The air-conditioned city: Singapore

Growing in full swing

Merlion symbol of the city

Merlion, symbol of the city

Singapore is a island-city-state at the southernmost tip of continental Asia, almost on the Equator, positioned strategically between China and India,a busy trade route. The small country has a high human development index, being just behind England and Germany and ahead of countries like Portugal and Greece, besides  impressive wealth with the 4th highest income per capita in the world according to the IMF. It is a modern and multi-cultural country with 4 official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay.

 Singapore has many buildings under construction and work on all sides

Singapore has many buildings under construction and work all around

Airport: an attraction apart

Singapore was the first palce of our trip that we arrived with absolutely no destination, guide or clue of what to do. We did not plan it at all, as we arrived late at night we decided to sleep in the airport, which in the end of the day is not something so unusual. Of course we were not expecting any room service but in terms of sleeping in an airport is wasn’t hard to find a place to sleep and during the night the terminal is very quiet.
But here’s the trick: if you want to sleep at the airport of Singapore, prefer to sleep on your departure rather than on arrival, so that you can check in your bags and stay peacefully in the transit area, which is a loooot more comfortable.

Sleeping at the airport in Singapore

Sleeping at the airport in Singapore

We woke up the next day and wandered around the airport, which is immense, there is even a train system connecting the 3 terminals, a swimming pool and a huge butterfly garden that is an attraction in itself.

The pool in Terminal 1

The pool in Terminal 1

Day 1 – Finding a place to stay

We went to a bookstore and had a look at a Lonely Planet, there we found a suburb with many backpackers, called “Little India” which as the name says is a piece of India within the city. We also managed to connect to a wifi network at the airport and found out how the subway system worked and how to get there. We left about 7 am from the airport after a breakfast and grabbing some Singaporean Dollars towards Little India train. The subway is very convenient from the airport and inside the train is super modern and ultra clean but always very busy.

Metro always out and about

Metro always out and about

Arriving at Little India station we had our first contact with the outside world, without air conditioning, as we got close to the exit of the station we felt the hot and humid breath coming, which made our walk to the backpackers region with all our bags a small pilgrimage, we were looking for a shade whenever there was any, dodging the constellation of Indian shops and people walking on the sidewalk. At 7am the thermometers were showing 29C.

Litte India – A piece of India in Singapore

Little India waking up all decorated for Deepavali
Little India waking up all decorated for Deepavali

After a 15 minute walk we found the first backpacker, the Inn Crowd Backpacker, which was OK but had a very high price for what we used to pay in Indonesia, it was $ 22.00 SD (+ – $ 15 USD) per person to sleep in a room with 16 (sixteen) persons with air conditioning only between 8 pm and 9 am which made the place an oven during the day. We decided to look elsewhere but the price was still high and the rooms were not that great either, besides it did not have breakfast as the first one had. We decided to stay there on the first day so we could leave the bags somewhere and have more mobility.

Our priority was  to schedule the train to Malaysia as soon as possible, so we went to the train station to inquire about the availability of tickets and how the classes worked. We went to the nearest subway station and we spent more than one hour walking, trying to find the place, in that unbearable heat. Arriving there we got all the information we needed (price, classes, etc). We met a very nice Malaysian guy who gave us several tips on how to travel and interesting things to do in Malaysia.

Soon after we got to the hostel and as we were not convinced it was the best option for what we were paying, we strolled through the suburb trying to find another place to stay. We visited at least 5 backpackers and little hotels but  none of them was worth the change and after 3 hours wandering on foot in a crack of sun we gave up and decided to stay in the same one we were and when the sun wasn’t so hot anymore, we started touring around the region.

Little India Market

Little India Market

Little India is a suburb with a lot of personality, the smell of curry and the women with their colorful saris, men walking holding hands, the number of small shops are things we would see a lot soon in India, but for now it was all new to us. That day we went to an Indian street market with thousands of products, from incense to wedding dresses, but again it was so hot and humid and as the market was covered walking in the street in a place without air conditioning was really like being in an oven.

Bugis Market

After the Indian market we went to another market in a suburb called Bugis. As it was late afternoon, it wasn’t absurdly hot anymore so we walked.

Market Bugis

Bugis Market

The bugis market is a maze of micro stores with all kinds of goods and crowded at all possible spaces with many people and occasionally some open larger spaces, such as small squares, usually with delicious foods and natural tropical juices. We toured around the market for about two hours, had dinner there and went back to the backpacker to sleep.

Day 2 – Sentosa

With all that heat there  is nothing better than going to the beach. We had breakfast calmly at the backpacker (a very simple breakfast, I have to say), read some guides and decided to go to the island of Sentosa, suggested by several people at the backpacker, we got the train to a station inside a mall, where we took a break for lunch.

 Curry in Singapore looks like a mix of Indian curry Tepanyaki: delicious

Curry in Singapore looks like a mix of Indian curry and Tepanyaki: delicious

After lunch we took a monorail (from another mall) to Sentosa. Sentosa is an island south of Singapore that is a real theme park, with a super structured beach, decks and sidewalks perfectly constructed, planted coconut palms, showers, changing rooms, lots of activities for the kids, restaurants and the famous beach club Café del Mar. As the area has a huge movement of cargo ships they built mini artificial islands in front of the beach to let the landscape more interesting (or less aggressive).

What we found the most interesting is that the beach area is a very calm, very few people sunbathing in a contrast with the city, for us Brazilians it seems very strange to see such a hot weekend and an empty beach, it’s like the beaches of Salvador were empty. Finally we realized that it is so because the standard of beauty in Asia is white skin, and instead of tanning creams and oils as we have in Brazil, here the rule are whitening creams and avoid the sun. This makes the beach a place frequented by the small population of European descents and tourists.

Café del Mar in Singapore

Café del Mar in Singapore

Beach Santosa and artificial islands to hide the ships in the background

Sentosa and artificial islands to hide the ships in the background

After enjoying the beach and music in Café del Mar, we went back to the city center at evening. While visiting the Esplanade we had the luck to find a festival of Asian culture and that night there would be a performance of the Ramayana (Cambodian version) live in front of the Esplanade Mall, that was amazing. Soon after the show we went to the airport to pick up our friends, Pasqual and Ale, they would join us on the train route between Singapore and Thailand.

Ramanyana cambojano

Cambodian Ramayana

Day 3 – The Center and the shopping

On our third day we decided to visit the city centre and try to find some electronics bargain. We had breakfast at the backpacker and walked to Sim Lim Square, which was about 10 blocks away from where we were. On this journey we learnt a little more on the city’s popular side with some tiny apartment buildings, shops and temples.

Singapore Mosque

Singapore Mosque

 popular apartments

Popular apartments

After 3 hours looking for bargains in electronics, we moved to visit the city center. Upon arriving at the station there was a huge underground mall that crossed a few miles, we left the train inside this mall that stretched over several blocks in the basement of the city. These malls were modern, super clean and luxurious at some parts, they were absolutely crowded and we decided to walk outdoors, it was a Saturday and the city was simply empty, as always very hot, but it was very weird to see a city of that size so empty soon after moving out of the crowded galleries.

Empty city on the outside - people prefer air conditioning

Empty city on the outside - people prefer air conditioning

Esplanade Mall

Opera House at The Esplanade

What about an icecream?

What about an ice cream with waffles?

Once we visited the center we got back to the hostel, packed up our bags and as we were four people we asked a taxi, the taxi took too long to arrive so we decided to get outside to see what was happening, there was a sea of people, squeezing tight, singing and dancing, reminding something like the Brazilian carnival, but with the difference that there was not one single woman, or alcohol. It was the first day of Deepavali, or Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.

In those conditions a taxi would not be of great help, so we had to pick up the bags and walk for a distance of about 6 blocks and to be worse, it was melting hot at night, and having two women around in a crowd of thousands of men was not very comfortable, but we saw that we were not that bad when we found a girl lost in the crowd, alone and wearing very short tight clothes, asking for directions to the backpacker we were before. After the torture we were sweaty at the nearest subway station, on our way to the railway station we had to walk a few more blocks with the weight of 5 bags in that hot and humid night.

We arrived at the station just  in time to catch the train, but we were going to experience a little of what was to come, before catching the train we had to go through the Malaysian immigration, that was slow and with unfriendly police officers, we had our bags checked but besides the delay we had no problems. We were officially on board of the train to Malaysia and the details will be in the next post.

train to Malaysia

Train to Malaysia

Tips for who goes to Singapore:

  • Not a cheap place, is a developed country with higher living standards than many European countries.
  • It is an extremely safe and easy to get around with an efficient subway and restaurants are clean.
  • The weather is hot and humid during day and night but many places with air conditioning can be too cold so it’s good to have with you a light jacket or a scarf, and sunscreen always.
  • Sentosa is very worthwhile, is the Disneyland of Singapore.
  • Food is good and can be cheap in popular places, which is very common.
  • If going to Malaysia book the train in advance, in the sleep class the beds are super clean and comfortable.
  • If you come from another country you can swap your travel guide at the backpacker, we gave our Indonesia guide for a Southeast Asia one.
  • If you buy electronics negotiate a good deal, but if the seller gets to your price don’t go back, they get really upset.
  • Do not take or use drugs there, you can get death penalty for it.
  • We had no problems with immigration at the arrival.

8 comments

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  1. Excelente viagem… sempre vejo programas no Discovery Channel com Singapura construindo isso, aquilo, aquilo outro e ficava me perguntando como seria um passeio por lá. Vocês ajudaram a matar boa parte da minha curiosidade… o resto, só quando eu mesmo for para lá.

    Abs

    Reply

      • Cris says:
      • 11 May, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Valeu pelo comentário, Pedro (desculpe a demora em responder). Agora tem mais uns detalhezinhos no outro post.
      Espero poder ler as suas impressões também no seu blog quando você for pra lá.

      Reply

  2. We enjoyed your perspective on Singapore. We were very mixed on it, and overall, we have to admit we were happy to leave.

    The strict rules are one thing, but the kind of society created by a military state leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not surprised at all that Singaporeans consider “watching TV” to be their favorite thing to do. Shopping is also huge. Those two activities are probably my least favorite things to occupy time, and we try to avoid staying indoors or shopping to be outside and enjoy the world, even city-life. I feel like Singaporeans just kind of gave up on that.
    People are very middle-of-the-road. We never saw anyone very happy about anything, nor very upset. I missed emotion and social outbursts a lot — such a timid society!

    Accommodations were also the cause of some discomfort for us in Singapore. Yes, in Southern Asia Singapore is quite expensive, but the hostels were absurdly pricey! $20 is more than I spent per person per night in Europe! We tried 3 hostels and all were filthy and ill prepared for the needs of travelers, on top of which we had to pay quite a lot. I have a similar problem with Bangkok: it’s hard to enjoy a city when the bed you come home to at night is plain awful.

    The only thing we really enjoyed about Singapore were the hawker centers — a lot of great food, lots of experiment with and prices that finally made me feel like I was in Asia. It’s hugely helpful that most people speak excellent English.

    Overall, Singapore was a bit disappointing to us. There’s no way we could live there. We met a lot of young students and career folks who were in Singapore for some years and they liked it — but they seemed to prize the normalcy of life and little need to adjust. If I move from my home country I want a challenge!

    Reply

      • Cris says:
      • 11 May, 2010 at 3:38 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, Eva & Jeremy, specially about accommodations.
      I have heard from people who loved being there, specially when staying in 5 star hotels, with swimming pool, and visiting the finest restaurants. (food in Singapore is really great!)
      It’s a different way of travelling, not exactly our way.

      Reply

    • Oscar says:
    • 3 June, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Engraçado, mas nao sei se voce reparou como a estaçao de trem para os padroes de Cingapura parece estar caindo aos pedaços?
    Entao ela assim como toda a linha ferrea, pertecem a Malasia, por isso que esta do jeitop que esta!!

    Reply

      • Cris says:
      • 3 June, 2010 at 8:16 am

      Que interessante, Oscar! Não sabia não…. mas faz todo sentido!! Comparada com o resto da cidade, a estação de trem é mesmo discrepante.

      Reply

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