Welcome to Singapore

Recently, I have been thinking about Singapore and my visit there. I visited Singapore on my 7 month, round the world journey in 2010. I refer to Singapore as the perfect city because every thing works the way it should. It’s very clean, the train system is awesome, always on time, and the train stations are the cleanest and best I have seen in all my travels.I have walked the streets after midnight and felt more safe than I do in my own country. One night I was waiting to cross at a stop light, it was just past 12am, and a guy came up to me and ask me if I wanted to buy a velvet heart, he was selling hearts he had attached to a card. I simply said no, and continued on, not the least bit afraid.

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Singapore is also known as the fine city. You either toe the line or you will be fined, and there are some old laws on the books that they will get you for, like chewing gum is not allowed in the country. Jay walking is also against the law, there are several signs to remind you of this, and you cannot eat or drink, or take a sip of water on public transport. There are public announcements on the train reminding you of this, each time I see someone take a sip, I listen for the announcement, and it always happen. On my way to the Night Safari there was a young American girl drinking on the train, and even though the announcement came on several times she kept on, I was secretly wishing someone would come get her. Once off the train, she was told by a passenger she shouldn’t be drinking, her response was, “oh, whatever”. I believe when you are in someone’s country, you should abide by their laws or stay away.

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Drugs are heavily frowned upon as well, and if found guilty of drug trafficking in Singapore, you will be sentenced to death, and visitors are warned of this on the immigrant form on entry into the island.

Why does Singapore fascinate me besides its attempt at being perfect. I have said before, if you randomly waked up in Singapore, you probably would have no idea, where you were. To me, the country is not defined by any one culture or nationality. I have met other travellers who did the journey from the north to south, meaning Thailand – Singapore, as oppose to how I did mine, Singapore to Thailand, and some had indicated to me when they got to Singapore it felt bland, lacking in culture. Going in the opposite direction, I could feel it getting more cultural, but in the a nutshell that is what makes Singapore unique.

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For a relatively new country, only fully becoming independent in 1965, Singapore has come a long way. It’s now considered one of the 4 Asian Tigers and the 4th leading financial centre in the world, with about 20% of the population being millionaires. Singapore has had the same political party since 1959, and is listed as one of the world’s least corrupt countries. Just seeing those statistics makes me wonder if it is that politicians having the best interest of the country at heart is the reason why the country is where it is today. Or the theory of one working hard to achieve, they work longer hours than the average worker in other countries, but appear to enjoy what they do as oppose to places where persons work long hours to pay the bills.

I spent in total about 2 weeks in Singapore, leaving to go to Malaysia, and returning for Formula 1 weekend. Singapore is only 274 sq miles, but home to over 5 million persons. It’s a melting pot. There are Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a potpourri of other nationalities. There is a very big expat community there as well, many of who work within the finance sector. The official language is English, even though I am told about 20% of the nationals don’t speak English at all, or only at work.

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My initial reaction was how “pretty” the country look, the buildings, the street, and the shopping malls and streets that rival any major city. Singapore’s Orchard Road is equivalent to London’s Oxford Street, and the biggest luxury brands in the world, are all lined off next to each other. Dining and Shopping are Singaporean’s favourite past times, and there is plenty of that to do. With plenty of options my favourite place for shopping, was Bugis market. It combines 2 things I like, outdoor markets and street food. Backpacking, I am not looking for Louis Vuitton, I am looking for trinkets, souvenirs and budget price items that I don’t feel guilty about leaving in some charity box the next time my case seems too heavy. I found the cutest pair of shoes there, that I still have and I had a fishcake there that taste liked a bajan fishcake even though it was prepared different.

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Luxury and Singapore goes hand in hand, you cannot speak of Singapore and not mention the cars. There is a heavy tariff you have to pay to own a car in Singapore as they attempt to limit the number of cars on the road, because of this, most citizens don’t own a car. That combined with the wealth in the country contributes to a car parade like none other.

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A journey to the night safari is a must. It’s easy to get there by public transport and the show is spectacular. I enjoyed the show more than the actual safari only because I had just flown from South Africa, where I spent 4 days in Kruger National Park. My visit to Kruger now makes me avoid zoos as I don’t want to see animals in a cage, but the Singapore safari is a cross between a real national park and a zoo. The animals are actually in a replicate of their natural habitat, and not caged up behind glasses.

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I visited Sentosa one Sunday, as I was told it’s the thing do on Sundays. Sentosa, is a very small island off the main island, and it appears to me like its reclaimed land. I am still not sure what to make of it. I went over by bus, and it was about SG$1 I believe, but you can also go by overhead cable. There are a lot of tourist attractions on the island, cable carts, trapeze, zip lining, aquarium, botanical gardens, restaurants , all on white sandy beaches, that don’t seems real. I only spent the day, but there are hotels there, where you can spend a few days. There are carts that drive you around the island, or you can walk. It’s obviously more relaxed than Singapore, and I guess the locals can use it as a  break from the main island, I saw quite a few persons playing volleyball on the beach and a lot of families the day I was there.

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Again, you cannot  speak of Singapore and not mention Clarke Quay. Clarke Quay is the happening spot in Singapore. Night life begins here, bars, pubs, nightclubs and street action for all ages. You will see the teenagers closer to the bridge on the weekends, and some of the bars turn into mini nightclubs after certain hours. After work liming activity starts here and then flows into the nightclubs. There are many bars next to each other, but each has its own uniqueness. I remember one where the chairs were actually wheel chairs, and the couches were really hospitals bed, and drinks were placed in drips. You also have the variety of restaurants, Indian cuisine, Chinese and even a Hooters. There are some bar/restaurants that would make you believe you were in London, not only by the menu but all the patrons are actually European.

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If you are ready to escape some of fancy city life, head over to China Town. It’s made up of a couple of interlocking streets, great for souvenirs, I bought a lot of the souvenirs I brought back from here, including some colourful chopsticks. Good food at very reasonable prices, way too loud music and lots of people in the evening, and street characters are plentiful.

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The backpacking scene is Singapore is very vibrant. Hostels there will tend to be smaller than some in other places, as living space in Singapore is very limited and expensive. I stayed at River City Inn http://www.rivercityinn.com/ both times I was there, really nice place, the owners and their family manage it well, always very clean, and they are very accommodating, free breakfast in the morning, free wifi, they do your laundry , fold and place on your bed same day for a small fee. As customary, you leave your shoes at the door. The only draw back is, it is up 4 flights of stairs, a challenge for me, as at that time I was carrying more load than a backpacker should be, I fixed that problem along the road. There was another hostel in the same building, I am told that was nice as well.

I met a few persons there to tour with as well. I spent an evening going to see the sun set from the Marina Bay Hotel, a must do in Singapore, with some Germans I met at the hostel, and we ended off the night at Clarke Quay. I also met an Indian makeup artist Mou, a real darling, there too as well, on my return to Singapore she took me to a happening nightclub, oh we had fun. Check out her facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Studio-84/195062997198757 Not all persons who stayed in hostels there are actually backpackers and I think that makes it a bit different from other places. Singapore is not the cheapest, and the traditional hotels can be expensive.

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Singapore is also used as travel hub, and there are a lot of embassies there. I got my Thai visa there, the process was smooth and it took only 1 day to process. Something I came to appreciated after my nightmare encounters with the Vietnamese embassy in Thailand, and the New Zealand and Australian embassies in Hong Kong. Hindsight is 20/20.

Singapore, the perfect city, fine city, whatever you want to call it, just add to your list of places to visit.

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