Thursday, November 2, 2017

Welcome to Singapore (6-9 Oct, 2017)

I went to Singapore in October not only because of the Lindy hop event, but I also would like to visit several people that I met in the US. This made me feel that this plane ride was worthwhile. Before leaving Hong Kong, my Singaporean friend, Mun-Thye, told me this in the same tone:

The Airports

This was the first time that I had a Priority Pass, which allowed me to visit some airport lounges around the world. I used to pass in the Hong Kong airport, and found all the food and services they had inside. I also met Phillipe, who is the organizer of Hong Kong Swing, in the lounge. We found that we were on the same flight to the Lindy event in Singapore.

The flight by Singapore Airlines was a typical flight. Once I got off the plane, the butterfly garden was there. I read that Singapore Changi Airport has a lot of nice places to visit. The butterfly garden is one of them. The garden has two floors, and butterflies are flying around. For geocachers, the airport geocache for Singapore is within this garden.

I also located the free movie theater, but I would rather spend my time in the airport for something else. I also went into another lounge to try their food.

Lounge has free wifi inside. A code was given for the access of the lounge wifi. Outside the lounge, the airport has a few spots where one can scan the passport to get the password for one-hour wifi access.

I also found this pedaling phone charger. Nice exercise machine, although my phone was charged slowly with this.

The baggage claim area is pretty.

After going through the customs, I took the MRT (the subway system in Singapore) to the city center, which was very similar to Hong Kong.

Changi Airport MRT station. Singapore is the first city to use platform screen doors, so people cannot jump to the platform for whatever reasons.

Singapore's MRT system is getting more complicated, and more lines are still being built

Singapore has 4 official languages: English, Chinese (written in simplified form), Malay, and Tamil

My hostel was in Chinatown, which had wifi and free breakfast. For 3 nights, it costs a total of ~ 80 SGD, which was not expensive at all.

During my stay every night, many Indians were near a temple with some ceremonies. It was later found out that it might be the preparation for Deepavali (called Diwali in the US, the festival of lights). It seems to a couple of weeks too early, though.

The Indian temple in Chinatown that had ceremonies every night in my duration of stay

The Itinerary

Saturday: NUS -> Harbourfront -> Sentosa -> Singapura -> Chinatown

On Saturday, Mun-Thye, Boon Chong, I, and later Kenneth gathered at a food center in Clementi for food. After that, Boon Chong brought us to the National University of Singapore (NUS) and toured around. Since he worked there, he also brought us into his lab, discovering different chemical and biological instruments. The University looked huge, but MT explained that the size is a deception because the campus is hilly, making viewing of the entire campus impossible.

BC went back to work in his lab, so MT and Kenneth brought me to Harbourfront that has a large shopping mall, VivoCity. We got a bit more food there. Then, MT also left. Kenneth brought me to walk to Sentosa. It was once an island, with some World War II rumors. Now it was a tourist area, and a boardwalk allowed the people to cross the island on foot.

Rain got heavy and thunder was nearby. Kenneth showed me the Universal Studio, and an underground casino that the local cannot enter unless 100 SGD is paid. Because of the rain, we walked back to the Harbourfront. The whole way was sheltered.

We took MRT to Dhoby Ghaut, where the shopping mall Singapura was located. He would like to buy something there, but he also showed me some Singaporean style food. Concerning the MRT station, it has 3 lines connecting to this station, and the network of escalators look complicated.

In the evening, I returned to Chinatown and got some food in a food center nearby.

Sunday: Mount Farber Park ->Pasir Panjang -> Fort Canning Park -> City Hall Area -> The Merlion

MT and I met at Harbourfront MRT station. After breakfast, we did a hike in the morning, walking across several hills. Along the hike, we talked about the apartments in Singapore, the relationship of people of different races in Singapore, the transportation, and so on. Since we met because of geocaching, we geocache in Singapore, too.

Although Singapore does not have tall mountains, some areas are still hilly, and there are some national parks near the city for short hikes.

We walked through the cable car station that can be used to get to Sentosa. It costs something like 20 - 30 SGD. We moved on.

This is the Henderson Bridge, which crosses a road 50 - 60 m above.

A garden on a hill.

There are many elevated passageways.

The short hike passed through several parks.

We went into a building that talked about the history of Japanese invasion in Singapore. It seems that this history is quite similar to what happened in Hong Kong (for 3 years and 8 months, e.g.). After visiting the museum, heavy rain and thunder came. It seemed to me that Singapore rains every day for a couple of hours. We waited until the rain got less heavy. Then, we went to a burger place that MT liked.

He was too tired to walk in the afternoon, so I walked around the city center. I went to the Fort Canning Park and found those historic defense structures:

There was a secret passage for defenders to escape.

... and a very tall tree!

Then, I walked to the Merlion. Along the way, there were many pretty buildings. I think I was in the City Hall area. I wished I had more time to look into these buildings more, but I only took a few photos.

Then, I finally got to the Merlion. It was dark already. Across the water, that landmark hotel in Marine Bay shot strong lights around.

Monday: The two gardens - Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Garden by the Bay

In the morning, after having a nice breakfast and waiting for a disappointing line for gift food, I went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is a huge park. Admission is free, but the area is so huge that I could spend a whole day here. Inside the tropical rain forest section of the park, there were some trees that will be extinct very soon, since there was no pollinator for this tree. At the medicine section, plants are classified by its use. A long walk in this park is satisfying.

There is also an orchid garden, but one needs to pay to get in.

Then, I went to the Garden by the Bay, which is a garden more targeted to the tourists. Several places require payment to enter, but there are still some areas that do not need payment to access. This garden is also next to this landmark hotel in Marina Bay. I spent some time walking inside. There were more shops.

Marina Bay Sands - the iconic hotel in Singapore
The Food

I was amazed with the price of low-cost food in Singapore. There seems to be many food centers scattering around Singapore. Many hawker food stores are inside these food centers, serving food such as laksa, Hainan chicken rice, bak kut teh (meat bone soup), oyster omlette, mee (a kind of Muslim noodle dish), and biryani rice. Singapore is a multi-cultural city, and food can be in Chinese, Indian, and Muslim style. For a bowl of laksa, it only costs 3 SGD (~2.2 USD, or 17 HKD)! The pictures below were taken in a food center in Clementi.

In another morning, MT and I went to a food center near Vivocity in Harbourfront. The price of food is similarly inexpensive. We had prata, an Indian food in Singapore style, as breakfast, for 2 SGD, and add a drink for ~ 1 SGD. Here, I learned that it is important to not mix the cutlery between Halal and non-Halal foods. Trays have two kinds of colors for these two kind of foods, and the trays are returned at different areas.

One evening, I went to the Maxwell Food Center near Chinatown and ordered the Muslim-style mee and a drink of Sandung (a mixture of syrup and milk). Once again, they cost a total of < 4 SGD.

There are several drinks in Singapore that are common but unique. Besides Bandung, there are many kinds of milk tea (teh-something). Besides, Milo is widespread in Singapore. One can even find Milo in McDonald's.

Chinatown also has a food center. These food centers are always sheltered due to daily thundershowers. However, Chinatown is in tourist area, so the food costs more.

One can also find a food center like this in Sentosa. The price is doubled from the typical food center, as expected in a touristy area.

From what I have heard, prices of food in Singapore depend on whether the place is air-conditioned or not. This can explain why McDonald's food is more expensive in Singapore (7-8 SGD, slightly more expensive than Hong Kong).

After a hiking trip, MT brought me to an air-conditioned burger place. The burger was excellent, and I liked the chocolate shake also, but it cost around 20 SGD total, similar to the price in Hong Kong.

I got another good Singaporean breakfast experience in another day. For ~ 6 - 7 SGD, I got a coffee drink (Kopi), 2 pieces of kaya toasts, and soft-boiled egg that I have not seen before. It has the characteristic of cooked, since the egg white turns from transparent to white. However, both the egg white and the yolk are runny. Eating soft-boiled egg is like eating a soup.

Ya Kun Kaya Toast, the famous place for the kaya toast breakfast

There is a one-star Michellin restaurant in Chinatown that serves inexpensive soy sauce chicken rice/ noodle. I went there in the evening too late, so I went there again in the afternoon before heading back to the airport. For < 5 SGD, I got a chicken noodle that I was satisfied. I remembered that the chicken meat was not dried at all and was very easy to swallow.

All of the above food, with an exception of the burger place, was very affordable. This contrasted with the 2 bags of Irvin's fish skins that cost 30 SGD total, and it is highly likely that one cannot get them due to the high demand.

Irvin's in the airport, Terminal 2, departure side
Final thoughts

If I have to come to Singapore for some reasons, I will be happy to come again. I am amazed with the cheap and good food there. A win against Hong Kong.

I think I can also speak to my sister against coming to Singapore, by telling that there are a lot of lizards on buildings. When I found some geocaches, I almost unintentionally caught a few.

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