My mom had arrived in Singapore the night before us. We made an itinerary for her day by herself but between having flown for 20 hours, having arrived at midnight, and the fact that she was all by herself in Asia, we had no clue if she’d even make it out of the area we were staying in that day. Dave and I got to our hotel around 9pm, only to find out that not only had she done the things we’d told her to do on our itinerary, she pretty much explored the entire city and even found a friend to hang out with for the day. Our trip together hadn’t even started and we were already impressed with her!
We hadn’t eaten dinner yet so we wanted to go out for a late bite. We were staying in the Clarke Quay area, which is basically a combo of Navy Pier in Chicago and Asiatique in Bangkok (ie, dozens of trendy/expensive bars and restaurants enclosed in an open air domeshaped roof. After just a few minutes of walking around, we could tell that Singapore was going to be one of the fanciest cities we’ve ever been to and also one of the most expensive (and it was actually later confirmed by Dave’s friend from Singapore that it’s in fact the most expensive city in the world right now). We walked around Clarke Quay looking for a dinner spot, but all we found was pretty ridiculous “deals” for drinks and food. $15 for one slice of pizza and a small bottle of beer didn’t sound like much of a deal to us, so we decided we’d have to go elsewhere (but, we were very anxious to come back to our area to check out what looked like the very lively nightlife scene).
So, we headed one neighborhood over to Chinatown in the hopes of finding one of their famous hawker (street food) areas. First, we went to check out the Maxwell Road Food Center, but by 10:15 when we got there, everything was pretty much closed. We ended up at the Smith Street Hawker Stalls, a newly revamped area of food stalls (and when I say stalls, I mean very nice permanent fixtures all set up in rows selling food, not the stalls that we’ve seen all over SE Asia that are more of make-shift carts or even just stands attached to tuk tuks and motorbikes) just in time to grab a few dishes from the last places that were still open.. We were bummed because there were so many great food options we wanted to try, but unfortunately we were just a little bit too late so many of them had closed. Either way, it was still a great meal and really good to see my mom in person and catch up.
For our first full day in Singapore, we started in the Colonial District to visit the Parliament House, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and the Supreme Court. Of course, Dave wanted to go in the Supreme Court for the full tour and could not get over how nice it was compared to what the court houses look like in the US. At the information desk they told us we could even sit in on a court session, but unfortunately, we had to be wearing pants for the occasion. For anyone who ever looks at our Facebook photos, you know that we only have a rotation of about 5 different outfits, none of which include pants. Luckily, instead of the real court session, we were able to watch a simulated court session in their “learning center” where we watched a man named Hansel (yes, the Hansel from Hansel and Gretel) be sentenced for murdering his grandmother with a poisonous apple. Dave didn’t think that the testimony given by Bear (yes, an actual bear) was sufficient evidence to determine that Hansel was guilty, but the judge in the simulation was convinced enough. It was a very strange but funny experience, and notwithstanding the comical simulation, it confirmed our belief that the Singapore criminal system is very serious (eg, you can’t spit, litter, chew gum etc.).
After walking all through Colonial Town, we headed to the famous Raffles hotel (a Singaporean icon) to check out their well known bar (selling $27 Singapore slings) and hotel lobby. We were able to see the bar, but the lobby was off limits for visitors. Then we passed by the Singapore Recreation Club, a fancy country club with a cricket field in the back. Dave wanted to see the cricket course, but I was less interested in the field and more interested in the amazing view of the entire skyline that we saw from there.
The next stop on our Singapore tour was to Little India for lunch. The area didn’t really look much like the India we got to know during our short time there (thank god) but we did have a great Indian lunch at Tekka Center. It was our first time eating Indian food since our Delhi belly in India and my mom’s first time eating it ever. She wasn’t a fan, but for us, it felt good to be back.
After a little exploration around Little India, we headed to Arab street and the Muslim quarter of Kampong Glam which was filled with tons of shops selling clothing and fabric. My mom had been here the day before and loved this area so she was very happy to be back. Despite our many travels in SE Asia, we rarely (if ever) see Arabs in their full garb, so that was new for us.
Our last stop on what felt like a day in Epcot was Chinatown. Even though we’d already been the night before, we wanted to go back again to see the sights. This was my favorite of the three neighborhoods from the afternoon. The streets in Chinatown were packed with markets and food stalls and made for a very fun and entertaining hour or so.
Finally, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. Since Dave and I don’t get the chance to stay in really nice hotels very often, we wanted some time to take advantage of the pool. Unfortunately, I guess every other family in the hotel had the same idea and so the pool was packed, mostly with screaming kids cannon balling into the water. We didn’t last down there for very long, but luckily we had a great room to go back to.
Our plan for the night was to hit another hawker center for dinner and then go check out the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel in the marina area of Singapore. Gluttons Bay is a bayside collection of the best hawker stands in the city and that was our dinner spot. Mom got a dish called “carrot cake” (which is not carrots or cake but a very local dish and regional specialty). Dave and I tried an oyster omelet (very similar to the omelets we love in Bangkok), char kway teow (flat rice noodles wok-fried with bean sprouts, prawns, and Chinese sausage in dark soy sauce and chili sauce), and the star of the night, BBQ stingray, which was amazing.
After chowing down at Gluttons Bay, we headed over to the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which looks like three hotel towers topped with a giant UFO. In front of the hotel was a huge mall and casino, and the walk to the hotel around the marina was filled with some of the most beautiful skyline views that any of us have ever seen. We took our time getting there and stopping for pictures and then went to check out the casino, which we were denied access to because we didn’t have our passports with us (apparently Singaporian citizens have to pay $100 to enter the casino whereas everyone else gets in for free, so a passport is required to enter). Then, we followed the advice of our hotel concierge and went to the top of Marina Bay tower 1. He told us that you have to pay a fee to get to the top of tower 2 and 3, but (and shh, this is a big secret) you can get up to the top of tower 1 for some free stunning views of the city. He was right. The views were spectacular and there was in fact, no fee. As happy as we were admiring the view, we envied the hotel guests in their white and gold robes enjoying the same view from their amazing rooftop pool right outside.
The next morning, we woke up early (not by choice of my own – I was woken up by Dave and my mom chatting away at 6:30am) and started our day at Sentosa Island, essentially a giant theme park island. There are two islands off of Singapore, this being the first and the second being Pulau Ubin, which is an island that looks like you’ve been taken into Singapore’s past and is probably the most local part about this glitzy, fancy country. Originally, we thought we’d only have time for one of the islands because on our second day, we were planning to go to the famous Singapore zoo and night safari, but we decided instead to skip the zoo (we’ve all been to a million) to make time for both Sentosa and Ubin.
We got to Sentosa right as it was opening and bought two play passes, which allowed us to choose 8 of the island’s different activities to do. Sentosa is also home to Universal Studios, but we (hesitantly) decided to skip that. We spent the day going on a luge, watching a 4-d movie, body boarding on a surf/wave simulator, and checking out and picnicking on Sentosa’s beaches. It was such a fun day – until the last activity we wanted to do, the trapeze, was closed. It was literally the only other activity on the island we wanted to do and we had planned our pass perfectly to include it. Since no one had told us it was closed, we tried to get our money back for half of one of the tickets we had purchased. A very unhelpful and unfriendly woman named Rabiyah did not seem to care about our problem. But fortunately, we were able to sell our unused ticket to other park-goers, so it all worked out ok.
We needed to get our bus tickets to KL at some point, so after Sentosa, we decided to get it out of the way so we didn’t have to worry about it anymore. It was going to be my mom’s first bus ride and she was amazed when we got the tickets for the 5 hour ride, between countries, for only $20 per person.
That evening, we headed to the Night Safari, Singapore’s number one nighttime tourist attraction. The safari, open from 7:30 to midnight, is about an hour and a half ride (train and then bus) from where we were staying. It’s a huge park where you take a huge tram around and can see tons of nocturnal animals including tigers, lions, leopards, hippos, and more. We got there just in time to see my mom’s first fire show (and eat at the park’s only restaurant for $17 burgers – our biggest gripe with the whole experience), and another semi-corny but also funny animal show and then hit the jeep ride. We got off halfway through the ride to go on one of the park’s 4 walking trails. Here, we saw lots more animals (though this felt more like we were walking through a zoo at night with the animals all behind glass whereas on the tram, you really felt like you were on a safari and the animals were sometimes right next to you), my favorite of which (and my mom’s least favorite of which) was the bat exhibit. You walked through a big enclosed area and the fruit bats were flying free. We’ve seen a lot of bats in all of our caving adventures, but none as big as we saw this night.
The night safari was a really fun activity, but for $40 pp, between the fact that it was so far away and the fact that it’s only open for such a short time every night, we’re not sure if we’d recommend it to other visitors. But, it was definitely unlike any zoo I’ve ever been to and we saw tons of really cool animals, so we were all happy we went.
We left the zoo to catch the public bus at 11:30, which was supposed to get us back to the MRT station before it closed at midnight. We opted out of the more expensive shuttle bus back to the city because we were sure we’d make the midnight train. But, when we got to the train station at around 11:50 (we thought we even had a few minutes to spare!) a man working there told us that no, the trains to the city stopped at 11:30. We were very annoyed about the misinformation that we’d been given and that after all of that, we still had to take a cab home. Luckily, what we thought would be a $20-30 cab ride only ended up costing us $10. Phew!
On our third and final day in Singapore, we left early again for Pulao Ubin. It was another almost two hour ride, but this time we had a little better luck. We took the train to a bus to a ferry, the latter of which needed 12 people before it would leave the ferry station. This could have been a long wait for us, but a couple of minutes after we showed up, so did a family of 7, coincidentally exactly the number we needed to leave.
After the 10 minute boat ride (my mom was very excited, all she’d been wanting to do since arriving in Singapore was take a boat), we got to Ubin and rented bikes to ride around the island (it’s the thing to do there), which is filled with huge lizards and wild pigs. We got lucky again and saw both animals within minutes of arriving, plus a frog and a snake (both of which were dead – we think it was some kind of murder/suicide situation:). We spent a few hours biking around the cute, local, jungly island and couldn’t get over what an expert biker my mom was – she was literally beating us the whole time on a very rocky/bumpy path. We checked out the 7 story view point tower and the wetlands, and then made it back to the mainland and the train station in time for lunch at a local market. The island was very different than anything we’d experienced in Singapore so far and definitely worth the long trip.
In the afternoon, we headed over to Orchard Row, the famous shopping mall area of Singapore. We expected it to be similar to the Siam area in Bangkok (a bunch of huge/fancy shopping malls in a condensed area) but instead we found it to be more like Michigan Avenue in Chicago (a mile long stretch of nice malls, but not nearly as big/fancy as those in Bangkok, or even Jakarta). We did a quick lap through some of the malls, picked up breakfast and lunch supplies for the following day (cereal for breakfast and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch – we were all ready for a little break from rice and noodles for lunch), and walked back to our hotel to relax for a few hours.
For our last night in Singapore, we all got dressed up (or as much as we could with our small selection of clothes) and made the short walk across the river to Boat Quay for dinner. Dave and I had been dying to try Singapore’s famous chili crabs and our last night was the night for it. We found a great-looking restaurant right on the water that had a nice selection of fish for my mom AND that agreed to cook our 1 kilo crab for us 2 ways – half with the chili sauce and half with pepper sauce.
As someone who spent 4 years living in Maryland and eating crabs regularly, I like to think that I’m an expert. I’m sure that’s not the case, but I at least know how much meat should come out of a crab. Our crab was very much lacking in the meat department. Both the chili sauce and the pepper sauce were both great, but it was definitely the sauce that we filled up on, rather than the crab. Since we had been looking forward to trying this dish for so long, I felt a little disappointed and a little jipped ($75 for the two of us and $170 for our total meal for 3 people, our most expensive meal since leaving the US a year ago), but at least we got to try it and had a nice view of the water while doing so.
After dinner, we made our way back to the marina and the Marina Bay Sands hotel to try our luck once more at the casino, this time with our passports in hand. We had $40 of Singaporean money left to spend so we walked into the enormous casino hoping to find a $5-$10 minimum blackjack table, but instead found that there was maybe one table with a $25 minimum and the rest started at $50 or $100. The maximum at every table was from $200,000 to $300,000 (for a single hand) which is just insane! Finally after much searching, we found a roulette table with a $5 minimum and after Dave explained the game to my mom and me (we’d never played before), we put down our chips to see if luck was on our side. It wasn’t. I’m not sure that anyone has ever lost $40 so fast, but seeing this crazy casino was definitely worth it.
We spent our last morning in Singapore relaxing at our hotel before heading to the bus station. My mom got very lucky, as our bus was one of the nicest we’ve been on, complete with leg rests and even a chair massager. My mom was very excited for her first long-distance bus ride, the stop at customs in both Singapore and Malaysia where we had to get off the bus to have our passports stamped, and for our great peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Now, she will be very excited that I’m done writing this blog and she can talk to me again 🙂
Next stop on part 2 of our trip with my mom and first stop for Dave and me in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. After fancy and expensive Singapore, we’re hoping KL will be a little more Asian-feeling and we’re really hoping a little less expensive.