A View of Singapore
Even though I had started to plan out Christmas travels in September, various issues and developments outside of my control threatened to derail any and all travel plans. As a result, up until early to mid December, I had pretty much resigned myself to staying at home and not going anywhere. However, when I got news that everything would be alright with visas, I quickly developed a travel plan and made the necessary arrangements.
At first, I thought of playing it safe and heading to Europe since it is quick and easy to get to, and if anything went wrong with visas or connections, I would not take as much of a financial hit. However, since I was trying to book flights and hotels a couple weeks before Christmas, prices were raised significantly for Christmas and New Years for pretty much all of Europe. In addition, a lot of hotels were already booked full, so I needed a new plan.
Since I had been to Europe several times before for Christmas and had last been there in June (Ireland) and August/September (Luxembourg and Portugal), I wanted to do something a little bit different. Plus, I've never been a fan of cold weather, and I didn't want to be wandering around in freezing cold weather. I've done that before numerous times, and it's alright until I cannot feel my fingers or ears anymore. Therefore, I decided to look eastward to Asia, with a focus on Southeast Asia in particular since I knew the weather would be hot but bearable. The last time I was in Asia was in 2011 (Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand), and I was eager to make a return since it had been far too long since my last visit.
I chose Singapore partly because I know that Singapore Changi Airport is a major hub and has good connections from the Middle East, but I also chose to visit because it is a country that I had been curious about for a long time, but it always got put on the back burner in favor of other closer countries. While trying to learn about the country and what to see, many people I talked to often said that I only needed to spend only 1-2 days there to see Singapore and that there was not very much to see. This did concern me a little bit since I was scheduled to spend almost one week there. However, in retrospect, I think the idea you only need 1-2 days was nonsense. Even after six days, I still did not have a chance to see everything, and I definitely want to return again.
As I stated in a previous blog entry "The Journey to Singapore", my first impression of Singapore upon arrival was the heat and humidity. During my time there, the weather was routinely between 25-30 Celsius (78-87 Fahrenheit) with humidity in the mid-80s. This meant the air was always hot and heavy. It was even so humid that my camera lens often fogged up once I left an air-conditioned building. Because it was so hot and humid and because Singapore is a very safe place, I didn't even wear my backpack. Instead, I put my camera around my neck and kept the selfie-stick in my pocket. Usually those things would go into my backpack and only come out when I wanted to photograph something. However, the heat was a bit much, and I did not want to be weighed down with any more than I absolutely needed. Even though I was routinely covered in sweat within about 15-20 minutes of going outside, I didn't mind it. I will admit though that the heat and humidity did slow me down a bit. There were often times when I had to head back to the hotel room in the early to mid-afternoon to have a shower, nap, and cool off. That was OK though. That simply meant I had more energy to see Singapore at night which is quite special.
Because Singapore is a very expensive place, I decided to get a tourist pass for 38 Singapore Dollars that would allow me free use of the Singapore transportation system for three days. The transportation system (MRT), as expected, is highly organized and extremely easy to use and navigate since everything is clearly marked. Luckily, my hotel was located near two metro stops, so it was very easy for me to get around without having to walk too far. Even though the stations were often crowded, they were very clean and orderly, and I didn't see any buskers or beggars that are commonly seen in places such as Europe. In fact, I only saw two street musicians in the time I was there, and both of them made sure to display their official license openly in case the police showed up. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like that in Europe or the US. Since I had free use of public transportation for three days, I used the tourist card frequently and as much as I could, and it allowed me to travel pretty much everywhere with very little need to use taxis. The only time I needed to use a taxi was when I needed to get to the Apple Store to have a technician look at my laptop that had been acting up. Ultimately, the tourist pass definitely saved me money in the long run. When I ran out of credit, I simply topped it off at a machine in the station. Super easy. In addition to the card being a nice souvenir, it still remains valid, so that means I can use it again when I return and do not have to buy another one.
During my time in Singapore, I explored as much as I could (detailed blogs on particular items to follow), and one thing that I was struck by was the large numbers of skyscrapers and the architecture. The buildings were all sleek, modern, and almost futuristic, and housed very well-known banks and corporations. However, what impressed me most was that some buildings even had rooftop/outdoor gardens which create green spaces on upper floors of buildings. I had read about these kinds of buildings that are occasionally built in different capitals throughout the world in order to cut down on carbon and add a little life to a concrete jungle, but I had never seen anything like that until I saw it in Singapore. I definitely think that is something cities all over the world should try to incorporate in their building designs. It would be environmentally-friendly, would create a beautiful aesthetic, and draw more tourists because of the relative uniqueness of it.
Of course, one of the main reasons why I decided to visit Singapore was for the food, particularly Chinese food. Where I live, getting Chinese food is not particularly easy. There is one Chinese restaurant in the city (that I know of), and the food is mediocre at best. Therefore, when I was in Singapore, I made it a point to eat as much Chinese food as I could. Getting good Chinese where I live is rare, so I definitely made sure to take advantage of this opportunity at every chance I got. Every day I was there, I made a stopover in Chinatown and simply picked a place from one of the many restaurants and indulged in a veritable feast.
For those that know me, I absolutely love spicy food, and the Chinese food in Singapore is known for being very spicy. Each night, I often had really spicy food at different restaurants (mostly beef dishes but also noodles). I even ate the red and green chili peppers which usually accompanied the dishes. This is not something I would usually do when I get this kind of food in the US, but since I was on vacation, I figured "why not?" However, when the spiciness got a little too hot to handle, it was easy to wash it down with a bottle of Tiger Beer, which is Singapore's nationally-brewed beer.
If I ever return to Singapore (I hope I do), I definitely want to try out more restaurants. There is more than just Chinese food there. There is also Indian, Middle Eastern, and Western cuisine along with many others. However, this time, I had a massive craving for Chinese, so I indulged and had as much as I could, and it was definitely worth it.
Even though I saw a lot, two of my favorite parts of Singapore were visiting the different Chinese temples (a different blog entry will be on those) and walking around the city at night. The skyscrapers all lit up at night create a definite atmosphere that emphasizes the wealth and commerce of the country. It is very easy to get the sense of the economic power of the small country when you're walking around the downtown area at night and everything is lit up. In addition, the entire city is very safe at all times of the day, and there was never a single time when I felt anxious about anything. For me, I particularly enjoyed heading to Merlion Park at night to see the iconic "Merlion" spouting water toward the famed Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino while also getting a view of the main downtown area.
For me, even though I saw a lot of different things, the most memorable part of the trip was heading to the Marina Bay Sands Observation Deck on Christmas Eve at night during a lightning storm. When I arrived at the top of the observation deck, it was quite crowded and early evening albeit cloudy. Most people were killing time until the buildings in the city lit up at night. Gradually, storm clouds rolled in though, and it became very obvious there was going to be a storm. At first, a lot of people were still on the deck, but when it started to rain, thunder, and have occasional flashes of lightning, more people began to clear out. This gave me a golden opportunity to get as many clear shots as I could since I did not have to jockey for good photo spots. Now, I was well-aware of the safety situation. I was on the 56th floor of a completely open area with lightning flashing in the sky and thunder rumbling. By most standards, this would be a prime location for a lightning strike, and eventually the staff at the hotel did clear people off the area but not before I got some great night shots. You can see some of these shots, including a shot I caught of a lightning strike in the gallery below.
Overall, in my goal to visit every country in the world, Singapore is number 72, and it is definitely near the top of the list in terms of cleanliness, safety, ease of getting around, and food. However, I will say that Singapore is quite expensive and certainly not cheap, but it is absolutely worth visiting and exploring for more than a couple days.
Please enjoy the gallery of photos from my time in Singapore. All of these photos were taken by me with either a DSLR or an iPhone. I hope to go into more detail with some of the attractions in later blog entries, so please stay tuned.