Day #10,670: We landed in Singapore at 11:30pm on the 4th of July- perhaps not your average 4th of July celebration, but at least as exciting as a firework display.
Singapore started living up to its reputation as Utopia right from the start. The customs line- wait for it, peeps- moved quickly. The friendly customs agents (oh, I said friendly) gave me sour apple candy after I was deemed fit for entry. Free candy? BOOM, best country ever.
The airport bathroom was one of the nicest restrooms I’ve ever been in, and this isn’t a dramatic hyperbole- said airport also had a butterfly garden (?!) and a rooftop pool. I really wanted a Singapore Airport Bathroom Picture but was concerned (1) that it would freak out my fellow bathroom-goers, and (2) that said freaked-out people would alert customs, who would accuse me of being a deviant and take back my candy.
The next morning, we woke up eager to explore this city that had welcomed us so grandly the night before.
I don’t know how or why or when this started, but like the 80-yr old couple we clearly are, Mr. M & I get a kick out of a good Botanical Garden. Aside from getting to see the flora that a particular region is known for, Botanical Gardens provide a change of pace from standard city sightseeing.
As you may know from Will & Kate’s recent royal visit to Singapore, the country lays claim to some bomb-diggity gardens. The proverbial jewel in its crown is the Orchid Garden, where we spent most of our time.
Having existed solely indoors up until this point (Singapore makes this- like everything else- quite easy with its air-conditioned tunnels and walkways), touring the huge Botanical Gardens was a bit of a shock.
It was Hot and Humid, and humidity has an unfortunate effect of morphing me into a whiny five-year old. If it’s 90 degrees out with 99% humidity, Mr. M knows to expect such Classic Hits as: “Mr. M, I’m Hooooootttt…”, “Can I At Least Have a Soooodaaa?,” and “I Smell Really Bad… Smell Me” among other crowd favorites.
After we’d reached the limits of our outdoor capabilities, we decided to visit the world-famous Raffles Hotel, where the first Singapore Sling was allegedly invented some time before 1910. I was also quite excited to learn that Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham have all called Raffles home at some point or another. The call of literature and devil’s brew loomed strong.
At $30 each (EACH!!), I almost had a heart attack, then stuffed down the free bar peanuts to ‘make up the cost’ like the classy woman I am. Although they were tasty, we spent more on two drinks than we did on all our food the whole rest of our time in Singapore.
After spending a small fortune at Raffles, Mr. M & I decided to walk over to the Harbor.
Until we got there and I did a little impromptu research, I had never before heard of the Singapore Merlion, which is the country’s mascot, and – stay with me here, this is the really good part- the spawn of a Mermaid and a Lion.
With a backstory this hilarious, y’all know I fell in love with the Merlion immediately. Facing the harbor, balancing on its Mermaid fish tail, and spewing forth water from its roaring Lion’s mouth, the Merlion was the definition of character, something that Singapore is so often accused of lacking.
After exploring the adjacent Clarke Quay, Mr. M & I decided to head back to the Orchard Road neighborhood, which is apparently where Singaporeans go to shop. And they LOVE to shop.
We ended up finding like, five massive shopping centers all right next to each other, and all located underneath huge skyscrapers. The fancy-schmancy, consumerist, subterranean world was so very… stereotypically Singapore. Spotless and easy to navigate, but a bit too sterile.
To get a true taste of culture-blending Singapore, you must eat at one of the hawker centres. Newton Circus was the closest hawker centre to Orchard Road and is probably the most famous among tourists. We ended up sampling a whole mess of deelish street food, and Mr. M had a few Singaporean Tiger beers, as well (which, incidentally, turned out to be one of his favorite international brews).
After some eats, it was time for… drum roll, please… the Night Safari!
The Singapore Zoo is a very well-run wild animal park that offers night admission for an opportunity to see the nocturnal species. I had been looking forward to this since planning our trip. The Zoo offers a tram ride through the enclosures, which allows you to get quite close to some of the species.
Although the tram ride was definitely awesome, the best parts were the almost-empty walking trails. Many actually took us through enclosures (one such trail went through the flying fox aviary, where I swear a bat almost got tangled up in my humidity-fluffed hair)… it didn’t take much imagination to picture ourselves on some sort of a well-trodden jungle safari.
As we learned that first day, Singapore is about the ‘easiest’ place you can possibly travel in Asia. The official language is English. Everything is ridiculously clean. ATMs work. Everyone you’ll meet is friendly and eager to help. It’s so efficient, in fact, that like an idiot, I couldn’t time boarding the high-speed escalators and nearly fell. Twice. Those damn things haul butt.
The downside to all this regimented perfection is that the city sometimes lacks the sort of character that can only come from street art & grime & chaos. This said, don’t fall into the trap of believing the country to be nothing more than sterile and Goody-Two-Shoes.
Any country that not only permits mermaids and lions to mate, but also adopts their spawn as a mascot can’t be completely by the book.
If you’re still not convinced of the country’s underlying rebellious streak, consider this public health announcement recently disseminated on Singapore National Day to help increase the country’s very low birthrate.
Assuming you don’t offend easily, this is the finest government propaganda EVER. I seriously bought this song on their website after hearing it.
Because it’s dangerously catchy, I went about my life singing “Come on girl, let’s put a bao in your oven” for at least a day after watching. People on the subway were genuinely scared.
And they say you don’t have character, Singapore…
To explore my next day’s adventure chillaxing off the coast of Malaysia, click here!
Details of the Day:
Singapore Hawker Centres: A crowded hawker centre may seem a bit intimidating at first. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re in Singapore where all is manageable, and follow these steps: (1) Find a table- it’s perfectly acceptable to ask if you can share when things get real crowded. (2) Note your table number because some stalls will deliver your food to you. (3) Leave one in your party to reserve said table while you go in search of yum nums. (4) Be sure to try the common specialties- chicken rice, popiah (kinda like a giant shrimp spring roll?), anything containing durian (see below), oyster omelet, fried noodles, and fish soup. As a veggievore, I ended up eating a LOT of noodles… and desserts.
Tips & Tricks: Although the threat of digestive issues looms large for Western visitors to Asia, Singapore is a notable exception. You should have no qualms brushing your teeth with tap water or opening your mouth while showering (I like to shower-sing, which causes problems in countries where the tap water isn’t safe) or eating street food coming from a stall with at least a ‘B’ rating.
Beware the Durian. Some love it, some hate it, and you’ll know it when you smell it. Although I’m generally an adventurous eater (insect larvae, sure why not?), I almost threw up upon tasting durian and promptly cursed it as the most horrid, fishy, oily, salty-sweet, vomit-like concoction in existence. The smell was so putrid that the empty wrapper from Mr. M’s durian custard tart was making me gag. In short- definitely try it. And definitely have a tasty chaser just in case.