We flew from Jakarta an hour and a half north and arrived in a different world. As if we exited a time machine we got off the plane walked into the airport of the future. Changi Airport in Singapore is often considered to be the best airport in the world and it’s easy to see why. Indoor gardens, orchids, spas and massage rooms, play areas, clean and modern facilities, art on display, hotels, restaurants, even a butterfly garden all at the disposal of the weary traveller. Everything is catered for here, you almost wouldn’t need to leave the terminal building, why not just holiday right here?
The only thing that is holding me back from spending the next few days camped out in this amazing terminal is the enticing promise of a city even more exciting lying beyond the glass sliding doors.
Unfortunately I made the big mistake of not taking any photographs here, so I have to borrow one from the Changi Airport website:
While spending a bit of downtime in Jakarta we considered all our options for the next part of our journey. We didn’t want to go straight back to Thailand just yet – our return flight to the UK was a little over a month away and given that we would have only got a 30 day visitor visa upon re-entering Thailand, we had to find the right destination to fill the next few days. I’ll be honest when we set out towards South-East Asia I never once considered that we might go to Singapore. I did not want to visit a futuristic city. Somehow in my mind I had an impression that it would not be like the ‘real-South-East-Asia’ experience we were after.
We got the MRT train into town and then made our way to our hotel. The transportation system in Singapore is really efficient and we used the MRT system almost exclusively for the whole of our stay. You’re never really further than 10 minutes walk away from an MRT station in Singapore. The lines are easy to understand, the ticket system is cheap and easy to use, the trains are fast, air-conditioned and were never overcrowded at any time we travelled on them. The last time we experienced efficient public transportation like this was right at the beginning of our trip in Bangkok.
We stayed in the Arab Street area of the city. Despite its name it’s not actually just a street but the name encompasses the whole Arab quarter or Singapore’s Muslim quarter. Singapore is very multicultural and multi-faith (which I always find refreshing) and the city is loosely organised into ‘ethnic quarters’ like this. It really is a city of immigrants as over the century people came here due to its geographically and commercially central location in South-East Asia and they brought their cultures and food, language and customs with them. Next to Arab Street you can find Little India, then there’s Chinatown near the financial district and Geylang Serai which is the Malay quarter.
We decided to stay in a stylish boutique hotel on North Bridge Road called Hotel Clover. We again made our reservation via Booking.com only a couple of days ahead of our arrival. At £65 a night this hotel would be the most expensive of our whole trip around Asia, but to be honest considering how lovely our accommodation was and how expensive Singapore accommodation can be it’s really not that bad at all. We also quite fancied staying in a slightly more upmarket hotel than what we have got used to by now and Hotel Clover with its fragrant and homely reception area and it’s rustic and minimalist designs really was a welcome change. Of course you can also stay in hostels in Singapore, there were many of them scattered around the Arab quarter.
We checked in late afternoon, had a lovely shower, a snooze and the headed out into the night. We walked around our neighbourhood and discovered streets and squares, restaurants, bars and small food joints vibrant with life well into the late night. Shops and bazaar were still open offering beautiful Persian carpets and textiles, Turkish lanterns and jewellery, leather bags and woven baskets. Curry houses rubbed shoulders with Middle Eastern eateries and laid-back beer hangouts. The Sultan’s Mosque with its golden domes dominates the area, quite rightly so as it is the most important mosque in Singapore.
We grabbed a couple of beers in one of the outside bars and then got some food in a corner fast food joint selling amazing Middle Eastern flatbreads loaded with hummus and all kinds of tasty toppings and then went back to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep before our busy schedule the following day. We watched fireworks lit up the sky from our hotel room and went to bed full of anticipation for exploring this city that had already enticed us.
The following day we took advantage of our Singapore City Pass which we picked up at the airport when buying our train tickets into the city. You get various different options for your city pass, depending on the length of your stay and what interest you, you an tailor make it. We choose a 2 day pass that included a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, a river boat excursion and also reduced entry to an attraction. The river boat tour was really good fun, especially as the city was really hot and muggy and sitting on a boat with a nice breeze made a real difference.
Actually a theme that run through our visit to Singapore was a continued attempt to get away from the heat and humidity. It’s not the easiest of climates to get on with, even I struggled a little bit and I love the heat! I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Adam who really doesn’t like hot weather. It was really the humidity that made it hard to bear. So our little boat ride was the perfect escape. Luckily for us when we hopped on the boat there weren’t many other people on there, only a couple of groups of tourists, so we had the freedom to choose where we sat on the boat, switching between the open back area when we wanted to see the view and the cool dark shaded inside area when we need to get away from the heat. We travelled from the Fullerton towards Marina South and then back through the city towards the colourful Clarke Quay where we hopped off.
Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are two neighbouring quays on the south bank of the river. If you want to party the night away or have an atmospheric meal by the river this is the place to come. Colourful buildings line the streets and all around you will find cool wine bars, eateries and clubs are in abundance.
We also had a little wonder around the Financial District, stopped for a nice coffee and watched the world go by, the city workers go about their business, all busy and serious and reminded me of the life I left behind in the UK, my working life in London, my daily commute, the fast walking, the office, my lunches in the park to take half an hour out of the grind of daily working life. How far we were from all that!! I would not have traded this peace sitting here, drinking my coffee in this amazing city for the world.
(For some reason I missed a trick in Singapore and did not take photos of some important things, which is not really like me. I still wanted to illustrate this post though, so I borrowed some images from around the interweb. Credits are given of course.)