We were wowed crossing the ocean from Malaysia into Singapore via an impressive bridge with expansive views of the ocean, rain forest and the upcoming pristine city.
The bus then comes to a screeching halt at immigration and we have to disembark, grab our bags and find out if we will be allowed into the pearl city. The immigration hall has an impressive, HUGE glistening marble foyer with 28 rows. There are only 4 rows open (alert) and we cannot see the front of the lines. An immigration officer is yelling in a foreign language to a family who appear tired and mistakenly went down the wrong line. He is little, but carries a lot of weight. After almost an hour of dragging our backpacks down the line, we see why it has taken so long.
It’s a tight and slow system, the immigration officer chats with the next immigration officer while waiting to press the button to open the gate to let a new person in… but only after the person who just went through screening has reached the other side, and then you are called to the counter. Repeat process. …With threats from the bus company that they will leave without us if we take too long, we have no more nails to bite wondering if we have a ride into Singapore.
We make it through immigration drenched in sweat from waiting so long in line with our packs, re-board the bus and follow the ‘golden’ highway into the city of Singapore. En route I see my very first (and favorite vehicle) 2015/2016 Audi RS6 Avant in real life. To quote Mike Myers, “schwing”! It feels like we have arrived.
At the metro station, another ALERT arises. A 3-day tourist metro pass is 20 Singapore dollars per person (the currency is on par with the Canadian dollar) but it costs another $10 recycling fee just to get the plastic card. Refundable, but only if you can find a station that is open and at your location when the card expires. Oh, and you will then have $10 Singapore dollars each (refund only in cash) in your pocket as you leave the country! Just one of those things that make you go hmmm, no point in losing sleep over it. If you can, spend it on candy or whatever you can grab before leaving the metro station. We still have our Singapore money :), and only after Christine travelled an extra 2 stations to get the refund the morning we left.
The metro system is heavily, heavily used by folks focused on looking at their smartphones… I do not know if anyone even noticed us white folks on the train. The metro is an incredibly efficient, clean and reasonably pleasurable place to spend your commuting hours. There are tunnels covering the island…in some locations, the lines are double decker. Tunnels are clean, the waiting areas have massive fans to move the hot stale air and body odor. Interestingly, the waiting areas are completely blocked off from the rail lines by glass walls and large automatic glass doors (theoretically preventing anyone from ending their life in the most gruesome of ways). Oddly, the announcement at every station brings us back to our days in the UK as the announcer states “mind the gap” … huh, I thought I was in Singapore? The metro is probably the best we have seen in our lifetime.
Singapore’s sky line will impress even the oldest, grumpiest man in your life, but somehow there is an emptiness and fakeness to the whole thing. Probably just a ‘big city thing’. People are EVERYWHERE, smokers are everywhere (which is difficult for the non-smokers in this roaming two – expected in other areas of Asia, but not so much in Singapore), people are shoving and pushing, and no one appears to care. It rubs off on us quick and suddenly we are walking in front of people who are taking yet another selfie, instead of doing our typical, wait patiently and then proceed; or say sorry for getting in the way. No one cares here… but then maybe they don’t in Vancouver either? We are just small city folks, some call me naïve (and you know who you are). Christine just takes it all in, although I hear a grunt every now and then.
But WOW, what a city! We just loved walking along the ocean for hours-with the occasional and essential reprieve into air conditioning whenever given the chance. Singapore has a walkway system around the water that likely beats Vancouver’s. It is just awesome! The architecture is quite impressive and the Marina Bay Hotel just blows your mind! Little India was a fascinating place to walk. The temples are colorful, the smells invigorating and the food mouth-watering.
There is a bunch of $$$ in Singapore. I saw more Rolls Royce vehicles in our 3 days in the Singapore downtown core than I have seen in my lifetime. I lost count of the Lamborghini’s and Ferraris we saw – one day, 2 orange Lamborghinis’ 5 minutes apart! It was starting to feel like the average car for Singapore was 500+hp glossy, pastel colored vehicles. In a city where your local Starbucks Chai Tea Latte will set you back $7.30 for a 16oz (grande NOT Venti) beverage and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream will make you re-mortgage the house at $12/pint (so sad, everyone should be able to enjoy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, perhaps it should be government subsidized :)), we wondered who are all the people shopping at the high end Versace, Tom Ford, Omega, Armani, BOSS, Fendi, Gucci, Kate Spade, Prada, Church’s, Dolce & Gabbana, etc. shops at the Marina Bay Shopping Centre?
This was a pretty expensive place to spend a few days. As a tourist, you pay for every attraction/sightseeing item on the list. Access to the rooftop of the crazy incredible looking Marina Bay Sands Hotel… $33. Ride the Singapore flyer? $33. And so on. The Marina Bay Garden by the Sea provided some free Disney inspired entertainment, and it was a welcome respite. The lights were beautiful at night. After hot, ‘everyone-spending-their-free-time-at-the-malls Malaysia’, it was great to see so many joggers and cyclists come out once the blazing sun went down. It is a jogger’s paradise in the evening.
Sample Singapore expenses:
$60/night including all taxes
Tiny, budget, private hotel room with private bath (moldy, but private), located a 20-minute walk from closest MRT station and 4 MRT stations from the downtown core in a very ‘local’, non-touristy area. Includes air conditioning, fresh sheets and towels each day, bottled water and 2 medium-size cockroaches (that we saw anyway!).
~160 Malaysian Ringgit (or ~$53 Cdn) for both of us for a Malaysia Aeroline executive coach from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (includes stewardess, Subway 6”sandwich, TV, plug in, headphones, blanket and pillow, toilet on bus, bathroom rest stop and very importantly a driver who did the speed limit). 5-hour trip.
- $7.30 Grande (16oz) Chai tea latte at Starbucks
- $19 Little India Food Hawker cart for 2 delicious, huge portions
- $12 Little China Food Hawker cart for chicken dish with veggies, which we shared
- $6 Food vendor salad for 1, $11 Mall salad for 1
- $7.50 McDonalds Big Mac meal
- $6 for 1 tiny scoop of Haagen Das ice cream
- $1 McDonalds ice cream cone (compared to $0.33 in Malaysia)
- $2.60 Krispy Kreme donut
- $12 Pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
…and no, we didn’t eat all those treats!
So as we said farewell to the pearl city in our budget, Singapore bus (complete with tacky interior and a bus driver who does not obey the speed limits and talks on the cell phone while passing semi-trucks on the freeway), we know we may have just seen the closest thing to home that we are going to see for quite some time. With Singapore ranked third in the world by number of people per square kilometre, we think of a quote by Gustave Flaubert (influential French novelist), “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”.
Mark and Christine