And so to my final blog from South East Asia. Exactly 2 months after I was first here for an exceptionally brief stop on route from Sydney to Bangkok, I am back once again in what is by far the nicest and most modern city in the region- Singapore. This time I have spent 2 full days here, which is about the right amount of time you need as a lone traveller, but for families and shopaholics you could easily spend a week. Singapore is desperately trying to transform itself into the quintessential 21st century city, and I must say it is doing admirably well. Despite being an island not much larger than the Isle of Man, the authorities here seem to be aiming to ensure that this place has everything a tourist could possibly want. There are masses of flash shopping centres, restaurants catering for every taste across the globe, rainforest reserves, zoos, theme parks, waterparks, beaches, world class nightclubs, historic architecture.... You name it and Singapore has it, or is building it!
I arrived here from Melaka on Sunday night after a 5 hour bus ride. The night prior I had thankfully stumbled across a food court (a very popular place the Asians like to eat out) that was showing the Chelsea v Manchester City game, so I was entertained for the evening by that, as well as the ramblings of a fairly drunk old man who decided he wanted to talk to me. He was largely complaining about the state of the modern world, but he did amusingly point out the many Burmese wait staff working at the food court - significant because the week before Malaysian immigration authorities had raided the premises in a crackdown on illegal workers. He said "these are the ones who can run fast, and run they did!" He had no interest in football like the younger Malaysian men, and left me in peace at half time.
The border crossing from Malaysia to Singapore was easily the most sophisticated land border I have ever seen. The immigration buildings were very clean and nice, which is a sharp contrast to every other border I've crossed by land. I was fortunate to escape Malaysia without any problems though, as the immigration guard pulled me up for not having an arrival/departure card for the country. Every country I've visited aside from New Zealand and Australia has required you to fill one out - you hand over one part of it on arrival, and the other on departure. I had thought it strange when I crossed into Malaysia and the guards told me I didn't need one. In hindsight I think they must have seen that I was on a minivan and therefore assumed that I was doing a Thai visa run like most minivan passengers. They probably don't ask for the cards at that particular crossing due to all the visa runners. Thankfully the border guard at the Singapore crossing was nice and let me through with just my passport stamp as proof of entry, which is lucky as they do have the right to impose a fine. Singapore was not at all far from Malaysia! The two countries are linked by two very short causeway road crossings, and Singapore still views itself as part of mainland Asia as opposed to a seperate island.
Singapore was once actually part of Malaysia for a period of 8 years after the Malaysians gained independance from Britain in 1957. In 1965 though they decided to go it alone, and like oil rich Brunei, pulled out of the new Malaysian nation. Looking around Singapore today and you would have to say that they made a good decision in seperating. This country, home to 6 million people (making it the second most densely populated nation on Earth after Monaco), is among the most thriving places on the planet. It is modern compared to Europe, let alone Malaysia. It has one of the world's busiest ports and also one of the busiest airports. 3.38 million passengers, of which I was one, passed through Changi Airport in January, which is a new record. The country has always based itself on trade, ever since British East India Company employee Stamford Raffles established a British trading post there in 1819. Raffles is seen as the founder of Singapore as prior to 1819 the island was only home to a small group of fisherman. As such, Raffles has numerous roads, plazas, buildings and even the city's top hotel named in his honour. Raffles and his colleagues did remarkably well at establishing Singapore as a leading trading centre, using strategies such as imposing no limits on immigration. Modern Singapore, even more so than neighbouring Malaysia, is full of a wealth of different cultures. There are ethnic districts for the Chinese, Thais, Arabs, and Indians, and it is in Little India where my hostel is located.
I managed to find a 2 man dorm as I envisaged this would allow me the most peace at night. I was wrong to think this though, as my room-mate on the first night turned out to be the loudest, most inconsiderate hostel guest ever! He looked as though he was an Indian businessman, and he twice woke me up at 11.30pm and 6.30am, as he rustled loudly through his many plastic carrier bags. When going to the toilet at 7.15am he also left the door wide open, meaning the many people helping themselves to breakfast in the corridor could see me in bed in my boxers! Last night's guest wasn't so bad, but he did wake me up at 4am as he had to catch an early flight to Sydney. I'm glad I won't be spending any more nights in hostels on this trip! India is cheap enough that I can get a hotel room for less than the price of a dorm here, so either side of my Intrepid trip I will be doing that.
Yesterday morning I walked from my hotel into the centre via Little India and Arab Street, and it really made a change for there to be pavements for me to walk on! The ethnic districts were nothing special though and there wasn't that much distinct about them. Compared to the rest of the city they had quite a lot of litter about (Singapore in general is very clean) and even a slight smell on some corners. It also surprised me how many Soviet style blocks of flats I passed - they really don't fit with the cities modern image but with property prices so high, and land so scare, they are where most people live.
Once again it was stifling hot though, and I soon became quite tired. The heatwave has made the front page of the newspaper here (which is printed in English as thats Singapore's main language) for the past 2 days, and I read we almost had a record temperature here a couple of days ago. Remarkably the hottest day ever recorded in Singapore since records began in 1869 is just 36C. And in Malaysia, only in one place on one day has it ever made 40C. I can't quite believe that Britain has a higher record temperature than this country, which is situated just 1.5 degrees north of the equator! Its crazy to think! February is traditionally the hottest and driest month, though this February was the driest ever in Malaysia. Its apparently down to the first major El Nino event since 1998, when most of the past records were set.
On reaching the riverside, which is the most picturesque part of Singapore, I took a left and headed out to Merlion, who is the symbol of Singapore. Merlion is an impressive looking lion statue which spurts out water into the marina. Singapore's glitziest skyscrapers lay immediately behind him, making for a good photo stop. It seemed as though every tour bus in Singapore was there at the same time as me, but I did meet some nice Japanese girls who wanted their pictures with me! So many people in the last 2 months have asked for pictures with me its ridiculous. I haven't even mentioned half of them! After Merlion I headed around the marina, which is a key sight of development here in Singapore, and made my way onto the formula one track - yet another track I can add to my list! Formula one only came to Singapore 2 years ago, and they host the only night race of the calendar here on what is for the most part a street circuit. I had a walk down to the pit lane, but didn't have the energy to go any further. Right next to the paddock is the Singapore Flyer, which is the world's largest observation wheel - even bigger than the London Eye! I simply had to have a ride on it, and in around 30 minutes it revolved fully giving you a nice view of the city. For such a big attraction though it seemed like there was barely anybody there, which seems to be the case in a lot of the new developments in Singapore. I am sure they must be government subsidised.
After having lunch in one of the many shopping centres here (I think shopping is the main attraction for most people) I had a walk around a city centre park, back along the riverfront, past the parliament building, and on into the very large Chinatown, where I visited a couple of interesting temples that had just finished their 15 day Chinese new year celebrations. All in all I was quite impressed by my day in Singapore's centre. Its hard not to like the place, especially coming from the hassle of Asia. Soliciting for business is illegal here, so I haven't had one tout in the last 2 days come up to me and ask if I want a taxi. Its been a refreshing change.
Today I took the MRT out to Sentosa, which is Singapore's resort island. Its only partly finished and there is a lot of development going on there still. The cable car system, which ferries passengers from the mainland harbourfront complex to the island, was closed for refurbishment, so I had to take a much less glamorous bus over the short bridge. On the drive we passed by Asia's first Universal Studios theme park, which is to be opened soon. They had some nice looking rollercoasters, which were doing test runs all day. The place looked near enough complete. The bus dropped us off inbetween the two major beaches on Sentosa. I had a walk to explore both, and both were reasonably nice. There were lots of bars and restaurants alongside the palm tree lined beaches, but they had been developed to fit in and weren't right on the waterfront like in Sihanoukville! A small island off one of the beaches claimed to be the southernmost point in continental Asia, and there was a viewing tower there to visit. This fact was blatantly wrong though, as other parts of Sentosa Island were clearly more southerly. Its also amusing that it claims an island, off the coast of another island, which is off the coast of another island, is on the mainland, if you follow!
After lunch at one of the nice beach side restaurants, I took the ski style cable lift up the hill to try my hand at the newly developed luge track here - which was ran by the same company that I luged with in Queenstown, New Zealand. I had two goes and once again it was a lot of fun. I was just annoyed I had no one to race. I met two nice Japanese girls again at the top, but they had finished their runs, and I simply posed for photo's with them after a brief chat! I then walked around the island's very short nature trail, before getting the bus back to the mainland at about 3.30pm. It is now 6pm and I have two more hours before my airport shuttle bus picks me up. My flight out, which is with India's second largest airline Jet Airways, leaves at 11.10pm, arriving in Delhi at 2.20am - a flight time of 5 hours 40 minutes. Jet have a very good reputation and I know they have in flight entertainment so it shouldn't be too bad. And someone from my hotel is picking me up for free at Delhi airport, so at least I don't have to deal with an Indian taxi on my first day there.
Its exactly 2 months since I arrived in South East Asia and now its time to depart. I have really settled into life in this part of the world, and its really grown on me the longer I've stayed. Its been a brilliant cultural experience, and it gives South America a close run for my favourite destination - though I think South America still comes out on top. Laos has been my favourite country, and I also enjoyed seeing life in Cambodia, but every country has offered something different and I've seen a lot of interesting things. India will be a whole new challenge though. I've been watching adverts for "Incredible India" repeatedly on BBC world news in recent weeks, and although I'm apprehensive about food poisoning/theft, I'm looking forward to it as well. I will meet my new tour group on Friday evening in Delhi, so have 3 days to explore the place on my own before then. I'll hopefully update in the next few days! Goodbye South East Asia.