Trip Start Jul 24, 2006
6Trip End Aug 16, 2006
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Where I stayed
Breezed through customs - another benefit of First Class is they let you off before the rest of the flight so you beat the crowd. Grabbed a taxi into the city which only took about 20 minutes and cost $SD15.50 (AUD = SD1.17 at the moment, so a cheap fare). On the way the driver regaled me with with some statistics, the only one of which I can remember is that 60% of the country's population are ethnic Chinese.
Staying at the Intercontinental which is very nice, however although it was still before 10pm the hotel restaurant was already closed. The maitre d' was kind enough to walk me to a little noodle bar across the road called the Seng Huat which he assured me was where a lot of the staff ate after finishing work. This was a hole-in-the-wall place with plastic tables and chairs out on the footpath, but a great introduction to Singapore food. I ordered roast duck and noodles and a big bottle of Tiger beer for only SD4.50 - exceptionally cheap and very tasty - then called it a night as I had to be up early to get to the office
Although I am officially on holidays my boss asked me to drop into our Regional Head Office to meet a few of the staff. Our office in Singapore is just a 10-15 minute walk from the Intercontinental so after asking directions at reception I decided to walk there. My immediate impression of the city is how clean it is - almost clinical in fact. I only noticed one piece of graffiti the whole time I was there, and this seemed so out of place I actually took a picture of it. One of the staff met me at reception, walked me around and introduced me to everyone, after which I spent some time with a few of the managers followed by lunch at a restaurant in the nearby Bugis Village mall called Crystal Jade (or something like that) - yam dumplings, sui mai and pork puffs followed by duck and noodles (which was not as nice as the previous night but still good).
Had a tour of the MB dealership in the afternoon which is very impressive, then went to Collyer Quay with a couple of the staff for an early dinner at the Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant which is right next to the Merlion Statue. We ordered crispy baby squid, cereal prawns, seafood donuts, chilli crab and mee goreng - all very tasty and it was pleasantly cool as there was a nice breeze off Marina Bay. Managed to spill some appetizer on my shirt so had the guys drop me at Bugis afterwards where I bought a new shirt and tie from Seiyu for work the next day
Met with a couple more managers in the morning then handed out small gifts to all the people who had volunteered their time to meet with me (boxes of macadamia chocolates I bought at the airport duty free before leaving), then was taken out to lunch again to another little hole-in-the-wall place just around the corner from the office. We had Hainan chicken with buck choy and sweet and sour pork with rice and chilli paste. Brilliant! Best meal so far. I don't usually like chicken or buck choy but both were beautifully cooked.
Had a chat to the MD in the afternoon - the last appointment on my itinerary - then walked back to the hotel, changed into shorts and T and walked to St Joseph's Church in Queen Street where a lady called Terese offered to take my picture, in exchange telling me her life story. Managed to extricate myself after exchanging addresses and walked up Waterloo Street to the Singapore Museum of Art. This is located in a colonial era building with one wing converted into a cafe which is ringed by a shady colonnade. Another beautiful old building quite nearby is the Museum of Asian Civilisations which was unfortunately closed for renovations.
I was picked up a little after 6pm by the MD and his wife in a chauffeur-driven S Class and taken to Raffles - a magnificent building that reminded me a little of the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. It has a beautiful garden in the middle surrounded by a colonnade lined with up market retail outlets. Tried to get into the Long Bar but this was packed so we sat downstairs in the courtyard which was much quieter. The bar is an ornate pagoda-like structure. I had to order a Singapore Sling of course, which was very sweet and bright red - Grenadine?
We had dinner at the Wine Garage in Clarke Quay. Great spot. We had a table outside looking across the river where little bumboats sailed back and forth loaded with cruising tourists. The buildings on the opposite bank are covered by a sail like roof that changed colour regularly.
We shared entrees of smoked salmon with a type of aeoli and slow roasted pork belly with spinach salad, and for main I had roast duck served on a bed of greens - delicious as all the meals I've had in Singapore have been which I largely attribute to the excellent choices of my hosts.
We had a very good bottle of Italian red with dinner, followed by after dinner drinks in the bar on the 70th floor of the Swissotel
Up about 8am and walked to Suntec City, a huge shopping complex about 10-15 minutes from the Intercontinental. Had wonton mee soup for breakfast at a little food bar called Congress Kopitam, which of course was delicious - I'm beginning to think every restaurant in Singapore is great as even my random, uneducated choices result in excellent meals.
Bought a day ticket on the Hippotours bus for SD$23 which gives me unlimited hop on/hop off on their Heritage City and Sentosa routes all day. The bus is a double decker with no roof - just a canopy at the back if you want to stay out of the sun. The buses are colour coded, like the Tube in London - red and purple vehicles do the Heritage circuit, yellow the city run, and Sentosa buses are pink.
Decided to do the Heritage Tour first which includes Little India, Kampong Glam (the Malay district), the Government district and Chinatown. My first stop was Tekka Mall at the corner of Sungei and Serangoon Roads in Little India
Walked to the next stop - Mustafa Centre - and caught the bus to Bugis. Bought a bottle of Vin Pays d'Oc merlot from a 7/11 near the bus stop (which cost the same as my single glass at the hotel's Victoria Bar last night), then dropped all my purchases in the room and walked to Raffles.
Raffles has not diminished in my estimation since last night - it really is a superb piece of British colonial architecture. It was just after lunch and practically empty so I got a corner booth in the Long Bar, bought a glass of red and read my book for half an hour. There are little wooden boxes of peanuts on all the tables and it's customary to toss your shells on the floor. Apparently this is the only place in Singapore where littering is permitted.
Walked to a place I discovered in Victoria Street yesterday called Chjimes which is a cluster of bars and restaurants built around an old Catholic convent. Had a drink at one of the pubs called Insomnia, which was empty except for another Aussie tourist who asked me to take a picture of him drinking his Singapore Sling, then another at an Irish bar called Father Flanagan's. Continued my pub crawl with a drink at La Cave and finally Hog's Breath
Walked to another Kopitam outlet at Plaza by the Park on the corner of Waterloo and Bras Basah and had a late lunch of duck and egg noodle soup with wontons. SD$7 and, as expected, delicious - are there any bad restaurants in this city? Took a photo of a rickshaw stand across the road from the Intercontinental then back to my room. Asked for a corkscrew to be sent up and sampled the French red when it arrived, which is OK. Had planned to visit the night zoo tonight but ended up just walking across the road to Liang Seah Street and having dinner at a Korean restaurant called Mario Kitchen which is a couple of doors down from where I was taken to lunch on Wednesday. Beef stir fry, kim chee, fried white bait and a sweet sake called San Sa Chun. All good except for the price of the sake which at SD$25 was more than half the total cost of the meal. It was very busy - every place in the street was full. Food seems to be an integral part of Singaporean life, and when it's this good, why shouldn't it be.
Left the IC about 7am. Already heating up but not unpleasant. June and July are the warmest months here and the temperature since I arrived has hovered around the low 30's - not excessively hot, but the humidity is around 80% which makes it uncomfortable. On the upside, it hasn't rained since I arrived. Walked to Suntec and picked up another Hippo tour map (the original one having disintegrated from overuse)
Caught a taxi to the Botanical Gardens which were full of locals walking, jogging and doing Tai Chi. It was noticeably muggier here than in the city, maybe because it's not near the ocean. Did the tour of the Orchid Garden (SD$5). This includes a greenhouse with a cool room that mimics the climate of the high mountain rain forest which provided a welcome relief from the heat. Lots of beautiful orchids obviously, and these big, black beetles flying from flower to flower presumably searching for nectar.
Waited about 10 minutes at the Garden rank for a taxi that never came, then walked to the main gate and hailed one passing by. Asked the driver to drop me in Chinatown for a last flurry of sightseeing. Chinatown is very colourful with lots of old houses with brightly painted shutters, racks of clothes on the footpaths, paper lanterns hanging like strings of fat red fruit, stone statues of Buddha, restaurants with laminex tables and laminated menus. There's also a Hindu temple but I didn't go in as there appeared to be a special ceremony going on - an old Indian woman in a yellow sari and yellow henna on her face got out of a taxi as I was walking past.
Ran into another school excursion, then stopped at a restaurant called Tak Po in Temple Street I think for yum cha - prawn sui mai, har gor, pork and blackbean sauce and prawn and rice paper rolls, accompanied by "Healthy Drink" (aloe vera pulp mixed with sugar cane juice)
Down to my last $10 so caught the MRT back to Little India - the lady at the Service Desk suggested this as an alternative to my original plan which was to catch a train to Bugis, which is right next door to the IC. This, however, would have involved changing lines, an option I should apparently avoid at all costs. The MRT is very impressive. Spotlessly clean of course, and unlike Australian railway stations the tracks are enclosed - the platform doors only open when the train arrives. LCDs warn commuters what to do in case of an al-Quaeda attack - the Singapore Government seems to take the threat of terrorism much more seriously than ours.
A pleasant walk from Little India. I passed an apartment building that had a lot of bamboo poles strung with washing hanging off the balconies which are apparently a common alternative to clothes dryers here.
An Indian man accosted me outside a coffee shop in Middle Road about a block or two from the IC. He introduced himself as Raja and after shaking my hand told me I had a cheerful and pleasant disposition, would soon be traveling to another country, that September would be an "incredible" month for me, and that black was not my lucky colour. Despite this uncanny predilection for prediction I declined his offer to join him at his table explaining that I had a plane to catch.
Showered, packed and watched cable news - Abkhazia and Georgia are fighting which has replaced the Israel / Lebanon war as the lead story
Arrived about 1.10pm - 40 minutes before check in - so bought a bottle of water and an apple tart at a cafe called "Polar Puffs and Cakes" and updated my journal. Will try and finish Crooked Letter before boarding so I can ditch it - I think I'm already over the weight limit for carry on. My feet are sore from all the walking and my neck is stiff so I must organise a massage once I get to Hanoi. I was hoping that Vietnam would be a little cooler and less muggy, but the forecast for today is almost identical to Singapore.