Singapore: Aliens, more flowers, and crabs

Gardens by the bay

I have another full day planned. I wake up at 4 am and that gives me time to do my daily stretches and catch up on correspondence back home. I don’t take for granted having those connections back home available to me, even if its over email and text. I am a loner but it can sometimes get lonely traveling alone. Those connections are everything especially since I am not one to approach strangers on a regular basis.

I am visiting Gardens By the Bay today. The Gardens is a large complex of different attractions next to the Marina Bay Sands resort.

Shoes, slip sliding away.

My shoes are not working for me in Singapore. Most of the sidewalks are of smoother tile. I guess I have worn the traction down because I am in constant fear of slipping when it rains, and it rains frequently. One day I decide I wear my hiking boots for city sightseeing and the same thing happens (those have traction). How are people not falling down all the time in this city?

Crazy Alien land

I start my day at the cloud forest at opening time because I read that the large waterfall inside is best viewed without the crowds. That is correct because only a handful of people enter at the same time as I.

Kaya toast for the win

The cloud forest is Avatar themed. Symbols and creatures from the movies are incorporated in the exhibits. It is kind of corny but kids probably dig it. I am just enjoying exploring the high walkway without crowds.

Downstairs is a secret garden where there is a plant display.

After cloud forest I visit Gardens by the Bay, the distinct tree like structure in Singapore. You don’t need a ticket to see them from below but it is required if you want to go up the observation or do the skywalk. I only do the observation tower because I think I am coming back later for the night show (I do not).

After Gardens by the bay I visit the flower dome that is nearby the cloud forest. It is kind of cool to see all the distinct plants they have from regions all over the world. It is quite busy since they are still celebrating the Chinese new year here. I should charge for my photography services because I am getting asked non-stop to take photos of couples and families. I wouldn’t mind so much but NONE of them offered to take a photo of me in return which I am used to…its just as well since 90% of the time others take the most unflattering photos of me anyway. I start hiding from and playing dumb to people approaching me. My time is important too, they can ask others to help.

Mud crabs, Messy mess

I would go out and do more sightseeing but I have a reservation for the main event. I am dining at the local restaurant chain Jumbo restaurant where I am going to finally try some chili crab. It isn’t cheap and my order takes a while to come out but it is all worth it. The chili crab (mud crab and sauce) is really as good as they say. The only downside is that it is incredibly messy to eat. I’ve eaten enough crab in my life to know how to get at that sweet meat but I’ve never had to deal with crab soaked in a thick red sauce. They give you plastic gloves to protect your hands but somehow I think that makes things even harder – I am messier than I would have been if I had used my bare hands. I don’t dare without the gloves because no one else is. I wish I would have ordered more rolls as well. They closed the kitchen for lunch service when I was dining so I couldn’t order more rolls soak up the crab. It is a crime that so much of that delicious chili crab sauce is going to waste. I now see why you can get other food items with the chili crab sauce. It is good.

I thought I had reservations at the cocktail bar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands tonight (Reservation for 2 although I am 1 because it was the only choice). I thought it might be nice to watch the water show from up top. Midway through the day I am confused why google is not picking up the reservation from my email and putting it on my calendar like it does for every-freaking-thing else. I double check the reservation, try to add it to my calendar with the link provided and check my calendar again. It is not there. I look again. My reservation is for NEXT Monday. I am out of the country by then. You just have to laugh at yourself sometimes with the blunders. Anyway the event disappearing from my calendar gave me permission to blow everything else off that I had planned for the evening. I am exhausted from the heat and the walking. Back at home prior to the trip I was pretty sedentary planning for the trip with the exception of moving all my things in storage. My body needs time to adjust to the activity once again. Also I am 3 years older than the last time I tried to do this type of traveling and closer to the 5-0. I feel the changes in my body. I wish I would have taken advantage of my vitality in my younger age.

Anyway I am going to spend the rest of the evening packing and drinking the plethora of water bottles left for me by the hotel maid. She must think I am dehydrated and she is probably correct. I have not been drinking my normal amount of water because I fear frequent bathroom breaks.

Next stop Malaysia….

Little India Singapore

Today I am exploring other parts of Singapore, especially because most things in Chinatown are closed due to Lunar New Year. Planning this trip was sort of another travel blunder. When I saw it was Lunar new year I thought it would be a fantastic time to visit with all the celebrations. While that is true, also is true is that lots of Singapore is shutdown through Tuesday due to 76% of the population being Chinese and this is a major family holiday for them. So today I head over to little India and nearby areas.

The subway drops me off at Tekka Centre which is a large hawker market of mostly Indian food. You can basically find any kind of flair of Indian food. I am on a mission to try Murtabak which is basically like a meat pancake. And of course some prata: who can resist thing tasty bread with dipping sauce? I also order mango lassi at a juice stall because mango lassi is amazing.

I am quite disappointed with the murtabak. I don’t like the flavor and the chicken inside are all the bony and cartilage parts, basically inedible. I eat my prata which is very good and but lose my appetite after. I will have to try this again to see if this is an anomaly or I am just not a fan.

I start walking around little India. It is busy. There are lots of stands of food, clothing, and other items. I can smell the spices and all the smells remind me of my visit to India around ten years ago. I hear the sounds of music playing. It is a very lively part of town.

At some point I end up in an area that resembles another china town. I want to visit this up and coming part of town called the Lavender district that is supposed to contain hip places. Most of the businesses in the Lavender district must be Chinese owned because every place I want to visit is closed.

Nearby is a two story building of beautiful terrace houses on Petain Road. Some look like private residences but some house businesses. The building is very nice to look at.

I walk over to Kampong Glam and Haji Lane in the Muslim quarter of Singapore. There are many cafes and restaurants near the large mosque. Many of the restaurants are Turkish as well. I also pop over to Haji lane to look at all the street art.

Since it is once again hot I call sightseeing quits early and start heading back to my hotel. A swim in that fancy pool sounds really nice right now. However it starts raining while I am walking back. But not sprinkles but heavy Florida-like summer rain. I have my rain jacket with me but it doesn’t stop from most of my body, including another pair of shoes, from getting wet.

I’ve been in communication with one of my new friends. She is getting some Singapore slings at the famous Long Bar which just happens to be on my way back. I stop and say hi but don’t get a drink because I am pretty sure I have heat exhaustion at this point; even with the rain cool off. I say hi and head back to my hotel.

Old police building. Instagram famous.

I go back to the hotel to clean up and rest and decide to get a western style dinner at a local Italian place. It stops raining but due to the puddles I completely soak another pair of shoes. They too smell awesome the next day (sarcasm).

Tomorrow I am going to visit the cloud forest,

Happy Lunar New Year

After visiting the Singapore Botanical Garden this morning I decide to go back to the hotel to rest and cool down. It is really hot today. You think I would be used to it by now since I grew up in Florida but I never do. I shower and I nap. I nap so well that I am tempted to not wake up (jet lag). I force myself to wake up and start getting ready. I am meeting some of my new friends for a late dinner and a walk around the Chinese New Year celebration.

But first some of the lunar new year photos from during the day.

We start at one of the hawker centers hoping some of the stalls will be open. We find one that looks suitable. It has a dish that I have already tried yesterday so I want to try something different but it must have noodles because that is all I am craving lately. I order some noodle chicken dish and it isn’t that good. I should have stuck to what I know.

We walk around and see the large displays. Everything is so beautiful in the dark.

We head to a major shopping area and the crowds thicken. It has been a few years since people felt comfortable enough celebrating the new year in public so it seems everyone is out tonight.

The crowds get even busier.

We are outside the Buddha tooth temple. There is a queue set up for those to go in a pray after midnight. We can’t get anywhere near the stage but we can see and hear it from a distance. We wait in this area for a while.

As suspected I can’t make it until midnight. It is 11 pm and I don’t think I can stay up another minute. I say goodbye to my friends and walk back to the hotel I might have picked up some new year’s trinkets on the way out. Even with the crowds I feel lucky I am here to celebrate during this time of year.

Do you like flowers? Singapore Edition.

Today is my first full day in Singapore. There are so many choices of things to but I decide to take the subway across town to the Singapore Botanic Gardens but first I want to see if any food stalls are open. I stop by the Maxwell center and there are few open. I order a dumpling ramen. It isn’t as good as the food I had yesterday but it will have to do as breakfast.

I forget to mention it is British rules of traffic here and nearby countries. All traffic should be on the left, walking and driving. It’s hard to remember when I am so programmed to stay to the right. Not sure locals or tourists care much though. No one seemed to give me attitude about being on the wrong side of things all the time.

The subway system is quite good. It is very clean and comfortable and you can use your credit card to tap on and off if it is a new type card; although at some point my main credit card stopped working there and I had to used my back up card.

The subway drops me off at one end of the park. The Botanic Gardens are quite large and it takes much time to get from one end to the other. At first I just wander and enjoy nature. It is free to the public (except the orchid garden) so locals use it for jogging and I suppose a respite from the busy city. I hear sounds of crickets and birds but also the sounds of cars in the background because Iam still really close to the road. I travel deeper in the park.

I come to the National Orchid Garden and decide to wait in the long hot line. I wonder if it is worth it and it is. The orchid garden is quite impressive. So many beautiful and different types of orchids.

It is time for a siesta of sorts. It has rained this morning and while it helped cool things down briefly it is still so hot when the sun is out that it drains me. I head back to my hotel to rest up for my evening plans. I am meeting up with some women I met yesterday to check out the Lunar New Year’s festivities tonight.

Chinatown Singapore

I am starting my first day in Singapore and I do what I am supposed to do, force myself to stay awake to get on the current time zone. Luckily I have a food tour booked so I have a reason to force myself out of the room.

I love taking food tours and cooking classes when I travel. I love food and I love discovering new food loves. Singapore is very big on Hawker culture (there are so many Hawker complexes). I know me though and I get nervous and intimidated initially in ordering foods in some foreign countries. This tour, that concentrates on popular and Michelin rated/documented hawkers, is the perfect introduction to the hawker culture.

I’ve done some reading ahead so I know a couple things: like using a tissue pack to save a seat/table (called chope) and I have a list of foods I really want to try. But my guide fills in all the gaps. He tells us great stalls to try, history of things, and even great parts of town to visit. I also meet three lovely ladies on my tour, two of which I hang out with the next day for Chinese New Year. I love when my shy anxious self finds an easy way to meet new people!

We start the tour immediately visting the hawker building Hong Lim. Our guide tells us how hawker culture began. There used to be street carts like you would see in other parts of South East Asia, serving food and whatnot. At some point the city decided to take these into covered areas to make the foods safer, provide facilities for cooking with running water with tables for people to use to eat. Now you have what are present day hawker centers. There are numerous in the city and while a large number of them are Chinese, you can also find various other food types: Malay, Indonesia, Thai, Indian or those with a flair of many different cultures in one.

We start at Jiji Noodles House and he brings us a bowl of Signature char siew wanton noodle (pork). It comes with a side of a soup with goji berries that you can eat alone or dump into your noodles if they are not wet enough. This meal is fantastic. I craved it later. I wanted it the next morning but I assumed it would be closed (note: a girl on the tour told me the next morning that it was in fact open the next morning. I missed out on a second serving.). This is one of the places in the Michelin guide because it is so good.

Next I try a tea that is quite good – Ice Lemon Tea that I will try once more another day.

Then we head to try a curry puff. The guide calls it curry in a hurry. But you cannot eat it too fast because it is served piping hot.

We walk through a market where we look at the fruits. Of course durian is brought up. Durian is quite popular but it has an interesting taste and texture. You either like it or you don’t. I am still in the don’t like it category. I’ve tried it twice: once in a fresh fruit format and once as a cracker (accidentally). Both times it took me quite a while to get that distinct taste out of my mouth, in fact when I smell it, it comes back to me. Most hotels ban you bringing it in because it will “stink” up the place and its hard to remove.

We next stop to get a pandan cake but due to the Lunar new year they seem to be sold out so we try an orange chiffon cake instead and it is quite good. I’ve had pandan before a few times and I love it so I vow to come back to this store another time to try the cake.

Next we try the Chinese version of the Portuguese egg tart. It is not as sweet as the Portuguese version.

We then go to the Maxwell complex to visit the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. If you have watched any show on Singapore hawker culture this dish is featured; Anthony Bordain loved it. The chicken, served room temperature is good, but the special is the rice. It is very good. Some eat it as breakfast. It is considered a national dish.

Time to try some juice. We order soursop, a not so sweet fruit drink. I like how this vendor does no added sugar. It is quite refreshing.

We stop and visit the Buddha’s tooth relic temple. Yes you saw that correctly. There is supposed to be an actual Buddha’s tooth upstairs but we didn’t go up to see it. But the temple is quite beautiful and iconic in Chinatown.

We visit one last complex called Chinatown complex. We are very full already so we split a spring roll and enjoy Singapore Iced Coffee. The coffee is good and strong but being sweetened it would be an occasional treat for me.

I love the knowledge we received from our tour guide. I need to remember to do at least one tour such as this in each major city. It really cuts through the anxiety I have with being somewhere vastly unfamiliar.

Since I thoroughly enjoyed time with those in my tour and we are all mostly solo travelers we make plans to meet up tomorrow to see some of the Lunar New Year celebration. I am pleased to have met people so easily.

My first thoughts on Singapore is that it is a clean, safe and friendly country. While it is generally more expensive than most of South East Asia, it is a fantastic starter city for the region. Most people speak English here and things are more accessible to foreigners because you can stay in a hotel in a format that people are accustomed to with all the comforts of home. And the food, well Singapore is a full of many different cultures so the food choices are endless.

After my tour I wander around a bit. I do go back to my hotel to rest but I force myself to go back out with the lure of the visiting the birthplace of the original Singapore Sling at the Long Bar at Raffles hotel. It is a popular spot on the tourist trail so there is usually a wait but luckily I don’t have to wait long. They have a machine that shakes the cocktails. They mostly shake them by hand these days but I do get to see the machine in action briefly. This is also the only place in Singapore where it is lawful to litter: you can throw your peanut shells on the ground.

After I decide to walk the water to get a view of Marina Bay Sands and other things in the area. I return in a couple days to see more. Being exhausted i find a place for a quick but not great dinner and then head to bed early.

First day = success.