26 June – 28 June 2015
The seventh entry in my Southeast Asia journal.
Kuching (Malaysian Borneo)/Singapore – Day 72
Our last morning in Malaysian Borneo is a busy one. First we withdraw money from an ATM in order to pay for our stay at the guesthouse, then we sort our laundry so it’s nice and clean before jetting off again. There’s also another trendy cafe that somehow eluded us, not far from our street. The food is basically microwavable, but you get a cake for dessert, and all for £2. As per tradition, we say goodbye to the landscape we’ve grown accustomed to, and taxi off to the airport. It’s a simple affair and in no time we’re eating nuggets at Marry Brown, wondering what Singapore is like. The plane journey is uneventful – Sophie was very brave! Well done Sophie. We touchdown at the airport and, as anticipated, the place is pristine. And everything runs so smoothly. We’re through security and collecting our luggage on the conveyor in no time. It’s a $26 taxi to our Holiday Inn Express, the luxury hotel Sophie’s Dad very kindly arranged for us as a Christmas present. The fare itself surprised me because the total price appeared digitally on the screen, above what looked like a traditional taxi meter displaying a much cheaper price. (I’m sure if it was a con they wouldn’t be so blatant about it, though.) The hotel is very nice. The deposit alone was $75, more than four times the price we would normally pay for a guesthouse. Our room has an entire wall of glass and all of the things you dearly miss backpacking, such as a nice clean toilet, shower, and some privacy. After settling in, we search Singapore on foot for dinner. Unfortunately at this point it’s a bit late. A receptionist informs us the hawker stalls are all closed now, that there will be “nowhere cheap”. She then tells us to walk in the wrong direction. So we digress a bit, taking in the big, clean, six-lane motorways at night; getting stuck at long lights in order to use the pedestrian crossings.
The citizens of Singapore are much like Londoners. They’re all dressed smart, businessmen, many of them waiting for public transport. The skyline is dominated with magnificent skyscrapers, with a quasi-futuristic vibe. We return to the hotel and ask for better directions. The receptionist then recommends a taxi – you can tell they don’t get many budgeting backpackers here in one of the trendy parts of the city, Clarke Quay! We defy the receptionist and walk anyway, but in the opposite direction this time, past nightclubs that could have been plucked straight from the posh bits in London or Liverpool. Every single street sign or instruction is English only. Eventually, we reach Chinatown (why is there a Chinatown everywhere?) and discover a thriving hawker food court. We eat a cheap meal, and a nice man directs us to a 7/11. There we buy a few snacks and essentials and, as it’s really getting on now, decide to head back and get our heads down for an early rise.
The hawker food might’ve been the reason behind my awakening early in the night. I’ve an upset stomach, but luckily a nice, clean, private bathroom to have an upset stomach in. The problem is it keeps me up and fatigued when breakfast time comes around. Sophie and I walk down to a lovely, large part of the hotel with a high ceiling and plenty of light coming in through the large windows. The only poor thing is, really, the breakfast. It’s just like a standard Holiday Inn’s back in Blighty but, unsurprisingly, with more of an Asian selection.
After breakfasting we took a stroll out through the empty bars of Clark Quay, under a hot sun. The Quay looks a bit like Concert Square in Liverpool in the day. Heading straight through, we climb some stairs and ascent a plateau across the road. There a large park called Fort Canning, with gates and a cannon – all that remain from what was the former seat of British power. It’s a nice place to stroll about, even if the sun is uncomfortably hot. We make our way to Orchard Road, a famous road in Singapore with plenty of shops and goings-on, but my stomach nags me again and forces us to return to the Holiday Inn. As a sympathy pain perhaps, Sophie develops a migraine, and the two of us are left in the room for a total of three hours while we recover. We venture back out and make it to the colonial district. There beautiful white buildings from the Victorian era contrast with the mega skyscrapers around the bay. All of the buildings have English names and, lost among them, you could swear that you were home.
We also picked a great day to explore, because it’s Armed Forces Day in Singapore. There’s a parade through the city, meaning City Hall and some of the roads are closed off (but not to our disadvantage). The parade is complimented by the flight of red jets. They soar overhead in formation and are really incredibly, frighteningly loud. It freaked Sophie out at one point because the noise was so terrific, you could imagine one to be crashing down on you. In reality it was probably a kilometer away in the sky, pulling some maneuver. A plane cruising hundreds of feet overhead seemed to generate explosions in our ears. I couldn’t help put picture myself as a helpless citizen in a state at war, and how scary it would be to experience an “attack” like this one.
It really is a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. There’s a stage on the river front with live music. I really liked the sound of the band playing, the singer – singing in English of course – sounded a bit flat, though. We follow the bend of the river, noticing some floating football fields on the water, and walk under the famous Marina Bay Sands building that sort of looks like one skyscraper fell on top of three other ones. From there on it was no trouble at all getting to the famous Gardens by the Bay; just in time for a live show, too. Out on the grass amidst hundreds of tourists a live orchestra begins to play, accompanied by each of the giant trees that make up the ‘garden’ lighting up in time to the music. The orchestra plays some Disney as the lights change colour. There are several restaurants at the foot of the trees, and we eat dinner there. Then we fail to beat the crowd to the metro-transit system, meaning we’re herded on to our carriage with a hundred others, getting off back at Clarke Quay. We buy a few apple ciders and Rekorderligs to top off a good day, and enjoy them in our nice hotel.
Note: Unfortunately, we weren’t aware you could go to the top of Marina Bay Sands and spend a day there on the infinity pool overlooking the city. That would have been an incredible experience. By the time we reached it, the sun was setting and we weren’t allowed to go up. If I ever go back to Singapore, swimming at the top of Marina Bay Sands will be the first thing I’ll do.
The pool beckoned us today. On the roof of the Holiday Inn is an infinity pool overlooking the city, the first infinity pool I’ve ever swam in. We spend most of the day here relaxing, playing in the water. In the afternoon we hailed a taxi down and got it to take us to the Singapore Night Safari. Though we’d heard the Zoo was amazing, we figured the Night Safari sounded more exotic. After all, neither of us had ever been on safari before. It wasn’t quite as we expected – not a roam around the last tracks of wilderness the city-state had to offer in a jeep or anything. Ironically, it was much like a zoo.
The whole look of the Night Safari triggered my fan-boy schema, making me think of Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World, rather). The whole thing looked like a great family day out, and we were both excited to look around. After buying our tickets we queued for the ‘Creatures of the Night’ show. It had rave reviews, but was obviously intended for a very young audience. The most exciting bit was when a ranger instructed an otter to place a bottle in the bin [something which must have been more exciting in person, I suppose. I can’t even remember it!]. After the show, we queued for the tram which was to take us round the ‘Safari’. The journey is exciting, though. The tram crawled past enclosures with bears, lions, leopards, hyenas, wolves, tigers, elephants, and giraffes. All of the creatures we are told, are nocturnal. (Otherwise I guess the show would be somewhat less entertaining.) The only mildly boring animals were the ‘exotic’ cattle and deer – which look just like the cattle and deer you’d see driving down the M6. The elephants also, it must be stated, shook their heads constantly as though they didn’t like their enclosures.
We jumped off the tram for some ice cream, and walked the night trails. On the ‘fishing trail’ wild cats stalked open sources of water looking to claw up some of the fish. There’s also an owl with just one eye, and strangely the information panel accompanying it failed to mention why. Excitedly we entered the ‘flying squirrel hut’ but we only see one, and it didn’t look too bothered about showing off for tourists. There are also some cool porcupines and small hoofed animals. The otters were very noisy and playful. It was a fun night.
We left the ‘Safari’ not long before it was due to shut, and there was a coach waiting to head back into the heart of Singapore. We jump on it to save splurging on more taxis.