My flight from Perth landed in Singapore back on Sunday evening (23 Oct), but with less than 48 hours in the city before my flight to Diego Garcia, I decided not to waste any time and get started on exploring Singapore! So I checked into my hotel (which is the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, the Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport), dropped off my bags, and hopped on the train into the city center.
My first mission was to find some dinner, so I went to one of Singapore’s best hawker centres, Lau Pa Sat, near the Raffles Place metro station downtown (it took forever for me to find my way out of the underground mall at that station — Singapore’s quite fond of endless underground malls, it seems). Hawker centres are essentially food courts with hundreds of stalls selling various foods and drinks, and are generally pretty cheap (and cheaper than the actual “food courts” in malls). Apparently you can’t say you’ve been to Singapore without going to at least one hawker centre. After much wandering around, I settled on some Indian food for S$7 and some sugarcane juice for S$2. Sugarcane juice is quite tasty, I might add, even though the “pea soup green” color might not look terribly appetizing. It was also most welcome to have a cheap meal after burning through money like crazy for food in Australia.
After that I wandered around the CBD and Colonial District areas a bit, making sure to check out Merlion Park. The Merlion, a half-mermaid half-lion fountain, is probably Singapore’s most famous icon. And even though it was nighttime, the humidity in Singapore was oppressive (it’s practically on the equator, after all). Being in Singapore made me absolutely adore air conditioning more than probably any other place I’ve ever been. It was cool to see the CBD and waterfront at night though.
On Monday the 24th I took the train back into the city, first to the Little India neighborhood, roughly following the walking tour that my Lonely Planet guide set out. It’s a neat, colorful, scented place. The district was also even more abuzz and decorated than usual because Deepavali, a Hindu celebration, was going on. While walking around Little India I also went into a couple of Hindu and Buddhist temples. The Hindu temples in particular had many visitors because of Deepavali. Many candles and food sacrifices were being offered to the idols.
From Little India I walked over to the neighboring Kampong Glam district (referred to by tourists as the Arab district). After getting a good lunch at Cafe Le Caire (rated by Lonely Planet as the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Kampong Glam), I then checked out the beautiful Sultan Mosque. To go inside I had to put on a blue robe-like garment since I was wearing shorts. It was interesting to read the info boards promoting Islam. Some of that info sure didn’t seem to jibe with what’s going on in the world in Muslim countries today (especially about attitudes toward other religions or status/treatment of women)… In theory I wasn’t allowed in the main prayer hall since I am not Muslim, but one of the tour guides said I could go inside and pray to “see what it’s like.” I said that I was a Christian and respectfully declined the opportunity. The young man gently persisted, saying that Islam and Christianity were “pretty much the same.” I basically told him that I didn’t agree, but politely got out of that conversation. I just didn’t feel like that was the time or place to start a theological discussion, especially with a person who I didn’t know. After leaving the mosque I walked up past the Kampong Glam cemetery (and another mosque) on my way to a metro station.
I took the metro over to Dhoby Ghaut to check out the National Museum of Singapore, as much for the history lesson as for the afternoon respite in air conditioning. I only checked out the Singapore national history gallery, which was pretty neat. They handed out headphones and a media player to guide you through the exhibits. There really weren’t descriptions of the artifacts on the walls, only numbers to punch in to the media player to read or listen to a description. It was cool to see the history of Singapore from around 1000 A.D. to English colonization to Japanese invasion to Singaporean independence.
After an hour and a half in the museum I took the metro up to Newton to have dinner at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre. The touts for the various stalls were quite aggressive there, and the food was a lot more expensive than at Lau Pa Sat the night before. One tout said he had cold Tiger Beer (the ubiquitous Singaporean lager, which is actually pretty decent), and when he could see that I was at least interested, before I knew what happened he’d opened the beer for me and set it down on the table and put a menu in my hands. At that point I figured I should just sit down and find something to order. The Tiger Beer was well deserved anyway at the end of such a long, hot day. And you have to sample the local beer when traveling, right?
I made it back to the hotel in time to go for a quick swim in the pool, which, disappointingly, was no deeper than 4 feet. And as hard as they tried to create a tropical getaway atmosphere at the outdoor pool, the hotel and pool is still situated between the air traffic control tower and a runway. But oh boy did that pool feel good after walking around all day in the tropical heat and humidity!
There’s still more of Singapore that I’d like to see, especially Sentosa Island, but that will have to wait until after I get back from Diego. There wasn’t time to go see any more of Singapore the next day because of our flight. More on that — and Diego Garcia — coming up next time!