We visited Singapore in June 2005 as part of our summer vacation which took in Bali, Indonesia for 10 nights and 5 nights in Singapore. It was my first visit to Singapore but having vacationed in Thailand the year previous l had some experience of visiting an Asian city and country.
Our trip was booked independently flying with Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) directly from Manchester to Singapore Changi Airport. The airfare which incorporated flying from Manchester to Singapore to Denpsar, Bali to Singapore to Manchester cost us in June 2005 a princely sum of £575 which l do not think was bad at all – and as a side line l would note that Singapore Airlines meet the hype they are well worth flying for if only for the Kris air Entertainment System.
On arrival (13 hours later) into Changi International Airport l was extremely impressed with the quality of the airport building – it was a quite hum of activity, clean, cool and sophisticated. Changi is a world class airport – lots of shopping, eating and drinking establishments to be found. There is an airport pool for transit visitors to chill out at also which is quite original – although l doesn’t think Heathrow really has the weather for passengers to make use of such a facility! Something which really impressed me at Changi was that transit visitors who have a minimum of 5 hours wait to catch their next flight (usually on to Australia or New Zealand) can book a free 2 hour tour of Singapore City, which runs between 10am and 5pm daily.
I can’t really remember much about immigration – so it must have passed quite smoothly without a hitch, l certainly don’t remember queuing or being made to wait. Then again l would be surprised if we did have to queue. In Singapore everything is so efficient.
Transit between Changi and the city can take various modes:
Taxi Cab – these can be found outside both Terminals 1 & 2 at the arrival hall level. Expect a taxi cab fare to cost around $15-20 plus airport surcharges which are not displayed on the meter.
Bus – found at basement level again at both Terminal 1 & 2 and they depart from 6 in the morning until midnight.
Shuttle Bus – operating between the airport and most major hotels and tickets are $10 approximately for adults. Desks selling tickets for the shuttle bus are readily available and found in both terminals.
MRT (Tube) – found in Terminal 2 and leaves every 12 minutes to take you to the City Hall MRT station, the journey is around half hour and costs $1.50. This was by far the cheapest option and the one we chose – we were not jet lagged having spent the 10 days previous in Bali therefore able to cope with the experience!
Having been in Bali and Thailand l think l was expecting another chaotic Asian city on par with Bangkok – oh no! Singapore is very British. That’s the only way l describe the city – genteel and polite! The roadways are very uniform, with colonial style buildings to be found dating back to Imperialistic times. There is a quite calm not like Bangkok at all where everything is hectic and manic! Singapore is very clean also. I’m sure you have all heard about the laws banning chewing gum from Singapore (and its true you cannot buy chewie in the corner shops) and that you can be jailed for not flushing the loo! Colleagues also told me of days gone by with the Singaporean authorities would have refused entry to those who turned up at immigration looking scruffy! Things are not just as bad now but the city is very clean and tidy, with the inhabitants following suit.
There is a wealth of accommodation from all levels to be found in Singapore from the luxurious down to the budget traveller. Websites such as www.expedia.co.uk or www.travelocity.com can help you choose which is right for you pocket – one tip always read the travellers recommendations – not only do you get a feel for the hotel but also there are good top tips about near by amenities and so on.
Again – depending on how frugal or not you want to be you can eat expensively in a top class restaurant or in food hall where a wealth of local food can be picked up for a minute cost. We ate quite a bit at Boat Quay & Clarke Quay – where as long as you are prepared to ignore the touts trying to get you into their establishment and make your own mind up you can get a reasonably priced meal. We ate jumbo prawns at one of these open air restaurants one evening and l must say l have not had prawns like that since – absolutely wonderful. A Singaporean speciality which l am kicking myself l did not try is that of Chilli Crab – as long as you are prepared to get stuck in with your fingers and thumbs it is apparently a wonderful treat.
I found Singapore to be shoppers paradise – when we were there in June it coincided with the Great Singapore Sale and all the shops had great discount sales on! Shopping in the Suntec City Mall – where in the evening you can be entertained by the Fountain of Wealth and Orchard Road. Both are serviced by the MRT. Also there are the stalls in Chinatown & Little India where you can barter to your hearts content. I got a fantastic Chinese Style dress made for under £70 – silk and fully lined – which was totally unique – for friends wedding. And l came home with 5 handbags (my fetish lm afraid) in my suitcase!
Singapore Zoo – open daily from 8.30am – 6pm (www.zoo.com.sg) the zoo occupies an area of 69 acres beside Upper Seletar Reservoir. There are animals from all over the global, but the one exhibit which l found most inspiring was the walk through canopy – here butterflies of all shapes sizes and colours fluttered by your head, up in the tree canopy a sloth took a nappy, a mouse deer peeped timidly out from behind a bush and friendly staff informed you of what you were gazing at. At one point l thought l was done for as a huge lizard trundled my way – boy can they move when they want too. Another highlight for me was watching the Komodo Dragons. Also there is a fantastic oraganutan community – with lots of babies to coo over. The zoo is extremely well run and the animals look happy with lots of space to live in. We spent an entire day at the zoo and took public transport to and from the city centre. The usual smattering of fast food conveniences are too be found and if you should tire of walking in the heat a bus has strategically placed stops in each zone to take you too and from exhibitions.
Sentosa Island – this island lies off mainland Singapore and has built up the reputation to be resort away from the main city of Singapore. Again using the extensive public transport routes we spent a day at Sentosa. Unfortunately the cable cars which run between Mount Faber and Sentosa Island were closed when we visited so we took the more traditional bus option, after taking an MRT to the Harbour Front stop. There is a nominal admission price onto Sentosa which also included bus trips around the island also. There are numerous beach areas to lounge around as long as you don’t mind a back ground view of huge tankers passing by! On Sentosa there are numerous attractions to fill your day. We visited Underwater World (www.underwaterworld.com.sg) which is noted to be one of the best aquariums in Asia. I found it nothing special and rather crowded. There is 2.8 million litres of water home to 2500 tropical sea creatures. Along with your entrance ticket to Underwater World you get admission to the Dolphin Lagoon which is at Palawan Beach. Here you can be entertained by the Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins (otherwise known as the Pink Dolphins). You can also meet the Dolphins which l did the charge was $10 which is really nothing – l got into the water and petted and touched the Dolphin and had my photo taken too! This was such a highlight of my trip. There are numerous other sights to see in Sentosa too – Fort Siloso, Musical Fountain, or Images of Singapore – which l cannot really comment on as we did not visit. Sentosa whilst a bit gimmicky was a nice way to spend a day, especially when the weather is lovely, which it was on our visit until home time when the thunder did roar!
Raffles Hotel – one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore and home of the famous cocktail – Singapore Sling. Found at Bras Basah Road corner with Beach Road. This is a Mecca for most visitors to Singapore. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around this little bit of history and l really felt as though we were stepping back in time. Sitting in the lush courtyard gardens sipping the obligatory Singapore Sling really was relaxing and wonderful especially as the sun was high in the sky and l just had been bought a beautiful silver bracelet in Tiffany’s which can be found as one of the shopping tenants in the hotel complex. It costs nothing to wander around the hotel although expect the Singapore Sling to cost around $25 for 2.
The Esplanade Theatre
Whilst we didn’t go inside the Esplanade is a famous landmark along the waters of Marina Bay – famed because it looks like a huge prickly hedgehog – costing $600 million to build and is home to a performing arts centre. It opened as recently as October 2002 and quickly established it’s self as a popular tourist photographic spot. We arrived in Singapore when light was starting to fade and it was awesome to wander along the riverside past Clarke Quay and sit watch the traffic along river and see the evening lights bounce off the spiky façade of the theatre. It has caused debate among some who think it an eyesore but personally l thought it was a remarkable triumph to contemporary architecture.
A water feature shaped as half fish half lion and is thought to be the symbol of Singapore. Another photographic point for tourists to be found just past the famous Fullerton Hotel past a lot of swish restaurants. Also whilst walking along the riverside to see the Merlion there are a lot of sculptures done in bronze which depict 5 playful children leaping into the river.
There are many other sites and sounds in Singapore – including that of the wonderful Chinatown with its bustling markets and Little India which you must experience simply for the exotic smells alone. There are also wonderfully ornate Hindu Temples which depict many religious scenes – again all great for the photograph album. We also did made a trip across the border from Singapore to Malaysia to the border town of Johor Bahur. Regular buses run across the border – be prepared to spend some time in queues and bring your passport as you will get another stamp. I found Johor Bahur to be the seedy cousin to Singapore which is sterile in comparison – if you do have the time on your hands take time to cross the border.
We spent 5 nights in Singapore and whilst l do not think l would necessarily rush back as we did pretty much everything and saw most of the sites – although l was disappointed the cable car to Mount Faber was not running as l think the views would be stunning – l found the city to be intriguing and a little bit of the west slap bang in the middle of Asia.