February 14-19 and March 5-6, 2013
(Posted by Xavier, photos curated by Kristin)

After a long day of traveling from Cairns to Singapore (with a 5-hour layover in Darwin) we arrived in Singapore in the evening. From the plane it was apparent that we were entering something completely different and off the scale from anything else we had seen on our trip so far. Remember it was dark as we flew in, and we could only see the lights of objects on the ground. Were those ships in the water? There were so many! That is one big city down there. Huh!? Is that a floating ship in the air? What’s that?! Huge trees all lit up? A giant Ferris wheel? Where did we just fly into? Some futuristic Disneyland?

As if that weren’t enough, we got off the plane and walked into what many have called the world’s best airport. So besides free wifi, eateries of all types, a shopping mall, children’s play area, how about taking a nap in your own private bedroom? No nap? Okay lets go watch a movie at the movie theater. Or take a refreshing shower? No, not a shower but a cool dip in the swimming pool! How about a quick workout at the gym? Or a nice foot or body massage. Hey, ever wanted to experience those little fish that eat away all the dead skin on your feet? They’ve got that here too! Here’s the best part, most of these services are free! SAY WHAT?! You even get to rate the toilets!

No time to waste in the airport, we caught a cab to our place, the Happy Snail Hostel, just on the edge of Singapore’s Chinatown. It felt muggy and it was raining on our ride into the city. Immediately were thrown into another world. This is a large super city of amazing modern architecture.

We got to our hostel, which is located in a complex of several tall multi-story housing buildings, late in the evening. We were greeted warmly by some of our fellow world travelers. The hostel owner had known of our late arrival and had gotten everything ready for us; he was not there himself, but the other hostellers were eager to show us the lay of the land. If you have been reading our blog you know that we have been staying in hostels, but for the most part in a private double room, usually with shared bathroom facilities. But this time around, to save a few dollars we decided to stay in a mixed 8-bed hostel room. This may not be for everyone but by now we had learned not to do this in one of those large mega hostels catering to the younger partying types. This place worked really well for us. First and foremost the wonderful owner/operator, Michael, made us feel very welcomed, had loads of great information, bent over backwards to help in all our travel needs and had a wonderful disposition. The hostel was small but well equipped (IKEA stuff everywhere!), close to the city and bus/subway stops. Also, there was a great mix of friendly travelers whom we talked to and traded information with on a nightly basis. We even teamed up with some to do a few Singapore ventures.

Kristin had decided that we should venture out into some of the old historic neighborhoods first to take in flavor and foods of Singapore before we take on the new super city areas. And so we did. First up, Chinatown.

Walking down the street, on a warm, slightly humid, grey overcast morning, we got a private tour of a wonderful tea house which was once visited by the queen of England (you had to pay extra to sit where she sat).

No sooner had we left there when we were waved over to see a dragon dance being performed to ring in a prosperous new year for a private small business.

It was wonderful and unusually kind that this small business had, on the spur of the moment, shared this private event with two perfect strangers. Here is the dragon serving up some orange peels.

We walked further into Chinatown past the Maxwell hawker center (a covered area with various food stalls offering a great array of local dishes).

Next stop was the Singapore City Gallery, a planning display/museum/history exhibit presented by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Here they dedicated three floors to describing the city/country’s master plan, and how they have followed it and updated it for over 40 years. The highlight was a large scale model of the downtown area.

Singapore is an extremely small country with a large growing population and the country’s leaders had incredible foresight, organization and dedication to lay out and follow immense public plans. The result is nothing short of spectacular and impressive. What I saw here left me saying we need to have this same level of massive foresight in the US. Kristin thought it was a great illustration of the benefits of good planning, recognizing the importance of sustainability and historic preservation in planning for the future. Perhaps the most enlightening thing to learn was that we possibly had been drinking NEWater, produced by fascinating Singapore technology which basically recycles wastewater (yes, including sewage) into potable water. The detailed planning and scale model is something everyone should see as their first stop on a visit to Singapore.

We continued to walk through Chinatown taking in the aromas of all the eateries (much more on Singapore food on the next blog post), stopping into various temples to watch the rituals and observe the worshiping, and occasionally ducking into a coffee or tea shop to get out of the rain showers. Excuse me, I meant to say torrential downpours. Let me take a moment here to say we had not see rain on our trip like this, until Singapore. Sad to say in our 5 – 6 day stay here in Singapore we probably only got 15 minutes of blue skies. The rest of the time it was grey and cloudy with your daily afternoon RAIN TORRENTS! Okay maybe it didn’t last long, but yikes! It got to a point where we just didn’t care, we knew we were going to get rained on. Aww, so what. We would dry off soon enough.

Next we set off to the Little India area of Singapore. We jetted over on Singapore’s ultra modern subway. Yup! Another one of Singapore’s forward-thinking planning ideas.

Out of the subway and bang you’re in India. No really, you are in India.
The wonderful intoxicating curry smells make your taste buds quiver with anticipation of explosions of culinary delights that you just want to jump into the nearest curry pot.

Okay more of that on the next blog. The colors, the music, the people, the feel, it’s all here. Lets go down that street! No, that street! Hey look at this temple with all the incense burning.

Ooo, ooo! What’s going on in there? Take off your shoes and walk into another world you only read about or see in movies.

Fantastic, mysterious, unknown to us as we stand back and watch and let the chanting carry you away to another state of being.

The umbrella we brought along soon fell victim to the torrential rains, but no worries, we’re near the Mustafa Center. We had heard of this place, not just because it was a legendary one stop shopping store, but because it was something we should experience. Plus the fact we now needed a new umbrella and I needed some flip-flops. The store takes up an entire city block, is several stories tall (sorry, didn’t take time to count the floors) and yes it has everything, and lots of it.

You have to check in with the guards before entering and they zip-tie close your bags (including backpacks) before you can go in. Okay. Overwhelmed with the sheer volume of products, we zeroed in on our purpose, found our needed items and got out.

Next up, we zipped over to Arab street. We got our transit flex-passes so we’re just zipping everywhere. Bang again! Right smack in the middle of the middle east as the call for prayer is all around us.

The hypnotizing call is broadcast all around you by loud speakers. So many mosques to see. Off with the shoes again, and in you go. Nice thing about this is that all of these mosques provide a foot bathing area for you to use. Hungry? Oh! Dang, more about eating in Singapore in the next blog. I guess you’ve noticed we like eating in Singapore.

Arab street is a great mix of old shopping stalls selling everything from clothing, rugs, clothing material of every color, handbags, etc. etc. etc.

Kristin couldn’t resist, as she stopped to bargain down one of the sellers for her new hand bag (to replace her favorite bag which was on its last legs). We took a quick side street, and noticed that the narrow street running parallel to Arab street was filled with new hip stores, a jazz club, a bunch of shisha smoking restaurants/pubs, and various small business boutique shops. Haji Lane turned out to be the too cool version of Arab street.

Even though we were in a bustling city/country, up till now, we had been enjoying the ambience of all these old ethnic neighborhoods — neighborhoods that Singapore makes a conscious effort to preserve as historic areas. The store fronts and building facades were a visual palate of the cultural history of this country. Walking through these ethnic neighborhoods was rewarding enough in just a sensory overload type of way. And if you love shopping for something unique, forget about it. You could spend weeks just going to all the little shops in all these neighborhoods. And sometimes it was just a mishmash of old and new.

While traveling to all these neighborhoods, via the subway, we kept noticing large construction projects throughout the city. In many pictures, while framing for some nice old temple, mosque, shrine, street, etc., invariably in the background you would notice large construction sights at work. The city seemed to be in a constant state of building or renovation. We even noticed the large mega cranes on these new skyscrapers working past midnight.

For our entire 6 days in Singapore we are sorry to say that we only had about 15 minutes of blue skies, resulting in dreary-looking pictures. About the only time we had partial clearing was at dusk. Oh how we missed those wonderful blue skies of Australia.

But we had not even ventured into the modern architectural marvel that is Singapore. Looking now to see and experience the other side of Singapore we zipped over to the inner harbor area of the city. Bang? No, this time its KABOOM! Ya, remember all those crazy things at the start of this blog about floating ships, ferris wheel, giant trees? Well there it all was in front of us, including Dome concert halls, giant size arboretums, beautifully constructed walkways along the canals, and dozens of river boat cruises to take advantage of the canals and harbor viewing. A harbor filled with modern skyscrapers.

Probably the largest and most elegant (and most ostentatious) indoor shopping mall I have ever seen.

A lotus flower shaped museum.

Marina Sands Hotel/Casino (the big three tower-floating ship building)

Singapore Flyer (world’s largest Ferris wheel?) and Solar Trees.

And Singapore’s Merlion!

The more you stand there and marvel the more you notice all the other construction going up. And I mean up, straight up. Singapore is only so big and there is very little, if any land available, that all the construction underway is for skyscrapers.

The crowning glory to this modern metropolis is the spectacular light/laser and water shows that are put on every night in the harbor and Gardens by the Bay Solar Trees areas. The Harbor laser and water show can be see from all around the harbor, but by far the best viewing place to see it from is from the viewing steps in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel/Casino.

As if the laser and water show isn’t enough, there’s a visual story that is projected on to the water sprays that makes it more enjoyable and unique. Another good option for viewing, if you can time it just right, is on the river cruise.

Along with the viewing of the harbor laser show another must do is taking in the city view from on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

We spent one of our most pleasant evenings with fellow hosteller, Mohammed, taking in the sky high view of Singapore over a few drinks at the “Sky Bar” on top of that amazing structure.

But for Kristin and me the show which struck a special chord for us was the Gardens by the Bay Solar Trees light show. It’s a crazy idea that has worked out spectacularly. I don’t know if I can describe it and I hope the pictures will convey the beauty. It’s a garden filled with about a dozen or more, large multi-story tall, metal stylized, illuminated tree like structures.

At every day at dusk and then again later on in the evening, a choreographed light show is presented.

I found a elevated spot towords the back of the garden which gave us a wonderful backdrop of the amazing Marina Bay Sands Hotel (you know, that floating ship structure I keep referring to) to view the light show. It was wonderful.

We left Singapore impressed at the ingenuity and dedicated efforts for which the country is striving for to meet it’s ever growing residential needs. But with that comes ever growing infrastructural pressures and social problems. We have no idea what the future has in store for Singapore but for now we had to wonder if we had not seen what the future had in store for us.