Singapore is an absolutely pristine city. I liked it immediately upon stepping off the jetway. Not only was it really nice to be able to enjoy the conveniences of a city again (readily available hot water, electricity, Internet, and ATMs, and easily-navigatable public transportation, to name a few), but it just felt so CLEAN. This is probably because of the litter-picking up trucks that patrol the streets each night, the endless rows of public garbage cans on every street, the hefty fines for littering, and the ban on importing chewing gum. Whatever the reason, as a person who is a big fan of cleanliness, I really appreciated this.
The spotless atmosphere is only partially interrupted by a huge amount of construction going on around the city in order to revamp it as a tourist destination.
Singapore is also very diverse – its native population consists of Malays, Chinese, and Indians – and the home to many ex-pats. This means that everyone ignores just another blond girl passing them on the street. It was really nice to kind of blend in for a change.
Well-rested from my lazy beach days in Borocay, I was ready to spend my time in Singapore trekking around the city. My first day, I just started walking, map in hand, with no real destination in mind. I grabbed an egg prata in Little India for lunch, then strolled down Arab Street, two blocks of Arab restaurants, shops, tailors, and a mosque. After that I took a quick picture stop at the Singapore Flyer, a huge London Eye-type ferris wheel but too overpriced to interest me for a ride. Finally, I ended up at a place I’d heard about but had forgotten was in Singapore – the Marina Bay Sands resort, site of the world famous hotel with a roof-top infinity pool.
The best thing a hotel can do to make it the coolest hotel ever is to put an infinity pool on its roof. The infinity pool on the roof (a roof that is shaped like what appears to be the bottom of a cruise ship) of the 55-storied Marina Bay Sands hotel looks like it’s literally flowing off the side of the building into the sky. Visitors can buy a ticket to view the pool, but only hotel guests can use it. Looking longingly at the sunbathers on the cushioned sun beds next to the pool and the other vacationers sipping fruity cocktails while leaning against the disappearing edge of the pool, I almost forgot that this trip is supposed to be making me appreciate the small meaningful things in life. Being at a place like the Marina Bay Sands resort sure can make a person covet the finer things.
At the base of Marina Bay Sands hotel is a luxury mall with rows and rows of designer stores and celebrity chef restaurants and adjoined by a high-roller casino (you must pay 100 Singaporean dollars to even enter it) and a theater which is currently showing the Lion King musical. The grounds of the mall overlook Marina Bay, which flows into the Singapore River (actually, probably the other way around), and are connected to a promenade around the bay and river.
Despite my legs beginning to feel like jelly, I walked along the 3.5 kilometer stretch, passing Boat Quay (a stretch of outdoor bars and restaurants along the river seeming to cater to the young professional happy hour crowd) and Clarke Quay (a more colorful complex of bars and restaurants with some shopping sprinkled in) and ending in the colonial neighborhood (an area containing the Supreme Court, Parliament House, and some 19th Century-architectured museums, theaters, and restaurants). When my legs really could walk no longer, I hopped on the subway for home.
My game plan for the next day was the same: wander around aimlessly and stop at nearby places that my map starred as important. This took me first to Bugis Village, a huge discount shopping complex with a crowded maze of small shops selling cheap yet fashionable clothing and food counters selling snacks and drinks, including a bubble tea booth that was too enticing for me to walk past without purchasing a milk tea with pearl.
Next I stopped at Fort Canning Park, which is a perfect combination of city park greenery and historical information. The park is set on a hill and was the spot where Sir Stamford Raffles, an agent of the British East India Company who established Singapore as a major trading port in the early 1800s, settled down when he decided to reside in Singapore permanently.
Sir Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819 during an expedition in search of a suitable trading port for the British to compete with the Dutch along the China-India trade routes. He signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johor (who Raffles recognized as the ruler of the small Malay settlement living on the island at the time) which allowed the British East India Company to use Singapore as a trading post in exchange for a payment. Five years later, after a dispute with the Dutch over the ownership of Singapore, Britain was given Singapore (along with Malacca and Penang in Malaysia) under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty, and in 1867 it became a British colony, remaining so (except while it was occupied by Japan during WWII) until it achieved self-government in 1959.
Long before the British arrived, the hill is thought to have been the center of a 14th Century Malay kingdom called Temasek and contained the palaces of the ancient Malay rulers, including the Malay ruler who named the island “Singapura” (meaning Lion City) after he thought he saw a lion there. An archeological excavation of the hill has produced artifacts, including pottery, jewelry, and coins, from the 14th Century. After repeated attacks by the Siamese (now Thailand) and Majapahit (an empire in Java), the last known Temasek ruler is believed to have fled from the hill to form another kingdom called Melaka (now Malacca), and “Singapura” became virtually uninhabited and basically fell off the map for a few hundred years until the arrival of the British. The hill was known as Government Hill (because on it was the residence of Singapore’s governor) until around 1860, when the colonial government turned it into a fort. It was used as a military base until the 1970s.
After a few hours exploring the park, I’d finally gotten my fill and continued southward. In Chinatown I caught a subway to Harbor Point, from where I took a cable car (basically a gondola hundreds of feet in the air) to Sentosa, an island previously used as a military fort and now a tourist hot-spot. It felt a bit like being in Disneyland or the Atlantis in the Bahamas – fabulously contrived and comfortably touristy.
It has souvenir shops everywhere, countless tourist attractions, overpriced snack bars, a huge merlion (a lion/fish combo animal that is the mascot of Singapore) fountain, even a Hard Rock resort and Universal Studios. It reminded me of vacations with my fam when I was a kid. I absolutely loved it.
I wandered around for a while taking in the tourist sights and vacationing families. Then I cable car’ed and subway’ed home to pack for my bus ride to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.