Challenging the Norm About Pricey Singapore

Whenever I go to Singapore (haha, like ALL the time), people say to me “but Singapore’s so expensive!”.  I always answer like this:

Well, Number 1 – I come from Perth, so it doesn’t seem that expensive to me, about the same prices but with loads more choice, culture, art and things to do.

And Number 2 – You can actually make it as expensive or inexpensive as you like.  As long as you embrace the Singapore that is hiding away from glitzy Orchard Road.

Writing this article, I guessed it was time to put my money where my mouth is and given my current (un)employment situation, I am doing Singapore on the cheap.  Wanna know more?  Read on!

First things first – arrival.  Usually when I reach Changi Airport, I grab a cab to my hotel, which costs around SGD$25-30 (around the same cost in AUD).  However, given my tight budget this time around, I decided to make use of the new MRT line that runs from the airport into the city.  It’s not the most fuss free journey as you do have to stop at Tanah Merah and change lines, however for a couple of bucks, it suits me fine.

Next, where to stay in Singapore that won’t break the bank?

I scored a great deal and am paying just $12 for my two night stay at the Naumi Liora.  How on earth can I do that?  Well, I actually had a fair few Agoda Points saved up which allowed me to save big!  Ok, well not everyone may have Agoda Points and that’s fine – I like using Agoda for this reason, that because I do a bit of travel, the points do add up and it pays dividends for me.

You can still stay in Singapore without breaking the bank though.  How?

AirBNB is taking off in Singapore and the great thing about this is you can score yourself an apartment for a great price AND get to experience Singapore local style by staying in the suburbs.  Of course, there are plenty of apartments in the CBD as well.

Singapore has some great options in the way of hostels – over 83 of them in fact.  Check out a website like www.hostelworld.com and take a look at the options.

There are some great little hotels that are a little off the beaten track.  I hear you, you want to be near all the action, but honestly with Singapore’s amazing transport system, it won’t take you that long to get anywhere if you need to save some cash.  Besides, there’s more to Singapore than just Orchard Road.

Keep an eye out on accommodation websites like Agoda or Booking.com because you can honestly get some great deals.  I have stayed in some quite expensive hotels for around $200 per night because of a great deal.

Of course if you want a swimming pool, in-house dining options and to be right on the steps of an MRT station, then chances are you will be paying more.  A lot more.

My hotel, the Naumi Liora is housed in a gorgeously renovated heritage building, a row of Chinatown’s famous five footway buildings in fact.  I have a Heritage Single room which would normally retail for around SGD$150 per night.  It’s 2 MRT stops from Sentosa, close to Clarke Quay and Chinatown and a host of other places because of the MRT stops nearby.

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The room is not large, but I’m not here to spend all day in a room the size of the Taj Mahal, I come to explore and get out and about, so I don’t care how big the room is, only how comfy the bed is at the end of the day.

There is no pool and there’s no in-house dining.  BUT there’s a cool little snack bar with chips, biscuits, coffee and tea in the reception area and a quaint little garden area to chill.  AND there’s loads of restaurants and cafes around the area, so you really don’t need in-house dining.

Speaking of dining, it’s the price of alcohol that is likely to blow your budget the most in Singapore.  Grabbing a beer from a hotel or bar in Singapore can set you back about SGD$13 for a 330mL can/bottle so you’ll be enraptured at finding a long neck for about half the price here in Chinatown (try the Chinatown Seafood Restaurant on Pagoda Street).

Breakfast in Singapore doesn’t start until late (think 10/11am at most establishments) if you are after a Western Style meal.  But you can eat like a local at a much earlier time and for a much cheaper price if you head to a food centre – think under $5 against $20 for a cafe meal.  There’s also places like Kopitiam and Ya Kun Kaya Toast, where you’ll find just that (coffee, tea and kaya toast) for a decent price.  The best thing about all of these options is that you’ll be eating local.

There’s a bunch of things to do for free or next to nothing in Singapore.  Wander through Gardens by the Bay (you’ll need to pay to enter the domes), head to the Botanic Gardens for a picnic, stroll through one of the amazing ethnic quarters, watch a light show over the marina or head over to Sentosa Island (you’ll only need to pay for island admission).  Sometimes the museums and galleries will have a free entry day or if you are lucky enough to be in Singapore during one of the few open days – you can check out the beautiful grounds of the Istana.  Picking up an icecream from one of the carts along Orchard Road will only set you back about $1.20.  Plus, it doesn’t cost money to window shop.

So I start my second day in Singapore with no particular agenda, simply wandering the streets.  I really love the area that this hotel is in – full of beautiful heritage buildings with funky little shops popping up.  I meander through the streets taking in the day and watching people go about their lives on the little red dot.

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Before long I come across a little cafe called Free the Robot, which reminds me that I haven’t had breakfast.  I order up one of their sandwiches and their own brew iced coffee and grab a seat outside along the five footway.

Nice and full, I step inside the Indian Muslim Heritage Museum just up the road.  The museum has an interesting array of items and notes explaining the lives of the Indian Muslims in Singapore.  It’s a relatively new museum in Singapore, only having opened in 2015.

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Next stop is the National Gallery of Singapore.  This gallery is also new to Singapore having only recently opened and I especially want to see the Wu Ghuangzhou exhibit.  Unfortunately the exhibit is closed and being reconfigured but entry to the gallery today is free so I take the time to wander around and enjoy the works.  I think Singapore does galleries well and this one is no exception.

When visiting the National Gallery, you must go up to the roof area, especially for the views over the Padang and across to Marina Bay.

After spending a few hours at the Gallery, I reckon it’s about time for lunch and one place I’ve been dying to try for years now is Lau Pa Sat.  Also known as Telok Ayer Market, LPS is a food court nestled under a beautiful iron roof in the CBD.  Here you can wander around and choose whatever food takes your fancy before grabbing a seat under the fans to relax and chow down.  Plus you can get a great meal for an absolute fraction of the price of a western restaurant.  My meal came to around around $8 or so and that was for a beef and rice dish with soup and a pint of beer.

The rest of the afternoon I spent simply wandering, jumping on a train to Orchard Road to do some book shopping and just unwinding and getting ready for the trip home tomorrow.  Wine helps me do that, so I head to Clarke Quay to a little place called SQUE, which I frequent quite frequently for its drink specials.  This is usually a great place to grab 2-for-1 wines, beers or other drinks depending on the day and it has outdoor seating so you can sit opposite the colourful Clarke Quay and watch out over the river.

Yep, I think I’m ready to go home tomorrow…and boy, I can’t wait to work.

 

 

 

 

Tulipmania

Back when GBTB was built, I made a visit with two of my besties and we checked out one of the conservatories. It was quite expensive at the time if I remember rightly, so we made the decision to go inside only one of them. I’m quite happy then at the request of dear Mum to check out both of them today.

First up is the Flower Dome, which contains plants and flowers from around the world.  The Tulipmania floral display is currently on show in this dome.  These Tulips are set against a Persian style backdrop where you can learn about the flowers origins in the ancient Ottoman empire (now Turkey) where they were first cultivated and its significance in arts and culture. The colours are just stunning – beautiful cremes against vibrant oranges, rich velvety textures to frilly edges beauties.

The rest of the garden on display is equally as impressive, one of my favourite parts being this incredible sculpture (of which there are many hiding throughout the domes)…

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And of course I can never resist a cherry blossom…

IMG_2419The Cloud Forest is filled with plants from tropical highland locations, the centrepiece of which is a massive mountain waterfall, around which spirals a suspended walkway, allowing you to glimpse the garden from above – just as if you were walking in the clouds.

Leaving the gardens behind via the little garden shuttle bus, its time to make our way to shopping paradise – Orchard Road.   Not that we have shopping on our minds.

On my last trip to Singapore, I found myself frantically tracking down the ice cream uncles I had seen lining Orchard Road on umpteen trips before, finally ready to try this mysterious ice cream bread sandwich. And once I had, I wondered (as you usually do) why the heck I had waited so long to do so. So this visit, it’s definitely on the list again and I’m going to see if I can tempt Mum into trying it too – especially after her brave foray into Black Sesame Ice Cream yesterday.  The deal is you can have a normal flavoured ice cream only if you have it in bread.  Otherwise you go the safe option with the wafer – you need to try red bean or sweet corn or the like.  She picks the fruit tingle with the bread and I try the yam flavoured ice cream.  The yam flavour is kind of like a watered down blueberry flavour almost – nice.

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With the sightseeing and food tasting out of the way, it’s time to head for those bird cage cabanas at the hotel to relax by the pool.  The water was chilly but there was incentive in making it to the edge of the infinity pool for a snapshot!  And chillin in the cabana with a beer was really nice.

Chijmes is one of my favourite places in Singapore. I just love the beautifully restored colonial buildings with restaurants pouring into the outdoors, alongside perfectly manicured lawns and hedges and twinkling fairy lights. In a busy city like this, spaces with the ability to make you forget the hustle and bustle are worth a million. We’ll check out another one tomorrow, but Chijmes is just absolutely beautiful.

This is Mum’s first time to Chijmes and I can’t wait to show her and she is as bewitched as me.  There are different cuisines and types of restaurant on offer from Japanese to Western and from pub dining to elegant restaurant settings.  Even just coming here for a sneaky drink is a great way to end the day.

We decided on Wharf Oyster Restaurant, which also did a variety of fish, burgers and other dishes, so it’s a great choice even if you are not a fan of seafood like Mum.  The service was prompt and very good and the food was great too – especially the Black Sesame Brulee.  OMG I’ve never tasted anything so luxurious – if you get the chance it’s something not to miss.

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To learn about the history of Chijmes, check out my earlier post here.

 

 

 

De-stressing on the Little Red Dot

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.

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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.

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Coastes Beach Bar, Sentosa

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!)

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Clarke Quay

The Delights of Ice Cream in Bread

My time in Singapore is almost at an end again.  I have most of today to finish off my list of must do’s.  Of course, there are still things I didn’t get to do and plenty more inspiration for next time.  I still haven’t made it to Pulau Ubin (grrr) and I would love to stay in a totally new location again next time – more residential if possible or even out as far as Changi.  Who knows – I’ll always be back, so there’s no hurry.

I have been to Tiong Bahru before, but only briefly (for a stop at the Nimble/Knead beauty salon in shipping containers – check it out if you get a chance), so I really wanted the chance to return again and stroll around it’s up and coming streets.

The architecture of Tiong Bahru is art deco and quite different from elsewhere on the island.  I really like its clean lines, which I think have held well against modern times considering it’s one of Singapore’s oldest suburbs.

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The two main streets to consider for funky little cafes and shops are Eng Hoon Street (where you’ll find the fabulous Tiong Bahru Bakery and the Orange Thimble) and Yong Siak Street (where you’ll find cafes like 40 Hands, the Open Door Policy bistro and Books Actually).  But wherever you walk, there’s a nice relaxing treat for your eyes and most likely, your stomach.

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Much, much quieter than Orchard Road or any of the areas in the CBD, Tiong Bahru marches to a different beat and it’s easy to see why there has been a resurgence of people moving back into the suburb.

I definitely look forward to spending more time here from now on.

With only a few hours left before I need to get to the airport, there’s one thing I have got to do with my remaining time – track down one of the ice cream men on Orchard Road so I can try the ice cream in bread.  I have no trouble finding one just outside Wisma Atria – he’s just served up an ice cream to a foreign couple and has now unexpectedly been asked to pose for a photo with one of these strangers.  He looks as though he’s not sure what the heck is going on, he’s just serving ice cream and now he’s going to wind up in someone’s photo album?  He grimaces into the camera before turning back to his cart and looking anxiously around for his next customer.  Which is me.  I’m still not sure about this bread thing, so I’m definitely not going to go with an exotic ice cream flavour.  So I scan the list and think surely ‘Ripple’ would ease the blow in case the bread doesn’t cut it.

I grab my sandwich, exploring the texture and colour of the bread, clamp it down and bite into it – the berry flavour of the ripple ice cream is just gorgeous and the bread is, almost sweet I guess.  Or is it just that I think it’s sweet with those pretty pink and green swirls surrounding the sweet ice cream?

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In any case, it’s really great and I would have no hesitation in making this a must do every time I’m in Singapore.

I’ve enjoyed this (nearly) week in Singapore so much.  It’s been amazing getting to know the other sides of her personality and I can’t wait to see more next time.

So long for now, Singapore!

The Ten Courts of Hell

Have you heard about Haw Par Villa?

It’s the stuff of nightmares.  Quite literally.  Many a Singaporean parent scared their children into being good by bringing them to this theme park whilst growing up and I can see why.

If you haven’t heard about Haw Par, chances are that you would know about tiger balm.  Well the same people who bought you tiger balm were responsible for this garishly coloured, elaborately sculpted theme park, built to scare the bejesus out of you.  Opened in 1937 to the Singaporean public, Haw Par Villa was the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw who wanted to build the park for his brother Aw Boon Par (hence the name Haw Par). The brothers were known as the “Tiger Balm Kings of Rangoon” when they moved their business to Singapore in 1926, and, believing one should contribute to society, this park, costing over $1M to build was just one way in which they did so.  The park was packed with visitors each weekend and every holiday.

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Free to enter, it’s located at it’s own MRT stop making it incredibly easy to get to and making me wonder why I hadn’t made it here sooner.  There are many sculptures depicting Chinese legends of ethics and morality, but the centrepiece would have to be the Ten Courts of Hell.

I was scared before I even got to the Ten Courts of Hell thanks to this delightful masterpiece!

So this is how it goes…settle in.

Upon your death you will reach the Ten Courts of Hell where you will be ushered inside by Horse Face and Ox Head (their actual names).  At the first court, your past deeds will be reviewed.  If you were virtuous – straight to heaven.  Guilty?  Well, here’s where the fun begins.  You star into the Mirror of Retribution where all your past misdeeds will be revealed.  Atonement is then carried out at the following nine courts.

10 Courts of Hell

Final judgement is passed upon reaching the tenth court of hell where a cup of magic tea in the Pavillion of Forgetfulness will help you forget about your past life.  Then you get on the Wheel of Reincarnation where it will be decided how you return in the next life – either as nobility, a common man, a quadruped, fowl, fish or insect.

There was more to see, but the colours were starting to hurt my eyes and I was scared that I was hanging dangerously close to being punished at the third gate of hell for being ungrateful).  So I jumped back on the train and headed for the much quieter, more restrained Chinese & Japanese Gardens.  The gardens, although further out, also have their own stop on the MRT.

Unfortunately a lot of the buildings were closed for renovations, but what I could see was beautiful.  I can see why many Singaporeans pack a picnic and head here for a catch up on the weekends.

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Although I’ve been to Resorts World at Sentosa several times, I had never managed to make it to the Maritime Experiential Museum.  Now there is also the SEA aquarium on the same site and the museum has become integrated, which means you need to buy a ticket to the SEA aquarium even if you don’t want to SEE the aquarium.  Which I didn’t.  Anyway, the museum tells the story of trade through Asia back in the day including the types of goods that were traded and where they came from which was quite interesting.  There is also a typhoon theatre, for an extra SGD$2, where you go on a journey into a typhoon.  Cute.

For those that haven’t been to Resorts World, there’s all sorts of stuff to see and do here, including Universal Studios and the Candylicious chocolate store.  I didn’t need to go in, but I did.  And that’s when I found them.  The bakeable Kit Kats.  Yes, you bake them in the oven.  I had heard about these and assumed I wouldn’t get the chance to try them until I went back to Japan (Japan is THE land of Kit Kats – there’s even a Kit Kat megastore, check it out), but here they were.  Packets of little sweet potato Kit Kats that you can put in the oven.  I can’t wait to get these babies home.  Remind me to tell you what they were like.

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So a very successful day all round, knocking over three of my long awaited must do’s and finding the bakeable Kit Kats.  Ah, time for a relaxing drink.

Malay Today

All the pampering and relaxation of the last couple of days must be starting to pay off, because we can’t for the life of us decide what to do today.  As it turns out we decided it wasn’t going to be much, and what could suit that requirement better than anything else?  Sitting on the sightseeing bus.

It’s actually something I’ve not done before in Singapore – apart from the special bus that drives you around to see the Christmas lights at the end of the year.  And it’s kind of nice.  It gives a different perspective on Singapore, seeing things from a different height.  There’s more scope to appreciate the amazing architecture and I even spotted things I must have walked past a million times and not noticed before.

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There are, as always roadworks going on – more additions to Singapore’s wonderful MRT system.  This time the roads around Little India are being dug up like there’s no tomorrow, and I wonder how far away it will be before the new route is completed?

When we arrive at Kampong Glam, otherwise known as the Malay Quarter, we jump off the bus to explore.  Although I have been here a couple of times before, I have not yet ventured inside the Malay Heritage Centre.  The beautiful wooden floorboards are a welcome relief to bare feet and as we pad through the rooms of what was the former Istana (royal residence) of the Sultanate of Singapore-Johor, we get to learn all about Singapore’s Malay heritage.

Built in 1819, the Istana now houses an array of historical artefacts which detail the many stories of the Malays.  From every day household items to musical history, this is another example of Singapore’s wonderful museum odes to its cultural background.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – museums are something that Singapore does incredibly well.

The museum is situated next to Sultan Mosque and to enter you pay your ticket entrance fee at the small pavilion next door to the Istana.  Visitors are then required to remove their shoes and leave them in the shelving outside.

One of the other incredible things we found today was something that had alluded me on previous visits to Singapore – the Civilian War Memorial.  The padang (the Malay word for ‘field) is a stretch of green located on the left bank of the Singapore River.  It was a popular place for people to meet and relax and had been a place of social gathers before the times of colonisation.  When the Japanese occupied Singapore during WWII, it was also the place where the Japanese hearded together the European population before marching them off to Changi Prison.

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The memorial was completed in 1967 on the site of the Padang in remembrance of those civilians killed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.  The design was selected in an open competition and was won by one of Singapore’s most renowned architects – Leong Swee Lim.  The four posts, sometimes referred to as the giant chopsticks locally, symbolise the four main cultures of Singapore:  Chinese, Eurasian, Indian and Malay.  The remains of unknown victims are buried beneath the memorial.

Let Me Eat Cake!

A good night’s rest and we awaken to Saturday or – Sentosa Day!

Sentosa is home to one of the best day spa’s I’ve ever visited.  Formerly Spa Botanica, it has recently been taken over and renamed So Spa.  The spa is surrounded by tropical foliage and roaming peacocks and one of the best things about it is the mud pool.  There’s nothing quite like lathering yourself up in thick, rich mud, baking yourself in the sun and then rinsing it all off to reveal your tingling new skin.  Nobody is quite sure why mud is so good for your skin, but some believe it’s to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of the mud and it’s good enough that some dermatologists recommend it to their patients as a complementary therapy.

There’s not much more to say about the heaven that is this day spa, but it’s just as well we have relaxed up today because we are heading out for dinner tonight at Kudeta.  Perched atop Marina Bay Sands with incredible views of the city by day and by night (but especially by night), this awesome restaurant presents you with a menu designed to share with friends, accompanied by gorgeous cocktails.  The food as always is amazing and it’s great to try some food that doesn’t normally appear on the menu at home.  But especially great is dessert.  I’m halfway through my first one when the waiter belatedly brings out the birthday cake that the girls had pre-organised.  But hey, who am I to turn away dessert.

Don’t be Late Like the White Rabbit!

This morning we check out of the Dorsett and leave them holding our luggage, while we head to brunch at the White Rabbit in Dempsey.  Housed in an old chapel on the Dempsey grounds (an old British Army barracks and former site of Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, where her young men would commence their national service), the White Rabbit, which is themed on the story Alice down the rabbithole, has been extensively renovated and I like what they’ve done.  The old altar is now the inside bar, the confessional now the wine room.  The original flooring has obviously inspired the décor – comfortable grey looks with powder blue wooden chairs, and classy oak tables, simply adorned with single white carnations.  There is a beautiful bouquet of white lisianthus and other assorted white blooms, which is stunningly simple.  Even the toilets are stylishly simple.  Outdoors is the evening bar, the Rabbit Hole and again, this area has been stunningly decorated with a simple hand.

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The ever attentive staff make sure you glasses – wine or water – are never empty and your plates – once you have managed to eat the divine blessing which has been plated before you, is removed swiftly.  Brunch was a beautiful, laid back affair and I would love to come back here next time to sample their dinner affair.

I just can’t believe that so close to Orchard Road, is a place that seems to be in such a different world.  But I like it, and I’ll be returning to investigate it’s offerings a lot more in the future.

Delicately full from our late start to the day, we return to the Dorsett to collect our luggage and move on to our next hotel, the Crowne Plaza Changi.  Given our early morning flight tomorrow morning, we decided to make it easy (and slightly more expensive) on ourselves by staying at the Crowne Plaza Changi, right on the doorstep of Changi Airport.

It also makes the perfect base to show Dad a very important part of Singapore that he hasn’t seen before, and which I haven’t blogged about either.  It’s been several years since I visited the Changi Chapel and Prison Museum, the first visit when Mum and I intrepidly caught a bus out here to suss it out for ourselves.  This time though, we decide to do it with the help of an audio guide to obtain a different perspective rather than just reading the (very informative) information panels.

Nobody expected Singapore to fall during WWII.  It was a bastion of British safety and it was just inconceivable.  Even perhaps to the Japanese themselves, as indicated by this quote from Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s:

“My attack on Singapore was a bluff, a bluff that worked… I was very frightened that all the time the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.” 
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But fall it did.  General Percival was forced to surrender at the Old Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road (another sight I have yet to visit), which now houses the National Archives of Singapore.  And for three years it was under Japanese rule, even being re-named – Syonan-to – “light of the south”.  The Japanese ruled with terror and banana money until the end of the war.

Most surprisingly, and something which doesn’t come up often, was that there were around 400 women and children interned here at Changi.  Some of these women, many of them young and inexperienced were selected to be used at the whim of Japanese soldiers, a terrible sense of stigma and shame which would remain with them always.  There’s not a wealth of information about the Changi women, but you can see on display at several war museums around the world, including at the Australian War Memorial in the ACT, quilts made by the women, which included personal messages to loved ones.

Of course I came away with several books on the subject of Changi because you know all about me and books.  There were many to choose from, but I thought carefully and tried to choose several which I would hope would provide different viewpoints.  These were “Man of the Rising Sun” by James Sebastian, “Tales by Japanese Soldiers” by Kazuo Tamayama and John Nunneley and “Hiroshima” by John Hersey.  It’s always good to know all sides of the story!

We light a candle to remember those who suffered and died here and leave with the sobering experience lingering in our heads.

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.