2019 tour travel blog

Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Flyer, and a bumboat on the river

Just sheltering from the rain!

Chinatown

On the skywalk, Gardens by the Bay

Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay

Marina Bay Sands and Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay

lunch at a Michelin one-star restaurant

Orchids at Singapore Gardens


28 April – Sunday

After a big buffet breakfast we pack to leave, check out is not until noon, so we take our time. We look at options for getting to Singapore and decide on the bus, with a taxi to JB Sentral where we process immigration. A taxi can only take us to Queen Street, and will cost about NZ$100. We later should have done that, as from the time we left the hotel until we get to our Singapore hotel, it is over four hours, for a trip of about 22 km.

We are dropped at the bus station, (MYR23, $7.50) and the taxi driver tells us to get the bus ticket after immigration (seems a bit strange, but we will check on that). He also warns that it is a very long walk to immigration as the whole departure set up is a shambles. He was right! We are touted for cars to take us, but have been told there are scammers about, so decline. We take the lift to the next level, walk for miles, take another lift, and walk for what seems like forever. Cynthea says she is sure we have missed immigration, Tony disagrees, but tells he she can go check while he waits with the bags. She is away a while, there is still quite a walk to immigration. We get through ok, and then there is the long walk back to where we had come from. FFS!! In this heat it is bloody awful too.

We take the lift down, and struggle to find where to catch the bus, there is no sign of the one we were told to take, although we have a few options. Tony spots an information counter and a VERY long queue. The queue is for the buses, but only one person waiting at the counter. When Tony gets through the crowd to talk to them, they say to just get in the queue, the bloody long one, and pay on the bus. First in first served, and interestingly there is a “seated” queue and a “standing” queue. We figure that once we get to Singapore, just 5 minutes in the first bus, we can work the rest out, and see if there is a better option. We know we can take the rapid transit MRT to a station just across the road from the hotel we are staying at. After a long wait the bus is finally here, but it fills up, so we have to wait for the next. At least for the next one we are near the front of the queue. Cynthea boards first and is well up the other end of the bus, but Tony has a problem paying. He cannot understand what the driver is saying, and another bus company employee comes over and shouts at Tony through the drivers’ window. Tony gets frustrated and tells him not to shout at him. It turns out they want exact fare, MYR7.60 ($3), but Tony gave all the small change to the taxi driver. No, they will not take a credit card either. The only cash Tony has is a 50 note, there was supposed to be a money changer in here, but there is not, so he doesn’t have any SG$ on him (well, yes, but it is buried in a bag), as they would have taken that. Tony swears in frustration, and tells Cynthea to get off while we sort this shambles, but a kind woman behind him says she will pay. So thrilled. We stay on board for the five minute trip to the Singapore border. The woman who paid stays behind once everyone is off to make sure we are given our transfer ticket, and the driver is actually helpful as well, and can speak English a bloody site better than when we first tried to get some sense out of him. I think the woman who paid our fare gave him a dressing down about how we were treated.

Long queues at immigration, and then we have to find our bus into town, we have tickets to the Queen Street bus terminal. The bus that leaves every 15 minutes is a no show, again. We have time waiting in the queue to talk to the locals who tell us that this is an express service that will only take a few minutes, and that our hotel is in walking distance (in this heat?). So we take the chance seeing as the ticket has been paid for us, and sure enough, we can see the hotel from the bus station, a short walk away.

We check in to Hotel 81 Dickson, (SG$376, NZ$428), it is very basic. We have a deluxe room, hate to think what a standard one is like if this is their idea of deluxe! I think the standard rooms are those are on the inside of the building, with no windows. The room is cramped, a double bed, a desk, one poof-type seat, tea and coffee making, but only one sachet of coffee, and one sachet of instant milky tea, a tiny wardrobe. There is an all in one shower/toilet/hand basin, so the toilet seat gets wet every time you shower, and the floor is wet for ages afterwards, so you have to do things in the right order. There are no facilities here, as in no restaurant nor a tourism desk.

We decide to get sim cards for the few days we are here, having data makes it so much easier to get around. Tony checks out a couple of shops, but cannot find the 7-eleven he was directed to. We are in an interesting part of town, Little India, with Bugis Street and shopping in the opposite direction. Cina town is also close, only a couple of train stops away. A lot of the restaurants are open 24/7, so we are spoilt for choice. The only hassle is that most accept only cash, and the few that take cards are exclusive to Mastercard. Tony is hoping that he brought the Mastercard with him. He visits a couple of shops but feels they are selling him the most expensive plans for a few days, and pretends he does not have his passport (you need a passport here as well, to buy a sim card). He buys milk, and gets back to the room to find there is no bloody fridge either, so he fills the handbasin with cold water and hopes it will stay cool enough for breakfast (have some weetbix to finish off!). The dairies here are open 24/7 too.

After a rest we head out, and find the 7-eleven. We get our sim cards (takes ages) SG30, NZ$33, gives us 100Gb for seven days (not sure we can use that, but it will also roam in Thailand when we are there at the weekend. We head off in search of the train station to get a three day travel pass, also SG$30, with a $10 refund when we hand the cards back in. But they don’t take Visa at the train station. Tony has the Mastercard, but it is a debit card for a seldom used account. There is enough on there to pay for one ticket, and the other is paid in precious cash.

We opt for KFC for tea, they take a visa card! A few different things on the menu, and not too badly priced. We are pleased to have the chance to sit down. While here we take a moment to set up the phones, they connect alright, but there is nothing to tell us what our numbers are. We fiddle about with the phone directory, but no clues, so Tony rings the 1800 help line. Bugger, it’s in Chinese. So for several minutes he pushes the # key again and again, and finally we get a real person, and she speaks English, sort of. It takes a while to explain that we just got a new sim, but where is the number printed, we cannot find it (and feel bloody silly having to ask!). She asks if Tony wants to know the number he is calling from, and gives him a code to dial, can you not just tell me says Tony, so she does. Ahhhh, penny drops, in Singapore there are no area codes, so no zero to dial before a number. And when he looks, Tony sees where the number is printed on the sim card pack, so it makes it easy to see what Cynthea’s number is. If they had the country code printed before the number we would have realised what was going on. Everyone in Singapore is used to it she tells Tony, and Tony says you are selling a bloody tourist sim card, so no, everyone buying it does not know. Sheesh! Back outside to the steamy heat, we go to Bugis St, but they are closing for the night (wallet saved!), so we wander back to the hotel for the night. It is very busy here with a few of the places open 24/7, including a massive shopping mall a couple of blocks away.

29 April – Monday

Breakfast in our room, the cold water in the handbasin kept the milk cool, but we won’t be able to use it much more, even with the aircon going. The train station is across the roas from the end of our street, but it is a mission to get there. Jaywalking is illegal (relatively few people do it), but for us to cross the road we have to do it in a round-about fashion. At the closest intersection we first have to cross Weld Rd, then east over Besar, and then south over Weld Rd, because for some stupid reason we cannot just cross Besan at the south end of the intersection. Well, we could try, but the traffic is pretty fast along here. We jump on the train to head downtown, but first we have to head downstairs, three levels to get to the platform, the tunnels run deep on the MRT. , heading for Merlion Park, opposite Marina Bay Sands (the three tower building with a ship on top of it). At the train station the platform is glassed off, and is only opened when a train arrives, so there is no opportunity for anyone to jump in front of a train, or fall accidentally on to the tracks. They call it rapid transit, and these things move off so fast you slide along the shiny seats when it takes off. A really goods transport system, fast and clean. Very little rubbish around here, big fines for littering of any sort, even cigarette butts, and chewing gum is illegal. We seldom see the police, but there are cameras everywhere. The biggest crime is pickpocketing, as that can be done unnoticed.

The underground stations are a maze, with exits left, right and centre, as well as up and down! It is difficult to know where to even head, as the stations often cover more than a city block underground, head in the wrong direction and you could end up a couple of blocks away from where you thought you would be (happened to us often). Sort of defeated the purpose of taking the train in the first place! At least we are out of the heat. We head down to the park, plenty of shelter along the way, as when Raffles first developed the city he determined that there would be at least five feet of sheltered footpath to protect from the rain and sun, and be safe away from traffic. Of course if you look around Chinatown and Little India you will be forgiven for wondering where the footpath went! Most of it is taken up with tables, boxes, bikes, and stalls.

We have a light lunch and decide to go on a river cruise, but the office at the jetty here is cash only. We decide to walk through the parliamentary quarter to the main departure jetty, and on the way Tony finds a discount for the trip. At Clark Quay Tonys buys the tickets online, “instant issue” they said. And so we wait for the confirmation to come through. Half an hour later we have the confirmation, but the tickets are still being processed. Hidden way off in the small print, is the message that tickets will take 12 hours, he is bloody furious and tries to phone the ticket agent. The call will not go through, so he sends an angry email, telling them just what :instant ticketing” actually means. They reply a few minutes later and say to just give the purchase code to the ticket office, but they cannot accept that, they need a bar code to process everything. It is getting more than a little frustrating, especially trying to make yourself understood at the ticketing counter without getting too upset with them. They try to ring the ticket agent too, also without success. Tony hands his phone over so they can see the emails and as the staff are looking, the email with the bar code comes through, finally… it only took an hour or so. By now the thunderstorm is brewing, lots of lightning and the thunder is getting closer. We have our river cruise, and thankfully the rain holds off until we return. Then it chucks it down. Luckily there is a covered walkway outside Hooters, so we can shelter for a wee bit and take in the sights from there.

It is a brief rainfall, and we head over the river to the MRT station, and jump on a train to Chinatown. We find the food prices here reasonable, and after wandering around the stalls for a bit (cheap tat for sale!) grab a quick take away (spring rolls and steamed buns), and jump back on the train to Downtown. We come out at the wrong exit and head off in the wrong direction for a while, but soon get our bearings. We are wanting to catch the light show at the Sands at 8pm. The ideal place is at the Merlion Park where we had lunch, but we are not going to make it. We are at a less crowded place, but it is not ideal to see the impressive sound and light show, which lasts 15 minutes. Then it is back to the train station. The heat and humidity takes it out of you, and you need to wear quick dry clothes (not cotton).

Back at Besar Station we get out at our normal exit, and go through the rigmarole of crossing the road three times. As we go to make the third crossing, Cynthea spots a small sign inside the building on the corner, it is part of the MRT station, not that you would know it, there are no external signs! So now we just choose the other exit, the one that takes us under the road, and we only cross the road once. Good to know for the future!

We have yet to book flights out of Dubai for Spain, so that is on the must do for tonight. We had looked at tours of Spain, but the ones Cynthea found were not as cheap as she thought, they were priced in USD, so they are off the shopping list. We decide to just head for Barcelona or Madrid, and wing it from there. But the prices are not cheap, unless you fly via Cairo or Istanbul, or a few other dodgy airports. Tony is keen to go via Cairo with a 12 hour stopover, but Cynthea is not having it. So we finally settle on a Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt. We looked at a stop over, but the single flight to Frankfurt was dearer that the two sections to Barcelona…??? $1989 all up, about double the flights via Cairo. We will leave at 1am, and arrive around 09:35, flight time 9 hours, with a couple of hours in Frankfurt.

30 April – Tuesday

We hadn’t set the alarms, so it was a rush to shower and get ready for a walking tour of Little India. We are three minutes late getting there, but there is a touristy looking bunch waiting at the meeting point. We ask if this is the walking tour, and are told yes, just show your bus ticket. (What bus ticket?). Then the guide comes out and starts introducing the tour, no mention of bus tickets or anything, but he does say the tour is free (tips after please), so we figure we are on the right one. Turns out not… it was for people who had bought hop on – hop off bus tickets. Oops. No one checked so we stayed on. It was an interesting tour, a lot of history of Singapore, and how when Raffles developed the country he had a lot of foresight. But he also divided the citizens, Indians here, Chinese there… These days government regulates the mix of cultures, so there are no specific divisions when it comes to housing. Huge government funded housing blocks must have a mix of cultures, based on the national average mix. It is expensive to own a new car here too. You go into to a ballot, and if successful you pay SG$40,000 for the rights to own a new car for 10 years. Then the cost of the car is on top of that… The government also controls the costs of the cars, so you are looking at a start price of around SG$80,000 (NZ$88,000!!!) for a 2L Toyota Camry type vehicle – faaaarrr out. Social media is strictly controlled, post anything racist/discriminatory or inflammatory against any culture, and you have the police knocking on your door.

There is quite a difference here in Little India, food and vege shops galore, and a few tech and clothing places, but there are many, many gold shops along this strip (there is a couple of Indian temples nearby, to which gold is gifted to the gods). The gold stores are something we have not seen in Chinatown (yet, there is a tour of that in the morning). We ask why the gold is not used to help the people, and are told there are a couple of reasons. Apart from being a gift to the gods, the government wants to keep the gold in the country as an asset, even though in theory no one can ever use it. As for schooling, we are told that everyone learns English as a first language, and then their native tongue as a second. Judging by the communication problems we strike, a hell of a lot of them didn’t go to school here!

As the tour finishes the rain that has been threatening is starting to fall, Cynthea goes on ahead, and Tony scoots into the supermarket for milk. As he gets back the heavens open, we have lunch in our room where it is cool and dry! We try to decide what else we want to see in our short time here, we do not have enough time, or money, to see everything.

Late afternoon we head of to the Gardens by the Bay, there is plenty to see there, but the cooler conservatories have a SG$28 entry fee. We get out at Marina Bay Sands, the shopping area here is massive. We head straight t to the gardens, as it is getting late. The Skywalk above the trees is a must do, and we eventually find a ticket counter SG$16 and a half hour wait, so it will be after 6pm by the time we get up there. We briefly consider waiting until nearer dark (another hour), but there is a light show we need to see. Tony figures that with a queue this big, we will be lucky to get to see it tonight. But true to their word, we are in the elevator soon after 6 o’clock, and whisked 22m up above the tree tops. This walk is in a garden of twelve “supertrees”, man-made structures 25-50m tall, with real plants growing on them. These trees are also part of a sound and light show twice each night, so we will be staying for that. The walkway is about 170m long, and staff hurry us along if we take our time with photos and selfies. They happily take photos of us, probably to stop us pissing about with selfies, they want us off as soon as possible as there are only 50 people at any one time allowed up here on this somewhat shaky platform. The views are fantastic, but our 15 minutes is over all too soon. Tony was hoping to still be up there for the sunset, but that is a while off yet.

We visit a few areas before it gets dark, and have a snack at the food hall. Very reasonably priced it is too. There must be around eight different shops here, you can order from the counter of the shop, or go to a kiosk and order from any one you like. The good thing about the kiosk is that it understands English, and will also tell you if what you want is out of stock. There are a couple of screens up in the dining area to tell people that their order is ready, no p.a. system, thankfully, there is enough babble already as it is!

We lie down on the meadow in front of the food court (thankfully the grass was not wet), and wait for the show. Wow, it is amazing, 15 minutes long, and full of pop songs we all know. It would have been good to have enough memory in the camera or phone to video it all. As this one finishes the one in front of Marina Bay Sands starts up, we don’t bother rushing over because by the time we get there, it will be over, and quite frankly, last nights’ show was a disappointment.

Instead Tony leaves Cynthea at the supertrees and heads off to get some more photos. We decide to go before the second show starts, because we want to see if we can get a good view of the Marina Bay Sands show tonight. We are on the walkway crossing above the road when we hear the tree show start, it is very different from this angle, and worth a second look, even though the music is hardly audible from here. We reluctantly leave the tree show before it finishes, hopefully we will get to see some of the Sands show from the top of the Sands Mall. We do not get a clear view, but it is far superior to last nights’ viewing, we were just too far away to see and hear it properly. We are glad we made the effort to see it tonight, it is a stunning show.

We are near the casino, but we cannot find the signs telling us which way to go, so after the show we back track, and yes, the signs point us to where we had just been, but then Tony spots another over to the left, it is broken, so not lit up. He thinks we have to go down the escalator. A bit of an oh shit moment as the escalator is up high, and has a low wall beside it, and a bloody long drop to the canal below, yes, there is a canal inside the mall. In fact there is everything inside the mall… We pass all the luxury brands we have ever heard of, and quite a few that we haven’t. We look at a couple of shops, and feel that they are taking the piss, who in their right mind would even wear some of this shit, never mind actually paying an obscene amount of money to do so. There are no price labels, if you have to ask how much, you cannot afford it. Seems a bit silly to us, forking out that much money and not knowing how much until the credit card bill arrives.

We finally find the casino, and are denied entry (who phoned ahead and warned them?). We have to have actual passports (no photos of them on the phone). So we settle for window shopping on the way to see what the food court in this neck of the woods is like. It is a bit of a route march, this place is massive, as is the food court when we finally get there. The prices are quite reasonable though, and the place is packed for 10pm on a week night. Tomorrow is a public holiday however, so it is probably busier than usual. The place will be heaving with tourists…

We don’t take long to get back to our hotel, the MRT is not too crowded, and still rapid. The train is a single car, very, very long, and it is quite strange when you realise there is no driver, or any staff, aboard. It is also a bit amusing to see the front end disappear as we go around a big bend, or down a slope.

01 May – Thursday

Today is a public holiday, so we are not sure what to expect with the crowds, or if shops will be open. There is a free tour of Chinatown, so we catch the MRT to Chinatown and hurry along to the meeting point. We are two minutes late, and no sign of the tour guide, but Aaron is there from yesterday’s tour. He calls us over and says good to see us again. We are not asked for the tickets (that we don’t have) and we join the group. We don’t feel too guilty about it, the tour is free (with a tip to the guide afterwards), so we figure it doesn’t really matter that we shouldn’t be on this walk.

We have a good couple of hours wandering around in the heat. Everything is open, and it is pretty crowded, but not as bad as we thought it might be. We are taken to an Indian Hindu Temple, the one with Buddas’ tooth, or at least some say it is. Dental experts have examined the tooth, and declared it too big to be human, more likely a buffalo, but apparently that does not matter!

At the end of the tour we are outside a Michelin one-star restaurant, and Cynthea is keen to go in. We have not had breakfast yet, so we are a tad peckish. There is a long queue, 40 minutes wait we are told, but we are also told it will be worth the wait. This is a “hawker” restaurant, street food that was so good it was awarded a star. We decide it is probably the ONLY chance to eat at ANY Michelin star restaurant, and settle in for the wait. We are inside Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle quite quickly, and have ordered within 20 minutes, so far so good… Then it is another 20 minutes wait for the food. It is packed to the rafters, and customers with food are (rightly) pissed off at those sitting at tables while waiting for their order. In the time it takes to get an order, someone else could have sat down and eaten. Ignorant pricks. We have found that on the whole people here are very polite. On the MRT people will give us seats for us old people so we can sit together.

Our food arrives, (two rice and pork dishes, a mixed meat platter, a beer and aloe vera jelly - SG$30), and we have to stand around waiting for a table to clear so we can sit down. Tony gives filthy looks to those not eating, and asks a couple of people if they are finished, when clearly they have not even started. The food is cheap, and bloody wonderful. As we leave, the queue is as far down the street as it was when we arrived.

We head off to the botanic gardens because Cynthea has not got her passport, so she cannot go to the Casino. Apparently Tony was supposed to remember to bring it. Pfft!

It is very humid when we get there, but the MRT exits right at the gates. Entry is free to most parts, but the one we came for has a small charge. The gardens are massive, so we sit down to decide what to target. There is no “buggy service”, and to get to the other end is nearly 3km. We decide on the orchid display, the main reason we came here, and see what there is to see on the way. There is a large (slimy) lake, here, full of red-eared turtles (or are they terrapins?), most of which also have good coat of slime. There are some rather large ones in the water, but it is too green to see properly, and they do not venture out so we cannot have a closer look.

Sometimes the signage is great here, when it is not we end up in the wrong place, like the University. Tony says it is fine to go through, Cynthea is not keen, so we go back. There is a monitor lizard thrashing about in the shrubbery, it takes a lot of patience, but Tony finally gets a photo. There are a few other critters too, an elusive squirrel that won’t stay put long enough to get a decent shot off, and some of the scrawniest chooks we have ever seen. The roosters are very colourful though.

The gardens are very busy, it being a public holiday, even though the weather is threatening with dark skies. We guess the locals are used to it, and we figure we probably cannot get much wetter than we already feel we are, so we decide to press on . We reach the orchid display, and Tony heads off in search of a loo. The signpost outside the orchid display says the nearest are 400 metres, that is a fair hike on this heat, so he decides he will have to wait. He goes back into the orchid shop, and finds Cynthea has got us some tickets, SG1 each for the old people. We thoroughly enjoy this section, it takes a while to cover it, and the weather even plays nice, well nicer than a thunderstorm. It is starting to get late so we head off to the MRT, it being the shortest distance to transport. The gardens by the main lake are rapidly filling with people, there must be a concert on for Labour Day. We are too tired to find out and decide not to stick around.

We get off the MRT a few stops early, at the Little India Station. The area is far heaving with people, far more than we have seen here before now. We grab some fruit at a market, oranges (that peeled more like a mandarin – perhaps they were large ones?), mangoes, persimmon, and some mangosteen. We have not tried them before and they are banned in a lot of places because the juice will not wash out of clothes. They look like a purple, smooth skinned passionfruit.

The 24/7 restaurant on the corner by our hotel looks good tonight, not crowded yet, as it has been other times we have passed. We decide fruit for tea just won’t be enough, and pop in for some tea, and a mango lassi to wash it down. Yum.

We sneak the fruit into the hotel, and decide we better eat the fruit over the bathroom hand basin, especially the mangosteen. It was lovely to taste, but we were disappointed there was not much to them. Lovely flavour, in segments of six or seven when opened, and one segment would have a large stone in it. We wondered if it needed to be riper to stain, as there was no colour with these ones, but we didn’t try to eat the pulpy inside, under the skin. Maybe that was what caused the stains?

We couldn’t ask the hotel staff, because we shouldn’t have had them there! The mangoes however, where just right, very juicy, and very messy. Pleased we used the bathroom to eat them!



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