Singapore was a very quick stop for us. We were there for 3 nights, and one of our two full days was raining. That said, we liked what we experienced of Singapore.
Singapore culture is a blend of many different cultures. Per Wikipedia, the majority of the country is of Chinese ancestry with “significant minorities” of Indian and Malay people. We definitely noticed the Indian population; the Malaysians were probably pretty difficult to distinguish from the Chinese.
As a result of all the different backgrounds, Singapore has four official languages – English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. English is the most common with roughly 80% of the country literate in English. Also, all official government business is conducted in English.
Singapore seemed to be a wealthy country, and the numbers certainly back that up. This excerpt from Wikipedia gives you an idea of how well off much of the country is:
Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires, with one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth. This excludes property, businesses, and luxury goods, which if included would further increase the number of millionaires, especially as property in Singapore is among the world’s most expensive.
And while some people are obviously less well off than others, there are no “acutely poor” despite that there is no minimum wage or welfare system. Income taxes are also very low.
The citizens also seemed to really like the government. On two of our taxi rides, the drivers spoke excellent English and both drivers (unprovoked) brought up how much the Singapore citizens trust their government.
It was really nice to have conversations with people and not struggle to communicate (for the most part) in Singapore. It was our first stop where there really was not a language barrier. Still, it can sometimes be difficult to understand some of the Singaporeans speaking English because of their accent – though some people had no real accent at all…I guess it depended on what their primary language was.
Singapore is also very safe. I guess part of the reason for that is the extremely tough laws on crime. Singapore – you may remember – is where the American got caned for vandalizing property about 20 years ago. Things would probably be more orderly in the US if punishments included public canings. There is also a mandatory death penalty for some drug trafficking and gun offenses.
How much the safety of Singapore has to do with the tough laws vs. the relatively low poverty vs. Asian culture…I don’t know. I do know that it is working for them as we felt very safe in Singapore, despite the massive amount of people everywhere.
Getting around Singapore was not too difficult. There is a pretty extensive subway system, which was probably the most crowded subway we have been on. Taxis were also plentiful and relatively inexpensive; our 30 minute ride to the airport cost about $15 US.
Singapore is located about 80 miles North of the equator. As such, the weather is a pretty uniform hot year round. The highs seem to stay around the upper 80’s to mid 90’s with lows in the upper 70’s. For us, it was nice and sunny the first night and first full day, but our last day it rained all day long.
We slept in our last morning at Lanta Castway and ate breakfast at the resort. We then packed all our stuff and took a minivan to the airport. The ride took about 2 hours, as we caught the ferries right.
Upon arrival to the airport, something seemed up because there were lots of people walking around in full military garb. Security was the same though as it was at every other airport in Thailand (relatively lax).
We checked in for our flight on Tiger Airways. This is a budget carrier based out of Singapore; they offered the only non-stop flight from Krabi to Singapore. The flight was dirt cheap. I think the fare and taxes ended up being about $70 a person. We each paid another $15 for increased checked luggage allowance, early seat selection, and priority boarding.
This was the first time we had strict baggage limits. Despite buying up on the allowance, we still only were allowed 20 kilos per person (about 44 lbs). If you go over, they hammer you with fees – it was 500 baht ($17 US) per kilo over your allowance (which I think the standard allowance was 10 kilos). We both checked in at 19 kilos, so we were fine. But, you could easily spend more on luggage than your flight if you showed up just expecting to check luggage regularly.
Once we got to our gate, I knew for sure something was up. There was a military caravan with a very expensive looking Mercedes waiting at the exit from the terminal. There was also a small viewing gallery of people waiting to catch a glimpse of whoever was arriving.
While scoping out the scene, I met an Australian couple; they said that the newspaper had stated the princess of Thailand was the VIP. We couldn’t confirm that because the airport staff roped off the area so far back that you could not see out the window when the VIP arrived.
It ended up delaying our flight by 40 minutes, but that was ok as it provided some excitement to the day. The flight itself was fine…Pretty much a standard domestic type flight. I would have no problems flying Tiger Airways again.
Arrival to Singapore was largely without issue. We were selected for screening at customs; they inquired about my Leatherman multi-tool in my checked bag but said it was fine. Catching a taxi was also very easy and orderly – and cheap, coming in at about $20 USD for a 40 minute ride to the hotel.
The taxis were interesting, as there were 3 levels of taxis. Regular was the base level; it was a standard taxi. Next was Mercedes taxis; this was exactly what it sounds like: the taxis were Mercedes. The Mercedes taxis were barely more expensive than the regular taxi (about $1 from the airport to the hotel more). We did not see too many Mercedes taxis around. Weirdly, Chrysler taxis were the nicest. These were a decent bit more expensive (~10 USD more from the airport).
As far as selecting a taxi, almost everyone just seemed to take whatever taxi showed up when they reached the front of the taxi line…I guess you could specify which type of taxi you wanted, but that would entail more waiting.
Upon arrival at the Grand Hyatt Singapore, we were taken directly to our suite for check in. We were given a Grand Corporate suite, which was huge (8 sq. meters bigger than our room in Tokyo) – plus, I liked the layout of the room better.
Everything in the room was very nice. I also really liked that the room had a nice desk and was layed out more like an apartment than a hotel room.
We also had access to the club lounge. This is an area on the top floor of the hotel that features tables/sitting areas. Refreshments and light snacks are available all day. Breakfast is available in the morning and included many options, including several rotating hot selections.
The evening had a cocktail “hour” from 6:00 to about 8:30. Cocktails are obviously available, as well as a surprisingly large selection of food…Cheeses, hors d’oeuvres, bread, deserts – and the clincher: sushi. You could definitely make a dinner of it if you wanted to.
We were very impressed by the club lounge and the Grand Hyatt Singapore in general. Service was great, and we loved the room. I had read in researching for the trip that many people consider the Club at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong to be the finest one in the Hyatt chain. I’m not sure I’d say Singapore was better or worse, but they are both certainly neck and neck in the competition for most impressive lounge.
After catching the tail end of the evening club lounge service, we made our way back to the lobby to eat dinner at Straits kitchen. Straits kitchen featured a huge, high quality buffet of local Singapore food. This was great, as we got to try many of the different local cuisines.
Singapore food was spicy, but had a definitely different spicy taste to it compared to Thai food…a much more Indian/Malay combo of flavors. I’m glad we ate at the buffet. We got to try far more Singaporean food than we would have otherwise, and it was actually very reasonably priced. Though alcohol was very expensive, and that was the case everywhere in Singapore…I think taxes on alcohol are very high. To give you an idea, I don’t think any place we went had a draft beer under $10 US and almost all glasses of wine were over $20.
After dinner, we retired to our very comfortable bed and got a good night of sleep.
We slept in a little bit then went and had breakfast at the club, which was good. Our only real plans for the day were the zoo then dinner at the East Coast Hawker Center (which is like a lot of food stands).
I asked the hotel about this and the best way for getting around. They told me about a bus that runs from the hotel to the zoo I was unaware of, but they also misinformed me on the dinner location.
When I described the East Coast Hawker center to the lady, she said that it is called the East Coast seafood center and to tell the taxi driver from the zoo that and he would know what we were talking about. Well, the East Coast Seafood Center and Hawker center are two different things. It ended up being fine as we really enjoyed the seafood center anyway.
So we went out to catch the bus to the zoo right around noon, 10 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive. There is a bus stop right next to the hotel; we went there assuming that was where the bus would stop. It didn’t. It actually stopped on the street in front of the hotel, so we had to move quickly to get over there. But we ended up catching it.
I had read that the Singapore zoo was very nice, and it did not disappoint. The zoo features an “open concept” which means that there aren’t really any cages for the animals – just natural barriers, which was cool. Some animals (the monkeys and orangutans) were just roaming free in the trees above you.
The zoo also has a wide variety of animals. We saw pandas, white tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, giant tortoises, Komodo dragons, sun bears…I could go on, but you could see just about any animal you wanted at the zoo.
From the zoo, the easiest way to get to where we wanted to eat was by taxi. When it was our turn, a Chrysler taxi pulled up. It would not have been what I would have picked, but the car was nice. Plus, the taxi driver ended up being a really friendly guy and told us a lot about Singapore on the ride, including the fun fact that only native Singaporeans can be taxi drivers (for safety) and helping us pick a spot for dinner.
We ate at Long Beach Seafood based on the taxi drivers recommendation, and it ended up being very good. There was a large live seafood area with plenty of selections, including huge live Alaskan King Crabs. We went with the waiter’s recommendation of the black pepper crab (which the restaurant is known for), seafood fried rice, and sautéed greens. It was all very good – especially the crab. It must have been poached in butter then covered in black pepper…it was really good, one of us may (or may not have) licked the crab shell because the seasoning was so good.
We caught a taxi back from the Seafood Center after walking along the coast for a little bit – there were a whole lot of ships waiting to get in to the Singapore Harbor. Luckily, we caught the end of drinks in the club lounge when we got back to the hotel.
For the first time this trip, we woke up to rainy, nasty weather outside…and it stayed like that all day.
Our original plan was to walk along Orchard road (Singapore’s “big” street), then walk through the Singapore Botanical gardens before heading to Marina Bay Sands for dinner and drinks.
Well, we tried to wait out the rain for the gardens, but it never slowed. So we decided to just go straight to Marina Bay Sands, since it was all indoors. This is where we had our first issue of the trip.
The Singapore subway was packed. In fact, it almost certainly was the busiest subway (at least this particular stop at Orchard Road) that we have been to. Also, we seemed to have the unfortunate timing of catching the subway when there was a 10 minute gap between trains (after that it was only 2-3 minutes).
When it was finally time to get on the train, we were 2 out of many trying to get on a train without much room. Hindsight makes it obvious that we should have just waited for next train – oh well.
After a little bit, I get on. Mid step, I here the beep and “doors closing.” Now the doors on Singapore subways close quick; you really do not get much of a warning…and it is not like elevator doors closing, like many other subways. When the train announces the doors are closing, they are closing – and closing with a purpose.
So as the doors were closing, I looked up and saw Alyce on the other side. The train was off so quickly that I couldn’t give her any direction. I did see her sit down on the bench right behind where she was standing. At this point, I figured it was not a big deal; I’d just hop off at the next stop and go back.
That’s what I did, but she was not there. It was at this point I started to get nervous. I had given Alyce a credit card to always carry with her in case we got separated. The problem is that Alyce does not like to be “weighed down” by having things in her pocket – except for the essentails like lip gloss. As a result, we were apart and she had no money or identification on her.
I was never nervous about her physical safety, but I was worried that she would get overwhelmed and shut down.
Fortunately she handled the situation well and went to the end of the subway line we were on (which is where we were supposed to go). I looked around at every stop on the way there, though I was not really expecting to see her at any of the intermediate stops, as that would have been a bad spot to stop.
When I got off the train at the end of the line, I did not see her. I thought I’d give it a shot going to our destination, thinking maybe she had went all the to our destination. I also kept my eye out for a pay phone to try calling the hotel.
Fortunately, as I was walking to the next train, Alyce saw me from the booth from which she was trying to get help. She stopped me and we were both very relieved to have found each other. We walked to the next train, while I was explaining in detail the plan should we ever get separated again.
Nonetheless, we ended up arriving at Marina Bay Sands together. I had planned on eating pizza this night because I thought that we may just want some gold old fashioned American style food by this point. That said, neither of us were really craving it in actuality (at least pizza).
I had read about Pizzeria Mozza and thought that would be a good, not too expensive option. Later on I realized that this was a Mario Batali restaurant, and the Marina Bay Sands website lists it as a “celebrity restaurant” in what is essentially a giant mall. This raised a red flag for me, but I have heard good things about Mario Batali restaurants. So, I figured we could give it a shot.
Dinner was ok; neither one of us were impressed. Alyce liked her salad, but it was pretty pricy for what it was. The pizza was ok, but there were some things I definitely did not like about it. There was barely any sauce or cheese. The sausage was in one giant meatball shaped piece on each piece of the pizza – you basically had to knock it off and eat it with a fork…Maybe I hold pizza to too high of a standard, as it is something we really like and barely ever cheat on – we’ve had pizza twice in the last year prior to this meal: in Napa and in Chicago.
Also, the pizza was very expensive, coming in at a little over $30 US for a personal size pizza. Oh well, sometimes you miss on your dining selections. Not that it was awful or anything, I just left feeling that we could have done a lot better.
After dinner, we wanted to go up to Ku de Ta at the top for drinks. This is where the giant infinity pool is located and is the only way you can get up there without being a guest of the hotel. When we got off the elevator, you hear the bass bumping…The bar turned out to be more of a club – not our scene. It looked like they had plenty of nice spots we could have sat at outdoors, but it still raining pretty hard. So, we snapped a picture of the pool and headed back down to catch a taxi back to the hotel for free drinks at the club lounge (which we enjoyed).
Afterwards, we packed and enjoyed our last night in what will probably be our favorite hotel room of the trip (at least that is located in a city).
Singapore was a very nice transition from Asia to the more culturally familiar territories of Australia and New Zealand. I have read that it is a great introductory stop to Asia for many tourists because it is still Asia, but English is the predominate language and there are a variety of cultures in Singapore.
I think that is a fair assessment, but our first stops in Asia were Hong Kong and Japan. We had no problems. I guess if you are hesitant to travel somewhere where the language does not consist of letters – but symbols, Singapore would be a great introduction to Asia.
Otherwise, our stop was very quick. We arrived late on the first day, spent one day mostly at the zoo, then had rain for all of the last day. I think we may be back at some point for another 3-4 night stop. It is a hub for Singapore Airlines, which is regarded as one of (if not) the finest airlines in the world. I’d love to fly back through Singapore on Singapore Airlines and spend a couple more days experiencing the city/country.
I think that is the perfect way to experience Singapore: as a stop to or from another destination. I don’t know that I would ever plan a trip just to Singapore. That is a very long way to go to spend a couple days in the city.
On the whole, we really liked Singapore despite the little time we spent there. It is a very safe city with plenty of friendly speaking English locals. Our expectations were exceeded by the hotel, which seems to be the norm for properties in Singapore.
Next stop, new continent.