I don’t think we could have picked two countries at such polar opposite ends of almost any scale if we’d tried. Singapore immediately began to reintroduce us to the comforts of our known world. We had arranged to be picked up at the airport and delivered to our hotel for what was essentially our long weekend away. Our driver was a cheerful, proud man who I knew only by the sound of the voice coming from the seat in front. He talked of the good things to see and do in Singapore. He stayed in his lane the entire time, never once used his horn, obeying the basic rules of the road. We were both very grateful, he had made us excited to be here. We arrived at our hotel, wandered down to a local food court for a delicious, packed out pad thai before sliding into bed for a much required recovery sleep.
No plans, no itinerary, no need to get out of bed until we’d started to feel ashamed of how long we had laid in for. There wasn’t a breakfast service at the hotel either, so we could afford relax and enjoy having nothing to do for a while. Of course, hunger is one of the primary reasons to do anything at all. I feel it can’t have been much before a traditional lunch time that we got up and headed back to the food court for a Singapore breakfast of toast, ham and egg with a really bizarre cup of tea. Was it condensed milk that gave it that almost sweet, chewy texture? I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter either. It was just what we needed. Better than that, at $3 each it was so dangerously cheap that you might have to return every day. Once satisfied, we’d decided to take a short walk down to Bugis Street. When pronounced correctly it should sound a little something like boogers. Hours of fun before we’d even got there. Bugis came highly recommend from our driver, he told us, you go there, when they ask you if this is your first time in Singapore, you tell them that you come here all the time. Make sure they give you a good price! Don’t go to Orchard Road, it’s too expensive.
Local knowledge. The best kind of knowledge to any traveller, anywhere. We never made it to Orchard Road, passing through Bugis on a semi-regular basis. Narrow lanes lined with tiny clothes stores, prices started low and were hardly raised. I had suddenly understood why people go to South East Asia and cite the shopping as one of the big draws. I kept seeing things, thinking about everything that I definitely did not need. My experience was only going to improve when I made the bold move of trying something on. It turns out that the pocket-t is my new staple wardrobe item. I’d found hundreds. Imagine, then my delight as I pulled what claimed to be a small over my head to find that it didn’t look like it would fit by Dad but actually sat rather comfortably on my slender frame. I don’t think Elena was quite as enamoured as I was with the sizing, finding obvious side boob a slight issue with some of the beautiful dresses she had picked up.
Beyond the clothing, Bugis introduced us to our first Singapore ritual. We were set to go on a juice binge. Blended fruit and ice is a popular, refreshing combination. At around a dollar a drink it may well be cheaper than water. All kinds of flavours were available from the coffee shop regular of banana and strawberry to the downright unappealing actual used to be a bird’s nest. My personal favourite was the pink grapefruit, Elena found it particularly difficult to look beyond the lemon. She already knew it was the best, what was even the point of trying any of the others! We found ourselves out in the heat of the day and decided that after our few hours of hard graft in the markets we were entitled to a little more rest. It would not take me long to get back in to the swing of things, throwing around ideas of what we could do in the late afternoon and evening. I began orbiting around a walk down to the marina, there’s plenty down that way, the Merlion, the city centre, Marina Bay Sands, and the elegant, futuristic some what sci-fi Gardens By The Bay. I convinced Elena what a brilliant idea this was by telling her it was only an hours walk away, which if we had gone the most direct route, it probably would have been.
Once we’d reached the waterfront I’d decided it would be the best way for us to spend our time walking around it rather than directly across it, that way we’d see way more! I wasn’t wrong, there was a whole heap of almost entirely ridiculous things along the way. Opposite us was Marina Bay Sands, a shopping centre below a three towered hotel topped with a boat which is apparently a bar, a park and all manner of other unusual things to find that high up, on a boat, on top of a hotel. Then there was the cracked egg shell of the art and science museum.
Closer to us was the Merlion; Singapore’s half-lion, half-fish guardian of prosperity. An unusual enough symbol that somebody has cast in concrete and fitted with a water pump. I mean, what’s the point in having a weird fish-lion statue if it’s not going to vomit water into the marina as well? If that wasn’t outrageous enough, it seems that mythical half-beasts are Singapore’s thing as we later stumbled upon an elephant with a unicorn’s horn, don’t get me wrong either. It definitely was not a rhino.
We eventually reached the Gardens By The Bay which on closer appearance may have been as much as sign of the dystopian future to come as one of a distant galaxy far-far away. In the end it did seem that maybe it might have been better to go directly to the gardens. Sunset was on the horizon and we had both the Cloud Forest and the Flower Garden to look around before they closed. Which would you pick first? Cloud Forest, right? It sounds a little more exciting than a flower garden. A man made mountain of plants including it’s own towering indoor waterfall greeted us. A twisting walk way wound above our heads would lead us down from the top.
Fortunately, man made mountains come with elevators so we could go straight to the top without any unnecessary personal strain. Up we went, and down we slowly came wandering between the mound of green life scattered with flowers. We made it back to the start before the Flower Garden closed so rushed over there to squeeze it in. Finding it already close to dark, it was only lit up by a few indoor lights so I don’t think we were able to fully appreciate it’s suspected beauty. On the way back to the hotel we passed through the Super Tree Grove which is often, and rightly, compared to feeling like you’re in Avatar.
A series of towering lights play out in the canopy, pulsing through reds, greens and blues giving it the appearance of being a living and breathing thing, which most of it isn’t. Getting out wasn’t as easy as getting in, I pulled the standard “I don’t want to go back the way we came” and got us rather lost before going round in a coupe of circles until we eventually made it back to the shopping centre in Marina Bay Sands from which we were able to make it back to the hotel relatively quickly.