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Singapore; that fascinating piece of small land

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While doing research prior my trip I often came across with several comments from other travelers about how Singapore (the Lion City) is a tiny country that travelers use just to cross countries or as a step-over between flights so I was in a certain way influenced by all those comments and I already had decided before I landed that there was pretty much nothing to do in Singapore other than to hang around and let the time pass waiting while it was time to move onto my my next destination.

With little real knowledge about Singapore more than I  was heading to a small Republic with not much more than 5 million habitants and a lots of  wrong impressions based on other people’s opinions, it was time for me to leave my beloved Indonesia behind and head to a new territory. A couple  of short flights later (less than two hours each with Air Asia) I landed in what  they say is one of the best airports in the world. Shame that it was night time and I could not  see much of it partly because I chose to have my first Coachsurfing experience in Singapore and I was in rush to get to my host place before it got late .  I found a great host that transmitted me good feelings in our email exchanges and I didn’t want to arrive past midnight causing a bad first impression.

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With his very detailed directions in hand, I made my way to the public buses on the ground floor and started my journey to the Woodlands neighbourhood. I found the whole journey extremely easy even though I had to take a total of two buses and a little detour walk to get to his place. Getting from the airport  to my Coachsurfing host place in the Woodlands area was a breeze.

 While sitting on the buses, I noticed that Singapore looked very clean and generally tidy and that about 99.9% of the population owns the latest smart  phones in the market and they obsessively play with them while on public transport. Coming from a intense backpacking month in Indonesia I couldn’t help noticing that everyone seemed to be dressed nicely and for the first time since  I left London, I constantly felt like a tramp for most of the time! The whole place seemed immaculate and I’ve felt hugely inadequate. Singapore felt…how can I put it? So anti-backpacking!

I decided that I was officially in the less appropriate country for backpacking within SE Asia. My initial impression was a big shock, most of it because I felt I was anywhere but SE Asia, Singapore felt VERY different from the second I stepped in.

With very little issues I got to the Woodlands and I easily found my host place, his directions were spot on (later on I found out from him that many people got lost trying to find his place…I felt I am truly becoming a smart traveler…ha!) Being my very first Coachsurfing experience, I was really anxious and unsure how to act; I was of course in my very best behavior. At the same time, I could not shake off my admiration to anyone who offers his/her house to complete strangers and also a huge curiosity of the reasons behind it.

Soon enough I realized that Coachsurfing hosts and hostesses often lack a reason but they just get satisfaction for helping and interacting with travelers which made my admiration only grow. Truly the world is full of wonderful people and sometimes when you are stuck at home and watching this great world through depressing news, it is easy to think otherwise.

This is, among thousands of others, another good reason to travel and explore. Human nature is extremely kind and I believe this whole idea of Coachsurfing or similar websites prove it consistently.

Luckily for me, when I finally arrived later than I thought, my host Mr TY, was extremely welcoming and made me feel comfortable right away showing me to a double room with a private bathroom beautifully decorated all for myself! He gave me his house keys to give me freedom to get in and out at my own pace and he discreetly disappeared into his room. Was it really that easy to Coachsurf? Hi, welcome, there’s your room, here’s my keys and have a nice time? wow

Two planes, five buses and two countries later, I was ready for my beauty sleep.

Below is a pic of my luxury room

The next day I left Mr TY deeply asleep and I ventured into the city. While I always have a first notion of where I’m heading to, with  Singapore it was not like that at all and I had a feeling after the night  before that I would easily find my way around. Well, I was not only right but  so far, I can safely say that Singapore had been the easiest city/country to get around with no maps and no directions at all.

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After ten minutes’ walk into the peaceful Woodlands neighborhood  and a couple of questions to locals for some orientation, I easily got to the  closest MRT station from my host’s flat; Marsiling. The MRT is Singapore’s public transport system and is  like underground trains that are ran overground; they are highly efficient and  frequent.

I did buy every day of my three days stay single tickets  for each journey as I would leave the flat in the morning and came back at  night time. Each ticket downtown cost me between 2.50 to 2.60 SGD but note that  you can also buy Singapore Tourist Passes that allow you travel unlimited  times for one two, or three days starting from 10SGD for one day.

Again, Singapore is an extremely place to get around and  here below is a bad pic  I took of the MRT map that covers the whole city. As you can  see, it’s extremely easy and the different lines are divided by colours; it’s possibly one of the easiest metro maps in the world.

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The MRT is incredibly clean and so are the buses. Why? Because if you are silly enough to eat or drink on them, a (rather) expensive fine will apply! No one eats, drinks or chews in any way in any public transport. I would be honestly terrified being the first one; I would feel too terrified to break the rules! I mean, no one does it!

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The Woodlands are in the extreme north of the map and most of the main sights are in the extreme south of the map. It would take me about 40 minutes each journey to get from one side to the other. Once you reach downtown,  all the main areas and sights are easily walkable. Don’t be lazy and walk!!

The first impression about Singapore confused me slightly; I saw a place that seemed to be ran with German precision. Everything was organized, clean and transportation ran in timely manner and believe me, coming from London, something like that seems pretty much impossible! I thought these things only happened in Japan… I didn’t see anyone breaking any rules but then, how can you if even chewing gum is a temerity! Jokes aside, this is something to be admired.

Could it be that the country is so tiny that control over population is easy for the government?

Singapore possesses some clear nationalities divisions; a growing number of Singaporeans, many of them from Chinese descendants, Chinese immigrants, Malay, Indians and many Westerns that seemed to hold really good jobs and concentrate in downtown where the big offices and banks are located. You can smell the money in there!

 I noticed that while many Singaporeans hold jobs that keep the city running, all the construction jobs were hold by Indian and Bangladeshi men (ONLY).  So my conclusion is that mainly immigrants from certain nationalities hold construction and manufacturing jobs and let’s be honest, those are horrible jobs specially with the extreme temperatures in South East Asia. Here’s another city of contracts and not for the right reasons.
 I wish I could have asked Mr YT as he seemed to have great answers for almost each question. Instead, when I mentioned to him that I was very surprised to see many Westerners in the financial area, he said that the Singapore Government pays really well people  with brains to stay and work. Well, no wonder then that the country is super developed in all areas. Educations levels in Singapore are extraordinary.

I found really impossible to get lost in Singapore downtown, where I spent a lot of time since the bay area stole my heart and brought me so much inner peace where I spent hours contemplating the sea and skyline.

All the streets seemed to lead to all the familiar sights and  somehow I always found my way around the areas I was looking for. It has been perfectly build and there is an incredible logic to it that makes finding your way around very easy.

My favorite stops to get  off from the MRT to the center were; Chinatown, Raffles Place, City Hall and  Marina Bay but in reality any stop on the South side of the city will get you to the main sightseeing area and again, I would like to mention that you can walk anywhere!

The only places that are not located downtown are the Japanese Garden, Night Zoo and some others just to name a few however are extremely easily reachable either with the MRT or bus.

I was also very concerned about the prices and yes, to clarify what you have read or heart about it, Singapore it is expensive for SE Asia standards and gets too close to European prices. Here’s an example; a tall Cappuccino from Starbucks would set you back almost 6 GSD. Ouch!

Do not make my same mistake getting a  very expensive coffee from Starbucks because its Wi-Fi is password free (and they don’t seemed to care if you sit down for hours just to use it and abuse it). After painfully paying almost 6GSD for the coffee, I learnt my lesson and from then onwards, I started buying Cappuccinos from McDonald’s and taken them to the oasis of tranquility of Starbucks….Ok, it may not be right but I wasn’t going to pay again almost 6 dollars for a coffee!! (NOTE that McDonald’s does not have WiFi in Singapore)

For cheap and good food, head to the foot courts; these are extremely easy to find. They’re normally located  in each single mall of the city and these malls (or shopping centers) are everywhere. Singapore like any other big Asian city, is full of them as Asians love shopping and spend easily whole days in them as we would spend a whole day or weekend at the beach or countryside.

These foot courts can be recognized as they have pictures of the food on them and also the prices, which is a great idea. Little India has a food court of only Indian food right outside the Little India MRT station and food is not only delicious but it does not get any cheaper than that.

Also, note that on a different note Chinatown has free Wi-Fi in an extended area of the neighborhood, you just have to register once. Also, is a great place to find really cheap stuff and good typical backpacking clothes that will make you look as terrible as I do right now! J

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I was surprised and amazed to see how tradition and modernity live in perfect harmony in this city that has celebrated fifty years of Independence. I became very aware of this contradiction of different styles and cultures when I was walking towards Chinatown on a Sunday morning when I passed a beautiful Chinese temple and some volunteers offered me a free tour, which it was pretty amazing and incredibly interesting.

I highly recommend visiting this temple called Thian Hock Keng  Temple when visiting Chinatown. It’s the oldest temple in Singapore and  is dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea; a true jewel. I also had the chance to do some prayers to the several Gods in the temple and well, I suppose I have to wait and see if my prayers are listened to! I’ll let you know or well…maybe not!

I could actually keep writing about Singapore but I do believe that is the sort of place that besides easy to see and move around, is better discovered by small steps.

Visit it too quickly and you will be one of these people to judge it as a city to simple cross countries that lack interest. WRONG!

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Visit it at your own pace and you will find yourself falling in love slowly with this city/country/state all in one.

Yet, we all know that sometimes first impressions are there to stay. If you avoid this with Singapore, you will see way more than buildings, shopping and order.

Here’s a very short list of  my favorite places there that I kept coming back;

  • Chinatown; a little city  within the city with a very strong identity
  • Bay Area: Absolutely  gorgeous, beauty everywhere, makes you happy just being there and contemplating
    the sea and skyline.
  • Gardens by the Bay: Just  imagine being inside the Avatar movie.
  • Walking at night time through  the super modern bridge that connects the Bay with the Marina Bay Sands Hotel; the
    views are not only amazing but the bridge gets illuminated with colorful lights and is an incredible beautiful walk
  • Little India: A very small neighbourhood  but I loved the colors of the houses and of course, the food. Delicious!
  • Clarke Quay: A beautiful  spot on the river lively with bars and restaurants and a very popular spot with
    westerners.

MAKING MY WAY FROM SINGAPORE TO MALAYSIA

Many things are easy in SE Asia but possibly crossing from Singapore to Malaysia is one of the easiest. Here’s in very simple steps how I did it in just a matter of few hours.

From my accommodation in the Woodlands, I took the bus 950 opposite Marsiling MRT Station (1.50 SGD) and from there, it was just a five minutes ride to the Malaysian check point (you get your stamps as you have exited the country). That same bus or another one with the same number (950) waits on the other side to collect the passengers (keep the ticket). There is a sign with the bus number and if your bus is gone, just wait for the next 950 to arrive.

From there, another ten minutes ride to the Immigration Control to enter Malaysia (I received a free 90 days visa to stay in the country upon arrival- check visa regulations for your own nationality). As soon as you get your passport stamped and come out on the other side, there is a money exchange counter in case you have some Singapore Dollars left.

It is very advisable to change some money as you will need to pay in ringgits from then onwards.

Go downstairs to the ground  floor, you  then will  see a sign for the bus 170 (for less than two ringgits) that  will take you to the Larking Bus Terminal (a ten/fifteen minutes ride).

Once you get off, go to one of the many counters you will see ahead of you selling bus tickets going everywhere in Malaysia. I paid 24 ringgits for a bus ride to Kuala Lumpur and took about four hours. Easy 🙂

What are you waiting for? Visit Singapore NOW, you’ll love it!

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Comments

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