The short flight to Singapore was a breeze, we were through immigration and in possession of our luggage within 30 minutes. We went to the metro system and, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we managed to get our tickets. Their metro system works like a charm and due to the clandestine rules and huge fines for eating or drinking on board (S$500), it's clean to the point of being sterile.
On the street, it was muggy, a little bit of drizzle had started to fall, which took some of the heat out of the day. We jumped in a taxi for the final leg. As we pulled up at the hotel, the taxi driver jovially commented "ooh that's a real budget hotel", it made us laugh, there's no such thing as a cheap hotel in Singapore and in fact the hotel, despite its extraordinary meagre appearance (it was a converted shop house), was very overpriced.
Singapore turned out to be quite lovely really, we spent a few hours wandering round the botanic gardens before heading to the national orchid garden. Both were spectacular, we felt jealous of the Singaporeans as we walked round. It wasn't the precision of the plants or the arrow-straight bamboo, it was more about the atmosphere within the grounds and of course the year round weather to enjoy it. The orchid garden was something else, orchids of every size, shape and colour were growing amid ferns, palms and mosses. It was like Eden.
The flip side of the gardens is the harbour front, a forest of buildings, mostly, good looking, modern and tall. Between the concrete redwoods are smaller, historic buildings brimming with character. The Chinese shop houses, the buildings that house the history museums are all from days gone by and look much older than thy are next to all the shiny metal and glass. But we liked it, it surprised us and that's always nice. As we walked past the shop houses, folks were sitting down for an early dinner, seafood is clearly the desired dish, there were crabs of all species available, the common denominator being that they'd look more at home fighting Godzilla than on a plate. They were HUGE, frightening in fact. The lobsters were equally enormous about a foot long, we've never seen anything like it.
Down by the water, tourists gather in their hundreds at Merlion, a huge statue that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. Beyond the statue lies arguably the best looking building in Singapore, the Marina Sands Building. A huge canal barge-shaped platform, adorned with a forest full of trees and plants sits across three sky scraping towers. The wicket shaped building dominated the bay and looks amazing from all angles (we took a lot of photos).
The riverbank was fairly quiet, the exception being the free open air theatre, where tonight's turn was warming up. It sounded pretty good, we'd be back.
We visited a couple of the museums, strolled around the parks and the occasional mosque and church, we tried to go into the synagogue but they wouldn't let us in. Every metro station sits underneath a vast shopping mall and we walked around a couple of those too.
Evening rolled round and we headed back to the waterfront for the night-time panoramas. We found a great spot on the roof of the mall which seemed to be a semi secret again us and the locals. We had a near 360 degrees view round the harbour, the Ferris wheel, the financial district and the spiky roof of the Esplanade. It was incredible, and then around 8pm the whole lot was lit up by a jaw-dropping light and laser show. The lights were coming predominantly from the big show off, Marina Bay and we had a stroke of luck as the rooftop we were on was directly above the riverbank theatre, the surrounding buildings were lit up to the sounds of Indian drums and sitar from below. Magical.
We were staying in yet another Chinatown (our 5th we think) and just round the corner from the hotel was an open sided food hall, the choice of food available was so great we lost the ability to choose anything. On our second loop round we were able to be a bit more objective and bagged ourselves some deliciously spicy veggies and rice for Jan and a seriously delicious chicken curry for me and all for about 3 quid! In Singapore, that felt like a massive win.
As one would expect, the people are are stylish, the streets are spotlessly clean (people stub their cigarettes out on their shoe and take the butt in with them, imagine that???). The public transport is immaculate, efficient and reasonably priced and the traffic moves freely in most parts of town. We came expecting to be bled dry but actually, there's loads of cheap or free things to do and see and plenty of places to grab a delicious, filling bite to eat for just a few pounds.
We'd read "when coming to Raffles, why not see Singapore?" We chose to see Singapore and skip Raffles, we think we made a great choice.
And so on to Indonesia, the final Asian country on our list.