My first overseas trip of the year (and for the better part of the last 27 months) has been to Singapore
. Overall, it was fun. The trip made a huge dent in my bank account, but I had a good time.
Buildings on Singapore’s financial district are more impressive than the ones I saw on Wall Street. Of course, one could argue that New York’s financial district has a lot of history about it.
In front of Ion Orchard
on Orchard shopping district, which is also Singapore’s version of Times Square only less crowded, waaay cleaner, but much hotter. Evening temperatures must have been in the 30s, but at least you could stay outside without choking on noxious fumes other than those from cigarette smokers.
Dhoby Ghaut MRT station
. There is an entire
city underneath this small structure. The five-level underground station’s corridors even have travellators due to the sheer size of the place and the amount of foot traffic it caters to. Take the North-East line (purple) if you’re going to Sentosa, and North-South (red) for Downtown Core.
I guess until I try the Swiss trains, Singapore’s MRT will always be my favorite. Everything is *very*
clean; trains arrive on time and are not overcrowded; hand rails have no icky stuff left by commuters with sweaty palms. Those doors are kept close
until trains stop at the station for alighting and on-boarding passengers, so there is no way that anyone would fall off a platform and onto an oncoming train. NYC subway is no match to the mostly “driverless” SMRT.
Doing a River Piedra on
Raffles Boat Quay, except I didn’t sit down to cry. This ain’t no Pasig River, and I wish we didn’t lose our way the previous night looking for this place because we forgot to bring our map and the Information booth had a long line of Sri Lankan/Bangladeshi/Indian construction workers asking for assistance.
At 7SGD for one way and 12SGD for a two-way ride, the Sky Ride
is bloody expensive, but it was kind of exciting. I didn’t know I was scared of heights until I hopped onto one of those swingings and found myself dangling several hundreds of feet above the ground. It gives a fantastic view of Imbiah Lookout and the rest of Sentosa, however, and because the Cable Car has been under repair, this is the best alternative to a cable ride.
In addition to Manny Pacquiao and Lea Salonga, SMB is a source of Pinoy pride, at least among beer drinkers. SMB in any place is an indication of the number of OFWs it hosts, and suffice to say, two staff at this rather pricey Chinese joint are Pinoys.
The YWCA on Fort Canning Road is a short walk from the Dhoby Ghaut MRT interchange and provides decent accommodation to budget tourists at SGD198 (roughly P6,200, depending on current exchange rates) for two nights for a standard twin room. My reservation was upgraded to Executive Twin, but I couldn’t tell the difference. The hostel also has a swimming pool and a tennis court, but then who would be brave enough to play tennis under SG’s infernal heat unless he has points to defend on the ATP tour?
The downside is that a certain front desk staff has courtesy issues. I would not have approached her for anything if I hadn’t absolutely needed to. Their Chinese staff, on the other hand, are friendly and helpful.
What to do at the hotel? Catch up on American Idol, of course! I love Casey James.
“Free” breakfast buffet consists of Asian and Western dishes. Their noodles are so-so, but I liked the Yang Chow rice and the sausages, eggs, and baked tomatoes. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t so conscious about having a good fill of carbs, thanks to the miles of walking we knew we would take around the city.
Doing some touristy bits. You have never been there unless you’ve had your photo taken beside the Merlion.
The only homeless I found in Singapore, and as far as homeless people went, this woman didn’t look too downtrodden.
Singapore is so clean, it’s surprising to find litter along a foot path.
Best reading material from 32,000 feet: The third installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.
While many have often scoffed at the limited tourist options that Singapore offers and at its relatively bland flavor compared to neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, or Thailand (and the Philippines, for that matter), its mix of First-World cosmopolitan and Asian features basically shows just how well it turned things around from its very humble backwater beginnings to one of Asia’s leading economies. Aside from its modern architecture and urban landscape, its mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay composition makes it a lot interesting and vibrant.
One can say that in addition to the many industries that sustain Singapore’s economy, such as IT, banking, and trade/manufacturing, tourism is one of the areas that the city-state takes very seriously as a source of income generation for the government and its business community. There are roughly 7 million tourists that visit this tiny country annually, and thanks to the growth of budget airlines in the region, including Australia, more people are visiting the city-state for short-term travel. To serve the needs of tourists, it even built a budget terminal to cater to low-cost airlines, such as Cebu Pacific, Tiger Airways, and Firefly. Within the terminal itself, one would easily find assistance and information on how to get from the airport to the hotel, thanks to the shuttles, taxis, bus routes, and trains that take people from Changi to the city.
While the immigration officers who check incoming visitors’ papers are scarier (they look imposing, trust me) than the ones stationed at, say, JFK, the service staff who will greet you once your papers are cleared are courteous and helpful. The senior person manning the Information station was very helpful in booking shuttle seats for us; he also gave us complimentary bottled water and tourist maps while waiting for our shuttle. When the shuttle arrived to take us to the hotel, he took over our luggage trolley so all we had to do was take our seats. Of course, the shuttle service doesn’t come cheaply, but at 9.00 SGD per person, it’s even more affordable than the yellow taxis at NAIA. If you prefer the MRT, you can take the free airport bus that will take you to Terminal 2, which is connected to a train station.
At train stations, you can ask for directions from the people at information booths. I prefer trains to buses even if the latter allow for more sightseeing opportunities because trains are easier to figure out. It would take me days to get the hang of SG’s bus system, and I didn’t have days to do so on this trip. And as I mentioned above, their trains are impeccably clean and fast. The Dhoby Ghaut station, which served as our starting point to all the attractions that we wanted to see, is a clean and efficient five-story underground city that serves thousands of commuters a day. In terms of size, the only stations in NYC that rival DG, as far as I know, are the Grand Central Terminal, the combined bus-and-train Port Authority Terminal on 42nd and 8th, and the 42nd and Times Square station. But if you don’t factor in the street performers who give some NYC stations a certain personality, how do you compare this
? (BTW, you know that Nestea iced tea commercial with the Valencianos and some girl playing drums? I’d bet my last Singaporean dollar that that’s where the advert’s makers got the idea. Mga gaya-gaya
ever.) Just like Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss
and who fell in love with the clean and efficient Swiss mass rapid transit system, I fell in love with the Singaporean MRT.