It was an early rise to head to Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island – we had a Tiger Airways flight at 11am to Singapore – and it all went really smoothly!
Arrived in the ‘forever-humid’ Singapore, and after clearing passport control and baggage claims, we wandered the mazy path to the MRT (as opposed to MTR in Hong Kong), bought single tickets to Bukit Batok, and boarded the first of three trains to our destination – the journey took about an hour. We’re housesitting here for a week, looking after two gorgeous wee dogs – Pokey and Oscar.
That was our entry to Singapore. We have since had a lovely ten days here taking in a few of the sights, looking after Pokey and Oscar, sampling the local cuisine, and generally doing things very slowly! :o)
Most of our eating has been in the local foodcourt on the top floor of the West Mall – there must be close to a couple of dozen outlets serving great tasting cheap dishes: char siew pork, duck rice, black pepper beef/fish, laksa, bee hoon – skipped the pig organ soup though! The hawker markets (‘street food’ – see definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_centre) have been our dining destination when in town – there’s a great choice in Chinatown.
We’re been really handy for transport links here – right next to Bukit Batok MRT train system, and the bus interchange station of the same name! That has encouraged us to get out and see the sights. So, whilst here, we’ve visited the areas Kampong Glam and Little India; Sentosa Island; Chinatown, the Quays and Marina Bay; and more locally, the Haw Par Gardens (Tiger Balm Gardens).
Our ‘Days Out’ in Singapore:
Managed a walk around Kampong Glam (not a ‘high fashion’ shopping area, but a Malay Historic District) – despite being delayed and forced to daunder around inside the Bugis Station Mall because of heavy rain – to see the colourful shophouses selling Indian textiles in and around Arab, Bussorah and Kandahar Streets. Standing at the end of these streets was the great golden domed Sultan Mosque. With the rain stopped and the sun breaking through, we walked to Little India to take in the smells of incense, flower garlands and food! We took the “long-way-round” MRT ride back to Bukit Batok – a slow hour’s ride without changing.
A visit to Sentosa Island was always on the cards for us, since we’d skipped it both times we’ve been in Singapore before. Our main interest was Underwater World, where Gracie, the dugong resides – the shy dugong is really elusive in the wild, grazing only on sea grass. She didn’t disappoint, and I managed to shoot over a hundred photos of her ‘hardly moving’!!!
Our tour of Sentosa was cut short again by a heavy rainstorm, so we navigated our way back to the main entrance dodging the many construction sites around the island – another place to add to the “it’ll be nice when it’s finished” list!!
Our first trip into Chinatown was interesting – we hadn’t planned where to go past visiting the new, modern Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (Tian Hock Keng), but we traipsed around some lovely backstreets before ending up at Marina Bay late afternoon.
More photogenic shophouses sit on every street in Chinatown, and coming out of the MRT onto Pagoda Street is no different. Particularly touristy with plenty ‘souvenir’ shops, we wandered through, towards the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple down the street. This temple was only completed three years ago, and is fast becoming the Number 1 attraction of tourists and worshippers ! Four storeys high, it also houses a museum (filled with statues of Buddha in all guises, and an exhibit telling the story of Buddhism), a library and a shop.
Had a quick sit-down lunch in the bustling Maxwell Hawker Centre, and on the advice of the stall owner we went to see the architectural models of the city in the Singapore City Gallery across the road. It was a nice cool space to wander around and learn how Singapore has developed. After that wee bit of air-con action, we headed out to find great old buildings in Ann Siang Road, Club Street, Amoy and Teluk Ayer Streets.
Marina Bay is completely different – on totally reclaimed land sit huge new skyscrapers housing the financial forces of Singapore. Again, we had plenty of building sites to negotiate to find our destination – The Marina Barrage. This spiral building with a park on top – where kids were flying kites and newly-married couples were being photographed – was the pit-stop in a leg of The Amazing Race (US TV Show). Nothing for us to do though, except find the bar for a much needed beer!!!
Yesterday, we hit Chinatown again to do a wee bit of shopping (though we came away with nothing), and walk along the Quayside by the river. A DragonBoat Race was going on with many international teams, so we stopped to watch a couple of races, then found the popular focal point at the end of the esplanade – the Merlion Statue – half fish/half lion it spouts water out into the sea. A tasty pint of cider in an English pub on the quay completed our day!
Lastly, mustn’t forget the Haw Par Villa Gardens though (also known as Tiger Balm Gardens) . We’d searched for them in Hong Kong only to find a luxury development had been built on top of it. Well, here it was just a short bus ride away to visit this “Chinese Mythological Theme Park”. The park was built in 1937 by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of Tiger Balm, as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values, and the park contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese folklore, legends, and history. The attractions include statues of the Laughing Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy, as well as dioramas of scenes from Journey to the West. The most well-known attraction is the Ten Courts of Hell, with gruesome depictions of hell in Chinese mythology, all set in a 60 meter-long trail of a Dragon. The park is a wee bit run down, but guys were painting some of the statues, and the whole place is just fun! There’s loads of photos on Iain’s Travel Blog.
Our enjoyable stay in Singapore has now just about come to an end, and it’s back to packing our rucksacks and travelling again. Off across the border to Malaysia tomorrow, and hopefully some nice beach weather on the sands of Tioman Island.