March 6, 2015 – March 9, 2015
After the modern conveniences of Malaysia we headed by bus to the small nation of Singapore. If we thought we had seen the peak of technology and advances before it was only because we had not seen Singapore yet. This tiny nation is essentially one huge modern metropolis and was the next country on our list.
Singapore is a small diamond shaped island on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Gaining its independence from Malaysia in 1965 (it was actually kicked out of Malaysia for its troubles) it is one of the youngest nations, and with just 277 square miles of land is also one of the smallest. But for a new country with a troubled past it has worked hard and jumped ahead by leaps and bounds and now has one of the biggest and most important economies in the region, and has recently topped the lists of the most expensive cities in the world.
Traveling by bus, we crossed a bridge into Singapore and stopped briefly in their huge state of the art, bus immigration station, and got our stamps and headed back to the bus for the short drive across the entire nation from north to south. The northernmost stretch of the country is lush and green and dotted with golf courses and there is even a large and very popular zoo. The further south you go the more skyscrapers and dense civilization you can see. The southern shore is one big sprawling mega-city while the east is dominated by the airport and the west by the large seaport, which has been so important to Singapore’s successful economy.
Much like Malaysia, Singapore is clean and ultra modern, but unlike Malaysia it is quite expensive. We stayed in the Ibis Hotel near Little India, which was above our normal price range, in fact lodging alone took the lions share of our daily budget.
Dropping off our things, we headed out into the city to explore. The first thing you will notice is that it is warm and comfortable outside, the countries record low is 67 degrees, it never gets cold. Sometimes it can be very hot. It is also extremely clean and easy to get around. Strict laws with penalties such as canning, ensure that the streets are nearly pristine and graffiti is non-existent, we can’t remember seeing any anywhere. In fact it was the cleanest city of its size we’ve ever seen. As for getting around, the ultra modern and super clean subways will take you cheaply and quickly anywhere you want to go on the island.
Though Singapore is definitely not a budget destination, it does have a few redeeming qualities in the cost area, food is abundant and can be found cheaply. Food courts and street food are nearly as common as in Malaysia and nearly as cheap. Shopping here can also be cheap if you stick to the street shops, be careful of fake goods though. If price is not an issue though, there are miles and miles of malls everywhere you look, in fact it would be a challenge to get more than a few blocks from one, and one street, Orchard Road is nothing but malls lining each side of the road for a dozen blocks or more, exotic cars and high fashion are as common here as Starbucks coffee cups.
If shopping is not your thing you can just wander the city and check out the sites. Singapore is a very safe and easily walkable city with lots to see everywhere you go, and cold drinks are nearly always at hand to cool you down on a hot day. We visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, which easily challenges the Natural History Museum in New York for its sheer size and impressive collections. Plan on spending an entire day here if you only casually glance at every exhibit. Most of the museum’s collection was closed for renovation when we were there, yet it still took us two hours to see only a quarter of the museum’s collection.
Strolling through the skyscrapers along Singapore’s wide clean sidewalks is a day in itself. The buildings in this city are all very new and ultra modern with all of them competing with each other for most unique design. The clear winner of course is the colossal Marina Bay Sands, a hotel, mall, casino mega complex which dominates the skyline just east of downtown. The Marina Bay Sands is actually three towers with a massive flat top, resembling a ship, built atop. Everywhere you can spot people taking pictures of it and each night the building has a light show lighting up not only the building but much of the surrounding city.
Marina Bay Sands
The Marina Bay Sands, Hotel/Resort/Mall is one of the newest and most impressive and dominating sights on the Singapore skyline. We had admired it from afar, and now it was time to go up and check out the view from the top. There are two ways this can be done, you can either pay to go up to the observation deck on the overhanging bow(front) of the ship like structure on top, or you can go up to the bar and buy a drink. Since both options are almost the same price, the drink option is slightly cheaper, we elected to get a drink for the price of admission and headed up top for a look-see.
If you’re looking to brave the heat for some outdoor shopping and good Chinese food you can visit Chinatown. Here streets hawkers are selling cheap, most likely knock off goods and great food!
Gardens by the Bay
Between the Marina Bay Sands complex and the ocean is a large public park called Gardens by the Bay. Dispersed through a maze of wandering paths and forest there are huge glass atriums. One was built to contain a massive man made cloud forest, and another called the Flower Dome was built to contain a biodiversity park of flowering plants as well as other interesting species from all over the world. Its worth a visit and can by seen in an afternoon. Be sure to stick around afterward for the nightly light and music show outside after sunset. Large metal artificial ‘trees’ covered in vines are brightly lit with changing colors timed to music.
Our time in Singapore was a nice treat from the typically more remote places we have been visiting. We found a few days to be plenty to see all that city has to offer, and enough to push our budget to its limits. For anyone planning a visit, you can see just about everything in three or four days and then move on to a cheaper location.
We took the convenient subway all the way to the airport, where Krista was entertained by an art display of moving metal teardrops. Then we were off to Thailand for a few days before making our way into Laos.