Singapore - A visit to the Clinic

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Monday, May 2, 2011

The 4 hour trip to Singapore turned into a 6 hour ride as we decided to try and travel on the bank holiday Monday (Labour day - 1st of May) this was a bit of an oversight as we’d only just scraped a seat on the coach that was due to get us there by 8pm. We ended up arriving in Singapore after 10pm with no hotel booked and no idea which area to stay in. This was made worse by the coach dropping us off in the middle of nowhere and there were no transport options greeting us when we got off the bus as was the norm elsewhere in South East Asia. We luckily found a garage with an ATM got some money out then immediately proceeded to break the law (Singapore has lots of strange laws and rules) by walking across the road without using a crossing (Jaywalking). We realised half way across and made it over without incident. We were expecting a police man to jump out from somewhere and issue a fine! It turned out we were really lucky we weren’t spotted, as there were about 20 police men further down the road performing some kind of traffic search. In fact, we saw so many police here it was quite incredible. 
On arriving at the bus depot, we had briefly spoken to some other travellers who said that they were going to get the metro, we couldn’t see that or signs for it anywhere so opted for the bus. As things were much more expensive here, we weighed this up as being our best option. Singapore felt incredibly safe compared to other Asian cities and we had no hesitation in walking round looking for a place. We’d heard that an area called Geylang was where we might find some suitable budget accommodation so caught the next bus to this area. When we arrived we found that the place was still really busy with fruit stalls everywhere and with cafes full of people sitting out. We had a walk around until we found some suitable looking hotels. We’d heard from people we had met in Koh Lipe that the Hotel 81 chain was some of the cheaper hotels you could end up in. There are loads of these all over the place and at least 10 in the Geylang area. For $60 SGD (about £30) the quality was not in any way 3 times as good as some of the £10 accommodation we had been staying in, and although the room was small, it was nice to have our own bathroom again. The problem was that along with being a cheaper area, Geylang was also the red light district of Singapore (suppose we should have guessed). We went into the first hotel 81 called Hotel 81 - Lucky, only to be told at 11.00pm that a room wouldn’t be available for another hour and we could wait in a café until it became free! We decided we didn’t really want to have a room that could be hired out by the hour and tried the Hotel 81 over the road. This one was Hotel 81 - Gold. We spoke to the reception, and they assured us that they only rent out their lower floors by the hour and stick the tourists on the upper floors. We liked the sound of this much better. They even found us a room that didn’t stink of cigarette smoke (the hotel was supposed to be non-smoking). Pleased that we’d found somewhere with relatively few issues we settled down ready to take in Singapore in the morning.
The next day we used the great public transport to navigate around the city and ended up going to the Singapore Art Museum, and an additional part of the Biennale exhibition at the 8Q gallery. After this we took a walk down orchard road to see the huge malls that are all over the city, one of them had the longest escalator that we have ever seen. 
That night we decided to do the tourist thing and took a trip to Raffles to have a Singapore sling and throw the shells of monkey nuts all over the floor. We were surprised how enjoyable this was as the bar and the hotel were really cool. It’s a good job we enjoyed the drinks as they were pretty expensive compared to the other drinks that we’ve normally been having (including service charge and tax, 2 drinks came to $58 SIN - almost £15 each). We were surprised at how grand and sprawling the hotel was - it took up a whole block. We visited the Raffles Museum the next day which is located somewhere on the top floor in amongst all the Cartier watch shops, boutiques and pricey hairdressers; despite our ambivalence, it felt like a half an hour well spent. After this we went to a popular area full of bars called Clarke Quay. We had a drink in one of the bars here during happy hour called the Clinic where you can have your cocktails served to you in a drip bag, or shots in syringes and you sit on wheelchairs at the tables and on hospital beds. It’s in pretty bad taste we know, and is really quite tacky, but all the bars in Singapore are really heavily themed. It seems as though its no good to just have a bar it had to pretend to be something else. We saw a bar that was done out like a fast food burger joint and one that was meant to be like the stock exchange where there was a screen out the front showing current beer prices along with the highest and lowest price they had (which varied depending on the time of day it was). Very tacky but very Singaporean too.
On the other full day we spent there we went to the Singapore National Museum (SAM), which was a fantastic museum with a great audio guide system that took us through the history of the country. Dotted around the place there were other exhibitions for food, fashion, and culture. The ticket that we bought for entry to the Singapore art museum covered entry to this museum too and there was a shuttle bus that took you between the locations. One of the art festival exhibitions was created around Singapore’s Merlion. This is a sculpture that was commissioned to be the symbol of Singapore and is a statue of a lion merging into a fish on the edge of the quay. When we were there, artists had built a hotel room around the statue, and visitors could have a look at the art work called the Merlion Hotel. It was really surreal to see this huge statue surrounded by a luxury hotel room. It was open to visitors all day and at night people were able to stay in the room. It had a fantastic view out over the quay, the Singapore flyer (their equivalent to the London Eye), the Durian (the giant building that looks like this fruit) and the Marina Sands hotel (an impressive set of 3 hotels with a boat built across the top).
Our plans to visit the hawker stalls in Chinatown were ruined when it started raining in the afternoon. When it rains in Singapore you need to retreat as quickly as possible under shelter as it’s torrential. We decided to hop on the underground and make our way to a shopping centre until the rain subsided. Finally clear skies again and we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our early morning start to catch the plane to Australia. We decided to stop at one of the many Durian stalls near our hotel and try the actual fruit, having sampled durian ‘puffs’ and spring rolls when in Melaka. Due to the strong odour, Durian stands have tables outside so you can eat the fruit there and then wash your hands to try and get rid of the smell. The fruit had such a strange taste and consistency is similar to cold custard with a skin, although it has an almond like taste which we felt was like it was created in a laboratory. It was definitely a good experience though and we will try it again if we find it. Some Singaporean men were laughing at us trying to eat it. They consider it as the ‘King of fruits’ and will pay significant amounts to eat it. 
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