!  It’s food everywhere you look and it’s all good.  So you just end up eating all the time.

Crossing Orchard Road to shop at Somerset 313, is a restaurant lined approach to the ground floor of the mall.  It features a host of funky little eateries.  I’ve dined at Oriele a couple of times, but today we try JiBiru which is a Japanese beer house.  The waiter has obviously had a big night or has other things on his mind, cause he mixes up our beers (which normally wouldn’t be an issue except Erin is allergic to mango and that’s what he’s given her) and the set lunch he talks us into is not better value than what we were going to choose anyway.  The manager shakes his head as he proceeds to the next table to muck up their order also.

Just as well the beer is refreshing and my curry rice hits the spot.

Today the Singapore heat is back in full force and we’ve taken about half a dozen steps before we are sweating like pigs.  With the countdown to our flight beginning, it’s time to head back to the hotel.  Slowly.  Very slowly.

Normally taxi rides in Singapore aren’t an issue,  but today (and just because my puffy red eyes are still making me feel like crap), its about to be.  A flash looking taxi arrives in the hotel driveway and the bellhop goes over to him, chatting in some language I don’t understand,  before motioning us into it.  Wary of the fancy taxi and the fact I’m on the last of my holiday dollars, I ask the bellhop whether the taxi will cost more.   “Oh no”, he assures me “maybe $20/$25 max”.  Well that is more than the $15/$20 we usually pay to get between the airport and most city hotels, but it’s the last day, so what the heck.

Arriving at the airport, you can imagine my surprise when the driver says “that’ll be $33, but we’ll just round that up to $35.  It’s not that much difference!”  Um, yes.  Actually, it is.  “It might not be to you, but we’ve just paid double what we normally do!”  I huffed at him.  “It’s all good”.  No, no its not and your taxi company will be finding out about it when I get home!

Thank goodness for…

The Butterfly Garden

I guess most people who have visited Changi will know about its gardens.  In all my travels through, to and from Singapore,  I’ve never actually stopped to have a look myself.   So today I’m going to change that with a trip to the Butterfly Garden.  There are all sorts of stunning butterflies making their home here – and an abundance of children chasing them around.  I’m sorry but parents – WTF?

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Their colourful little wings flit open and closed as they hop from leaf to stamen, seemingly without a care in the world, except for the trail of children chasing them.   Anyway, there is also an amazing orchid garden and a cactus garden hidden within the confines of this fine airport, so they’ll be for checking out next time.

I can’t believe it’s time to leave Singapore again.  I say it every time.  I know.  There’s so much more to do here and frankly I’m not sure I’ll ever do and see it all.  But I’ve had such an amazing trip and thankfully I know I’ll be back soon enough.

Henna, Mosques and Transvestites

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.

Breakfast Omelette and Watermelon Juice

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.

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Tekka Market/Centre
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Dried goods
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Sweets stall

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.

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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.

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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.

Paneer Pakora

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.

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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.

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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!

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Hi, can I have an, um, er, Tiger beer?
Hi, can I have an, um, er, Tiger beer?

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.

Panda Eyes

Wow!  What an awesome night last night.  Awakening to the first day of 2014, I wonder what the year has in store for me.  I have two more trips planned for this year and I’m incredibly excited for them.  And I know that they’ll mean more personal growth, more confidence, more gaping in awe at incredible sights, more photos and many, many happy memories.  Travelling has become such an important part of my life over the last couple of years.  Looking back – I can’t believe how far I have come.  My first overseas trips ever by myself – such an incredible achievement for a shy girl who panics about everything.  I couldn’t have wished for more for my life and am so glad I took the plunge.  Travel awakens everything in you – your soul, your empathy, your understanding of human nature.  Like my favourite quote of this year says – travel is the only thing you buy which makes you richer.

Anyway, thankfully I am not suffering from the worst hangover ever today, but I could be alone in that category.  Being a planner – I pre-empted a bunch of sore heads with a mammoth craving for comfort food would be the order of the day and made a booking a House, out at Dempsey Hill.  Dempsey Hill used to house the Central Manpower Base of Singapore and the former British army barracks.  This is where many young Singaporean men reported for their national service.

Housed in an old army barracks, House is funky.  It’s an open plan restaurant, overlooking dense greenery.  It’s amazingly close to Orchard Road, but far away enough, and in lush enough surroundings to think you’ve escaped the city for the day.  The four of us pour over the menu, choosing burgers and fries and big breakfasts – and wonderfully refreshing cleansing juices, and a little bite of shared dessert.  The service is a little slow, but the surroundings and food make up for it.  There’s a whole bunch of restaurants out here, and it’s definitely one of those places to come back to.

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Banana Cake with Coffee Salt

Fully fed and arriving back ‘in town’, we split up for a while – Leigh and Mike to nap and pack for their departure in the early hours of the morning, and Erin and I in desperate need of a foot massage.  We head to Chinatown and find a little place we can just walk in off the street.  Half an hour later, and surprised at how quickly I fell asleep, our feet are refreshed.  We head over to Clarke Quay to grab some lunch, which consists of a glass of wine due to unusually slow service and our lack of time to sit and wait and then take a cab over to Leigh and Mike’s hotel to pick them up for our next adventure.

TCC Attention
Great idea – if only it worked…

We are heading to the River Safari.  Newly opened just months ago, the River Safari is based on the same format as the Night Safari.  For those who haven’t been – a little tram runs through all the plains/jungles of the world, checking out the animals.  The zoo is different in that whilst the animals are effectively still caged into their zones, there are ditches between them and the tram route – so it looks for all intents and purposes as though you are just travelling through an African Savannah.  It’s really quite amazing and I’ve been about four times now.  The River Safari though, is based on the great river systems of the world.  A boat rather than a tram, is supposed to traverse the rivers for your journey.  And here is where our first problem starts.  We booked tickets online – having waited to ensure the boat was up and running before booking.  When we got to the Safari, the boat ride was already booked.  So even though you have booked a ticket on line – you still have to arrive early in the morning to separately secure your boat ride.  Which is just ridiculous!

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We were so disappointed.  We walked around the park, but it was really quite uninspiring.  The spider monkeys were cool but I guess the big draw card is the pandas – which I love.  Again, it was a little disappointing as only one of the pandas was on display, but at least I got to see one.

Panda Exhibit 2

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The staff tried to say that the boat ride wasn’t integral to the experience, but I thought the zoo was a sad let down without it.  It’s certainly not a patch on the Night Safari and I wouldn’t recommend it.  But don’t take my word for it because I have the beginnings of an eye infection and am feeling incredibly grumpy and hideous, so I could be biased (too much glitter in my eyes?).

Leigh and Mike had tickets to the Night Safari, being their first trip and I readily assured them that it would be a million times better than the River Safari.  We hugged them goodbye, wishing them well for their forward travels to Vietnam.  The last couple of days have gone so quickly and I’m going to miss them so much, but I am so excited for them and wish them well with a million hugs.

Erin and I head back to the hotel with a hankering for Ramen.  We’d googled all sorts of ramen restaurants in the taxi back to the hotel in order to try and find the best one, but in the end, we settled for the one across the road from the hotel at Raffles City.  And that was without realizing how many different ramen dishes there are to choose from!  We ogled the menu over and over again before choosing one and a beer to wash it down with.   And it was a good choice – so amazing and just what we wanted!

I drift off to sleep that night hoping the Night Safari had weaved its magic for Leigh and Mike and that their trip to Vietnam would be magical and they would get to know the excitement of travel as I do.

Countdown to the New Year

Breakfast commences at TCC, which is a bit of a staple for my visits.  They are always open early and always have a good menu with healthy options and an endless list of juices, teas and coffees.  This morning they are playing an awesome mix of Christmas carols and its going down a treat.

We decide to head to Chinatown to check out the markets.  We cruise around the streets, trying to find a massage, unsuccessfully, but we do find beer – cheap.  Blinded by the sign that says $6 beers, being used to paying double that in most places, we head inside the Chinatown Seafood Restaurant and order beers, not expecting the king browns that arrived at our table.  Erin and I sit, watching the passersby, chattering on about this and that.  Enjoying life.

I stop by a little stall to make a purchase of something that is near and dear to those in Chinatown – bakkwa.  These sheets of salty sweet dried meat, similar to jerky, glisten in the shop windows, as the shopkeepers shout out to attract passing trade.  I grab a few sheets for our pre-drinks this evening, fully knowing it will probably just be me and Mike who chow down on this Hokkien delicacy.  But when in Rome!….

We get down to business when we return to the hotel, primping and preening.  Getting ready for the biggest night of the year.  Leigh and Mike arrive at our hotel and we crack open the champagne to start the night off.  We gabble away, enjoying a few drinks that Erin and I had pre-purchased during the afternoon, pre-empting that we would be up for some expensive drinks once we headed out.  We put on our 2014 glasses and glittery top hats and quickly settle into party mode.

NYE

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I spent a lot of time scouring the internet to try and find somewhere for us to spend New Years Eve.  I wanted something special.  Somewhere close to our hotels in case we couldn’t get a cab, somewhere that didn’t cost a fortune.  Somewhere we could have a meal and some drinks, but where we could still dance.  Somewhere with a view of the fireworks but that didn’t cost a fortune.  The Fullerton was charging $100 just to view the fireworks with a glass of champagne.  Kudeta would have had the best view in town, but the menu was dominated by seafood, which wouldn’t have suited half our party.  Orgo was putting on a great spread – a 12 course banquet with free flow of cocktails and the view would have been spectactular.  It was great value at $300 per head, if we weren’t on holidays and hoping to do anything else!  Plenty of hotels had special meals on – but where was the view?  Finally, the perfect place presented itself – Loof.  Loof was one of those places “I had been meaning to get to for ages” (say it with me now!).  It was Singapore’s first roof top bar (hence the name Loof/roof) and they were hosting an evening of lancing (yep, dancing) for New Years.  There was no set menu – though you could pre-order food and drinks if you liked – and no hefty entrance fee.  And it was just around the corner from Erin and my hotel, across the road from the Raffles Hotel, so it would have a partial view of the fireworks.  Perfect.

We leave our hotel room, nicely merry already and head a few buildings down the street to Loof.  We are given our entry wristbands and the host radios our arrival to the party upstairs.  We are escorted into the lift and upstairs to Loof, where our host for the evening exhuberantly introduces himself and guides us to our table, which is near the edge of the loof, I mean roof – set for a perfect view of the fireworks later in the evening.  He takes our drink orders and our pre-ordered snacks come smartly out to our table.  Loof sure know how to make a girl feel special!  I order a Gummi Berri, which comes with a two inch thick layer of marshmallow on top!  Our tables play host to little party bags containing all sorts of clickers, blowers and whistles ready to usher in the new year.

The food is fantastic -mini sliders, san choy bow, loof flies (yes, fries) with truffle sauce and kong bak pau- and our drinks are just divine.  They were satisfying and plentiful and best of all – we didn’t need to leave our chairs to order more!

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The DJ was great and we grooved and sang our hearts out, often fitting our own songs into his mix.

All too soon, the countdown is commencing and the fireworks explode against the night sky.  We can see half of them, but it’s enough to be spectacular.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m away from home experiencing New Years but I’m having a ball.  It’s probably because I’m with a beautiful group of people I love to pieces, and who mean so much to me, and I’m so happy that I’m here in this moment with them.

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Night over, we walk the brief walk back to the hotel.  Erin does the sensible thing, calls it quits and heads to bed but I can tell Mike is still full of steam, and I have no reason to be a piker, so we indulge and head across the road to Chjimes.  Insomnia is open and we are hungry.  We order pizza and sing our hearts out to the cover band playing Guns n Roses inside, much to the dismay of those listening!  Stomach’s full, the night winds to an end and we head off to find the solace of sleep and dreams of what will be for the year ahead.

Cheers – to the best New Years Eve ever and the year ahead to come!

Day of the Peacock

Despite neither of us being big ‘sleeper inners’, both Erin and I managed to sleep in quite well, before deciding to hit the gym.  The gym is situated in the new part of the hotel, and is really, really well equipped with, pretty much everything!  Not to mention that aside from the hotel lobby, this is the only other place in the hotel I can get free wifi!

After an hour of working out, it’s time to head off to breakfast.  Early this morning, my sister Leigh and her husband Mike, arrived in Singapore.  Enroute to Vietnam, I managed to convince them to give Singapore a try on the way.  So we meet up at The Plain, a little cafe I’ve been reading about, located close to their hotel in Tanjong Pagar.  Garnering quite a reputation for serving up Melbourne-style coffee, The Plain is a laid back little café, with the most friendly, helpful, awesome staff I’ve ever encountered.  And while the menu is not extensive, and on this occasion a lot of what we tried to order wasn’t available, the coffee was indeed awesome and the ambiance and service more than made up for it.  Definitely a good start to the day.

Leigh and Mike are understandably tired, having arrived in the dark, but they are eager to explore this city, so all fed and caffeinated, we grab a cab and take them to Singapore’s beachside playground – Sentosa Island.

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About ten minutes later, if that, we arrive underneath the giant Merlion statue ready to start the day.  Leigh and Mike head off to the new Aquarium, but Erin and I have a less active day in mind, choosing instead to retreat to the sanctuary of Spa Botanica.

If you love a bit of spa action and have some time to spare and some extra cash, you really must plan to spend some time at Spa Botanica.  My treatment today was a Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime scrub and I can’t even begin to tell you how good it smelt.  Erin and I marvel at how zingy and clean and fresh our skin feels, as though layers of stress and pollution have been lifted in just minutes.  It’s always money well spent.  Once you’ve finished your treatment, you can spend some time relaxing in the garden, swimming in the pool or lathering yourself up in the mud bath.  And then, it’s time for lunch.  Spa Botanica has that covered too, with its alfresco dining area, The Garden, where you can make your own bowl or bucket – yes bucket – of salad.  I went with a bowl of baby spinach, wild mushrooms, red onion, cashews, pumpkin and feta with a little olive oil and it was amazing!

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There are fresh juices and all sorts of goodies on the menu, and if you really can’t resist, of course there is wine.  The food is absolutely divine and we now feel just as good on the inside (having managed to avoid the wine) as we do on the outside.  All I could think was missing from this day, were the beautiful peacocks that usually roam the grounds, but as we were leaving, one came strutting up the stairs and proudly stood posing for me while I took a million snaps!

Heading back to the hotel, we decide a spot of shopping would be a good idea, but first I wanted to cross the road, and check out a building I’ve been wanting to see for years – Chijmes.  Chijmes was historically a Catholic convent known as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and it is just stunning.  Now, it houses a host of restaurants, bars and an all night club, called Insomnia.

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Chijmes was a refreshing oasis in the middle of Singapore.  Such a beautiful setting.  So beautiful that we decide this would be the best place to spend the evening.  And as if Chijmes wasn’t gorgeous enough by day, it was simply stunning lit up at night.  Be warned though – this is definitely not the cheapest place on the island to eat and its likely your glass of wine will cost as much as your meal.  But I guess that’s the price of such a perfect setting.

 

Hunting for White Lions

Australian-born comedian Jonathan Atherton, a regular on the Singapore comedy scene, once joked that he loved Singapore and that he couldn’t wait to see what it would look like when it was finished.  He’s of course referring to Singapore’s ever changing sky (and shore) lines.  I had to laugh – because Singapore reminds me of a game I recently became addicted to on my phone called City Island.  You get a plot of land, build some houses, some shops, attractions and facilities, then buy some more land, build some more houses and some attractions and then you start to upgrade and replace them – a never ending game of upscale.

There’s always something new happening in Singapore.  I worked out this is my tenth trip to Singapore in just over a ten year period and every time I return, which in some cases has only been six months apart at most, there’s always a new attraction or some new upgrade, new restaurants or new shops.  And I think that’s why I love it so much.

From the minute I depart the airport, I anxiously scan the world outside the taxi cab windows for new gems.  For me it means the list of things to do in Singapore just never seems to near its end.  I’ve done loads of things in Singapore, and I always think “I’ll just relax this time”.  But then I start reading and next thing you know – well, there’s just not enough time to do everything, which means that I’ll simply have to come back again!

But for now, my plane has landed and the familiar landscape twinges at my heart and head with excitement.  For this trip, I am not alone, travelling with the lady who’s idea it was to come in the first place – Erin, and meeting up with my sister and brother in law, who arrive tomorrow, and will be undertaking their first international trip ever.  So I’m looking forward to whatever this trip will bring.

Ten minutes out of the airport, the cab driver informs us there is a new MRT line (the Downtown line), and a new expressway, part of which runs underwater and cost $4.3 billion, both of which have opened in the last week.  Work has already commenced on the second part of the Downtown line.

After checking into our hotel, the Carlton Hotel, we head for food paradise, stopping into the Tiffin Room at the famous Raffles Hotel for Christmas High Tea.  The Raffles Hotel is a stunning jewel in Singapore’s crown.  First opened in 1887 and immortalised by famous writers Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock, the Raffles is a beautiful glimpse into Singapore’s regal, British Empire past.  Of course, as with most things during this time, the common population was unable to afford to visit the Raffles, and this much has not changed – with rooms at the Raffles starting at around $800 AUD per night.

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So I am glad to be able to afford to fork out the cash to at least attend the high tea.  We are shown to our little table by the window and bought a three tiered tray littered with an assortment of finger sandwiches, pastries and desserts.  Which would have been enough, except there was also a buffet table scattered with fruits, more pastries and an assortment of Asian specialities such as pau, gyoza and dumplings.  The food is really good, and the atmosphere lovely, given we are seated behind a harpist.  Our glass of champagne completes the meal nicely.

I am glad that we have an evening of sitting down to follow this food fest, because I’m not sure I could spend much time walking around.  We have arranged to do the Christmas Lights Night Tour of Singapore this evening.  We are doing the tour with City Tours, which is a new thing for me, as I usually tour with Tour East in Singapore, so I’m interested to compare the service between the two.  We have a hotel pick up organised, which runs smoothly, however, when we get to the meeting point at the Flyer, it all seems so unorganised!  People are just milling around everywhere and there’s not much direction.  We seem to sit around forever, partly because we didn’t partake in the meal included with the ticket, due to our afternoon’s indulgences, but mostly because it just seems unorganised.

First stop on the tour is Gardens by the Bay.  I have visited here in the daylight, taking in one of the bio domes and wandering through the Supertree Grove, but this, all lit up against the night sky, is a whole different experience.  It is nothing short of stunning.  Each evening there is a light show which takes place (free) which attracts tourists and locals alike.

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The evening air is remarkably cool for Singapore, something I’ve not experienced here before.  Although I can tolerate the humidity of Singapore in return for the amazement I get from this city, this cooler Singapore is a welcome change.  Back on board the double-decker, open top bus, with the air blowing in our faces, our next destination is a drive down Orchard Road to glimpse the last days of Singapore’s annual Christmas light up.

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I’ve seen these Christmas lights twice before and didn’t think they held the magic of previous years, but for visitors from Perth – you’ll certainly be amazed at what Christmas holds in the tropics, and you’ll find the Christmas streets of Perth naked in comparison.

Our last stop for the evening is a cruise on the Singapore River, which is always a relaxing experience.  Tonight though, instead of the regular bumboat ride along the river, we board flash-looking new cruise boats, though still skippered by age-old Chinese captains – yes folks, Singapore has changed again.

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The night colours of Singapore just keep on improving, with each visit.  It’s an awesome sight to behold which adds to the magic of Singapore.  I couldn’t have thought of a more relaxing, carefree evening, but I think there are two girls who will sleep very, very well tonight!