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Singapore June 2005

sunny

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!

First Impressions

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.

Accommodation

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.

Eating Out

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.

Shopping

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!

Sight Seeing

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.

Merlion

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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by Purdy 11:41 Archived in Singapore Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Been To Bali

sunny 30 °C

I was extremely lucky to have visited Bali, Indonesia in June 2005, before the second bombings took place. To have occurred once was horrendous, killing and maiming all those people but for a second time – what has this island paradise and beautiful and gentle people done to deserve this? I don’t want to dwell too much on this incident l want to extol to you (hopefully doing it some justice) the majestic beauty and peaceful tranquillity of this small island and its peoples.

To travel to Bali you will have to connect through one of the more major hubs whether it is Singapore or Bangkok. We flew out of Manchester with Singapore Airlines checking our baggage all the way through to Denpsar in Bali (DPS is the airport code). Flights connecting through Singapore and with a stop over in Singapore on the way home cost less than £600 STG which was excellent value. Expect to travel for practically 24 hours – we had to leave from Belfast therefore it took 3 flights to get to our final destination – with around 17 hours actual flying time. It is long haul at its worst but on arrival it is definitely worth it.

Bali is in the Southern hemisphere only just mind you – less than 150 miles from the equator (8 degrees south apparently) you are in the tropics have no doubt – so come prepared for soaring temperatures and intense heat. As it is an island l didn’t find the humidity to be as fierce as that of a city such as Bangkok – where my hair frizzed as soon as l walked out side! Another preparation before you leave is to visit your GP and ensure you are vaccinated properly – probably a tetanus jab and a Hep B (l think that’s correct) jab – l didn’t need anything this year you see as l was up-to-date from visiting Thailand the year previously. The MASTA website is a good place to check up on what you require. Then ensure you have all the proper sun creams (HIGH factors please) and bug repellents in your bag – throw in a pair of shorts and a bikini (if that floats your boat!) and your all set!

On arrival ensure you have some US dollars as you will have to pay for an entry visa which is stamped into your passport – not this was the case for me as l travel on a UK passport – other countries should consult with the Indonesian Consulate. This was around $30 for both of us. Passport control and immigration move smoothly and the officers were very pleasant – they even had sweeties on the desk for the guests – Jolly Rangers and l had 2!!

We simply grabbed a cab from outside the airport – agreeing a price before we got in l may add – but you will find such cheap in comparison to western standards – approximately £15 for our cab and the trip to our hotel which was off the Nusa Dua peninsula took around half an hour. This is where you get your first glimpse of Bali – well it is mainly roads with families whizzing past you on motorcycles – weaving in and out – horns blaring. It is chaotic and lm not a great passenger at the best of times l must say but l soon got used to it! It might sound all aggressive as a horn blares and a motorcycle skims by your cab – but then you get a huge grin a friendly wave and their off again. Another lovely thing we noticed was if stopped at lights and a family (mummy daddy and a couple of kids) on a bike pulls along usually the kids start to grin and wave profusely – it’s so sweet and welcoming and brings a smile to the hardest of hearts!

We stayed at the Bali Conrad Resort which is to be found in Tanjung Benoa/Nusa Dua area of Bali. It is a quieter part of the Island with a lot of big name hotel resorts. We booked our hotel accommodation through www.travelocity.co.uk. The hotel resort & spa is probably a more upmarket hotel but again as with most holiday resorts there are all levels of accommodation to suit all wallets. The hotel catered for your every desire – it had a fantastic spa and pool, separate pool and beach area, numerous bars and dining areas, a gym, shopping arcade, tour desk and water sports. The room we stayed in was an executive room and was huge with a large bathroom all decorated tastefully in dark woods. There was also a patio area which when opened up had a beautiful view of the sea. Rooms on higher levels had a balcony area as opposed to a patio. The patio was equipped with lounging beds and table and chairs. Each room had a little fabric monkey for guests to take away – each wearing a black and white gingham sarong which in the Hindu religion is to ward of evil spirits – l think it represents the yin and yang – now don’t quote me on that though. It was a glorious hotel and we spent a good few days of our ten night stay enjoying the facilities and the wonderful weather!

We tried to intersperse our holiday with days soaking up the sun along with sight seeing trips. The trips l must say we booked mainly through a website called www.balidiscovery.com and it was interesting as we found it to work out as cheap for us to hire a car/van and tour guide and prepare our own itinerary. I would recommend you surf around the website and see what suits you.

Eating and drinking in Bali was not as cheap as in Thailand – but still compared to restaurants in the west you were still saving. I can definitely recommend:

Bumbu Bali (& cookery school) – we actually went here for my birthday which occurred on holiday. I found it idyllic – whilst my other half found it uncomfortable due to the heat and humidity – the poor soul almost melted in a puddle in front of me meaning he didn’t enjoy the food properly. A free shuttle bus between our hotel and the restaurant meant transportation was not an issue – our concierge desk sorted that out for us. We booked the morning prior to eating there that evening – again sorted out at the concierge desk. It was dark and l can’t really remember much about the exterior of the building – maybe that was the champagne cocktails l had consumed – but as we walked in the chefs in the open plan kitchen all turned to us and shouted a big cheery hello – totally unexpected! After being in here for a while we soon realised that everyone got the same greeting! I was also given an orchid on arrival – something all the females were presented with – l slipped it into my hair it seemed the done thing! We were placed beside a little water feature with fish swimming inside – l did get concerned about mozzies and the running water – so liberally sprayed my ankles with bug spray! The food was authentic Balinese cuisine and it was divine – from memory there were chicken, beef and prawn satay and l remember having a delicious fish coated in spices cooked with in a banana leaf. We had beers and cocktails with the food – and even though the meal was a birthday treat l don’t think it cost much more than £30 for both of us.

In Kuta we ate in a lovely restaurant situated on Poppies II called Kori and l think to my other half this was his best meal of the trip (it came a very close second to Bumbu Bali for my personal choice!). It didn’t look very big from the outside but inside was like a tardis with different levels and nooks and crannies. An open air setting once in side – himself was a lot more comfortable here to enjoy the food! The menu took you across Asia with different specialities for you to choose – satay, Thai food to the Singaporean chilli crab. Food was presented beautifully – we chose a selection of satay skewers to start and it came out on a stone cube inside of which was a little fire so you could keep the food warm. I had the red snapper – l fish which is hard to come by here at home but is an amazingly delicious meaty fish and local to the area so fresh. Rice is the staple side order. Again it was extremely reasonable to eat at. We actually tried to eat here a second evening but luck was against us and the owners had closed to the public for a family occasion.

Finally, l must mention Jimbaran Beach – the area which suffered at the hands of bombers last summer. For any of those wanting a romantic setting and fresh delectable seafood – this place is highly recommended. Come early – maybe around 5pm and enjoy a wander down the beach, watch the wonderfully colourful fishermen’s boats set of for a night of fishing, have a beer and watch the sunset before choosing one of the numerous beach front seafood restaurants to have a meal. We ate at one called Sharkeys – no particular reason – it was the closest we were to when the sun set! Here you choose your fish and pay dependent on the weight – the choice is endless – lobster, snapper, crab, huge prawns or squid – cooked over an open flame grill of coconut husks – the smells wafting to you are simply mouth-watering. It was at Jimbaran that we first encountered Balinese wine! Yes you read correctly – not known as a wine producer but l must say – FABULOUS! I love a NZ Sauvignon Blanc usually and the taste was reminisant – we loved it so much – we picked up a couple of bottles to bring home – l still have the bottle unfortunately the contents is long gone! Just checked the bottle – Bali Hatten Aga Wine produced in Sanur.

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Just a word about spa treatments – most resort hotels will have a spa facility and from personal experience l can thoroughly recommend them! I took 2 treatments myself and even got himself coerced into joining me for a couples treatment as a third! I had an invigorating body scrub, a fresh facial – all the products used were edible and we then and a couples foot and leg massage. All of which were amazing – the therapists were like angels and had truly magic fingers. Cost is so much less than we would pay at home – all three treatments worked out at around £55 STG.

Bali has some amazing scenery so it is an absolute must that if you are there you see as much as possible.

Our first trip took us took us in an open top jeep – which on hindsight was not such a good idea with the day time heat beating off us and nothing to shelter under and the suspension on the jeep wasn’t the greatest! Still the scenery and sights certain made up for whatever discomfort. We visited:
Tirta Empul – the most holy spring in Bali enshrined in a temple of 1000 years in age. Our guide was great in telling us all about the Hindu ceremonies and rituals that took place here, and indeed we were able to witness locals going about their religious doings.

Batur Volcano – here is where we experienced the discomfort! We went off road and crossed the black lava fields on our way to vantage point where we were able to view the still active volcano – l had though we went to the crater but sadly no.

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Ubud – the local town renowned for the number of local artists which reside here. There was also a market to potter around and do a bit of shopping. I didn’t really shop much here – l was flagging from the heat!

Goa Gajah – again another holy shrine – locally known as the Elephant Cave because of all the ancient carvings.

It something l should note that local culture states proper dress attire which is that of wearing a sarong – our guide provided sarongs for us to wear and even dressed us properly in them.

This trip lasted a full day with plenty of stops for water and food. I cant really quote costs as these are all tailor made and would definitely recommend you check out the website l mentioned before.

Another site not to be missed and one of the most famous Balinese tourist spots was a sunset trip to the Tanah Lot Sea Temple. This temple is over 1000 years old and is probably the most photographed. It perches on a high cliff and when the sunsets the view is spectacular with the rays dancing on the sea and glowing through the temple. Only the Balinese can actually go inside the temple but it is still we worth visiting.

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A further trip took us to Alas Kedaton Holy Monkey Forest – in the forest surrounding the temple hundreds of allegedly tame monkeys live. I found the monkeys to be quite forward and indeed aggressive so it was good our guide was with us! I had one perch on my head and eat snacks from my hand! Another tried to steal my camera case! Great photographic opportunity but do approach the animals with caution – and make sure you inoculations are up-to-date as if they don’t get what they want apparently they can become aggressive and even bite.

Kuta Beach is a wonderful golden beach – but rife with touts selling their wares from fake sunglasses and watches to offering massage or hair beading. We headed down for sunset again and himself got some excellent shots. The resort of Kuta is where the main night life is to be found for tourists with lots of restaurants bars and clubs to be found at Poppies I & II. There are the usual market stalls selling local crafts and knock off bags and the like. We spent a few evenings wandering around and also went to pay our respects at the memorial where the first bombing killed so main innocent lives. Kuta is also a Mecca for surfers so expect to meet a lot of long blonde haired lithe Australians out to catch the waves.
What l have given you is really only a snap shot of Bali, there is so much to see and do in this little island in Indonesia. Although at the moment l am not sure what the Foreign Office recommends about visiting Indonesia due to terrorism which is a bloody crying shame as these people rely on tourism to sustain there economy. The island is amazing from the towering volcanoes, to the sparkling blue lakes, to the amazing temples thousands of years old to the ingenious rice terraces. It has wonderful balmy hot weather, excellent cuisine and the people are so gentle and polite.

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Posted by Purdy 00:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Niagara in February

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We went to Toronto last Feb for a city break - wish we had left the city to warmer weather though - the path system is wonderful BUT not alot to do when you are kept in doors by freezing weather. So we didnt get to see the wonderful islands and so on - so l guess will have to visit again!

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Anyway one thing l am SO glad we did was visit Niagara Falls in freezing weather - it was less congested, and the views were SPECTACULAR - to see huge icicles hanging off trees and the roar of the Falls with ice chunks in the flow was amazing. We went with a tour which was small and wonderful - run by an amazing lady called JOJO - totally recommend that!

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Posted by Purdy 00:00 Archived in Canada Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

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