We have been away over a month now and have not yet found the time update this blog. Things have been non-stop since before we left. But now that we have some time on our hands in Krabi, while Vanitha recuperates from a cold/virus, we thought that we would start loading in our updates and photos. The photos are the most time consuming element about the whole process due to the sheer number of them and the internet connection.
Singapore seems so long ago now. It was a really fantastic way to start the trip. We stayed in a hotel in Geylang, Singapore’s supposedly seedy, but relatively tame, red light district. Our hotel was part of the Fragrance chain and offered a basic and clean room at a very affordable price. The rooms comprised of two rock hard single mattresses on a built in bed shelf. The bed could be configured as two singles (which it was the night of our arrival) or as a double. The bathroom was basic and clean, with shower and toilet behind a sliding frosted glass door. There was a flat screen TV with HDMI input and HBO movies, AC and a kettle with tea and coffee. They provided two small bottles of water which they replenished daily. The room was $50 (AUD) per night which was a bargain in Singapore, most dorm beds start a $30(AUD) each. On the whole our stay at Fragrance Pearl was fantastic, with the one exception of the loud, rude and somewhat obnoxious large tour group who were staying on the same floor as us. On multiple occasions we were woken to the sounds of Mandarin screamed across the hallway at 5am or strangers banging on our door because they got the wrong room, not the best way to start the day.
Singapore for us was a real family affair. My Appa (Dad) and two brothers joined us on this leg of the trip and we visited all of my extended family and shared many meals, both homemade and hawker fare, together. I am very familiar with Singapore, I was trying to remember the number of times that I have been to Singapore but lost count, I would say more than 10 times in my life. Having been to Singapore so many times before meant that lots of the touristy things have been done before, so this meant that we had to “dig deeper” to find things to do for the 10 days that we were there, but not too deep because we were also being kept busy with preparations for our second wedding reception!
There is no shortage of shops and stores and malls and markets and booths and stands waiting for you and your money in Singapore. However being on a tight budget we spent our time in malls playing stylist for my two brothers who did have money to spend on all the clothes.
Catching the $3(SGD) ferry to Pulau Ubin will set you up for one of the most inexpensive and enjoyable days in Singapore. You can get a bus or an Uber like we did (but we put in the international ferry terminal and had to walk for 45minutes to actually get to right ferry terminal) to Changi Village where the ferry terminal is located. When you get off the boat, walk down the main street and hire a mountain bike from one of the many stalls. The prices vary for the bikes according to newness. We paid $8(SGD) a bike and got a decent bike, but nothing fancy. There are a number of paths that you can take varying in length and difficulty. You can just start riding like we did and take which ever path you fancy, disregarding any trails on offer. The island is small so you’re never too far from the roads where the van taxis drive along frequently, so if you get too tired you can flag one down and pay for a ride back to the ferry dock (we didn’t do this!). The scenery on Pulau Ubin is stunning, lots of greenery and shaded paths. It is cooler than on the mainland and the breeze from the surrounding ocean makes for pleasant riding. There are a number of places to eat on the main street and a few stands around the place selling cold drinks and snacks. We had a fantastic meal of crispy fried squid, greens and rice, washed down with a few long necks of Tiger beer. There are options to camp on the island too and lot of school groups where there for end of term excursions at the time of our visit.
There were several blockbusters that were a must see for us. We saw three films at two different cinemas.
Logan – We saw this one at the Cathay Cineplex in Dhoby Gaut, certainly one of the larger cinemas that we have been to in SE Asia. It is in a very cool art deco looking building right next to the also very impressive looking Singapore School of the Arts. Now, the film, Logan certainly stands as an impressive entry into the X-Men series, and as a film manages to exist as a solid dramatic film rather than a typical ‘comic book’ film. The final outing as Logan/Wolverine by Hugh Jackman is probably his most nuanced performance in his trademark role, and the supporting performance from Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier/Professor X is similarly rounded. The film definitely goes for a much more understated approach to the universe this time around and is certainly the most ‘realistic’ of the entire series. Within the first scene, the level of gore that hasn’t really been on display in any of the previous films is in full force, this is the film that we finally get to see what would happen to a human head when adamantium claws go through it, but it didn’t feel too gratuitous. For a Hollywood comic book blockbuster, this one gets it pretty right, and hopefully will bode well for the approach that future entries in the series will take.
John Wick 2 – We saw this one at the Golden Cinema in the City Square Mall (which is a really terrible mall that is a maze to get around). The sequel to one of the most fun and surprising action films of the last few years expands the mythos and internal universe that was established in the first film and definitely ramps up the non-stop action that the first film brilliantly specialised in. Keanu Reeves is in action mode here, and anyone looking for a great dramatic performance will be sorely disappointed, but if you, like me, enjoy your Keanu roles to be light on dialogue and heavy on guns and martial arts, then you will definitely enjoy it. This film has some inspired action scenes and once again has some of the best gun based action scenes that have been done in modern action cinema, and certainly some of the best since the glory days of John Woo. A worthy sequel and a lot of fun.
Kong: Skull Island – We saw this one at the Cathay Cineplex again, but in a MUCH larger cinema than the one we saw Logan in, I would hazard to guess that it was at least a 1000 seat theatre with a gigantic screen. The film itself was pretty silly and disposable but also pretty fun, nominally it is set in the same cinematic universe as Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from a few years ago, though set decades earlier, and with a much less serious approach to the material. This film was basically a silly Kaiju movie set just after the Vietnam war and has a ludicrously stylized cinematographic approach that doesn’t strive at any point to resemble any semblance of reality, which works well.
We generally don’t go to zoo’s, the last one that we went to was the Darjeeling Zoo, 6 years ago, which was a very depressing and rundown concrete hole. Singapore Zoo however was exceptionally well put together and funded. The real joy of visiting the zoo was being with two little girls under the age 6. My cousins children had an absolute blast and guided the way to all the attractions. The food garden was of particular interest to my Appa who identified the plants that use to grow in his childhood home. They not only had herbs but also spices growing such a nutmeg and cumin seeds.
Singapore National Gallery
This gallery wasn’t open the last time that I (Joey) was here a few years ago, but it was certainly something that I was mega keen on experiencing, and I was glad to have done it. Built in the site of the former City Hall and Supreme Court of Singapore (a very very large building complex), the Singapore National Gallery is easily the most impressive art gallery that I have seen in South East Asia. It is clear from the moment that you walk in that the government here truly spared no expense in making this place world class. The admission fee was steep ($30 SGD a person!), but considering the sheer amount of artwork on display it was definitely worth it. We spent at least six or so hours here exploring the history of South East Asian art from all over the region. There is floor after floor and gallery after gallery of art work and when you think you have reached the end of it you turn a corner and find another entire building within the building that you haven’t been to yet! There was a temporary exhibition on about British colonialism and it’s effect on the native peoples of the countries under their rule throughout the region that was done as a co-production with the Tate in London which was really impressive, and there was a great gallery which is part of the permanent collection exploring the slightly more transgressive (for Singapore) political artwork that was and is openly critical of the Singaporean government. This was interesting because Singapore in general has a pretty neo-totalitarian vibe, so maybe this was a carefully calculated effort on part of the unitarian government to appear to be a bit more relaxed in it’s response to criticism and freedom of speech in general in the country, though we doubt that it would be this “relaxed” in other areas of the arts in the country ie. arts not controlled and exhibited under the strict auspices of the government.
Overall I would recommend this gallery to any art and history enthusiast if you are popping through Singapore, it is absolutely worth the admission fee and you will easily spend a whole day in air conditioned comfort. There is also a very cool gift shop and a bunch of very cool looking but expensive cafes and bars dotted around the gallery if you need a break.
Marina Bay Sands
Joe and I were extremely lucky and fortunate to be gifted a night at the Marina Bay Sands. It was luxury unparalleled to anything we had ever experience. The infinity pool was breath taking and our upgraded room – deluxe king, was hard to leave. The customer service was so good, they sent us chocolates and cake because we mentioned that it was our honeymoon! While we were there the I light Marina Bay festival was on and we had a great view of the light show from our room. The dining options were out of price range so we had lunch at Rasapura Masters food court which is expensive standard hawker dishes and dinner at Makansutra Gluttons Bay which I believe rotates their food stalls with well know and renowned hawkers stands from around Singapore. We took advantage of the happy hour at Long Chim, David Thompson’s Singapore restaurant and sipped $10 (SGD) cocktails. The next morning we had a leisurely buffet lunch and ate as much as we could fit, then another dip before our late checkout at 3pm.
Gardens by the Bay
As we were staying at Marina Bay Sands, the Gardens by the Bay was super close and short stroll away. We went rather late at night and missed the opportunity to go into the paid gardens, however the lit up sculptures and rousing movies scores kept us entertained for a while. There are loads of people there taking long exposure photos.
Indian Cultural Heritage Museum
The Indian Cultural Heritage Museum is relatively new, only being opened for two years. I was fortunate on my last trip to visit during the opening month of the gallery. The gallery had a temporary exhibition on part of the Singapore Biennale which unfortunately closed the week before we arrived. It was a wonderful experience going with my Appa and discovering more about my families history as Indians in Singapore. The design of the building is really interesting and the stairways provide fantastic views of the streets of Little India below.
Hong Lim Food Court – China Town
You need to be mindful of the opening hours of the Hong Lim Food Court. We attempted to go on a Sunday for lunch and they were closed. Also try to go before 2pm as most stalls start closing after their lunch rush, many having sold out for the day. We had Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wonton Soup, Duck Rice and delicious peanutty Laksa and we all washed it down with Lime Juice. The food is cheap and delicious, apparently there are a number of Michelin recommended or starred stalls here too.
Tekka Food Court – Little India
We ate here a few time while in Singapore. We had parata & curry, ginger tea and rojak for breakfast one morning, we stopped in for Iced Cendol another afternoon and went to Kommalavillas near by for dosa and vadai on another day. The food here is some of favourite, there is also a Goose and Duck Rice stand that is also worth going to, along with many many many others.
Haig Road Food Court – Geylang
This was the first time that I could remember going to this food court. We went for breakfast and had a variety of Malay and Indonesian dishes typically eaten for breakfast. The food was unlike anything that I had tried before, it was very coconut heavy, slightly sweet and almost everything had peanuts, the best dish we ate was a type of chicken soup with noodles, not dissimilar to a Pho Ga.
Haw Par Villa – The Tiger Balm Life and Death Museum
Easily the most straight up bizarre and strange place that I have seen in Singapore (though I do hear that these kinds of places are a pretty common sight throughout SE Asia), Haw Par Villa is a free park that shows you all sorts of large dioramas based around Chinese mythology, folklore and most famously a cave that shows you the different levels of Confucianist hell and punishments that you will receive for your life’s transgressions (in very brutal, gory detail). The founder of Tiger Balm built this place as somewhat of a vanity project many years ago, and you can easily see that it is a place that certainly has it’s best years behind it. But it still stands as the most kitschy, strange and at times horrifyingly bizarre places we have encountered in Singapore. Words can’t really do this place justice, you have to see for yourself, it has an MRT stop that stops right next to it so it is cheap and easy to get to and there is no admission fee either, so this is definitely one of the better, budget friendly activities to do in what is an incredibly expensive city.
Singapore Botanic Gardens – Orchid Gardens
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are huge, we spent around 2-3 hours an only saw a small section of it. They are very easy to get to with an MRT stop dedicated to the site. We decided to focus our visit on the Orchid Gardens (there is an entry fee), which hold a vast variety of orchid species. It is a beautiful slice of the gardens with a number of dedicated spots in the gardens for photos and selfies.
Our second wedding reception was a small family affair and a wonderful opportunity to catch up with my extended family and friends of the family which I hadn’t seen since I was very little, and to introduce Joe to everyone finally! My family organised the whole thing and put so much effort into making the venue look pretty. My cousin lent me one of her saris and I had my makeup done in the Indian style, which essentially looked like white face on me. Joe wore a traditional Indian suit that my Aunty bought for him, and my brothers and Appa all bought matching suits in varying colours. It was a very special night and I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to share our marriage and love again.
Travelling in Singapore on a budget is not easy. We had set ourselves a daily budget of $70 AUD (excluding accommodation), which we struggled to stay within and realistically would have gone over if it wasn’t for the fact someone (most of the time my brothers, Thanks guys) else would pay the bill anytime we ate out together, which we are really grateful for. But if we had to stay within we could have, probably; we would have needed to cut down on beers and coffee among things and chosen to eat only in the hawkers centers and cut out eating in the food courts of the big malls.
The goodbye at the airport was another teary affair for Vanitha, finally having to say goodbye to her Appa and Brothers for the year, but once in the departure zone, things really started to sink in and the excitement for the next 11 months grow.