(We actually spent a couple of days in Malaysia between Sri Lanka and Singapore, but we're going back there later, so we'll write about it in a different post.)
Singapore! So clean, so safe, so air-conditioned, so much public transit, so many cheap ethnic eats = something to sing about, indeed.
But, it's crowded. And there are SO many malls. You could get lost for days and never see the sun! Plus, hotels are kind of expensive. Proper restaurants and all that nice public transit don't come cheap, either.
So, Singapore's not perfect. But, after a long stretch in mostly "developing" countries, we definitely enjoyed spending a couple of days in this supermodern, space-agey little city-state.
After getting settled in at the cheapest hotel we could find (perfectly clean, but with separate by-the-hour prices and a couple of bonus ladies of the night permanently hanging out outside the main doors), we decided to plunge right into Singapore's superdeveloped side...so we hopped on the MRT and headed to Sentosa.
Sentosa is an island in the harbor that has been completely kitted out for tourism, Singapore-style...which means that tons of sand have been imported to set up a fake beach, concrete "nature trails" have been laid down and escalators installed to take you up hills, huge hotel and restaurant complexes have been constructed, and everything is linked by light rail. I'm not sure why we thought that this would be a fun place to visit, but we checked it out anyway.
The view of the harbor from the light rail is nice.
Sri Lanka has its plastic yellow buddhas...Sentosa has its plastic yellow lionfish.And let's not forget the merlion. In the 1960's, someone decided that Singapore needed a wacky statue to bring in more tourists, so this half-lion, half-mermaid monstrosity was born. The original one on the mainland apparently spits water like a fountain, but the Sentosa version has cool glowing eyes...
OK, the real reason we had gone to Sentosa was because we read that there was a fun "luge" there that we could ride. Putting nothing past technologically advanced Singapore, I had assumed that there was going to be an actual icy slide, like in the Olympics...but we were dismayed to discover that it was just a concrete track and that the vehicles were more like carts that you sit in. So, we chose not to pay $15 for a ride...
Then we were going to try to visit the casino, but they charge you by the hour to store your backpack (they won't let you carry it into the casino), so we left in a huff. Andy, a much more experienced gambler than I am, insists that a casino should never charge you in any way--that way you'll stay longer and lose more money. I guess that's the logic behind all the free food and drinks in Vegas and such. Anyway, it seems Singapore hasn't caught on to the international gambling etiquette.
So Sentosa was a curiosity, but kind of a bust. We did much better on our second day, when we visited the Singapore Zoo. It was probably the best zoo I've ever been to. It's located in Singapore's remaining patch of rainforest, and many animals can even range freely over large areas. We got to see a lot of funky Southeast Asian animals, as well as some worldwide favorites.
Mouse deer are not really deer (or mice), but are funky little creatures found in various places in Asia.
Proboscis monkeys are the largest monkeys in the world and have awesome Gonzo noses! They live only on Borneo, and we saw many in the wild when we went there a few years ago. We won't be back on this trip, so we were happy at least to be able to see a few of our favorite monkeys at the zoo.
We caught meerkat feeding time and learned that they love a snack of cockroaches.
Andy posed me next to a reticulated python, the longest snake in the world, just for comparison. These guys are found in SE Asia, so we'll be on the lookout.
We never saw mandrills in the wild in Africa, but they are still awesome.
Bat balls! Bat balls!
The zoo had a few Komodo dragons, which got us excited for our upcoming trip to Komodo National Park in Indonesia...
There was a special section devoted to animals you find in Ethiopia, which we thought was awesome. We never saw this walia ibex in the wild there, but the zoo had several specimens. It's a goat, not an antelope, but still has pretty impressive horns.
Favorite animal in the zoo: the pygmy hippo, which dances around on its toes on the riverbed, doing a kind of water ballet. Found only in some remote parts of West Africa that we did not get to. Next time!
Singapore also has an impressive museum called the Asian Civilizations Museum, which has history and artifacts from, you guessed it, many Asian civilizations. I especially enjoyed riding this palanquin made with horn handles, from Sulawesi, one of the 16,994 Indonesian islands we will not be visiting.
Andy thinks this is a Buddha, and thinks this is from Thailand. I cannot confirm either of those assertions. Guess we should have taken notes at the museum!
No trip to Singapore would be complete without a trip to the mall. Actually, I'd like to see you try to visit Singapore without accidentally ending up in a mall at some point. A lot of MRT stations spit you out into a mall whether you want to go there or not!
Anyway, there are malls dotted all over Singapore, but the real megamall area is Orchard Road, which is just mall next to mall next to mall for about two kilometers. Here is a shot of just one of the many futuristically-designed malls you can find there--and I congratulate myself at actually figuring out how to emerge from the malls into the sunlight to snap this external shot!
Chinese New Year is approaching, and it will soon be the year of the rabbit. About 75% of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese, and the malls are going crazy decorating for the holiday. This demonic rabbit made out of flowers was definitely my favorite of the many displays we came across.
Clarke Quay is an area along the riverfront that has lots of outdoor bars and restaurants. "But isn't Singapore really hot?" you ask. "Who wants to eat outside? After all, people stay inside all those AC'd malls for a reason!" Well, I have three words to answer your question: outdoor air conditioning. Yup, those crazy things that look like heat lamps hovering over the quay are actually air conditioning the outdoors. What will Singapore think of next??
Our final stop in Singapore was the old-timey Raffles Hotel, named for Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. Also founder of the London Zoo. And the biggest flower in the world, the raffelesia, is named for him. Interesting historical character if you're looking for someone to read about sometime.
Snacks of Singapore
We didn't think we had enough food pictures to warrant a whole separate food post, so here are some shots of things we ate in Singapore!
The cheapest, and often tastiest, food in Singapore is found at "hawker centers," which are like food courts. They sometimes specialize in one type of ethnic cuisine--you find a lot of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian food in Singapore, since there are large populations of people from all those countries living there.
Near our hotel was one that had mostly Chinese food. Andy got noodles with pork, I got noodles with duck. Each plate cost around $2 US. Very delicious! (This meal also marked our first use of chopsticks on our round-the-world trip...)
Much to Andy's delight, we quickly discovered that there is a 7-Eleven about every two feet in Singapore, and that they sell $1 slurpees. (That's one Singapore dollar, worth about 80 US cents.) Of course, the largest size of slurpee available in Singapore is about the size of a small in the US, so Andy had to drink multiple ones each day. In Andy's other hand is a cold canned soy milk, my perhaps slightly healthier beverage of choice on several occasions.
I first had aloe vera yogurt in El Salvador and was pleased to find it again in Malaysia and Singapore. This one is made in Thailand, so it seems I have even more of it to look forward to in the future. This yogurt also had surprise bonus jellied bits in it, which I enjoyed.
If you think that Andy was happy to find all those 7-Elevens, imagine how ecstatic he was when a new friend told us that Singapore also has Dairy Queens!! A quest to find them was immediately planned, and in the mall-land of Orchard Road we found two, one on the street and one in a very posh mall basement, right underneath the Gucci store.
It was a limited DQ menu, so no Mr. Mistys (aka Arctic Rushes) for Andy, but we did get our first Blizzard fix in almost a year. And Singapore has crazy Blizzard flavors! Andy got blueberry-almond and I got green -tea-Oreo. Yummmmm.
If you think that's all, you're wrong. After our main course Blizzards, we had to have a dessert Blizzard! In the name of moderation, we shared an apricot-almond blizzard. No pic here, you'll just have to take our word for it.
I should mention here that we stupidly forgot to take any pictures with my college friend Leslie, who lives in Singapore and met us for drinks and dinner on our last night in town. It was so great to catch up with her and hear all about her Asian adventures since graduation. Her friends were great, too (John tipped us off about the DQs, and we will be forever grateful!). Thanks for a great night out, Leslie!
So, as we hurtled toward the airport in the icy-AC'd MRT train, I thought back over my two and a half days in Singapore. I might not recommend it as the most exciting vacation destination ever, but with the good public transit, safety and cleanliness, great location in the middle of Southeast Asia, and fun mix of foods, and air-conditioned outdoors, it would certainly be a comfortable enough place to live for a couple of years. And given how many Western expats we saw around the city, I'm clearly not the only one who thinks so.