Somewhere I’ve been meaning to go for quite a few years, but never managed to get round to, was Singapore. I had planned to go there during my excursion in 2009, but unfortunately the way things worked out, that never happened. Likewise, despite all my time in Malaysia, Singapore’s northerly neighbour, I hadn’t yet managed to make so much as a single day visit, in spite of the close proximity of the two countries and the ease of getting there. So, with Anna’s parents over, we finally headed off down south in search of the supposed cleanliness and manners for which Singapore, in Malaysia at least, is famous. In typical Malaysian style, our bus (the ‘Supernice’) came with two classes of travel; there was either the lesser, more economy-style (but yet remarkably named) ‘Super VIP’ class, or the more upmarket ‘Royal VIP’. This always gives me a laugh, because I could never imagine it in Ireland – imagine standing in Busaras of a cold rainy day trying to get a bus ticket to Ballina and asking them to furnish you with a ticket for ‘Royal VIP’. Goes to show how important bus travel’s been over here vs. Ireland I suppose. Anyway, moving on, while I’m not sure it was exactly ‘Super VIP’ as I’d have imagined it, it was certainly quite acceptable and as we rolled through Malaysia, stopping only once at a horrible little canteen slightly more than halfway, it was nice to take in the views and scenery and smaller towns that we often don’t get to see – before reaching Malaysia’s end. Over the border meanwhile, Singapore was considerably stricter and wanted to know all sorts of things…before fining Anna’s parents for trying to cart in some small mini-size bottles of wine. Unlucky.
The rest of the bus journey thankfully, was uneventful. And Singapore, in spite of the obvious double meaning, is a ‘fine’ city. For the first time in many months, our taxi journey didn’t involve an argument, or haggling or a filthy interior that you wouldn’t have wanted to sit in anyway. And our hotel, while small, was very pleasant, especially since the air conditioning back at our apartment in Malaysia had now completely packed in and was providing only hot air (leading to many an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and even crankier morning). But, to be honest, stepping out into the afternoon sun, there was just ‘something’ absent. Not so much as an inch of graffiti, hardly a sinner out on the streets and everything looking freshly cleaned and sparkling – let’s be honest, it sounds like everyone’s dream place to be, in fact I know people personally who are always talking about how they wish where they lived would be like that. But in a way, it reminded me of my first visit to Ottawa years ago, which was a little similar – and to be honest, is actually quite almost ‘intimidating’ by itself. In fact, you almost begin to want to see just a little bit of dirt. And moreover, if you’ve just come from Malaysia, it’s even more bizarre given how our streets here are packed with people wandering, sleeping or just chilling out, night or day. In Singapore meanwhile, even in the middle of the afternoon, the streets were quite often looking deserted. We walked along until we arrived to Chinatown, which was similar to KL’s version, except far less crowded and far less intimidating. But the food – well, after such a long bus journey, it was more than time to eat, so we pulled into a nearby restaurant and ordered up some food.
Unfortunately, Malaysia, when it came to food at least, was clearly still the winner. By far. Like its streets, Singapore’s first food offering was just too normal; bland, for want of a better word. The fried rice was more or less tasteless, while everyone else’s dish, while perfectly acceptable was just that – ‘acceptable’. On the bright side, by the time we got out of Chinatown (which took us quite a while by the time we’d looked around a temple, got lost once or twice and then ended up in what looked like the projects) it was already dusk and no better a time than to hike up towards the bay to look out towards the Marina Bay Sands hotel/resort and take in the night skies. At night, while the day may have been just a little bit too normal for my liking, everything was just right. Whereas KL comes alive in a wash of sporadic neon lighting at night, Singapore’s careful planning of absolutely every detail meant that night was less like being in a city and more like being in Disneyland ready to watch a night show. The Marina Bay Sands was beautifully lit, as was everything nearby – no photograph you could take could possibly make the place look bad. We wandered around for a while and took in the sights, before slowly making our way back towards our hotel, that we’d now discovered was closer to the city centre than we might have first expected. Back to the hotel for what was thankfully my first fully air conditioned night in about 5 or 6 nights…and I slept like a baby, if I say so myself.
The next morning, with no breakfast from the hotel on offer this time round, it was off for a trip on the open-top tour bus. I’ve no idea why, nor do I know if anyone else has ever noticed this, but WHY is it, that those red buses are in every city and they’re always by far the most expensive? I don’t get it! Anyway, we opted instead to go for the slightly cheaper ‘original’ tour bus, the corporate image of which was made up by cartoon images of the bums of Jack Russell dogs for whatever reason. Regardless, Singapore by tour bus was a great idea – not only do you get to see from a height what areas of the city are just too ‘clean’ for my liking, but you also get to see what areas are a bit more lively, all while – in my case anyway – getting sunburnt. We jumped ship at the botanic gardens, in spite of the heat, to have a quick look. To me, botanic gardens everywhere look a little bit the same I’m afraid so I wasn’t overly enamoured with them, but nice to see nonetheless. Back onto the bus then for another jaunt, and our next stop was Little India. Little India’s everywhere always look a little the same and I find are quite often a lot more interesting than ‘Chinatown’s’ if that makes sense. This one certainly wasn’t a disappointment and after being briefly kidnapped into a cave/jungle-themed restaurant (well, we wanted lunch anyway so the borderline-kidnapping worked in our favour anyway), we were off back to the hotel for a brief well-earned rest. We’d really no idea what to do the following day having satisfied ourselves that Singapore was indeed, a ‘fine’ city, so after a brief bit of planning, it was off to Sentosa Island the next morning…