After the chaotic and dirty Bangkok, descending in the Lion City was like entering a city scale spa. The organized taxi queue led by a taxi supervisor and the slick Chrysler taking us to the city felt like a cool towel to our foreheads. The beautiful scenery and perfectly shaped trees and bushes were like healing lotion to our eyes. Bangkok had its own charm in the contrasts, liveliness and cheap shopping, while Singapore’s strength lies in its beauty, nightlife and relaxed atmosphere.
It’s now the last day in the city, our flight to Bali leaves in three hours. We’re enjoying a last pint of Tiger beer at a cafe by the Singapore river. The only sounds around us are some birds twittering and our fellow restaurant guests laughing and discussing. The weather is cloudy, humid and warm, although not as hot as in Bangkok. Green lawns and palm trees are neatly lined up between the shiny skyscrapers and old harbor buildings and museums around the Boat Quay. We could sit here forever…
Back to reality. We had two nights and one whole and two half days to spend in Singapore, and that is not enough for a first time visit. Despite the city’s relaxed atmosphere, it’s been a hectic few days. We’ve seen almost all of the big attractions in Singapore; the bizarre Merilon statue, the Quays, the glamorous shopping along Orchard street, Little India, the beach resort island Sentosa, the ultra modern metro MRT, loads of beautiful and daring architecture and the monsoon rain.
Compared to Bangkok, Singapore is safe and reliable. The laws are really strict, but that doesn’t mean you’re walking around thinking that the police will throw you in jail for walking against red light. The Singaporeans are friendly and helpful; a man came up to us in the bus on our way home to the hotel and asked us if we’re lost, since we were looking out the bus windows for street names to locate where we were.
We stayed in a hotel a bit outside of the city center, which gave us a nice look at a genuine Singapore suburb. Our street was crammed with pubs and bars, Vietnamese restaurants, miscellaneous shops and a mostly welcome internet cafe, since our hotel didn’t provide internet access. The hotel was actually shabbier than the guest house we stayed at in Bangkok. No breakfast included, no internet access and overall in worse shape. Still, it was ok for two nights and the staff was friendly.
Yesterday we had a look at Little India and had lunch at a local restaurant. The menu was mostly appealing and we ordered chicken masala and chicken curry. The whole fish heads would have been interesting to try, but we weren’t confident enough without a local culinary guide explaining which parts to eat. A corner of the restaurant was a dedicated washing station, with five sinks, fresh water and soap. This got its explanation when the lunch was served, as it came on banana leaves and no cutlery (well, being obvious foreigners, they actually provided us with a spoon and fork, but that was exception to the rule). Going with the local customs, we ate the saucy chicken, rice and miscellaneous vegetable mixes with our hands, to the best of our ability. We noticed that the other locals in
the restaurant only ate with their right hand, avoiding to touch the food with their left hand altogether, since it’s considered unclean. The food was excellent and the mango juice so good that we ordered another one to go when leaving. The takeaway juice was served with ice and a straw in a small plastic bag with strings as handle. The price for this meal was about 7 euros for two persons including drinks.
A place not so cheap was the seafood restaurant we got lured into at the Boat Quay. Although they gave us a 50% discount on beer and a free drink each for being early guests, the total price for one starter, two mains and four beers was almost 60 euros, including almost 10 euros taxes and service fees. Choosing location is of course essential if you want to eat cheap.
Since we will come back to Singapore, we left some things undone for the second visit. We didn’t have any Singapore Slings at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel (we probably wouldn’t be allowed inside in our backpacker outfits) and we didn’t try the Luge track on Sentosa Island. We’ll save these for the 5th of January.
Even though Singapore is really high-tech, we were surprised that we weren’t able to pay with our credit cards in places where you’d think they would accept them. For example Burger King and the MRT ticket office only accepted cash. But on the other hand, when we tried to buy stamps from a post office machine, it would only accept local debit cards and no coins whatsoever. To this, we found no rational Singapore-style explanation.
Singapore in five words: architecture, clean, trendy, expensive, a western oasis in asia.