Leaving early morning November 6th from Brussels, via Amsterdam Schiphol for Singapore. We'll be arriving on the morning of the 7th and after check-in (Elisabeth Hotel) we'll have the full day to ourselves to explore this unique city/island state. Perhaps we'll have tea (or a Singapore Sling if it's past tea time) at the bar of the famous Raffles Hotel? Next morning (Nov 8) after breakfast, a guided city tour is scheduled. In the evening we'll be departing Singapore for New Zealand, so we'll still have some leisure time to stroll around the city and do some shopping:
-the Civic District with its colonial architecture like Parliament House, Victoria Theatre, Supreme Court,...
-we might look for an original sari in Little India, stroll through Chinatown, and watch a Malay cultural performance in Geylang Serai.
-stroll along the Singapore River.
-hop over to one of the 50 islets surrounding the main island of Singapore, like Sentosa, St John's Island,...
So much to see and do, we'll be busy.
We started our trip yesterday morning with a 4:30 am transfer from Brugge to Zaventem airport, where we met up with the other Aussie Tours travellers. Unfortunately, one of the group travellers' passport and bankcards had been stolen the previous night and she was not able to travel with us without the necessary documents. Then we had another transfer by coach to Amsterdam Schiphol airport (arranged by Singapore Airlines), from where our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore was scheduled to depart at 11:20 am. Check-in was a bit of a pain though. We arrived later than expected, due to the usual traffic congestion, and if you add to that a couple of trainees at the Singapore Airlines check-in desks, ... things quickly became very tiring and annoying. And of course our departure was delayed (until noon!) and the flight was long and bumpy. Grr! But, the service and food on board were, as usual, impeccable ;-) We arrived only 15 min. later than originally scheduled (06:45 am - 7 nov), so our airport/hotel transfer went smoothly. Our Chinese/Singaporean tour guide Suzy, was very charming and spoke excellent Flemish/Dutch. On our way to the hotel, she introduced us to some interesting facts about Singaporeís history and culture, and helped us get our baring.
Weíre staying at the Elizabeth Hotel, in walking distance from Singapore's famous Orchard Road shopping boulevard. This 5-star hotel has an excellent location and the usual amenities and good service you would expect of a hotel of this class, but judging from our room, it is in need of a refurbishment. After check-in, we started our exploration of the city of Singapore, with a short stroll along Orchard Road, had the necessary caffeine injection from one of the excellent local coffee shops, and a quick stop at the visitor centre. We then took a day pass for the SIA Hop-on bus route (run by Singapore Airlines ñ you get a 50% reduction when you show them your Singapore Airlines boarding pass - now 3 SGD pp). We had used these hop-on/hop off tourist bus formula's before, and they had always been excellent, especially if you do not have much time. Sadly, this version was lacking the usual emphasis on historical/cultural background info of the points of interest, and instead focused only on the hotels and shopping malls near the stops. So much for the added value ... That said, it still remains the best way to get your barings and get around cheaply. We decided to do the whole tour first (approx. 2 hours), and planned our walking schedule afterwards.
Our first stop was the area called "Little India". I especially had high expectations from this place, and hoped to be submerged in Indian culture, and perhaps buy a sari etc, (because of my ancestral links to India), but sadly the area seemed too small to invoke such an experience. Though, I must admit, the vibrant colours, the Bollywood music seeping from the shops, the women dressed in sari's and the pungent scents of incense, food and spices were able to jerk some of my childhood memories after all ;-).
Before hopping back on the bus, we had lunch at the 'More Food' foodcourt, where you find an overwhelming choice of Asian take-away dishes.
Our next "hop off" was at the infamous Raffles Hotel, the icon of Singapore's colonial days, also renowned as the birthplace of the worldfamous "Singapore Sling" cocktail. The weather was, as usual, scorching hot and humid (32? C - 85% humidity) so what better excuse to have a refreshing cocktail on the terrace of the Raffles Hotel 'Long Bar'. The sling thingie proved to be quite potent ;-) but it didn't stop us from continuing our gruelling walking schedule.
We left the Raffles for the "Esplanade - Theatres On the Bayî area. The rounded shapes and the "breadfruit-like" surface of this modern cultural entertainment complex certainly is eye-catching. Unfortunately, cleaning the windows of this unusual shaped construction is a bit of a challenge. We witnessed 6 window cleaners, suspended from ropes, dangling in and out of the triangular outcrops. In this paralysing heat it must be hell! Poor fellas ...
We then continued our walking route near the Singapore River, passing Boat Quay with it's colourful restaurants and terraces, and surrounded by a stunning backdrop of the Singapore CBD skyline, and the view of the colonial style "Sir Stamford Raffles Landing Site" area across the river.
We stumbled further, into "China Town". Larger that the "Little India" area and unmistakably Chinese.
Also, the area with the coolest clubs and lounge-bars, eateries and specialised lifestyle shops ... All the colourful houses seemed to have had a fresh lick of paint, so the area looked really nice and inviting. A great place for a leisurely stroll.
Also very interesting and colourful is the 'Sri Mariamman' Hindu temple, in the middle of China Town. If you want to take pictures, it will cost you S$3 to do so, but you also get a nice brochure. And donít forget to take off your shoes bofore entering.
We then headed back for the hotel, had a shower, ... and I fell into a deep sleep ;-) JJ still managed to drag himself outside for a night-time experience of this ìLionî city. The shops and malls are open till around 10:00 pm, and the Singaporeans come out to see and be seen on Orchard Road at dusk. Less heat, lots of neon ...
What amazed us about Singapore, was the cultural diversity of this city/state. People from all over the world have settled here: China, India, Malaysia, Europe, ... each adding their own culture and religion into the mix. We saw a mosque in "Little India", visited a Hindu temple in "China Town" and came across a Chinese temple in another residential area. Tall office or apartment buildings stand right next to small houses, Ö a truely kaleidoscopic mix of architectural styles, cultures, people and lots and lots exotic trees and plants everywhere. But sadly also a lot of construction work in progress (try taking a picture without a building site or crane in it! pff). Also, we were bombarded by the "Christmas in the Tropics" theme in all the shopping streets and malls! It's the 7th of November for Christ's sake! Huge decorated Christmas trees, Christmas street lighting and other Christmas decoration all over the place. Beware, Singapore clearly has your hard-earned cash as it's main target. Shop till you drop!
The pink Singapore Sling is one of the all time classic cocktails, invented in Singapore back in 1915 at the Long Bar of the chic Raffles Hotel:
15ml Cherry Brandy
120ml Pineapple Juice
15ml Lime Juice
A dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry
It promised to be another scorching hot and humid day in Singapore. We decided to just explore Orchard Rd and itís many shopping malls this morning, instead of heading off to the Botanic Gardens (approx. 30í on foot). We invited Hilde to join us again today, and as yesterday, we all needed a fresh capo (cappuccino) before we could set out on our shopping spree. Singapore is pretty much all about shopping really. JJ compared some of the electronic product prices and some were cheaper than in Belgium, but others were not. He did get an extra ëSony Memory Stickí for our digital camera Ö just in case ;-)
At 14:00 Suzi, our Dutch speaking tour guide, picked us up for a guided tour of some of Singaporeís most interesting sites. Our first stop was ëThe National Orchid Gardení, part of the ëSingapore Botanic Gardensí and the largest collection of orchids on display in the world (700 species ñ over 3000 hybrids). The constant hot and humid climate offer the perfect conditions for these magnificent plants to grow and bloom. It is a spectacular array of colour and shape and especially the mist house is worth a visit. The ëVanda Miss Joaquimí being the national flower of Singapore, these flowers have a special meaning, and a typical souvenir would be gilded orchids, to be worn as a hanger or a pair of earrings Ö Our tour then took us back to the cities heart, the Raffles landing site, where his statue guards over his city. The next stop was at the ëThian Hock Kengí Chinese Temple, to the east of China town. This temple is in fact a fusion of Buddhist and Hindu. Several deities, including some with the typical ëmulti-armedí Hindu appearance, are honoured daily. The worshippers bring an offering before burning incense during prayer. After they have finished their prayers, they are allowed to take their offerings home again. It was raining buckets while we were there, which made the atmosphere really special. We then drove on to China Town to have a little stroll, first stopping at the Hindu Temple, ëSri Mariammaní. Suzi arranged to have us driven to the airport and guided us through the check-in for our flight to Christchurch.
Jean-Jacques Halans ©2003