I was expecting to enjoy Singapore, but I didn’t realize I would love it as much as I did. Singapore is its own country, but it’s really just one big city. The population is about 5 million, making it the third most densely populated country in the world. It didn’t seem that crowded, though, because it’s so modern, clean and efficient. It’s famous for its strict laws, like banning chewing gum. While it is really clean (especially compared to Indonesia), I think people exaggerate how clean it is. It’s not like it’s spotless. You do occasionally see litter on the street. Another way it really stood out from Indonesia is wealth. It’s clearly a very well-off country. In fact, its GDP per capita makes it the fifth richest country in the world. (The US is the sixth.)
It’s hot and humid all year and gets a decent amount of rain, but most of the malls and subways are connected by underground, air-conditioned tunnels. There were a couple of times I didn’t realize how long we had been inside until we came out and saw the weather had totally changed. The two main national pastimes are shopping and eating. Brad and I did our fair share of both! The shopping malls are really something else. They mainly expand upwards and if you go to the escalators and look up, you just see floors and floors of escalators towering up. In Little India we went in the Mustafa Center, a department store that’s like Walmart on steroids. I’ve never seen such a wide variety of items for sale in the same store.
For the most part, the food was cheap and delicious. We mostly ate in hawker stalls, which are basically former food carts that stay in one place now. Finding the good stuff was easy. Just go in a food court and look for the longest line. All the different ethnicities have influenced the food, resulting in a yummy culinary mash up. The most popular foods are Malaysian, Thai, Chinese and Indian, but I’m sure you’d be able to find pretty much whatever you wanted. We tried many new things, like sugar cane juice and egg tarts. The juice was just a light, refreshing, slightly sweet drink, but I can only describe the egg tarts as having an egg for dessert. I know that doesn’t sound very good, but they are amazing. So good, in fact, that we went back to get more the next day.
Brad and I did a few touristy things besides shopping and eating. Our hostel was in Chinatown, so we spent quite a bit of time there and saw a couple of temples, including the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. (The tooth was not open for viewing when we were there.) We also went down to Boat Quay and the whole area around the river where there’s lots of fun restaurants, bars, bridges and buildings. One night we just happened to see a full lunar eclipse when we looked up at the sky and another night we did the Night Safari at the zoo. The Night Safari was cool because they focus mostly on Asian animals. I saw several creatures I had never even heard of, including a civet and a golden cat. Plus the animals are more active at night. We also went to the National Museum and went for a short walk in Mount Faber Park.
Yes, it was a pretty jam-packed three days and we were exhausted by the end, but it was so much fun! I really wish we could have stayed longer, but we had already made our plans to go to Kuala Lumpur. I’ll just have to add it to the list of great places I’m hoping to see again sometime.
Top three experiences?
- Eating! I don’t think I’ve ever had so much excellent food in such a short time.
- Walking along the river at night. We had a really fun night out and then were surprised by an eclipse on our way back.
- The general feel of the city. Parts of Bali just seemed like total chaos to me. It was nice to get back to such a neat, orderly place.
- The sheer organization of the place. The bus and trains systems is actually integrated, shopping malls were connected to the trains by vast underground stations, and everything clearly marked in four languages. It was also extremely clean. (The psychology section of a bookstore had a disproportionate number of OCD self-help books, and I can see why.)
- The food. There’s such a wide variety of foods from all over the world, and it’s really cheap. The food courts and hawker stalls are amazing. Chili crab, invented in Singapore, is delicious.
- Night Safari. A nighttime zoo seemed weird, but it was actually very interesting, and the animals were very active. On the tram that runs through the park, there are areas where there isn’t any fence between animal and human–only cattle stops keep the animals in. The big game animals were very close and surprisingly active when we saw them. The only downside is the lighting was adequate for seeing the creatures, but not for photography.
Bottom three experiences?
- See worst disaster.
- Waiting around in our hostel for the bathroom to open up. We stayed in a really fun, clean place, but it only had one toilet in the girl’s bathroom.
- The metro ended service a little after midnight, so we had to pay for taxis twice. As nice as their underground system is, I wish it would run later.
Brad: I’m being picky here because I’m having a hard time finding three things…
- The weather in December. We were rained out on one of the days, and there was some rain on the other days.
- The MRT stops running fairly early. We got stranded after the Night Safari and had to take a taxi back to Chinatown. However, this is the same with many other cities (including Madison).
- Chopsticks. I’m going to have a difficult time in Japan.
Nikki: The chili crab we had on our first night. Messy and expensive, but worth it. Especially with the dumplings to soak up the extra chili sauce. Mmmmmm!
Brad: A simple fried chicken rice dish we had at a hawker stall in Chinatown. That, and a tall glass of sugarcane juice finished with an egg tart. Egg tarts are strange but delicious–think of scrambled eggs as in dessert form enclosed in a pie crust.
I liked the chili crab except for how messy it was. We had to wear bibs, and our table looked like toddlers ate at it.
Nikki: Rice rolls with prawns from a dim-sum place. Not nearly as good as it sounded.
Brad: The dim sum place we ate one night in Chinatown. I don’t know how I was supposed to eat chicken with bone using only chopsticks and a soup spoon. Too messy, and the chicken was a strange shade of pink.
Favorite person we met?
Nikki: We didn’t talk to many people, but I did meet a nice girl from England who had come from Thailand and Malaysia and was going on to Bali, Australia and New Zealand–the same itinerary as us, but in reverse.
Brad: A fellow traveler from Sri Lanka who lives in Japan.
Nikki: My Singapore disaster happened right before we left. (I’m telling this story against my better judgment.) Our train to KL didn’t leave until 11:30 at night and our hostel would only store our bags until 7:00 PM. Normally when we have a gap like that and we’re stuck with our bags, we just go to the airport or bus station and hang out there, but Brad had read there was nothing at this train station. So, to pass the time, we went to a nearby restaurant with a really good happy hour. After drinking several Tigers (the local beer), I really had to pee. Brad said he wanted to get a cheap ice cream from McDonald’s, so I decided to just use the bathroom there. We walk over to the McDonald’s only to find there’s no bathroom. At this point, I really have to go, so I leave my bags with Brad and hurry down to the subway station. When I turn the corner into the bathroom, I see a huge line! I kind of dance a little and impatiently wait in line. Finally, it’s my turn and I pretty much run to the stall. Now, Singapore public bathrooms usually have both western-style toilets and squat toilets. Of course the one I ran into was a squatter, which I had never used before. At this point, I have no time to wait for a western one, so I decide to just wing it and use the squat one. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m very careful and try really hard to keep my pants away from the pee and out of the water. Once I’m all done, I stand back up and I’m really pleased with myself–until I look down at my leg. I had peed down the entire bottom half of my left leg. Oh, no.
You might be wondering what I did next. Well, I took a deep breath, held my head up high and marched right out like nothing had happened. It’s all about confidence. At least my pants are of the quick-drying variety!
Brad: It all went very smoothly. Nikki’s backpack got stuck in the x-ray machine as we were passing into Malaysia and the officials had to use a pole to pull it out. (This was after she peed on herself. Rough night for her.)
Nikki: The language here. They call it “Singlish,” and it’s like English with a really strong accent and a bunch of Chinese words thrown in. Very difficult to understand. At least the signs are in plain English!
Brad: The sign during a nature walk that informed us that tree branches do occasionally fall. I guess when the entire country is just city, some people might not know that?
Statistics for Singapore
Statistics for the Trip