Last week I was tasked to go to Bangalore India for vacation. While planning flights, I unfortunately found that there is no good easy way to get to Bangalore from Shanghai. No direct flights and it seems that all of the connecting flights had horrific layovers. After scouring through various flight plans, I found one that had a layover in Singapore. I had always wanted to go to Singapore so I jumped at the opportunity and turned the twelve hour layover into a two day layover.
On Saturday afternoon I caught a taxi to Pudong Airport in Shanghai and boarded my Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore. Singapore Airlines is widely known to be one of the best public airlines on the planet so I had high hopes. Even with my economy class ticket, I was not disappointed. The service was great, the food was delicious, and the stewardesses were all very attractive/tall Singaporean girls that jumped on every opportunity to provide excellent service. In Asia, airlines tend to hire stewardesses based partially on looks (a practice which would have severe lawsuits if done outside Asia). While I don’t necessarily agree with the practice- it was not a downside for me.
After a four hour flight I landed in Singapore. I have to say that customs in Singapore was the quickest experience that I have had anywhere in the world. I was through customs/immigration and had my bags in literally about 5 minutes. Definitely an upgrade from the two hours it took at LAX when I connected there. The first thing I noticed when stepping out of the airport in Singapore was the heat. When I had left Shanghai, it was about 0C and dry. I donned a big winter coat and had a winter hat on. In Singapore, being close to the equator, it was closer to 30C and as humid as a sauna. I immediately stripped down to the t-shirt I was wearing underneath my mound of winter gear.
I found the line for the taxi and queued up. Once in the taxi, I told the driver to take me to the Shangri-La Hotel. One thing that is also immediately noticeable in Singapore is that everyone speaks English… very well. This was a pleasant change from Shanghai where most taxi drivers speak no English at all. The taxi driver seemed to approve of my hotel choice. The most “popular” hotel in Singapore is the distinct Marina Bay Sands. While I would have loved to stay there, I decided to stay at the Shangri La as I have a loyalty account there and it was about $100 cheaper per night. At $350 a night, the Shangri-La was definitely not a bargain- however I couldn’t really justify that extra $100 just for a nice view. The taxi driver said that I made a right choice and that the Marina Bay Sands was a bit nosier and the air wasn’t as clean.
I got to my hotel in about an hour and checked into my gorgeous room on the 14th floor. I definitely recommend anyone traveling in Asia to stay at a Shangri-La. The service and level of quality you get are unmatched. My room in Singapore was huge, comfortable, and had a very interesting “home automation” panel on the night stand. You could control every single light using the buttons on the panel and even open/close the curtains. The bath tube was huge and the shower felt so good after the long flight.
So I was faced with a dilemma- what to do for dinner? Singapore is a country that is known to be a fusion of many different Asian countries and is famous for having some of the best food in the world. With this plethora of choice, where did I go? I went to the hotel buffet. I know, some will say that I was lazy and wasted a night and arguably the foodie capital of Asia- however this was my vacation. If I want to be lazy and spend $60 to knock down a couple of beers and eat gourmet seafood at the hotel buffet- who will stop me? Vacations are meant to relieve stress and by staying in the hotel and relaxing I did just that. The buffet was great (I know at this point I am sounding like the Shangri-La paid me). There was assortments of food from around Asia and I ate copious amounts of crab and sushi.
The next day I was scheduled to meet my friend Hung Lun and his wife Weng in my hotel lobby. I had worked with Hung Lun when I lived in Asia and had kept in touch via Facebook. After meeting in the lobby, we decided to go to the nearby botanical gardens and have a nice walk. We met up with his wife and enjoyed the scenery of the mark. Singapore has the reputation of being very clean and walking around the park it lived up to this reputation. One thing that I noticed was the surprising number of foreigners in the park- maybe even being in the majority compared to Asians. I’ve heard that a lot of companies are jumping ship from Hong Kong to Singapore (to escape the Chinese government), so perhaps this is what I was seeing. Perhaps I was just in a “foreigner” area. In the park there was a paid “Orchid” garden. I went in and took pictures of flowers (many of which I was told were rare).
After the botanical gardens, we decided to head to Sentosa Island and caught a subway to Harbour Front Station. At the station we grabbed a quick lunch at the food court. I had a sort of “pick and choose” soup that had quail egg, tofu, various vegetables, and assorted seafood. Very good and I remember the price being somewhat reasonable. After lunch, we dropped by a supermarket and grabbed some drinks to enjoy by the wading pool on the roof of the station (which was also a big shopping mall). Again, when we got out on the roof I was surprised by the heat. The sun was blaring down and I was afraid that I was going to get roasted- however fortunately we found a shaded area. Hung Lun’s daughter played in the water while we all took a rest.
We decided to take the cable car to Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is an island on the southern part of Singapore known for its resort like areas. It has a few different beaches and even a Universal Studios. The cable car was really a pleasant experience. We passed high over the sound connecting Sentosa Island to Singapore and had some amazing views.
On the other side, it became quickly apparent that Sentosa was indeed a touristy area (some might call it a tourist trap). Admission was free (save the $20 cable car ride), however there were a ton of touristy shops scattered about. It was still very fun and the weather was great which allowed us to leisurely walk around. There was also a huge Merlion close to the cable car stop. The Merlion is somewhat like an icon in Singapore and is a statue of a lion mixed with a mermaid.
After walking around a bit, we caught a tram to Palawan Beach. After waiting 30 minutes for a tram that took us about 30 seconds down the road (we felt foolish for not walking), we arrived and Palawan Beach and was greeted with a gorgeous seaside view. After relaxing a bit with a couple of drinks, Hung Lun and I went to the obervation tower on the south side of the beach and took in the great views. There was also a sign saying that it was the “southern most part of continental Asia”.
We enjoyed the beach a bit and then caught a taxi back into town. Hung Lun and his wife invited me to their family’s house to enjoy a nice home cooked dinner. He mentioned that his father-in-law enjoyed liquor. I had brought some Chinese liquor as a gift for Hung Lun so it was a really good match. After a taxi ride to the apartment, I was greeted by a meal of seafood that could definitely pass at a five star restaurant. His inlaws are from Pudian (China) so I had a very interesting assortment of seafood ranging from soft shell sea crab to fish ball soup. There was also copious amounts of alcohol involved and I even go to try some homebrew rice wine which has a lovely fruity flavor.
After saying goodbye to everyone, I caught a taxi back to my hotel, took a shower, and then passed out. The next day I had to catch a flight at 9pm to Bangalore so I could enjoy a full day of sightseeing. The weather was not as good as the previous day (there was an on-and-off drizzle of rain), however I weathered it out. I spent a good part of the morning swimming and sitting by the pool reading a book. The pool was great and was very relaxing (and also very deep which I love).
When I was done with the pool, I took a quick shower and packed/checked out of the hotel. I left my luggage with them so that I could go see the sights of Singapore. Singapore is famous for “hawker stalls” in public places. Hawker stalls are pretty much a single stall that makes one specialty dish- very well. They are normally in an outdoor “food center” and are bunched together with many other stalls (about 50 or so). Hung Lun suggested that I go to one on Old Airport Road and I was not disappointed.
The first stall I had specialized in a sort of dried sardine soup. It had just the right level of spice and was very delicious.
The second stall was definitely the most interesting. They specialized in big prawn soup. After ordering, the lady caught a live big prawn from the tank she had outside and boiled it alive. Mixed with various greens and a spicy broth, it was great.
At this point I also got some fresh juice of green apple and sour plum to wash down my last dish.
The last dish was a chopped and roasted duck served on white rice. It was…. OK, however definitely the weakest of the three dishes.
At this point I was completely stuffed and caught a taxi to the main bay area of Singapore where the main iconic Merlion was located. This Merlion is right in front of the bay and provides a nice seaside view of The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The Merlion was pretty impressive and I snapped a few good pictures.
At all of these touristy places, I kept seeing a theme of older western guys with smoking hot Asian women. Later (after looking it up online), I found out that prostitution is not only legal in Singapore, but highly regulated/taxed. While I would never partake, I think this is the right approach. Anyways, after grabbing a mango smoothie at Starbucks I decided to walk over to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. On my way there, I was caught in a bit of a flash rain, however I endured and made it to the hotel. The hotel itself has a casino and a super rich (think Galleria x5) shopping mall at the base. I wasn’t interested in gambling (or paying $50 for a Gucchi t-shirt) so I headed straight to the sky garden of the hotel.
Basically, even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can pay about $15 to go to the top of the hotel and enjoy the view from the observation deck. It was definitely worth it as the view was simply incredible. You could see the skyscraper filled metropolitan skyline of Singapore, however my favorite view was that of the bay area with all of the boats grouped up to dock. I could have spent hours just staring at the bay wondering and imagining stories for each individual ship.
I took in the view and then caught a taxi back to the Shangri-La. After enjoying a cheese platter in the hotel cafe, I got my luggage and went to the airport via taxi. I had about three hours to kill at the airport and the airport at Singapore is definitely the airport to kill time at. There is wifi access everywhere and even free massage chairs to relieve weary feet (which I welcomed). After a few hours, I boarded my flight to India (which I will write about next). Overall Singapore was a great experience. I felt like it was a bit rushed, however I am still glad I went and consider myself very lucky to have had native friends there to show me around. I definitely want to go back and look forward to hanging out by the pool again!