Monday, April 29, 2013

SING! SING! Singapore!!

Ever since I came back from my vacation in Miami, I've felt the need to 'take mental breaks' from Japan. The culture is so rich here is almost suffocating. I sometimes need to remind myself that there's a great big world out there where people from all different cultures live in harmony much like the place I'm from.

Singapore has always struck me as this rare gem in the middle of South East Asia. Being one of the Four Asian Tigers, I had read how modern, clean, and advanced it was compared to its neighbors. Pictures alone are cause to allure you. So despite how much more expensive it was to vacation here in comparison to other nearby choices, I ponied up and had my plans for Christmas.

After some skillful planning, we were off. Part of the reason the flight was so expensive was because it was direct, but I was happy I paid it to avoid a full day of travel. We were leaving freezing cold Japan for warm, tropical Singapore so that first breath of air off the plane was humid but welcome. We weren't in any rush so when our eyes spotted a Quiznos at the airport we wordlessly wandered in that direction...but then remembered we didn't have any cash so we exchanged money and THEN went. haha! Our fast food chains aren't transposed to these new places without some changes to the menu, but it didn't matter. It was a toasted fresh sub so I was ecstatic. We then made our way to our hostel via the metro. Like many of the other places I've been in Asia, they're metro was fast, cheap, and very convenient. The only part that wasn't fast about this metro was the ticket dispensing. I'm an impatient person, but this was obviously slow. Each time we'd go down to use the metro in a popular place, the line to purchase a ticket would be about 5 minutes long. It doesn't sound terribly long, but in most other places I've been, I walk right up to a machine. If you don't want to wait, I recommend buying an all day pass or metro cash card.

We stayed at a hostel that I switched to last minute because I was sold on the pictures. It was the Concept Hostel Singapore. I'm not going to give it a bad review. It was conveniently located near the center of town, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the place did match the pictures. My only gripe was with the bathrooms. I hated the showers. And although I've stayed in hostels before, because I booked last minute, I had to sleep dormitory style instead of getting a private room like I always go. I was not a fan of it at all. That's just the prissy girl in me though since I know many people who don't mind dormitory hostels at all.

With way too many options of things to do in the next few days, we showered and immediately head out to hit the town. The obvious choice since it was already night time was the beautifully decked out Orchard Road. The pictures I captured truly don't do it justice. I have never seen public spaces more fully cloaked in Christmas garb than I did in Singapore, and especially Orchard Road where it went on as far as the eye could see.The road sits on top of a huge underground mall. The stores were getting ready to close so we moseyed about making mental notes of shops to return to.

The next day we intended to make our way to Merlion Park (pictured at the top) and the conspicuously famous Marina Bay Hotel. Along the way we were severely distracted by yet another huge underground mall. I'm normally a woman on a mission when I'm traveling, but although I said the humidity was welcome, it was also just plain hot to be out in. That said, walking around a cool mall eating all the western food we could find became a blur over the rest of trip. Once we did force ourselves outside the comforts of the mall, we found it was overcast anyway. Yay, because it wasn't as hot, but boo because I wanted amazing lighting for pictures (oh well). I worked my magic and the final shots were adequately lit. Merlion Park isn't big at all with it's focal point being a two story tall fountain of the lion fish. He is the guardian god of Singapore and so he's the mascot representation for the city-state (even some of my students recognize him as Singaporean). He faces the bay where directly across sits the Marina Bay Hotel. A marvel to look upon as it appears to have a boat sitting atop its three towers. The hotel is practically new and has only been around for a couple of years. Once we snapped some photos of us with Merlion, we took a taxi (oh yes we did) across the bay to the hotel.

The inside of the hotel was as magnificent as the outside. So luxurious! That famous infinity pool you've probably seen a picture of without even knowing it is for hotel guests only (again, boo!), but with four floors of endless mall, I wasn't too fazed. There's even an ice rink in the food court! Once it started getting dark, we walked outside of the mall onto a connecting bridge that would take us to the Gardens by the Bay. You can go during the day to see all the gardens or just at night to just see the Super Trees pictured below (with the Marina Bay Hotel in the back). Remember when I said the pictures alone could lure you to Singapore? Well, these are the pictures that did it for me. The Super Trees are the main feature of these gardens and something about them just mesmerized me. They were so alien like yet beautiful with their pulsating glow. We walked around until the light show. A story was being told while these Eco-friendly wonders danced with light to the music. Besides being able to actually feel the Christmas spirit this year, this was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.

The dedicated the next day to heading out to the Night Safari, an aspect of the popular Singapore Zoo. I was slightly disappointed to learn that we needed tickets that were sold out to see the newest attraction, a pair of Chinese pandas, but still we went. The Night Safari was recommened to us by some friends so that was the main event. It was a ways away, but more relief from the humidity while riding the bus was not so bad. At the zoo, I had the most delicious chicken platter (maybe it was delicious or maybe I was just really hungry) and we were able to watch a fire-dancing show while we ate making for an impromptu dinner and a show. Fun stuff! Then came time for the Night Safari itself. Like at other zoos, we waited to get on a tram and then went off onto the prearranged trail with a guide telling us about the animals. In the end, I was not impressed. I suppose I've been to enough zoos that the usual animals are not really exciting to see again and again. An elephant?! A tiger?! Yippee! Not.. The best zoos I've been to have been small but with the most unusual animals. 

On our last day, we found a beautiful temple and food market near our hostel that we enjoyed lunch at before heading out to Sentosa Island. This place had good potential on paper and if you're between the ages of 10-16 you'll love it! I'm not being mean with that quick review, but it's definitely a family place, so as a couple, we walked around and enjoyed the scenery, but most of the activities available - butterfly garden, ziplining, a mini Universal Studies, the beach - were things we either weren't dressed for or weren't interested in because we have such attractions where we're I'm from in Florida.

We relished in our last Western food dinner (yup, more Quiznos and Cold Stone) and made our way back to freezing cold Japan the next day.

Overall, I really enjoyed Singapore. I was floored by how modern and rich a place it was while literally being surrounded by other places in Southeast Asia that I had visited and were the complete opposite. In my mind, I think of places that are either worth a visit, worth multiple visits, or worth living there. I would rate Singapore as a place worth multiple visits, although I don't see myself going back for many years to come with so much else to explore, but thank you for saving Christmas 2012 Singapore!

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