Our next stop on our trip was the island and city state of Singapore. Famously clean and efficient, Singapore is quite different to other mega cities in Asia. It’s comparatively very wealthy and expensive, and I think consequently is quite uninteresting for many backpackers travelling round SE Asia. Friends of mine had recently visited and said 3 days would be enough. However, Jake and I like big modern cities, and were curious to see how things worked here. We were confident we could entertain ourselves for 5 days. By the end we learnt we were right and wrong about that, but let’s start with day 1.
We had difficulty finding accommodation where the price didn’t double depending on what day of the week it was, but we eventually found a reasonable hostel for $18 (£9), which put us inside a large dorm filled with “pods”. Pods are kind of like pigeon holes with beds in, with a blind you can pull down at one end for privacy. They were fairly comfortable really, and our only complaint with the hostel was with the other guests. Half of them were backpackers our age, who tended to uphold pretty good hostel etiquette of being quiet and respectful of other people. The other half were middle aged and older asian people, who we found to be super rude, loud and have foul habits, like spitting phlegm and coughing unbelievably loudly and disgustingly. We had some lousy nights sleep because of people with death coughs hacking and spitting all night long. It was awful.
Walking around Singapore seeing the sights turned out to be pretty exhausting. Our first impressions were that it was ridiculously hot and humid. The locals don’t enjoy walking, and they don’t enjoy being outside. Hence the abundance of excellent public transport and air conditioning. We wandered through beautiful parks, clean streets lined with glass skyscrapers, past grand colonial architecture and many gigantic malls. After a time we found our way to Marina Bay, Singapore’s impressive centrepiece. After seeing its image many times it was pretty amazing to see it in person, kind of like seeing the Sydney Opera House for the first time. The bay is really pretty, especially at night when next to Marina Bay Sands there are free light shows with a backdrop of Singapore’s CBD. By nightfall the temperature becomes much more comfortable and Marina Bay was a great location to chill out in.
In amongst the towering skyscrapers are the more traditional aspects of the city. Chinatown took up a few blocks not far from Marina Bay and was absolutely awesome to explore. Because it’s almost Chinese New Year, there were extra markets, meaning the entire place was heaving, and you could find everything from traditional foods and decorations to tourist tat. It was also outrageously cheap, and a lot of fun could be had by taking free samples from all the food stalls. It was also here that Jake and I ate in a large hawker centre, which was a crazy experience. There were literally thousands of people and we felt like the only white ones. It took us a while to find food that looked edible (a lot of fish heads and chicken feet) but we enjoyed the Japanese curry we eventually found.
Other neighbourhoods we explored included Kampong Glam, the Muslim quarter, and Little India. We enjoyed kebabs in the former and walked down trendy Haji Lane with its graffiti and hipster shops. The Sultan Mosque made for a beautiful centerpiece to the district. Little India was also quite an experience, but we really weren’t in the mood for it at the time. Hundreds of people on tiny sidewalks with traffic rushing past you was too much and we quickly left.
One of the highlights of our visit to Singapore was visiting Universal Studios on Sentosa Island. It’s a movie themed amusement park with rollercoasters, 4D experiences, live action shows and other rides based on movies such as Shrek, Madagascar, the Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park and Transformers. Jake is a huge fan of theme parks so we managed to easily spend 6 hours here, going on the Cylon Ride 3 times and going on basically every ride. It was pricey but good value we thought. Afterwards we explored the rest of Sentosa Island briefly, which is basically one huge resort with beaches, casinos, parks, restaurants, shops and bars all designed for you to spend tons of money. It was cool but we didn’t hang around long, as we were very tired from our long day already!
Another highlight for me was meeting up with one of my old school friends who happened to be in Singapore at the same time as us. Shu-Yi showed us trendy neighbourhoods with cool cafes and excellent food, through Clarke Quay, the nightlife epicentre, and also to Club Street, another drinking hotspot near Chinatown. Unfortunately we went on a Sunday so it was really dead, but it was still great to see so many different aspects of the city.
We filled our time in Singapore fairly easily, although would probably have visited more attractions if they’d been cheaper. The museums and galleries around town usually charge a steep fee to enter, again only for foreign tourists. Because of this we missed out on the National Gallery and the National Museum. We found it possible to visit Singapore and not blow the bank, as food, accommodation and transport is reasonably priced. We only spent about $120 a day (for both of us, around £60). However you can see the main sights in a day and beyond that the only things to do are eat and shop. There are numerous cultural attractions and entertainment available, but they’re not budget friendly. All in all though, our 5 days whizzed by and we had a really good time. It was good to chill out in civilisation for a bit, because we doubted there’d be much of that in our next destination…